Penciller In Crisis
by Will Allred (05/21/1999)
If a penciller is measured by the characters that he or she has pencilled, then industry veteran Paul Ryan stands tall. He's done the big ones, the not-so-big ones, and, most importantly, my favorite. Let's see, a quick rundown would show that he's done Superman, the Flash, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Iron Man, and Quasar to name a few. OK, Quasar isn't exactly a big gun, but he does happen to be my favorite character, and his title also happens to be where I first noticed Paul's work. Paul had just a few minutes to sit down and talk with me about his humble beginnings, working for Marvel, and his latest project, Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis On Infinite Earths. So now, at least for DC, the little checklist above ought to just say everybody.
Allred: We'll get to Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis On Infinite Earths in a minute, but I'd like to hear how you got your start before we start talking about your latest work.
Ryan: My first published work was for Americomics, a little company in Florida run by Bill Black. It was an eleven-page (later expanded to 15 pages) story I originally submitted to Charlton Comics for their try-out book called Bullseye. The title was canceled before my story saw print. Bill Pearson of Charlton sent my story, along with many other leftovers, to his friend Bill Black. The story was called "Breed." I wrote, penciled, inked, lettered and colored it. Looking back, now, it was pretty bad, but Bill liked it and commissioned a sequel or two. I completed another 15-pager and a 30-pager. These subsequent stories I pulled after I started working with Bob Layton as his background man. A year working with Bob showed me all the things I was doing wrong with my own work. I couldn't bear to see those "pre-Layton" stories in print.
With Bob's help I learned the ropes and eventually got work on my own at Marvel. This close association with the House of Ideas lasted for eleven years.
I was very excited to be offered my own monthly series so soon after getting into the business. I had inked two issues of the Thing, penciled five issues of the Squadron Supreme mini and issue twelve of Eternals. Mark Gruenwald approached me during the last days of the Squadron and asked if I would join him on a New Universe title. How could I refuse? Mark gave me my first professional assignment and also my second and third. I jumped right in. Mark was determined to bring a "real world" feel to the series. We "cast" our characters, even the minor ones, to insure that each person had a distinctive look. Each character was a celebrity pulled from a magazine.
Working in this real world atmosphere, a directive from Jim Shooter, forced me to do a lot of research on locations, cars, buildings, people, you name it. It helped me get better at what I was doing.
Mark was very excited about The DP7 and pretty much knew exactly where he was headed all the time. I can only remember one time that he called me where he was uncertain how to proceed. I can't even say I helped him much. I think he just needed a sounding board because after about an hour he had it worked out in his head. He never told me. But he knew and that's all that mattered. I eventually saw it in the next plot. Mark was a great guy and I still miss him.
Allred: What prompted you to go from a hyper-realistic series like DP7 to a very cosmic, science fiction series like Quasar?
Ryan: My involvement with Quasar began with one of those "good news, bad news" phone calls from DP7 editor Howard Mackie. Howard called to tell me that issue #32 was to be the last DP7 story. Just as panic was settling in, he followed that announcement with an offer of a penciling assignment on the soon to launched Quasar with Mark as writer. I liked Quasar. We "cast" Richard Dean Anderson in the title role.
There were a couple of reasons why I only stayed for six issues. During this time I was involved in some very stressful family problems. On top of that, Mark and I had diametrically opposed views of what direction the book should take. The original proposal I had been given described Quasar as kind of like Marvel's answer to Green Lantern. Wendell Vaughn would be involved in cosmic adventures. We would share his wonderment and sometimes bewilderment as an average Earthman suddenly thrust into a Star Trek/Star Wars Universe. Issue three found Wendell setting up shop in an office building in midtown Manhattan, hiding his costume in a vault hidden in an alley and having discourse with an alien Mr. Potatohead in a closet. This wasn't quite what I had bargained for. When I questioned Mark about the discrepancy between the proposal and the plots he replied that he didn't feel that we had to go into outer space to have cosmic adventures. My dreams of penciling alien civilizations, space ships and (hopefully) some space babes were shattered. Sometime around the end of issue three or the beginning of issue four I was offered the penciling chores on Avengers. I took it and managed to service both titles for a few months. Eventually, due to editorially differences, Mark, Quasar, and I parted company. It's really too bad, because in its second year the book started to turn into what I had envisioned.
Allred: Once you left Quasar, how long did you stay on Avengers?
Ryan: After Quasar I spent almost three years penciling Avengers. John Byrne was the writer on Avengers and had asked for me specifically. I was very excited, one, to be drawing the Avengers and, second, to be working with Byrne. Months later John asked me to take on the inking chores for the West Coast Avengers. Byrne was the penciller at the time on the WCA (WACO'S as they were sometimes called.) I think I inked about four of his issues when, due to editorial differences (don't ya just love that phrase) John walked off both Avengers titles. New writers were brought in and I was asked to pencil both books. Talk about your heroics and no time for a life. TWO team books a month--- FULL PENCILS.
Apparently J.B. wasn't finished with me yet. He was now writing Iron Man with John Romita, Jr. penciling. Johnny left and Byrne asked me to join him in Tony Stark land. After Iron Man, I was asked by Tom DeFalco to help out on Fantastic Four. Life just couldn't get any better. Tom and I started on Fantastic Four with issue #305. In all, we collaborated on fifty-eight issues. It was a lot of fun. I think I tried to bring some of Kirby and some of Byrne to the pages. There might even have been a little, teensy, weensy, itsy, bitsy piece of Ryan there. I bought issue 1 of Fantastic Four when it first came out in 1961. I was hooked. I loved this quartet of adventurers who didn't always get along. I had some good times with Tom. He was the first writer I ever worked with who actually gave me credit for my input on the stories. I have to say, though, that initially I was very intimidated following in such giant footsteps as Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Romita, Rich Buckler, John Byrne (twice) and Walt Simonson. DeFalco told me on many an occasion to just have fun with it. And we did.
Allred: It was around this time that you stopped both working on the Fantastic Four and for Marvel. What prompted you to leave, and where did you go?
Ryan: With the whole Hero's Reborn affair, I was left without work at Marvel. I called Mike Carlin, an old friend and former editor at Marvel, who was editing Superman at DC. Mike offered me work, first on a Superman Annual and then the quarterly, Superman, Man of Tomorrow. I had been working for DC for several months when I goat a call from Mark Waid. Mark and I had met recently at the Motor City Con and really hit it off. Mark asked if I would consider penciling Flash. I said, "SURE!" I think we got along just fine. Flash had always been one of my favorite, childhood heroes back in the Infantino days. Then he, Mark, decided to take a sabbatical for a year. He asked me to stay on the book until he returned. I promised to be there waiting for him when he returned. Events unfolded that prevented me from keeping this promise. I don't know if I will ever know the whole truth and nothing but the truth but apparently, from rumors I later heard, the new writers were pushing to bring in their own art team. Some say the sales dipped when word got out that Mark was going away for 12 issues. Some say the sales remained stable. In any event after working with the new writers for nearly a year I was told that my services as penciller were no longer required. I had three issues to complete before the new guy took over. Would I consider saying on as inker? This would be appreciated because the new guy "needed help". Not having any other foreseeable options at the time I agreed. I penciled the first of the three issue story arc. Then, suddenly, I was in demand by other editors. Joey Cavalieri needed me to fill in on three issues of Superman plus my own quarterly. Mike McAvennie wanted me to pencil a four issue mini-series, Legion: Science Police. And I was getting calls form the special projects group to work on stamp collecting books, Celebrating the Century, a DC/Post Office collaboration. I decided that I would rather work with people who valued my skills and wanted to work with me than work with someone who only tolerated my abilities for the moment. I gave notice on Flash and walked.
I loved the Legion Of Super-Heroes when I was a kid. Are you getting the impression that I was something of a comics geek? You're probably right. I lived for comics in those days. I was so fanatical about them that for years my parents forbade me to read them. Those were hard times. Also there was the chance to work with David Michelinie, a writer whom I have admired for years. I loved his run on Iron Man and Spider-Man. I was looking forward to working with editor Mike McAvennie as well. Mike and I had met on several occasions (my initial lunch interview with Carlin and at the Chicago Comicon) and gotten along just great. I'm proud of the work we did on that series. I just wish the sales had been more encouraging.
Allred: Well, I liked it, but I'm something of a comics geek and Legion of Super-Heroes fan, too. From here, though, you went on to pencil Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis On Infinite Earths. Were you a little nervous?
Ryan: Mike Carlin called me out of the blue in June. It's always nice talking with Mike, it's just that after the Flash affair you get real paranoid when you get a call from the Executive Editor. The good news- he was offering me a project. The bad news- it was fifty-four pages long and due in two months time. I said, "Okay!" He said it has a lot of costumed characters. I said "Okay!" He said it is Crisis on Infinite Earths. I said (pause for effect), "Oh…………………………, okay!" I have this thing about not wanting to pass up any assignment no matter how scary. And, believe me, this one scared the heck out of me. I remember reading the Crisis years ago when I was just getting into the business. I was in awe of George Pérez's work on that series. I was now being asked to pinch-hit for George on this "Untold Chapter". George was, apparently, unavailable due to commitments on Avengers. When I got the plot I called Marv Wolfman and discussed the story and layouts with him. This was my first association with Marv. I had only known him as a name in a comic book prior to this. It couldn't have been a more pleasant or agreeable collaboration. I asked him if, when he worked with George lo those many years ago, he had required Mr. Pérez to include an average of twelve panels per page. I breathed a sigh of relief when Marv told me that such a decision had been the penciller's prerogative. I tried to instill a little of the Pérez look in the special without actually drawing twelve panel pages. Some of my pages might have gone as high as eight. We tried to get Jerry Ordway to ink this project but apparently he was still recovering from his first experience with Crisis. Bob McLeod was available and I was very happy with his efforts on the book.
Allred: I'm certainly looking forward to reading it. Thanks.
Don't forget to check out the official Marvel and DC sites at http://www.marvel.com/ and http://www.dccomics.com/. If you'd like to know more about the Avengers, Avengers Assemble at http://www.avengersassemble.us/ is a great place to find out about Marvel's premiere super-team. And, if you'd like more information about Quasar, check out the Quantum Zone at www.quantumzone.org.