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It's not easy being Invincible. Sure, you're the son of the world's greatest hero, but you've got to earn your keep at the crappy burger joint across town, you've got to deal with beautiful women falling for you, and you seem to vanquish you enemies. Wait…that does sound pretty fun, and "fun" is the word that artist Ryan Ottley would use to describe his tenure on Image Comics' "Invincible." The series, written by acclaimed scribe Robert Kirkman, has garnered quite a following, even appearing on FX's "The Shield," and with the release of the second huge hardcover, lots of new fans are discovering the self-proclaimed "probably the best superhero comic book in the universe." CBR News caught up with series artist Ryan Ottley to learn more about working on "Invincible" and just how he became involved with the series.
While Ottley's passion for "Invincible," and the titular lead known as Mark Grayson, has grown over the years, his involvement with the book began as a result of a basic need. "I needed a job," admits the penciller of taking over from previous artist/co-creator Cory Walker. "Seriously that's all it really was, I had never read 'Invincible' so I didn't know what I was getting into, I would've drawn any book at Image because I just wanted to get a gig, I needed something that would help me become a full time comic book artist like I've always dreamed of. I was contacted by Robert Kirkman to be a fill-in artist for one issue to help the book get back on track. Once I read all the books Robert sent me, I was floored. I'm glad he asked me to stay on full time because this is some of the funnest super-hero stuff I've ever read and I get to draw it and get paid for it at the same time."
While "Invincible" was a critical darling within it's first few months of shipping, sales were somewhat problematic and Ottley admits he wasn't sure how long the series would survive when he came onboard, so he tried to make it "his own." "To tell you the truth, it was dropping in sales every issue and was on the verge of cancellation because of being late. I started on it and was keeping it on time. I just hoped the book held out for a while so I could get a nice run in before it was canceled. But I kept up with Robert's scripts and it came out monthly, and more people started picking it up and luckily it pulled through, now it's doing very well for a non Marvel/DC super-hero book. And yeah, I do feel this book is 'my own' as you said, the art style I do is all me. Imperfections and all baby. And y'know I think my art was always distanced from Cory's work. His lines are super tight and structured and just down right brilliant, something I'm not very good at but I am working on getting better at technical things all the time. If people see similarities in mine and Cory's work than it's probably Bill Crabtree's awesome unique colors.
"I just plug away at this stuff every month trying to out do my last issue, always trying to improve something, I'm basically competing with myself and I think I'm winning [laughs]. The things I try to incorporate in my art for Invincible are emotion without too much moody spotted blacks, detail without crosshatching or tic lines, heavy action without too many action/speed lines, basically keep it somewhat simplistic but far from simple."
Many fans have been drawn to Ottley's art because of the way he carefully balances a "realistic" style, namely realistic proportions and features, with "cartoony" influence, specifically certain exaggerations to enhance the fantastic. Of this stylistic approach, he comments, "I try not to over do it in any direction, I never want it straight up 'cartoony' or just 'realistic,' I guess I feel I have a little more freedom somewhere inbetween, so it's more fun that way for me. Artists I really look up to and admire like crazy are Geoff Darrow, Moebius, Ed McGuiness, Arthur Adams, Mike Mignola, Cory Walker, Cliff Rathburn, Dave Johnson, Frank Quietley, Frank Cho, and probably many others I'm forgetting at the moment. Anything I see from these artists just blows my puny mind to the tiniest of all bits and pieces."
Ottley has received acclaim for his ability to convey a sense of energy and excitement in "talking heads" scene, as well as action scenes, something he credits to Kirkman. " Well if Robert's dialogue wasn't interesting I doubt the talking head pages would be. I'm glad Robert gives me full scripts with dialogue and everything because I just read it and do my best to match a drawing with the emotion I feel from the script."
Speaking of Kirkman, Ottley says that the two get along so well because they're both ambitious and creative folks. And because Kirkman knows how to kill him 100 different ways if the pages are late. "Robert's great to work with as long as I keep dishing out pages. If he hasn't gotten any pages from me for a day or so he starts in with the, 'Where's my effing pages you mother effin' effer?' Which is ok because it's fun to hear him talk with that Kentucky accent. But, yeah, it's definitely easy working with him, he gives me script, I draw the script. He asked for designs or covers, I do them. Really not much to talk about here, really. Sorry. I'm the worst guy to interview. I keep all the behind the scenes feuds and romance hidden."
But one subject that elicits a strong response from Ottley is the continuing controversy over artist deadlines. Some fans cite the ability of classic artists like John Byrne or Jack Kirby to be able to handle more than one book a month, while many current artists can't produce a monthly book. Artist have countered by saying that fans expect more detail and that the way of producing art has changed considerably. Where does Ottley stand? "Well there's always excuses for lateness, just sometimes they're crappy excuses. But sometimes the situation couldn't be helped and it's really not the fans business to know why a book is late. Especially if the excuse is personal. It seems like most people just assume laziness, they love assuming the negative first, it's like they are against the creators even though they are fans. I've heard fans say they wanted to drop Invincible because of lateness. Which is funny because 'Invincible' really isn't that late of a book. So far I've done 28 issues in 30 months. Some might say that's late. But that's me doing it as fast as I can, life happens and the days add up. To tell you the truth, this job is the first job I've had where if I'm not working all the time, I don't get paid. Meaning if I'm late on a comic it's just hurting me, I get paid when the issue is done. Unlike other jobs where I always got paid on time even though I wasn't working all the time, y'know I'm either waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for an order to come off the printer or just surfing the net for an hour reading some comic interviews online, please, you know you do it. And all those things you do at work don't mess with your paycheck. But if you draw comics, you better be drawing comics or your deadline will sneak up pretty quick. I see these artists who are like three or four months late and I don't know how they survive, maybe they got a spouse who is the breadwinner, I don't know. Oh and thanks for asking me to do this interview, now I'm going to be an hour late on this issue I'm working on. The fans are gonna be pissed [laughs]!"
A self-professed early Image fan ("My head exploded!"), Ottley grew up loving artists a bit more than anything else, but has some very specific dream projects. "I've always wanted to draw Spidey or Wolverine or Hulk, that'd be fun, hopefully I get a chance someday to do that. But I think an even bigger dream project would be a creator-owned project. I'm no where near ready for that yet because I don't trust my writing at all. Maybe someday though. My favorite comics to read are ones that are creator-owned, Marvel and DC are great, but when an artist or writer does their own thing, something completely new, that is what I really love. A new world, new characters, new story. Anything can appeal to me if it rocks. Give a big hoo-rah for creator ownage, baby!"