Hey, so as you may or may not know, Marvel Exclusive artist Ryan Stegman’s new book She-Hulks #1 came out two weeks ago. Seeing as we’re both Michiganders I decided to check in with him about She-Hulks and basically perform a scattershot interview. Think of this as an “Everything you wanted to know about Ryan Stegman,” sort of thing.
The setting: Ryan and I are sitting in his basement which doubles as his studio. Rather, one end is his studio, which has a ton of art supplies, computers, comics, and the original art for She-Hulks #1 and 2 scattered about. On the other side of this partially subterranean habitat (it’s a walkout basement) there’s a comfy couch and two chairs for television viewing and a DLP TV mounted to the ceiling. The Art of the Princess and the Frog lays forlorn, but not forgotten, on the coffee table and there’s cat hair everywhere.
You’re Ryan Stegman, what do you do? Who are you?
I draw comic books for Marvel Comics. She-Hulks #1 comes out today. I’ve drawn Sif, Red She-Hulk, Hercules, some Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Magician: Apprentice, and Midnight Kiss from Markosia before that.
She-Hulks #1 came out today as you said, and you’re drawing it with?
Harrison Wilcox is the writer and this is his first big series. He did the Red She-Hulk backups with me, Michael Babinski is inking it, and the colorist is GURU eFX.
What do you like most about drawing She-Hulk?
Basically everything. I like drawing female characters and this is two female characters, so that’s nice. I like to draw things that are pleasing.
But not prurient?
No, very prurient (Laughs).
So when did you start drawing comics?
Well when I was 15 I got my first comic. That’s when I said, “Hey, I wanna draw comic books.” I always drew, but I could never figure out what I wanted to do with it. I thought I wanted to be a Disney animator or something but I picked up an issue of Spawn and I looked at it and I was like, “Oh my god, I could do that someday.” And then I just told my parents and made that my life’s goal and pursued it.
So you started at 15?
I didn’t start pursuing it right then, I did draw. I did buy all the books I had heard you were supposed to read like Burne Hogarth’s anatomy book and George Bridgeman’s stuff. I would read all these books about perspective and about all these other things you needed to know to draw, and I tried to study storytelling, but I really wasn’t’ doing as much drawing of comic books as much as I would have liked. I did maybe 3 pages a year. Then I went to college and got a degree in something completely unrelated and then got out and still had been telling everyone that I would be a comic book artist so I had to cash in on the deal.
After you graduated college, with an English major from MSU no less, you were still intent on being a comic book artist?
I mean I think I was just so sure of it and I told everyone and everybody knew that’s what I said I was gonna do. I think it was a good thing because when it came time I was like, “Oh my god, I have to do this otherwise I have no identity.” My identity was completely tied up in it.
But everything worked out and now you’re a comic book artist! So after all that, what was the first thing that you got published?
Supposedly something was published when I was 15 or 16 but I never saw it. I told the guy, “Hey if you didn’t’ really publish this you can tell me,” and he said, “no I did I’ll send it to you” but he never did. I don’t think it came out.
So that may or may not exist, what was next?
The first thing after that would have been Midnight Kiss, which was the series I did for AP Comics, which was bought up by Markosia. It was a 5 issue series and it took me forever to do it. 5 issues to me now, that would take me a little over 5 months, but that took me about 2 years, a year and a half.
What was your first professional drawing gig like? Did you love it? Hate it?
It was more like, I just did it. I don’t really remember it seeming horrible or anything, but looking back on the amount of hours I had to put into it and the way my life was so structured around it… It completely dominated my life and it was a pretty terrible time, but I didn’t know it.
In retrospect it may not have been the best of times but…
I felt like I was doing it! I’m not embarrassed of the series, I still think it’s pretty good, but just knowing the amount of money I made off of it which was hardly anything… If you take the amount of money I made and divided it by the number of hours I put into it, I was probably making $2 an hour or something. I may as well have been working in a sweatshop, but I just didn’t care. What’s crazy though?
Between the time that I started the book and the time I finished it, I had lost 40 lbs. And I’m not even a heavy guy. I’m 6’4’’ and now I weigh 195. I weighed 205 at the time and I got down to 165, even lower, but when I dropped lower than that I realized I needed to eat. I was working all the time.
That seems incredibly unhealthy. Now that you’re raking in the dough and maybe working a little less you can afford food right? Afford to eat it too? What was your next project?
Well I piggybacked Midnight Kiss into some work for Dabel Brothers Publishing. They were doing these novel adaptations and they had one called Magician: Apprentice that Brett Boothe was doing, but he was leaving to go do Anita Blake so they needed a new artist. A friend of mine recommended me and I don’t even know if they were interested. I felt like they were but looking back at it I really hunted it. I think my friend said, “Oh they’re interested” which I took to mean “oh you’ve got them on the hook let’s make this happen,” but really I don’t know how interested they were and I just pursued the hell out of it.
I wouldn’t get out of their faces until they gave me that job and that was the book that… Well Marvel bought the Dabel Brothers, so suddenly I was working under their editorial staff but the book was coming out through Marvel. Then Marvel eliminated their editorial staff and so I was working directly for Marvel editorial.
Well that seems incredibly fortuitous right?
After that what did you do?
I did about 13 issues of Magician: Apprentice, I think I did 8 for Marvel and then there was a break between the next 5 issues. So they had me go and do a couple of issues of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and then they told me they were doing more Magician books, Rift War. After that I did Hercules, 3 issues, and then the Red She-Hulk backups and that’s where things started to pick up I think.
Why do you think that is?
People like the way I draw females and that was the first chance I got to do it. That’s when I feel like people started to zone in on me and be like we want him to more work, suddenly there was an abundance of work when before I was just begging like “please give me more work.” I was still having to hustle a lot more before that, but now they have to give me jobs because I signed a contract. This is the first job security I’ve had since I was 25 when I started.
Now, with this exclusive Marvel gig, the door’s open for you to basically work with some of the biggest writers in comics. As of right now, have you always gotten along with your writers?
Every single writer that I’ve worked with has been awesome. I mean Midnight Kiss was cool and Tony Lee was awesome, he does a lot of stuff for IDW, and I owe him a lot. He was the guy that found me online and asked me to do the book and he stuck with me when I was very slow and… not that good. But he stuck with me and by the end I think I was doing some pretty good work. Bryan Glass was awesome on Magician, he was always available to talk to and whenever I would send in the pages I would always get comments from Brian, very positive and everything.
I worked with Mark Sumerak on Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and I’ve since met him in person and he’s a very cool guy. I worked with Pak and Van Lente and those guys are awesome. They’re both really funny guys and I’ve hung out with them at conventions and they’re really nice, really cool.
I worked with Harrison on the Red She-Hulk backups, he’s writing She-Hulks now, and he and I talk probably more than we should and half the time it’s not even work related. We just get along really well. I’ve worked with Kelly Sue Deconnick on Sif #1 and she was really, really cool. I would definitely like to work with her again someday. I think she’ll be doing a lot more in the future cause she’s really very skilled.
In all of your collaborations you’ve come away with positive stuff?
I think good writers, all the guys that get far, I don’t think there’s one out there that doesn’t go out of his way to get along with his artists. You hear that about Geoff Johns, great guy and Bendis, everybody likes him. You have to have the artist’s trust.
Now that we’ve talked about working on other people’s scripts, do you eventually want to work on your own material?
Of course, I feel like as an industry person, that’s sort of the only way that you can retire. That or investing money, but who wants to do that? It’s more fun to spend it. But that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I think there are a lot of us, that from a certain age, our favorite comics were Image comics and the way I thought when I was growing up was, “That’s what I want to do,“ but at the same time I do love working for Marvel. It’s great to work with them. There’s nothing I would change, and I don’t complain about anything. I couldn’t ask for more freedom.
So you do want to do your own stuff one day but you’re happy where you’re at for now?
It’s just that I have a plan of when I want to do my own stuff and it’s just not right now
This plan, what does it involve? Before the interview we talked a bit about digital vs. print in comics. Would you be leaning towards digital distribution?
Well I’m hoping that by the time I decide working on my own stuff that the digital thing is figured out. I’m hoping that we’ve decided on a format, we know what’s going to work, how it’s going to sell. Right now, there’s zero overhead, there are zero printing costs if you’re doing it over the web. If you can make money that way you can fund the printing costs. I don’t want to have my own company where I have to distribute things; I don’t want to spend all day messing around with business. When I do it I just want to be able to put something out there, so when I do it I’m hoping to do it all online.
We’re both from Michigan, which happens to have one of the worst economies in the nation, has that affected you at all?
Yeah it affected us. We got our house for half price! (Laughs)
Any negative ways?
Well both my wife and I do pretty well but really the bottom falling out hasn’t affected us. We’re just really lucky and I don’t know why.
More on Michigan, the Mitten isn’t known for comics but there are some bigger name creators that live here. Is there any sort of community that you’re a part of? Do you hang out with anyone here?
Yeah, Jason Howard and I hang out and Marshall Dillon, he’s a letterer from Flint, he and I hang out. Jason and I talk on Skype sometimes. He’s come over to the house sometimes to work. He and I get along real well. But there are a lot of guys that are breaking in that I hang out with, mostly at conventions. But I consider Jason a friend and I consider Marshall a friend. We don’t just run into each other, we go out of our way to see each other.
All right, so on to the less pertinent stuff, what are you reading right now that other people should be reading?
It depends; do you mean if they want to be an artist?
Just shoot. (The sheer amount of shed cat hair interrupts the conversation for about a minute as it wafts about on the breeze getting all over us.)
For artists, I talk about this on Twitter all the time, there’s a book called Framed Ink that’s awesome. It’s the first book of its kind that I’ve been able to get my hands on that’s all about composition in comic books. It’s all about constructing a shot, which is awesome.
I haven’t been reading very many comics at all lately but I’ve gotten really obsessed with the “art of” books of these cartoons. Upstairs I have Ratatouille, Mega Mind, and How to Train your Dragon.
I love that movie!
Me too! I’ve been reading them every day. (Points with his foot to a book on the coffee table) There’s The Art of The Princess and the Frog. The Art of Up is awesome too. When it comes to comics, it’s not when they come out it’s more just when I get my hands on them. I read a lot of manga though. It’s always super clear what’s going on and I like stories about samurai and stuff.
Samurai are awesome.
I read a lot, a lot of manga.
And it influences your art?
Oh yeah. I realized recently that I read a lot more manga than American comics. I had to step away from it and try to study more American comics because manga, they can take one action and it can span 5 pages.
If a character throws something you can show a close-up of the hand, show them throwing it, show it traveling through the air, people’s expressions, but in American comics generally you get one panel to do that.
It’s sort of an East vs. West issue. The West is very action oriented.
I get so obsessed with getting every little detail in there, I’m over explaining. I get all this stuff out of manga but then I remember that they’re doing it over ten panels when I’ve only got one. I have to make sure to study both sides. I take certain things from manga but I can’t take everything.
Who inspires you?
I posted it on Twitter the other day, but you don’t need to look much past the artists that I keep on my desk.
And who is that?
Right now Jason Pearson, Olivier Coipel, Art Adams, Jim Lee’s stuff, Joe Madureira, Travis Charest, Stuart Immonen, who else did I have over there?
(I shrug). We then get into another short conversation over the copious amounts of cat hair all over his basement. I pull a little out of his own hair and we continue.
There’s a manga series over there that you didn’t see by Takehiko Inoue called Vagabond and Pluto by Urosawa… Hmm… J. Scott Campbell. But I have other inspirations. I don’t draw anything like Skottie Young but his work inspires me to try new things, Sean Murphy’s work is awesome. Mike Mignola, I try to take some things from him.
What book would you like to draw most?
Any book? The Incredible Hulk.
Any reason why?
Because he’s a monster and it’s super fun to draw stuff like that. You don’t have to get so caught up in this attractive anatomy; you just get to draw a big hulking monster. There’s something so liberating about that when you’re drawing.
And who would you most like to draw for?
I’ve worked with some people who I’d really like to work for again but out of the people I haven’t, Jason Aaron. Definitely. He’s awesome. And… everybody else who sells a lot of books. But really I’m a big Jason Aaron fan.
All right, so everything aside, you’ve made it. What advice do you have for the budding comic book artists out there?
Work harder than everyone else. That is the God’s honest truth. Persevere and just work harder. It’s all about perseverance, hard work, and determination. You have to make it happen. Nobody is going to help you, but then again nobody is going to stop you either. That’s a thing. I’ve found that some people start blaming other people for what’s not going right.
It’s like, nobody cares what’s you’re doing. Nobody. They’re not spending a second of their time making sure that your stuff doesn’t work out. You’re the only person who cares about your work so you have to do it. It’s all on you.
Whenever something didn’t work out for me along the way, I never looked at it and said, “That’s this person’s fault.” I always felt like “this didn’t happen yet, but I’ll work hard and the next time an opportunity like this comes up I’ll get it.”
So it’s all about the perseverance?
I will say this; I’m sounding so high and mighty or something. It wasn’t that I was brave about this work, but I had this sort of naïveté where I just didn’t understand the difficulty of breaking in. When something didn’t work out I didn’t make excuses, I just didn’t get it. I would say “that’s alright, I can do better than what I’m doing. I’ll do better.” I put all my eggs in one basket and I just wasn’t going to quit, I couldn’t.
Any shout-outs here at the end?
Shout out to peanut butter and jelly, my daily lunch. Shout out to my unborn son who will be here in February. Shout out to Lenny and Gus for getting their hair all over the basement. And I think that’s it.
So that could be considered a wrap?
You can follow Ryan on Twitter here – http://twitter.com/ryanstegman
You can check out his DeviantArt here – http://ryanstegman.deviantart.com/
He even has a blog! – http://ryanstegmanart.blogspot.com/
And finally, be sure to purchase some of his original artwork over at http://www.cadencecomicart.com/