DANIEL BEST: Let’s get straight into it – how did you end up working on The Phantom?
PAUL RYAN: Actually the last two assignments I got, one with CrossGen and the one with The Phantom, were due to fans. A young man from Sweden, Jonas Vesterlund, wrote to me in response to one of my on-line auctions. He said he’d always liked my work and had I ever considered doing work for a company outside of the United States. I said I’ll work for anybody who’ll give me a buck, you know. He said he used to be an intern years ago at Egmont, a company in Sweden that produces The Phantom for the European Market. I said “Really?” and being a Phantom fan myself I got together some samples and comic books and mailed them off with a cover letter to Ulf Granberg, Editor and Publisher, at Egmont. He liked my work and next thing I knew I’m part of the team.
DB: You are aware that The Phantoms all find their way down to Australia eventually?
PR: Yes I am. Jim Shepherd was nice enough to send me copies of my issues.
DB: How did you become aware of The Phantom?
PR: He was syndicated in the newspapers. Ever since I was little I’ve always been a fan of The Phantom. The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Tarzan, and they all appeared in our local newspaper. So whenever I saw The Phantom comic books I tried to pick those up too.
DB: Going right back to the beginning; you broke into comics at a very…
PR: Late? Advanced stage? <laughter>
DB: Yes. <laughter>
PR: You’re trying to put it diplomatically? <laughter> I was 35 when I started freelancing.
DB: Why so late?
PR: They say that Life is what happens to you when you are planning something else. Too many things got in the way. It’s like I never really found my way into comics. I got out of school, went into the service, got out of the service, got married, started raising kids and there never seemed to be any time to get into comic books. So it wasn’t until I went through a divorce back in 1981 that I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and I started pursuing comics.
DB: Who were your influences?
PR: It would have been Curt Swan. Wayne Boring.
DB: You must have read a lot of Superman.
PR: Oh yeah! <laughter> I was always running around the neighbourhood with a cape wrapped around my neck. I got beat up a lot. <laughter> Nobody seemed to appreciate my enthusiasm for Superman in the neighbourhood.
DB: You originally broke into Marvel. Did they ever look at you and say “Well, where have you been?”
PR: <laughter> The first times I went up to Marvel I always wore a three-piece suit. They thought I was from accounting, or the legal department. Everyone else walked around in jeans. They did kind of wonder about that (the age). I actually worked as a background man for Bob Layton. I worked as his assistant for a year, and he said “Well you’re going to try and find work on your own now”. What happened was that he’d moved to my hometown, or nearby anyway. He moved to Boston and needed a background man and the people at the local comic book shop told him about me, because I was trying to break into comics at the time. So we hit it off and I started working and doing his backgrounds. After about a year he moved back to New York and I kind of felt abandoned. I said “Well I guess that’s it” and he said “Well no, let’s see if we can get you work on your own”. So I went around to the different editors and lined up some work and went back home and quit my job. Then none of the assignments came in. So he said “Look, there’s no inking assignments coming in right now, so why don’t you try to do some pencilling samples because I know you can draw. Maybe we can get you some pencilling work until the inking assignments start up”. So I did about four pages of different things and took them into the office and showed them around. Jim Shooter happened to be walking by Tom DeFalco’s office at the time, he stepped in, sat down and took my pages and looked at them and then he looked at them again. He looked over at Bob and said “He can draw like this and you’ve had him doing backgrounds for a year?” Bob kind of squirmed in his chair a little bit. The funny thing is, I started out as an inker but ended up pencilling for 18 years.
DB: Two things stand that stand out for me. One is that you were pencilling The Avengers when John Byrne was writing the title, and you also inked over Byrne in the sister comic Avengers West Coast at the same time. How did that come about?
PR: I’d been pencilling a New Universe title called DP7 and that was winding down and Mark Gruenwald wanted me to work on Quasar with him. Somewhere along the line John Byrne saw my work and he wanted me to work on The Avengers. But Mark wasn’t going to let me know that John wanted me on The Avengers because he felt that if I went with The Avengers, I wouldn’t work on Quasar anymore. Which is pretty much what happened. While I was pencilling The Avengers, John was pencilling the West Coast. He had a falling out with the inker so he called me up and said “You can ink right?” I said “Yeah” and he said “How’d you like to ink the West Coast as well as pencilling the east coast Avengers?” I said “Ok”. Then after doing about four issues with him he got into a disagreement with Tom DeFalco about how the Scarlet Witch’s powers really worked, which, in retrospect, seems a really kind of childish argument to cause him to leave the series. But when he left the West Coast Avengers, suddenly the editor came to me and said “We’re really in trouble here because we don’t have a penciller for the West Coast Avengers, so can you pencil both Avengers books?” That was an interesting period of time. Two team books a month. Then there was one year when they decided to publish the Avengers every two weeks. There was just no way I could have done three books a month, so I had to have someone help me out then.
DB: What was Byrne like?
PR: John is very talented but John can be difficult at times.
DB: The second part of the question… You went onto the Fantastic Four and if memory serves me correctly, you did a longer run than what Byrne did.
PR: Actually John did complain to me about that. He said “You beat my run”. I said “Well, not exactly John, you had two runs on the Fantastic Four” and he said “Oh, yeah, you’re right. I’m still the best!” <laughter> Interesting story is when working with John on Iron Man, he called me up and said “Would you like to pencil the Fantastic Four?” I said “Sure! Are you kidding me?” So two weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything so I called him up and said “Are we still doing the Fantastic Four?” He said “Yeah. I’m just waiting for Ralph Macchio to give me a call” (Ralph was the editor of the Fantastic Four at the time). I said “Oh, ok, so does Ralph know that you want to work on the book?”
“But he hasn’t called you?”
“Well why don’t you call him?”
“No, he’s going to have to call me.” So I called Ralph Macchio and asked him how he was doing and Walt Simonson was doing the Fantastic Four at the time and I asked “Do you have a replacement for Walt yet?” and he said no. I said “Well John wants to write it and he wants me to pencil it”. Ralph says “Oh really? Well, have him give me a call”.
“He says you have to call him.”
“No, if he wants to work on the book he’ll have to call”. So I went back to John and said “You have to call him” and John said “No, I’m not going to call him, he has to call me”. So I said “Fine!” and I hung up the phone. So it must have been about three weeks later, I was doing Iron Man and Ravage 2099, and I had just taken on a new assignment, and Ralph Macchio called up and said “Would you like to draw the Fantastic Four?” And I was a little upset because I’d already committed to something else, so I told him no I couldn’t do it, and I wasn’t too happy about the fact that he’d me dangling so long. Well that was on a Friday afternoon and all weekend long I kept thinking about the Fantastic Four and about how it was one of my favourite series and how I’d picked up it since it first started. So I called Ralph back first thing on Monday morning and said yes, I’ll do it. Well it turned out that after I’d turned him down on the Friday he’d called Dan Jurgens to ask him if he’d like to do the FF. Dan was away for the weekend. Ralph left Dan a message on his answering machine offering him the Fantastic Four. I called back just a few minutes before Dan did.
DB: Luck of the draw.
PR: Luck of the draw. Timing is everything.
DB: It was a good run too. I know in some places it’s not looked upon quite fondly, but from the art side of things, I enjoyed it.
PR: Well thank you. There were quite a lot of people who hated it.
DB: Did you have a hand in the plotting?
PR: Not exactly. Tom (DeFalco) liked to spread the guilt. <laughter> If somebody didn’t like it he’d say the parts you didn’t like, that was probably Paul. There were times when I’d make suggestions. There was one time when he came up with the concept called the ‘innerverse’, where, and this seems really strange and silly in retrospect, Reed was experimenting on this door. A real wooden door that you’d pick up at the lumberyard. He was able to make people pass through the door into another dimension. Now Franklin was kidnapped and Sue was kidnapped, Franklin was taken someplace in this citadel, Sue was taken someplace else but managed to escape. Tom writes “And using her force fields as weapons she fights her way through the citadel to Franklin’s side”. I said “Well Tom, she was blindfolded when she was taken to the dungeon, she has no idea where Franklin is. Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to turn invisible and find him?”
“Oh, yeah!” Nothing like fighting her way through all these people not knowing where she was going.
We introduced a character called Occulous. He was this fellow who’d had one of his eyes replaced by a mystic gem, and I suggested that because of that gem he could actually see her even while she was invisible. So he liked that concept too and he added it to the storyline, but pretty much it was all Tom writing the stories. I’d just help him finetune it.
DB: The idea of Alicia Storm being a Skrull? That was one of the few things when I read it that just didn’t work for me.
PR: That was not my idea. <laughter> When Tom took over the book, one of the things that he didn’t like was the fact that Alicia was hanging out with Johnny Storm. In fact, they were married at that stage and he felt that it was just wrong for the concept of the book because the Thing and Alicia was the beauty and the beast concept that worked well. Alicia with Johnny wasn’t quite as poignant. He needed to get Alicia back with Ben, so it was kind of like “That woman you married? She’s not who you think she is”.
DB: The Fantastic Four finished for you in a very awkward way.
DB: When did you become aware that Marvel was going to hand over the title to Jim Lee?
PR: Interestingly enough I heard that from Dan Jurgens. Dan and I had become friends and I was on-line one day and I think I might have got an instant message and he was commiserating with me about the Fantastic Four and I said “What are you talking about?” and he said “You don’t know?” I said “Know what?” He said “You better give me a call” so I gave him a call and he said “Rumour has it that Jim Lee is coming back to Marvel and they’re giving him the Fantastic Four”. I said “I need to get on the phone to Tom”. I called Tom DeFalco and he knew about it but hadn’t told me yet. Apparently, not the editors, but the executives at Marvel had read some article in the New York Times about Image Comics, and how popular the Image guys were and how the Image guys used to be some of the top people at Marvel. So they thought they had to bring those people back into the fold, and they contacted Jim Lee and offered him anything he wanted. But instead of asking Jim to work on a book that really needed help they gave him carte blanche and, of course, he took whatever he wanted, which is what I would do. He took the Fantastic Four, he did the Avengers too?
DB: Jim Lee did Fantastic Four and Iron Man. Rob Liefeld took the Avengers and Captain America.
DB: I thought at the time it was a bizarre thing to do because, at that stage, they took Captain America away from Ron Garney and Mark Waid, and it was one of the best books Marvel was producing at the time.
PR: It was too bad, and it leaves such an uncomfortable feeling for creators when they are summarily dismissed from a book, not because they’re not doing well, but because of politics.
DB: You left Marvel after that for quite a few years.
PR: Yes. I was under contract at Marvel and suddenly I discovered that I was losing the Fantastic Four so I went around to the different offices and tried to get some other work but nobody was offering me anything. So I called up Mike Carlin over at DC. I’d known Mike for years and there were rumours that they really wanted me over at DC, but because I was under contract they couldn’t approach me, it would have been unethical. So I approached him and we went out for lunch and I said “What can I expect if I come over to DC?” and he said “I really can’t offer you anything because you’re under contract”. So I said “Ok, hypothetically speaking, if I’d just cancelled my contract yesterday, what could you offer me?” He says “Well we can put you on Superman”. I said “Well that’s good”. I mean, if you can’t start at the top then why start at all? <laughter> And they offered me a page rate of five dollars more than what Marvel had been paying me, so when I went back to Marvel and I stopped Bob Harrass in the hall (he seemed to be trying to avoid me at the time), I said “Do you have anything for me?” He said “No, not now. Can you just hang on a while?” I said “How long is a while?” He said he might have something in the Star Wars vein starting up in a few weeks. I said I can’t wait a few weeks for a job that my or may not happen. I said “DC is offering me Superman”. So that was that. It’s either the bird in the hand, or Star Wars in the back pocket. I went back over to DC and said “Here’s a copy of my resignation from Marvel, so when can we start?” Within a week I got my first Superman plot, it was an annual, and it kept on going from there.
DB: Being a life-long Superman, and Curt Swan and Wayne Boring fan, how did it feel drawing him for the first time professionally?
PR: The biggest thrill I got was drawing the symbol for the first time. It actually sent a chill through me. It was good, really good.
DB: With Superman you’ve worked on pretty much the icons for both Marvel and DC. You’ve worked on Batman, Spider-man… and the interesting thing is, you’re the only person to work on both the Spider-man wedding issue and the Superman wedding issue.
PR: That’s right.
DB: That’s a very good thing to have on the resume.
PR: <laughs> Yeah, not that it’s getting anywhere. The funny thing is, I’d only been in the business maybe six months when there was talk of doing the Spider-man wedding. Apparently Jim Shooter was very upset with some artist who’d turned him down. He asked Ron Frenz, who was working on Spider-man at the time, and I think Ron felt that Jim would have been difficult to work with and would have been very micro-managing because of the importance of this annual. Then he went to Sal Buscema, who was also working on Spider-man at the time, and Sal agreed to do the wedding issue. Then Jim sent him a two, or three page memo on how to draw it and how not to draw it, at which point Sal got incensed and walked away from the project. So I heard through the grapevine that Jim was walking around the office saying “The next person that turns me down will never in this business again”. Tom and I were sitting in his office discussing something when Jim walked in and said “Hey Paul, how’d you like to draw the wedding issue?” I thought, sure, I can’t really turn him down because then I’d never work in the business again and I just got my foot in the door. I said “Well you know what, I’m working on the Squadron Supreme right now, so I’m not sure I’d have time for it”. So he runs down to Ralph’s office and told him he wants me to draw the wedding issue and Ralph says ‘”Sure Jim, anything you want”. Jim comes back and says “Yep, Ralph says you can do it”.
DB: How did it feel drawing that? It must have been a tad overwhelming?
PR: I think I could have done a better job today than I did back then. There were certain assignments I got back then that I just should not have gotten because I wasn’t really ready. Somehow they just ended up in my lap, I was very fortunate.
DB: You also did the Sunday strip for Spider-man for three years.
PR: Yes! Interesting thing. My wife (and I? Or ‘my wife was’) were doing a convention up in Canada and one of the guests was Stan Lee. Now I’d been a fan of Stan’s ever since I was a kid. I was very excited to meet him and one night during the convention, for whatever reason I don’t remember exactly, we ran into Stan in the lobby and his plans for dinner had apparently fallen through so I invited him to come along with us. So I went over to the Edmonton Mall and we’re having dinner and he’s telling us his plans for the 2099 series and he was very excited about it. Apparently he and John Byrne were to do the first graphic novel to launch it and that collaboration didn’t work out very well. So at one point I called DeFalco and said “If there’s anything I can do to help out then let me know, because I want Stan to know that there’s still people who appreciate him”. So the next thing I know I’m working on Stan’s book. After working on that for about a year he called me up and asked if I’d be able to work on a Sunday strip too. I thought he was calling up to complain about something and then suddenly to be asked to draw the Spider-man Sunday strip was quite exciting.
DB: How closely did you work with Stan?
PR: Pretty much he would type out the story, his assistant would mail it to me, I’d draw it and just send it back. If I had any questions I could call him up and discuss it. There was one episode in which Spider-man had met Daredevil. They were in this office building and then we switched back to Mary Jane in bed back at the apartment. She wakes up and said “It’s midnight and Pete’s not home yet. I’m so worried”. Ok, then we continued on with the strip for a couple of weeks and again Spider-man and Daredevil are still in the office building and still discussing their origins and we go back to Mary Jane again where she’s waking up and saying “Oh, it’s midnight and Peter’s not home yet. I’m so worried”. I called up Stan and said “We just did this scene two or three weeks ago” he says “Oh no”. I said “It’s ok Stan. How about she’s waking up and saying ‘Now it’s two o’clock and Peter’s not home’”
“Yeah yeah! That’s great! Do it! Do it!” Because I’d always letter in the dialogue in pencil as a guide. So, yeah, things like that. Stan is very easy to work with. He’s so down to earth, so easy. He doesn’t know he’s an icon in the industry.
DB: While you’re at DC you also worked on Batman. I hope this comes out the right way, but until I saw your work on Batman I never really saw you as the type of artist to draw Batman, because I look at the Batman and I see it being dark and moody, ala Norm Breyfogle, Frank Miller and the like, and I see your art as being clear, clean, crisp and bright.
PR: I understand.
DB: Yet your Batman looks damn good.
PR: Thank you. With Batman I started experimenting more with shadows and dark space. There was one issue of Gotham Nights where I had to both pencil and ink it and I came up with an interesting inking technique for it, in which I would take the brush and hit all the large black areas first, and then go back in with a pen to any details in. I find that the picture comes together quicker, and stronger, if you hit all the dark areas first.
DB: As a penciller who inks, what do you look for in an inker?
PR: I look for somebody with a knowledge of drawing. Because you can get an inker who has a great line, but if they don’t understand the concept of drawing they’ll sometimes put a line down that doesn’t mean anything. Some of the best inking I’ve had was from Mike Perkins at CrossGen who was inking Ruse, but he’s an artist in his own right so he enhances what’s already there in the pencils as opposed so some inkers I’ve had who don’t give you back as much as you put in. I’m looking for somebody who’ll enhance as opposed to detract.
DB: As an inker, what do you look for in a penciller?
PR: Somebody who knows how to draw. <laughter>
DB: Who have been your favourite pencillers to ink over?
PR: Probably John Byrne. When he was doing the Avengers West Coast, I was very intimidated when I saw his first pages because they were so finished.
DB: When you finished at DC you returned to Marvel. What prompted that?
PR: I wasn’t having a good time at DC. At the time I was doing one of the Superman books and I was also pencilling the Flash. There was going to be a shake-up in the Superman office and they were going to replace the editor and the new guy coming was going to ‘clear the decks’ and just toss out any artist and writers who’d worked on the book prior to his coming on board. In the meantime, the editor on the Flash took me aside and told me he was replacing me as the penciller but he wanted me to stay on as the inker because the new guy needed help. I’m thinking, the new guy can’t draw well so you need me to fix him.
DB: Why put the new guy on, why not just keep you in there.
PR: Exactly. In fact, the guy they brought on board only lasted six issues and then he was gone because they didn’t like what he was doing. So I was having difficulties. I was doing quite a few projects in the meantime, a mini-series called The Science Police and that came up pretty well but I don’t think it sold very well, but it was some good work. In the meantime, I’d heard from Tom DeFalco saying that he was doing an imaginary line of Marvel called the MC2 line and he was going to do something called the Fantastic Five, which was supposed to be taking place ten years into their future; would I be interested in doing it. I said sure. But that didn’t last long either. I think they published five issues. The sixth issue I pencilled but they never inked and I’ve got those original pencils here.
DB: And then CrossGen.
PR: Now that one also was fan motivated. Somebody wrote to me and asked me if I did commissions and I said yes I do. He said “Will you draw Miranda?” I said “Absolutely. Who’s Miranda?” He described her as a character from one of the CrossGen books called Ruse. I said “If you can supply reference then I’ll do the picture for you” so he supplied the reference and I did him a very nice pencil piece of Miranda with background. He liked it so much he posted it somewhere out there on the net and it came to the attention of the guys at CrossGen. At the time they were looking for freelancers to help out with their scheduling so they called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in working for them. I said “Do I need to move to Florida?” because that was a criteria back then – you had to work in-house. They said “No, you don’t have to live in Florida, we’re just going to use some freelancers every now and then”. They actually signed me up for a ten story per year contract, so, between that and The Phantom, I’ve been fairly busy. Unfortunately, CrossGen is going through some tough times right now.
DB: With CrossGen going through its current troubles, do they still want you to do work for them?
PR: They’re not using freelancers right now. They’ve cancelled a large number of their titles and they’re kind of retrenching. In fact, their money problems are making it difficult for them to pay freelancers for work they’ve already done.
DB: What does the future hold for you?
PR: I have no idea. Right now it’s just The Phantom.
DB: If you could go and work on any one title what would you like to do?
PR: Actually I’d like to retire, but I’m too young. If I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, put it this way, if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d still want to do The Phantom every month. That’d be it.
DB: How do you see the industry now?
PR: As a pain in the ass<coughs>… as a pain in the neck! The industry now? I don’t know, I almost feel like I’m on the outside looking in these days. There’s not as much work available in the US market now that CrossGen is in trouble. My biggest fan base seems to be growing in Europe, so I don’t know. I don’t get out to comic shops all that much so I don’t see what’s happening with the other companies. I really have no concept of what’s going on in the industry. With me, it’s always been “Just give me an assignment, let me do it and pay me”. It is a great job.
DB: You do commissions now and sell your artwork on-line.
PR: I set up my web site a few years ago as a way of getting my name out there. I put artwork up so that people can see what I do. It’s like when I used to do the on-line auctions, it seemed that eBay would take a piece of the action. PayPal would take a piece of the action. What you were left with was a lot less that what you wanted to sell the piece for. So if I had someplace on the web where somebody could go and see my work then they’d pay what I was asking for it and I wouldn’t have to share it with anybody. Also with the commissions, whenever I’d do conventions people would be asking for drawings, so this is a way for people to get them without having to travel a great distance to meet me.