Interview: Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan and his wife Linda

 This interview was done trough emails in February 2004.

Matthieu-David: Which artists influenced you the most ? 

Paul Ryan: Some of the artists who influenced me at a very early age were Hal Foster, Sy Barry, Dan Barry and Curt Swan.  I was enthralled by the adventures of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and The Phantom.  This was before I discovered comic books.  Once I started reading comics I tended to gravitate to any stories drawn by Curt Swan.  In those days before credits we never had a name to go with the artwork.  I just liked the “good” Superman artists.  I was fortunate to have had the opportunity, on two occasions, to speak with Curt. 


Hal Foster

Sy Barry

Dan Barry

Curt Swan


 M-D: And what are your influences in general ?

P.R.:Everything I see influences me in some way.  I am constantly trying to memorize people, places and things as well as light, shadow and texture.  I love movies.  Movies and TV are a geat influence as well.   

M-D: What’s your favourite movie ?

P.R.:Now that one is a very tough question.  There are so many fine films.  Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen that could be a favorite.  I have quite a large film library to choose from.  If I had to select two films by the number of times I have viewed them they would be Superman: The Movie and The Phantom.  


M-D: could you elaborate on the movies as an influence for you ? is it in terms of story telling, frames ? ( I’m a future director of Photography so I’m really interested in the relation between movies and comics )

P.R.: Yes, mostly the camera angles and use of light and shadow.  The penciler is very much like the director in motion pictures.  We have to move characters around within an environment in an interesting way that moves the story to its ultimate climax or resolution. 


M-D: What do you think about the translation from comics to films ? ( which do you think succeeded in terms of visual ideas and story telling?)

P.R.: Superman the Movie-Very Good.  The three succeeding Superman movies declined in quality with each attempt.  Batman-Very Good.  The same fate occurred with the sequels as did with the Superman franchise.  Spider-Man- Very, very good.  I hope they do as well with the next film.  X-Men and X-Men 2 Very, very good.  They got it right two out of two. Excelsior!!  Incredible Hulk was disappointing.  Too much back story, confusing cinematography and an unsatisfying conclusion.  The only good parts to the film was getting to see Jennifer Connelly and seeing the Hulk bust loose against the military.  Those scenes could have been storyboarded by Jack Kirby.  I enjoyed Daredevil but I thought it was a little too dark. 


M-D: Is there an artist you would you love to work with ? (writer, inker or colourist )

P.R.: I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with many fine writers over the years.  One of the high points in my career was working with Stan Lee on the Spider-Man Sunday strip.  I would like to work with Kurt Busiek again.  We collaborated on my first assignment for DC.  A Superman Annual.  Peter David, Mark Evanier and Harlan Ellison come to mind.  Harlan had asked me to illustrate a story for his DREAMSCAPE project.  Unfortunately it was put on hold indefinitely.



M-D: On which comic book would you like to work or is there a specific character that you would like to work on ( can even be a dream project )?

P.R.: Now that’s a tough one.  There are several characters I would like to tackle at least once.  Conan, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, Wonder Woman and the Alan Scott Green Lantern.  I have a treatment for a plot involving Tarzan and The Phantom but nowhere to shop it around.  I don’t think Dark Horse is still doing Tarzan and Moonstone has the corner on the American market for The Phantom.


The Phantom by Paul Ryan

M-D: If you hadn’t worked in comics, what would you have done for a living ?

P.R.: Now that’s a tough one to answer.  I honestly don’t know.  I worked as a Graphic Designer for an engineering firm for eleven years before I broke into comics.  I was not happy in that job.  I always wanted to draw stories whether for the comic books or comic strips.  It was a dream that took a long time to achieve.  I was thirty-five when I finally broke into comics.  


M-D: Could you describe your typical day ?

P.R.: Up until a year ago I would be awake around 6:am, walk two miles, do some stretching excersises and work out with weights for 45 minutes.  Total workout ran two hours followed by breakfast and then on to the drawing board.  Depending on the deadline involved I could be at the drawing board until 9:00 or 10:00pm.  About a year ago we took in a stray cat and her kittens.  Now I get up in the morning, clean the litter boxes, feed the cats, fix a breakfast and lunch (to go) for my wife, Linda.  Once Linda is off to work I answer email and then on to the drawing board.  


M-D: If you were a comic book character, who would you be ? and why ?

P.R.: I would be Superman. I would want the most powerto to the greatest good for the most people.


Superman by Paul Ryan

M-D: What’s your favourite song ?

P.R.: “Follow Me” by John Denver, “Music of the Night” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and “The Planets” by Gustaf Holtz.  Sorry I just can’t play favorites.


M-D: Do you listen to music or radio when you draw ?

P.R.: Yes, the radio or CD player is constantly on when I work.  Classic radio helps me stay calm when I ink.  Country or Rock helps me get jazzed when I pencil.


M-D: What’s your favourite book ?

P.R.: I have been a voracious reader for years.  It would be difficult to select one out of all the books I have read.  I will, instead, mention two books I have read recently that I just couldn’t put down.  The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and Trapped by Greg Iles.

M-D: Is there a comic book character that you really can’t stand ? which one and why ?

P.R.: That question presupposes that these characters are real people and unchanging.  Whether a character is good or bad is dependent on the writer.  I will say that there are incarnations of a character that I don’t like.  DC Comics turning Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) into a homicidal maniac was definitely a mistake in my humble opinion.  Marvel’s retcon of the Rawhide Kid into a homosexual was wrong.  Anytime a writer or a company alters the basic personality we have come to accept about a given character it does a disservice to the character and to the reader.  I agree with the sentiment that there are no bad characters only bad writers.


M-D: Did you have some hard times in your career ? which ones and how did you deal with those ?

P.R.: Yes, I have had some hard times.  Generally they were of a personal nature.  Drawing comics allowed me to shut out, for a time, the stresses I was enduring in real life.  When I draw a story I feel as though I “enter” the world I am illustrating.  For a brief time it becomes real for me.  


M-D: What's your favourite type of scripts ? very detailled or not ?
P.R.: I have worked from a loose plot, Marvel style, and I have worked from very detailed scripts on The Phantom.  I like to have some room to breathe, which the plot allows.  I can sometimes choreograph a fight scene better than the writer.  I studied the Martial Arts for two years, learned the basics of fencing and am proficient with firearms.  On several occasions, though, I worked from very sparse plots and had to create much more than a fight sequence.  I was once given a plot, typewritten on two sheets of paper, that I had to turn into a 64 page Graphic Novel.  I don’t mind scripts if I am allowed some discretionary editing in the penciling stage.  Generally I will speak with the writer or editor if I think a particular scene would work better a different way.

M-D: What material do you use for your art ? what type of pencils do you use ?
P.R.: The paper is Strathmore two-ply Bristol board with a medium finish.  I prefer a slightly rough texture for penciling.  I use whatever pencil is readily available.  I do my layouts in blue pencil and finish up with a mechanical pencil with an HB lead.  The softness of the lead depends on the humidity and how it is affecting the surface texture of the paper.

M-D: how do you look back at your past work ? Are you still happy with your past pages ? Or do you critizise your work a lot ?

P.R.: I am not very kind to my past incarnations.  Occasionally I will see a page or a panel that I like and hope that I can duplicate that feeling in my current work.  Most of the time I look at my past work and wonder how I could have allowed that page out of the house.  I used to play a game when I was very young.  I had several large sketchbooks that I filled on a daily basis.  As years passed I would go back to the sketchbooks and draw the same character or scene right next to one I have done a few years prior.  I would then denigrate the previous artist (Me) as though he was a separate, distinct person.

M-D: What’s the weirdest drawing a fan asked you ?

P.R.: Quasar vs. Gumby

M-D: Gum.. who ? who is that ?

P.R.: Gumby is a claymation character that has been around for years in the U.S


M-D: Have you ever been to Paris ? and if so what surprised you the most when you arrived ?

P.R.: Sorry to say I have never been to the City of Lights.  I have a niece who recently spent a few months in Paris as part of her schools exchange program.  She absolutely fell in love with the City and its people. My only trip to Europe to date was to Aviles, Spain as a guest of that City’s Comic Convention.  That was very enjoyable. 


M-D: What is your best achievement so far ?

P.R.: You saved the most difficult question for last.  Actually I don’t feel as though I have achieved anything of note thus far in my life.  I am working at a job that I love.  That is not an achievement it is good fortune.  I am married to a wonderful woman.  This is not an acheivement it is a Blessing.


M-D: Is there a question no one ever asked you in interview  and what would be the answer ?

P.R.: Yes.  Do I prefer Blondes, Brunettes or Redheads?  I married a redhead.  I think that should sufficiently answer that question.


M-D: And since My website is on Dr Doom mainly, and that you drew him quiet a few times :) , How would you describe the character ?

P.R.: I see Victor Von Doom as a tortured individual.  So much that happened in his early life was beyond his control.  His mother died when he was very young.  His father died while fleeing, with his son, from an injustice.  Also he was a Gypsy.  In Europe the Gypsies had no power.  They were outcasts of society, scorned, mistrusted and at the mercy of the ruling class.  Because of this he has an overpowering need to control the world around him.  He is brilliant but flawed. 


M-D: Who do you think wrote Dr Doom the best ?

P.R.:  Stan with John Byrne a close second. 


M-D: What is the trickiest thing to draw about him ?

P.R.: Trying to show emotion through that damned mask.



M-D : To draw Dr Doom, did you get influenced by other artist’s visions of the character or not ?

P.R.: Generally I would look at Kirby and Byrne.  Interesting how each artist approached the character.  As I said trying to show emotion was tricky.  The man is wearing a full face mask.  Byrne came up with these eyebrow pieces that moved to give the impression of a frown or a scowl.  Kirby just threw physics out the window and drew facial expressions on the mask as if it were organic.  I suppose if anyone had an “Artistic Liscence” it would have been Jack Kirby.


Thanks a lot Paul !!!

 Check Paul Ryan website here: