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Arkham Interview:
Artist Ryan Sook
By Pete Bangs

05.15.03


Ryan Sook is the artist on the new miniseries Arkham Asylum: Living Hell and a strongly individual talent. After six years in the business, Ryan has already worked on some of comics' most important characters, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Hellboy (including a team-up with Batman and Starman), and more recently he finished an extended run on The Spectre. After Arkham Asylum, Sook will become the regular artist on Ed Brubaker's Detective Comics.

Despite early comparisons to Mike Mignola, Ryan Sook is very much an artist with an individual vision, something that becomes more evident with each new work.


PB: You appear to have burst onto the comics scene almost fully formed, even your own website only gives one glimpse of early Ryan with the pages from Rock Hardson. What sort of art training did you have?

RS: No formal training. Mostly intense private study in a huge art book collection that my dad (a graphic designer) had in our house.

PB: That goes some way to answering my next question. Your art style is so unlike that of most of your contempories, particularly in your ability to draw believable ordinary people. Have you drawn much from comics for your influences? Your art style suggests a wider ranging background in art and cartooning then a lot of your mainstream contemporaries. Who were the influences on your style and your storytelling?

RS: Most of my influences stem from fine art and illustration outside of comics. From Rubens to Mucha, Rockwell to Gruau. In comics I was influenced by those great artists who bring elements from these artists into their own comic work, people like Frazetta, Jeff Jones, Wrightson, Kaluta, Mignola, Alex Toth, Art Adams, Adam Hughes, Kevin Nowlan, the greats. As far as ordinary people and things, I find that life in general is pretty good reference. storytelling probably comes from Toth, Mignola, and movies.

PB: Mucha and Rockwellís influence can be seem in some of the covers youíve produced and the influence of artists like Rubens can be seem in your very naturalistic art style. Theyíre people whose work will be familiar to most people inside and outside the art field. A number of the comics influences you mention produced the main body of their work in the 1970ís and earlier. How did you encounter the works of Toth and Jeff Jones and Frank Frazetta?

RS: Frazetta and Jones and all the "Studio" artists were a part of my dad's collection as well as guys like Moebius and Kirby. Toth is, by comparison, a fairly new influence. His comics work was introduced to me by a friend about five or six years ago. Right around the time I started working in comics.


Article continued below advertisement


PB: Itís interesting to see someone absorb such a diverse set of influences without looking like theyíre reproducing any one style slavishly. Moving on to Arkham Asylum: Living Hell," how did you end up working with Dan Slott on the book and how have you found the collaboration?

RS: My editor Dan Raspler offered me the Arkham job. I read Dan Slott's proposal and its turned out to be better than I could have imagined.

PB: Dan Slott mentioned that for this book you have drawn, in places, on the work of Edward Gorey and Charles Adams. What sort of challenges has Arkham Asylum: Living Hell given you compared to your last major series, The Spectre?

RS: The challenge of this book is to lend reality to the characters and believability to their situations and environment. In The Spectre I was almost always drawing something that was completely unreal, focusing on giving believability to something you might never ever see.

PB: Arkham Asylum: Living Hell also introduces a number of new characters to the batman universe, Humpty Dumpty, Death Rattle and Junkyard Dog. How do you feel they match up to Arkham's more famous inmates and which one do you feel is most likely to be the breakout character and take on batman?

RS: Humpty Dumpty is certainly my favorite character from the series and I feel privileged to have been able to co-create this guy with Dan.

PB: What was the design process for characters such as Humpty Dumpty. Did Dan give you a pretty solid description or was the visual mainly your input?

RS: In creating the cast I tried simply to visualize what Dan had described to me so beautifully.

PB: One of the most interesting things about Arkham as a place is the fluidity of it's appearance. More than Wayne Manor, Crime Alley, GCPD HQ or any of the other major backgrounds in Gotham, it seems to change to meet the needs of the story. Hi-Tech prison one minute, Gothic castle the next. How did you approach your Arkham?

RS: I drew Arkham the way Dan Slott wrote it; as a prison for lunatics! It's definitely more industrial than medieval, but still carries the gothic feel that such a place couldnít be without.

PB: Does Batman make much of an appearance in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell? He seemed quite prominent in the cover Iíve seen. And how come you didnít do the covers, your choice or was it an editorial decision by Dan Raspler?

RS: Batman is in the Arkham mini but he's not the main character, nor even a predominant character in the book. Mostly we focus on the inmates. As to the covers...?

PB: Talking about working on Arkham Asylum, you seem very intent on showing Danís vision of the story and the characters involved. Is this because you were working from a fully realised script or is this just your preferred way of working? Would you normally look to have some input into a story youíre working on?

DS: In my opinion, my only input on the story is visualizing as best I can what was written. Dan gave me room to tell the story with the art but all of what was written in subject matter and story structure is his. And unless Iím writing it myself, that's how it should be.

PB: It's fairly well-known that after Arkham Asylum you're moving on to Detective Comics as the regular artist. This seems quite a move away from the horror/paranormal work I, and I'm sure most other people, have come to associate you with: Buffy, Hellboy, The Spectre. Is this an attempt to avoid being pigeon-holed or is the Batman corner of the DCU somewhere you always planned to visit?

RS: I've always liked Batmanl; heís one of my favorites. He's got a great design and lends himself to great action and subtle character driven stories, both of which I love to draw in comics.

As far as being pigeon holed a horror/paranormal guy. I don't know if I'm working to get away from the genre but I'm definitely not trying to cling to it. I want to draw in all genres and tell great stories on many different subjects! (If Iím on a career ladder) I certainly don't want to hang my hat on the same rung forever. In fact I don't even want to wear the same hat forever. I want a different hat on each different rung all the time...or something.

PB: And how did you land the Batman gig?

RS: I think I was suggested for Detective by [series writer] Ed Brubaker.

PB: Are you hoping for any sort of input into Edís stories? Any characters or villains youíd particularly like to work on? Or heroes youíd like to have as guest stars?

RS: I think I don't work that way. Iím not really looking to have a whole lot of story input on Batman. I want Ed to write the best stories he can and then I want to draw them really well. My input on the book will be purely artistic in setting the tone, mood, and style of the stories and the characters.

PB: Your early work on Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #15 aside, this is going to be your first extended work on one of the leading icons of the DC Universe. It's going to give you major "name recognition" with a large part of the comic reading public. Does it feel like you've finally arrived?

RS: No. It felt like I arrived when I did my first comic six years ago for DC. I won't feel like I've arrived again until I draw a comic that I actually think is good for more than 5 minutes after I finish it. And actually, I hope I never do that, because that's what drives me to do better work every time!

PB: Seems to be a common problem for artists, theyíre not satisfied with the work and always striving for more. Writers I know seem more forgiving of theyíre own imperfections. Do you want to write at all?

RS: I write a lot and look forward to doing some comic stories of my own, and once I do Iím sure that Iíll reach a whole new level of neurosis.

PB: Is the monthly Detective Comics deadline going to give you room to work on anything else? Or is it pretty much Batman only for the forseeable future?

RS: At the moment my sights are set on Detective, but I still have a million other stories I want to tell someday. They'll just have to wait a while.







 

 
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