In-Depth with IDW Publisher Chris Ryall

Thu, January 17th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Alex Dueben, Staff Writer

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Chris Ryall joined IDW Publishing as Editor-in-Chief in July 2004 and was named Publisher in October 2005, overseeing the company's expansion and increasing profile in the comics industry and the world at large. Landing the Transformers, Angel and Doctor Who licenses, the Gene Simmons comics imprint and the move to classic comic strip reprints are just a few of the highlights of Ryall's tenure at the company so far.

2007 was IDW's biggest year to date, seeing the release of the first collection of "Terry and the Pirates" strips as well as the new Star Trek comics in years. The release of the "Transformers" film and the fact that Transformers comics were everywhere at that time would have been IDW's high point of the year if not for the fact it was overshadowed by the feature film adaptation of Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith's "30 Days of Night," the comic that first put IDW on the map.

Ryall took some time out of a busy schedule to talk to CBR News about the company, his editorial philosophy, and what's coming up next.

 

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The reprinting of classic comic strips is one of IDW's major publishing thrusts over the past few years. "Dick Tracy," "Terry and the Pirates," "Little Orphan Annie" -- what was the impetus behind this initiative and why do you think we're seeing a greater focus by so many companies to reprint old material?

We'd talked about doing this sort of thing for a while. We'd been looking back at worthwhile past comics projects that deserved to still be in circulation in nice formats, titles like "Jon Sable Freelance," "GrimJack," and "Badger," and started looking further back. Way back. And when we saw that monumental strips like "Dick Tracy" and "Terry" hadn't received the deluxe reprint treatment, well, we looked into rectifying that.

IDW's "The Complete Dick Tracy" volume 3
We've all grown up on comics in all their forms, and I think it's nice to have a chance to be respectful to material on which this industry was built. "Dick Tracy" was the first, but these efforts have gotten even stronger since Dean Mullaney came aboard to put together the "Terry and the Pirates," "Little Orphan Annie," and "Scorchy Smith" projects (and some others to be announced in the next few months, too). Dean just produces stunning work-have you seen that first volume of "Terry?" It's amazing, and just the start of things to come.

As to why these kinds of reprints have become more prevalent, I don't think this is anything new as much as it is just a renewed effort to produce the most complete, deluxe and lasting volumes of these books now. I mean, I remember having stack after stack of "Peanuts" reprints when I was a kid, and read some bad photocopied, stapled editions of "Dick Tracy" comics, and more. I do think that the willingness of mass-market bookstores to embrace these editions more than ever has helped show publishers that these projects are viable, though.

Reprinting old strips has been a cornerstone of IDW for years, as you mention - "Grimjack," "Jon Sable," "Maze Agency," now "Badger" - is the plan to reprint the entirety of these titles or are plans tentative depending on how the next volume does?

IDW publishes numerous licensed Transformers books
We've called these books "The Complete," and I know we certainly intend to make that name a reality, marketplace willing. We've gotten pretty far into the runs already, which is great. I love having eight to nine volumes of these books to show so far, with more to come.

Licensed books are a major part of the line and the visibility of IDW: "Transformers," "Angel," "Star Trek," "Scarface," "Beowulf," "CSI," "Speed Racer," the "Masters of Horror" books, the Clive Barker and Cory Doctorow adaptations. How do you balance developing each of these lines as needed and keep them from overwhelming the original content you're publishing. We all know that "Transformers" is going to attract more attention than "Supermarket" or "Smoke" or "Chiaroscuro" or "Lore" or fill-in-the-blank. What's the key to keeping a balance?

Well, it's safe to say that "Transformers" outsells books like "Supermarket" or "Smoke," but as far as attracting attention goes, I'd say that that varies on the buyer. What I mean is, to the "Smoke" or "Supermarket" buyer, those are the kinds of books we publish. They're maybe not as likely to also be reading "Transformers" comics. People that like our horror comics probably feel the same way. So all these books attract their own types of attention, and don't really take away from one another. I think the sheer array of books you cited above shows a nice balance, just in the types of material we make available. We used to be primarily seen as a horror publisher, but now we offer so many different types of books to different audiences. I'm really proud of that fact.

"Angel: After The Fall" #3
Everyone knows that familiar properties are an easier sell than something new like "Supermarket," "Zombies vs Robots vs Amazons" or "Snaked," but we also feel strongly that it's important to keep producing those kinds of books, too, titles that offer a creator's personal vision.

IDW is mainly focused on miniseries and not continuing series. Peter David's "Fallen Angel" is the only ongoing series you're publishing. What's the thinking behind this?

In the case of many of these licensed books, it just makes more sense to tell a finite story. An ongoing "CSI" book would end up losing the appeal that the TV show holds, I think, because we'd need to delve into more personal interactions and things that readers don't really want (or that CBS might not want us doing). And along the lines of what I mentioned earlier, lesser-known titles can be a tough sell, especially on an indefinite basis, so miniseries make more sense there, too. I like the fact that we've published more issues of "Fallen Angel" than DC, but with a lot of these titles, periodic miniseries just work more effectively than an ongoing book would.

Are there plans for more "Transformers: Evolutions" titles in the future?

There are talks, anyway. Between the animated movie, the ongoing TF comics we've been doing, the reprints of past companies' stories, the movie continuity, and the upcoming new animated series books, I think that both Hasbro and I are wary of having too many more different continuities out there. But that said, the answer to the question is "yes."

"Star Trek: Romulans" #1
You're publishing "Doctor Who." It's the David Tennant Doctor, written by the story editor on the TV series. How did you land the rights and how did you get one of the series writers to write it?

Well, Gary Russell is a story editor on the show, and he's written Doctor Who books and other Who-related things, so he's perfect for the comic, but he's not, technically speaking, a writer on the series. Still, he runs everything by Russell T. Davies, so everything he sends us comes with that ultimate stamp of approval, which is a nice bonus.

Let's talk "Doomed." What was your intention with the magazine/comic/anthology and looking back, what would you have done differently? Maybe a different name implying a more optimistic outlook?

What, call it something like "Super-Popular and Never-Cancelled Comic Story Fun Times"? I wouldn't change a thing, really. I love that magazine and think we made a really admirable effort at offering something that's been sorely missing from the marketplace for a while now. Maybe it's been missing for a reason, since the magazine didn't catch on. Our intention was to hearken back to the great old '70s horror mags like Creepy and Eerie, and I don't know, maybe the magazine format doesn't work in comics shops now, or maybe the b&w style, or maybe something else entirely. But naming a book "Doomed" instead of "Beloved" doesn't make any difference. Calling it "Beloved" wouldn't have saved it, it would've only been seen in the same way as when you call a fat guy "Tiny."

"Snaked"
Is a regular anthology something you'd like to publish and edit?

Publish? Oh, yeah. Edit? Hell, no. Anthologies are really tough-every issue of four stories is the same amount of work as producing four comics, even if each story's actual page count is less. Anthologies are an amazing amount of work to pull off, and even more work to do well. That's why I'm impressed by the job my bud Ivan Brandon did with that "24Seven" anthology he assembled and released through Image. He had a hell of a line-up in that book, and I know the amount of work that goes into putting something like that together.

How did the Weapons of Mass Distraction Trading cards do? It's a project so out of left field, I'm not sure everyone knew what to make of it.

Like other non-comics efforts we've made to branch out a bit, they were never really intended to hit the same audience as our monthly comics; but they did work on some levels that we intended, and got some good attention from places that don't always cover the comics industry. And Rich Johnston did a great job being arch but not overly insulting (in most cases).

Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith and Ashley Wood really helped establish IDW's reputation in a very short time after the company started and all three are still involved. What do you do in your role that helps provide a place for them to do the work they want to do?

Art from "Angel"
I just try to do for them what I do for anyone who works for IDW, and that is to offer the most creative support I can for their efforts; I want people to feel free to tell the tales they want to tell, and not feel subject to an over-abundance of unnecessary dictates. We've tried to encourage all of these guys to do things beyond what they were best known for, beyond what would probably be the easiest sell. And Ash and I work well together creatively, too, so that's an added bonus for me and hopefully a bit more incentive for him to keep doing things like our "Zombies vs Robots" books.

The horror genre is something that's become associated with IDW. You have a new series from Joe Hill, the bestselling author of "Heart-Shaped Box," which got lost amidst all the San Diego hype.

Oh, I do want to talk about Joe's "Locke and Key," and I will more and more, until I convince everyone possible to give this book a look. Joe is an amazing talent, as we first discovered when we read his short story collection, "20th Century Ghosts" (released in America for the first time in October), and then in his debut novel, "Heart-Shaped Box," too. And he's already submitted the first three scripts for "Locke & Key," the new property he's created for us. It's a really fantastic story, by a guy who is just such a well-developed, interesting writer. I read through the scripts with a big smile on my face, knowing how good they are and how good a comic series this is going to be. Having Gabriel Rodriguez, my frequent-and one of my very favorite creators-collaborator, on art just makes it that much better.

"Locke and Key" #1
The first issue (32 pages of full story and art) has been solicited for February '08, so I'll definitely be talking it up and showing it off over the next few months. In the meantime, I'll just recommend that everyone give Joe's prose a look-that should convince anyone of this comic's potential.

Is it hard balancing your job as an editor with your work as a writer?

It's mostly hard balancing my time as a husband and father with my work as an editor. The publisher/editor-in-chief job is my gig; the writing is done at night and on weekends, so it's just a matter of keeping my schedules straight and not neglecting the other areas of my life. It can be a lot to handle at times, but really, that just means spending both days and nights doing things I love, so there are worse fates out there.

Speaking of which, is there anything you can say about your upcoming original project with Clive Barker?

Only that Clive said I was "brilliant" in a recent interview, and that I now try to drop that unsolicited praise into any conversation I have. But no, nothing to say beyond that just yet. Only that I'm really flattered that Clive was so happy with "The Great and Secret Show" adaptation that he wanted to create and co-write a new project with me. I mean, when I really think about that and how absurd to sounds, it freaks me out a bit. The man certainly doesn't need to be collaborating with anyone, so that's nice. It's going to be a fun, and really gruesome, project.

Is there a genre or a form you'd like to publish that you haven't had the opportunity?

"Locke and Key" #1 page 1
Superheroes! No, no, I'm kidding. I wish there was more of a market for hard crime comics, since those would be fun to do. But I'm happy with the way we've branched out beyond just horror comics, and done some westerns, some sci fi, some crime comics. I think we've hit a nice balance, and right now, I'm happy with the direction we're headed, too.

Speaking of crime comics, Max Allan Collins has done a lot of work on the "CSI" books and overseeing the "Dick Tracy" reprints. Are there plans to do anything with him in the future, including maybe reprinting his "Ms. Tree" series?

We're talking to Max about some things, yeah. I love Max-he's a prolific writer and a really good guy to work with, so I'm always up for finding more for him.

Another odd project next year is the Harlan Ellison book "Yr. Pal, Harlan." Can we expect to see more prose books in the future?

Possibly, but nothing scheduled.

"Dead She Said" by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson is something Niles has talked about even though it hasn't been announced. Is that just because it's in production and will be out sometime next year, and would you like to say anything other than, "Oh my god, Bernie Wrightson is inking himself for the first time in over twenty years?"

"Locke and Key" #1 page 2
Not at the moment--I think that quote you put in says it all for now. The pages look phenomenal, some great work like I haven't seen from Bernie in maybe a decade or so.

Favorite creators you've worked with and who else do you want to have on your speed dial?

Favorite creators I've worked with? Why, all of them, of course. There are always other people you've be interested in working with, but really, if I never worked with anyone but Zach Howard, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Ashley Wood on anything, I'd still feel incredibly fulfilled. And that's just on projects I've written; beyond that, there's no way to list everyone I'm happy to be working with, but I've worked with so many folks I'd always wanted to work with, from Peter David and David Tischman to Furman and Figueroa to newer comics folks like Brian Lynch, Scott Tipton, David Messina, Franco Urru, J.K. Wodward, Nick Roche, Shane McCarthy… there's really just no way to name everyone and not slight someone else I love working with. Lately, I've been crushing on Arie Kaplan, the gent writing the upcoming "Speed Racer" comic for us. But again, I can't stress enough that there are so many more folks than I named here that are an absolute dream to work with-you can tell, because I keep doing my best to find them more and more work.

"Locke and Key" #1 page 2
As for creators on my speed dial, beyond those names above and folks like Gene Simmons, Harlan Ellison, Barker, and a few others, my speed dial is nicely occupied. But if you mean who else would I love to work with, this is also a list that would grow too long to mention everyone. Right now, I work on so many comics every day that I don't read as many others as I used to, but when I do read purely as a fan, Brian K. Vaughn's stuff most reminds me why I love comics. But there are, of course, the usuals like Moore and Gaiman and Ellis and Ennis and Brubaker and Ross and blah blah blah… there are more talented people out there that I'd love to work with than we'd ever have room to accommodate, but it'd be nice someday to do their stuff proud. But if you need one more name, Sergio Aragones. I love the man in a way that's probably unhealthy, even though I know we just don't seem to be the obvious place for his stuff. Okay, and George Perez. Believe me, this list will never stop, so I'll just cut it off right here.

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