Hailing from sunny Canberra, Australia, Ryan K Lindsay is a talented and prolific writer, both for and about comics. From his shorts with publishers such as ComixTribe, Shadowline and Challenger to his work on franchises such as Ghost Town and My Little Pony, Ryan has an impressive and expanding portfolio and also edited The Devil is in the Details, a volume of essays on Daredevil. Ryan demonstrates a depth of understanding for the medium of comics that has both garnered him acclaim and put him firmly at the top of many ‘one-to-watch’ lists of rising star creators. Despite his being a full-time teacher on top of a prolific writing schedule, Ryan generously gave some of his precious time to talk about his projects as well as his thoughts on his craft and his experiences as a creator in the current comic climate.
Samuel Read – I realise it is a cliché to open with this question, but the answer is often very interesting; what is your earliest memory/experience of comics?
Ryan K Lindsay – It’s hard to pinpoint because comics were just always around. My eldest brother was a Marvel zombie so I grew up with Claremont’s X-Men and Simonson’s Thor just floating around the house. I can remember playing superheroes as a kid and being Daredevil. I can remember Throg haunting my dreams. I really dug the ‘What If…?’ issues from the eighties.
Me and my two brothers used to catch the train into town, about an hour each way, and go to what was at the time the largest comic shop in the southern hemisphere (shout out to Minotaur) and my eldest brother, being the only one with a job, would spend hundreds of dollars on issues and we’d spend the train ride home talking about the characters, and what we’d read in which order, and then we’d just lay all the issues out at home and spend the weekend devouring them. Notice those weekends don’t describe any ladies, ha, we were the biggest nerds. Still are.
SR – What was it that prompted you to take the step into producing your own comics?
RKL – I’ve always been a writer. I write all kinds of things. I honestly never really forayed into writing comics as a kid as much purely because I didn’t know any artists and my drawing is so incredibly bad that it would have destroyed the point or fun in it. But now, years later, with the internet at my disposal, I saw the opportunity to make my own comics so I completely jumped at it.
As for making my own right now, hell, that’s just how you break into comics. You put your own stuff into the world. I did some shorts but Fatherhood, my DIY one-shot with Daniel Schneider, Paulina Ganucheau, and Brandon DeStefano through Challenger Comics, was just my way of showing myself, and anyone else who cared, that I could produce my own material and that it would be good.
SR – You mention Challenger Comics; could you outline who they are, and how you came to be involved with them?
RKL – Challenger Comics is a comic imprint/hub created by Mr Ryan Ferrier, comic maker and scaredy cat supreme. He established this imprint a few years back to house his intensely good books Tiger Lawyer and The Brothers James. He set up the site and then started hosting short stories there as well as selling one-shots and smaller works. You can see works by him, Ed Brisson, Fabian Rangel Jr, Brian Level, Rob Harrington, Curt Pires, and more. It’s a great site, a place you can lose an afternoon in easily with all the free content, and an imprint for me that stands for DIY quality, drive, and fun. I’ve known Ferrier for a little while so I took Fatherhood, my one-shot, to him and he was sweet enough to house it with them.
SR – In terms for craft, be it scripting or planning out projects, what resources have you found most useful or piece of advice most enduring?
RKL – Resources: I’m a pen and pad man for the start of things. I keep a notebook per project. I map outlines and script notes incessantly. When digitising the process, I’ve started using Google Drive and am insanely in love with it. I can access a script or plan from my phone while anywhere, and this helps when having a baby who doesn’t always like to keep to sleep routines. Writing on my phone, and tablet, and then back at the computer has become a dream for me. Other than that, I don’t go in for fancy programs or anything, I am far too cheap.
Advice: lord, there might be too much. Write every day is a good one and is universal. From there, scripting and storytelling can be so individual. Some people bash out a zero draft and edit like mad, some write all the dialogue first, some map out the action beats first. I think a really savvy writer will analyse what their personal style is, how they write, and then build the skills around themselves to best facilitate the greatest stories being mined from them. It can be hard, and should take years, but it’s totally worth it.
SR – With your work-for-hire, what new challenges did these books present you with when compared to your creator-owned projects?
RKL – When I worked on the My Little Pony franchise at IDW, I honestly didn’t find many wrinkles in that process. It was smooth, they let me try my stuff, but the greatest and most obvious challenge is that you are playing with someone else’s toys. When I wrote a short in the Oxymoron book for ComixTribe I had Tyler James tweak a few of Oxy’s lines and who was I to argue? Tyler created the character, he’d know how he’d sound, ha ha.
However, WFH gigs usually just mean me writing. That’s it. With creator owned and DIY books, I have to become the manager of the whole shebang. I find the creative team, I collate everything, I set deadlines if necessary. It’s a load more stressful and full of way more hard work and there’s a tonne less money. But it’s compete freedom. I admit I enjoy both but I’d prefer a history in creator owned. Well, fiscally responsible creator owned.
SR – Comic conventions, primarily those in the US and Europe, are seen as key hubs for connecting with other members of the comics community; considering your location (Australia), what steps have you taken (clearly successful ones, it must be said) to overcome this potential handicap, if you indeed see it as one?
RKL – Oh, man, I just recently read Jason La
tour’s post about this where he talks about how some people will have their career survive, quality aside, if they make friends and connections and have people invested and who care about whether their career makes it. And he’s 100% right. I see it all the time. And it’s like that in every other industry, so I’m not crying foul, but it’s something I watch from Australia, about $3,000 away from visiting, and it kills me on the inside. I won’t lie, it makes me mad, or sad, or feel really bad, or something else ending in -ad. It kinda makes me feel left out, or like I’m committed to a Sisyphean task. But, y’know, it’s not everything, or lord I hope not.
I hit ECCC in 2013 and it was a great show. My first US con, so far, my only US con. But the thing I found was, people were insanely helpful. Like, above and beyond what they should ever want to do. I was in Seattle for about four days and other creators were going out of their way to introduce me to editors and friends because they knew I only had this one shot. That was incredibly sweet and humbling and made me solidify my belief that comics people are the best people.
Many went to bat for me to get me an in at places I’d never get in just yet because they knew I didn’t have five cons across the year to embed myself in the landscape, I had three con days and I spent crazy cash to get there and at the time my daughter was about ten days old so I got taken under a lot of wings and this helped me immensely. It was Christopher Sebela who introduced me to Chris Roberson which led to us landing our pitch at Monkeybrain. He didn’t have to do that but he’s a good man and he helped a brother out. I’ll be in a blood debt to that handsome gentleman for the rest of my life.
And I made all of those helpful connections without ever leaving my hemisphere mainly through twitter. Just being on there, chatting, whatever, it’s all helped me make connections with people I otherwise would never get to meet. The internet has helped me somewhat, it’s no complete replacement for being able to become part of the con scene wallpaper a dozen times a year but it’s been better than about ten years ago when I felt completely isolated in Australia writing my terrible first scripts. Though it was probably best I couldn’t force some of that dreck into the world.
Cut to now and I’ve had so many people in comics email me asking if I’m hitting a US con this year. Alas, I cannot. I’m hoping maybe 2015 will see me at one con but there’s no guarantees. Taking that $3,000 out of my starving kids’ mouths, and denying their feet shoes for that year just feels a little weak sometimes, y’know? But knowing people, even just a handful, will feel my absence makes me feel like things are slowly building and growing in all the right ways.
SR – Of your existing portfolio, what do you consider your ‘signature’ piece so far, and why?
RKL – This is an interesting question to ponder because it was Fatherhood, it hit the themes that interest me as a writer, and it was super polished, and I love it. But I’d honestly say, right now, Headspace, once it is collected as a paper item in this world, will be the thing I point to as being my touchstone as a creator. This book is personal, and yet also shows the bombastic gonzo side I like to let out. Headspace is the book that best shows me to the world.
SR – In light of Headspace being a book you see as being a significant work for you; would you like to talk a bit more about that project?
RKL – Headspace is a book I’m creating with Eric Zawadzki, Chris Peterson and Marissa Louise being realised through Monkeybrain Comics all this year. It’s about Carpenter Cove, a small strange village whose inhabitants don’t understand how they got there or why they are there when suddenly they realise they are stuck in a town inside the mind of a killer. Shane, the sheriff, then has to try to work out a way to get out of this town and back to his real life.
The book operates across two layers of reality and deals with concepts of murder in society, fatherhood, and the roles of authority. It’s also a wacked out gonzo romp with a dragon in the first issue, one hell of a killer alligator, and layers of the mind of a killer slowly peeling open. You can get the first issue for 99 cents on ComiXology right now and I’m certain you’ll love it. This is something I’m so insanely proud of, and seeing Eric, Chris and Marissa do the work of their life on it, inspires and lifts me daily.
SR – Outside comics, which sources provide you with inspiration for your writing?
RKL – It’s everywhere, man. There’s great TV, movies, books just bursting on the scene daily. There are old standbys like Stephen King’s On Writing, or something so perfect as Miller‘s Crossing, or Hannibal which has just blown me away with its thoughtful consideration and expertise. I love finding something that overtly or subliminally makes me want to go sit down and write. Those things are worth more than money in this world of creative juice and flow. Man, I could list things for days, The Twilight Zone, Philip K Dick, old and new Scorsese flicks. Basically, anything I really enjoy becomes something I can pick apart and then unleash the writing quickening from to better build my own tool set.
Oh, and podcasts. As a creator, it’s my duty to listen to Let’s Talk Comics, and the Nerdist Writer’s Room, and the Comics Experience Make Comics podcast, and some of the other superb chatter programs where creators just unleash process bombs. You need to be taking all of this in. It’s important.
SR – I asked about what non-comic media influences you, but what books or creators out there within comics right now do you think are pushing the medium forward?
RKL – Man, there are so many, and we are so lucky right now. I’d say people at the top of the game are trying some very cool new things now with Fraction leading the charge with Hawkeye and Sex Criminals, Phillips/Brubaker are always inspiring with their clean and razor precise crime tales and Fatale has not disappointed. Dragotta and Hickman on East of West are phenomenal.
Then there are the kids on the other end
of the scale where Mooneyham and Barbiere are dropping pulp bombs in Five Ghosts and D4ve from Ramon and Ferrier is the funniest thing on the stands now bar none. All of those books mentioned are using the medium and pages and panels in awesome and fantastically creative ways. These creators are thinking outside the box, and telling stories that feel they couldn’t be anywhere but on the four colour page. I love them all – the books and the creators.
SR – If put on the spot, what comic IP would you be most be interested in tackling?
RKL – Easy, Daredevil. Without a doubt. And I’ve got loads of stories for him and his world. I know the supporting cast I want, I know the location I want to use. I’ve even got a Jack Murdock twist I can’t believe hasn’t been done before. I’d be all over that, in a heartbeat.
SR – You’ve a range of projects lined up; of those you’re able to talk about, which are you keenest to let loose on the world, and why?
RKL – I have one DIY one-shot with Sami Kivela on art that’s my ‘anthropomorphic Polanski project’ that I cannot wait to unleash on the world. This thing, and I won’t spoil too much of it, is a very cool and kind of insane journalist/crime story that was so much fun to write. I actually wrote it on my phone when my daughter was born and I had to take long midnight walks around our neighbourhood to keep her asleep. The book is structured in tablet format pages but will also have a print release for cons and such in the more traditional orientation. I also desperately want to return to this character and have plans to, as time and money may permit.
After that, I’m doing another book with Sami, and Marissa on colours, which is Chum – a beach noir story that’s my take on an old Gold medal paperback pulp story. This book will be fun, if you think people dying is fun. I’m also doing a lady kung fu revenge DIY one-shot with Louie Joyce that’s just going to look gorgeous. Gorgeous. I think I’m excited about all of them.
SR – Thinking as a teacher, do you have any important lessons for aspirant writers out there?
RKL – Stick with it. Write every day. Know you’ll write 10k pages of terrible, terrible stuff before you start getting decent. I did. Plenty of us did. You write and it’s just for practice and it’s no good and it’s probably in your best interest not to Kickstart it so just stick with it and damn well enjoy it and then carefully construct your own tool set of skills to make you into the writer you will be and will need to be.
And read. Consciously, and dissect those books, and films, and TV shows. If you really want to make this your thing, it has to consume you, and it will if it’s going to be your thing. You don’t get the choice, it consumes you like flames, so all you can do is write because it makes the flames feel good. Oh, and remember to take breaks. I always miss meals, dammit.
Thanks very much to Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions