We are starting a segment dedicated to the creators and projects over at IDW Publishing ( www.idwpublishing.com). The focus of this week’s IDW spotlight is Chris Ryall, the Chief Creative Officer and the Editor-in-Chief of IDW.
You serve as both IDW’s Editor-in-Chief and Chief Creative Officer. What duties do you have for each capacity?
There’s a pretty sizable overlap between the two, not really any clear distinction between ’em. Basically, they both involve working on every aspect of our publishing. To try to draw some difference between them, I’d say the Chief Creative Officer role involves the broader picture — figuring out what properties to pursue, what titles to publish, and interfacing with various parties (licensors, creators) in that regard, as well as working with our marketing folks on ads and marketing & PR, and promoting our books in other ways. The Editor-in-Chief role delves deeper into the nuts and bolts of putting comics together — talking to editors and creators about story direction, hiring writers, artists, and colorists, and so on. I also edit a number of titles myself, and write a handful of titles, too.
I should mention that none of this happens in a vacuum, so when I say that “I’m” figuring out what we should publish and talking to licensors, all of these decisions and many conversations are had with multiple people in the office, including the CEO, President, the editors, VP of Sales, and marketing. Just like working on comics themselves, it’s all a very collaborative thing. But in short, I essentially oversee and interact with everything involved with the books we publish.
When pooling various talents (including artists, writers, colorists, ext.) into a project, what aspects do you look for?
The specifics depend on the project, from anything as narrow as “can this guy draw good robots and humans?” for a Transformers book to just weighing if a writer’s vision for a title either matches the way I see it or just takes the book in an interesting direction.
But really, two of the biggest things I look for at all levels is “can this person meet a regular deadline?” and “Is this person pleasant to work with?” You’d be amazed how many people have sustained long careers in comics simply by hitting those two marks. Being good helps, sure, but if you’re good and unreliable, you’re not likely to keep getting calls every month. Monthly comics can be oppressive for creators and editors alike, so if you’re doing your part to make that non-stop schedule more pleasant, you’re probably someone I want to keep working with.
You said in an interview (http://chuckpalahniuk.net/interviews/comic-book-writers-artists/chris-ryall-interview) that ‘pacing is really tricky in comics.’ What do you think are some common pacing pitfalls comic book writers fall into and how can these pitfalls be sidestepped?
Once you’ve done it for a while, you tend to get a feel for what a comic script needs to be effective. So many of the problems I see, whether pacing issues or clunky dialogue, are things that new writers can keep working to get past them. It all comes down to giving the reader a reason to turn the page, to want to come back each month. A more micro view is, is the writer leaving the artist room to communicate all the needed visuals and dialogue? Does the story make sense, does the dialogue feel right for the characters, does the action flow in a logical manner and is it all easy to follow? Too much dialogue and over-writing scripts is often something I see from new writers, but that’s an easy thing to work on and get more comfortable with as you go along.
Are there any projects you are currently working on?
There are — I wrote two of the five “Mars Attacks IDW” issues for a special 5-week January event we’re doing. I wrote Mars Attacks Kiss as a complete nod to the 1977 Kiss Super Special that Marvel did, and I also wrote the Mars Attacks Zombies vs Robots issue that ends the event. Beyond that, December sees the launch of The Hollows, a 4-issue miniseries I created with artist Sam Kieth. And in the spring, I’m doing a new series called The Colonized with artist Drew Moss. That one features covers by Cerebus creator Dave Sim, which is immensely thrilling to me.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just that comics, like any entertainment field, can be hard to break into and therefore likely frustrating for aspiring creators. But I think there are more options and outlets for people to get their work seen and even published, whether digitally or in print, than ever before. So I like to encourage any creator who’s not been able to get traction from one of the top five or six publishers to go it alone, get your comic finished, and spread it around. That’s the best way to get noticed, beyond just trying to pitch. I love to discover new comics that way, and that typically leads to more job offers than blindly pitching when we might not be looking for anything new. Just get good at your craft, and we’ll find you. And if publishers don’t come calling right away, well, hopefully you’ll be too busy focusing on your own thing to even worry about it, let along need them.
And to everyone who likes reading comics, especially comics that aren’t sure sales in comic book stores (by “sure sales,” I mean the typical superhero fare), I can’t encourage you enough to pre-order your comics. There are hundreds upon hundreds of comics available every month, and retailers can’t possibly stock them all, especially the ones that seem riskier and harder for them to sell. Pre-ordering helps them make better decisions and also ensures that you’ll get to read the comics you want to read every month.