After last week’s Webcomic RAMPAGE I am just falling in love with webcomics again. Today we are joined by The Naturals comic artist Ryan Lee. Ryan, 36, hails from Northwestern Michigan in the land of Cherries. He is a Graphic Designer/Illustrator by day and a comic artist when not tied down by his worldly needs. The Naturals is an awesome super hero romp that has amazing visuals thanks to Ryan. He is producing some of the coolest ultraviolence to grace your computers screen. Read on to get to know the man behind the inks.
All-Comic: How were you first exposed to comics?
Ryan Lee: My first exposure to comics was through spinner racks at party stores (that’s what we call convenience stores like 7-11 in Michigan), and those wide magazine racks at grocery stores. My uncle used to take my brother and I to get them.
RL: The first comic I remember getting was either this old Iron Man comic, (which I ended up rebuying a few years back for nostalgia sake) or some old Cracked magazine. Cracked was a pillar of my childhood. I especially loved the Cracked Monster Party specials.
AC: When did you decide you wanted to make comics?
RL: I used to draw little comics when I was a little squirt in elementary school, but it was mostly covers. I’ve dabbled throughout my whole life though. I started really knuckling down about 5 years ago, having done more illustration and fine art painting work since I graduated college in ’99.
AC: How long have you been drawing/illustrating?
RL: According to my mom, I started drawing around 2, but I guess she didn’t know I had an aptitude for it until I started school. Then she could see my scribbles compared to other kids’ scribbles and have some frame of reference. I’ve drawn consistently since then, with varied levels of output and focus.
AC: Did you study illustration or are you self-taught?
RL: I started drawing on my own, but I remember taking a pastel class when I was really young. My brother drew as well and I think we kinda pushed each other to get better just by drawing with each other, looking at comics and cartoons and toys together, and having drawing “battles”. I went to art school too, but I think my real education came at my first job at an illustration/design studio. I have a BFA from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
AC: Did you get a lot of support from parents and art teachers?
RL: My art teachers always liked me, and my high school art teacher tried to push me as much as possible even though I screwed around a lot in his classes. He was a great guy and really planted that seed for me to go to art school. My parents have encouraged me unconditionally since I first picked up a Bic pen and started doodling monsters on the white inside covers of coloring books. Their unwavering belief in me has always been a huge motivator.
AC: For those not following the webcomic along at home, how would you summarize The Naturals?
RL: It’s a global war-time epic about a down-on-his-luck twerp manifesting great superhuman powers and the villain hunting him and others like him down…for a sinister purpose. Tried my best to make that sound dramatic.
AC: This is a collaborative work. How did you get involved?
RL: The Naturals is Chris’ baby. The story and main characters are all him. He had a few other local artists working on it, but they bailed on him before it got off the ground. I met Chris at a local Comic convention pre-event. Ethan Van Sciver came up and did this day-long signing/sketching shindig and I ended up showing Chris my stuff (I brought my work to show Van Sciver). Chris’ enthusiasm won me over, it sounded like a really fun story. I was looking to collaborate on a book and the opportunity came up to take over for one of the artists who dropped off the book. I seized that opportunity.
AC: How involved are you with plotting this comic?
RL: We are both very collaborative. There is a constant back and forth with the Nats, so I’m as involved as I need to be. Chris’ scripts have each panel plotted out, but from time to time I’ll suggest changing something for the sake of the story so it’s as clear as possible and helps moves the story along visually. Sometimes you can’t really tell how a page is going to read until you put a pencil to paper on those layouts. So, we make adjustments accordingly, but I try to stay as true to his script as possible.
AC: What has been the most surprising aspect of running this webcomic?
RL: Webcomics and print comics are their own animals, with their own sets of unspoken rules and fan bases. Also, having complete strangers find our silly comic and like it has been a pleasant surprise as well. It’s been a very interesting and educational experience for a great medium.
AC: As of now you offer single comics on your webstore. Would you ever consider kickstarter or some type of crowd funding to publish these books in a collection?
RL: Yeah, I’d consider it. The amount of work involved in running a successfully funded Kickstarter seems like an exorbitant amount of work though, which makes me a little hesitant. It’s an amazing resource to get a dream project off the ground, so it’s definitely worth a look in the foreseeable future.
AC: Out of all the story arcs you have worked on do you have a favorite?
RL: Hmmm, it’s all still within the first arc. So, it’s all one big favorite.
AC: GOOD LORD! That is a long arc. There is this one panel of a car crash that just took my breath away. How did you lay that out? Did you use references? With out story spoilers, can you talk about the work that you put in to that page?
RL: Thanks! Mission accomplished! I knew it was a major moment in the first issue, so I gave it my all to ensure optimum terror and impact. It took a little time figuring out how to compose that page, especially breaking the car apart without looking at reference. My visual memory can’t shake certain imagery, so I didn’t want to google “car crash” for reference for fear of the horrors that would come up. With the exception of the car (which I had reference of) I just looked at the pieces that made it up and caved in parts and scattered the rest around that first panel like confetti. Not sure how truly realistic it is, but I think it met the objective…to send a little jolt through the reader. I hope it did, at least?
AC: How do you get this drawn out? Physically or digitally?
RL: I’m always switching up my process, I tend to get bored doing things the same way each time. I’d say for the majority of this book though, I draw a thumbnail on the page of the script as I’m reading it, then clean that up in Photoshop. I tighten elements and make it into a loose pencil (depending on level of detail or how involved a page is I’ll use Col-Erase blue pencil to tighten up the thumbnail on the board). I’ll then print that out in blue line onto bristol and traditionally ink on top of that. My pages are a total mess, especially with this book since I went for a gritty look, there’s smudges, fingerprints and toothbrush spatter all over the margins and gaps between panels. I just clean it up in Photoshop for the final comic page before I color it digitally.
AC: What are your preferred tools of the trade?
RL: Generally, I use Col-Erase blue pencils for roughs/pencils. I ink with PIN pens sizes 1-3 and disposable Kuretake pens with different sizes of Raphael brushes for blocking in shapes and more contoured lines. I also have a ton of old crappy brushes that are great for textural effects (like backgrounds and trees), and toothbrushes for spatter.
AC: How much time does it take to go from a script to a completed strip?
RL: To layout, pencil, ink and color a page, it usually takes me a day/day and half depending on level of detail.
AC: Did you set up your own website or pay some one to design it for you?
RL: I designed and created the graphic elements of the site, logo, etc. All the visual details. My friend and webmaster, Sherief Abouelseoud did all of the coding, site building, technical mumbo jumbo and the general architecture of the site. He’s the man behind the curtain that makes it all tick properly for us porridge-brained creators.
AC: Follow up: How do you maintain your website?
RL: Sherief does it all on the technical end. He and my brother, Shawn Lee (the letterer) are the unsung members of Team Naturals.
AC: If you have time, what comics, manga or web comics are you reading?
COMICS: Prophet, Saga, Black Science, Manhattan Projects, The Hellboy Universe books, East of West, Locke and Key, Wraith, Batman, Invincible…and ANYTHING Jerome Opena and Olivier Coipel draw. I like a variety of genres and styles, just has to be good, of course. I also have a stack of graphic novels and collected trades that I accidentally started stockpiling because I’m drawing more than reading now (a good thing).
MANGA: 20th Century Boys and Pluto are in that massive stack of books I need to read!
AC’: Do you have an all time favorite creator? Be it music, comics or movies.
RL: I couldn’t pinpoint a single creator. There’s too many people I am inspired by for too many different reasons. This list would be miles long and probably incredibly boring to read!
AC: What’s next for you?
RL: I’m currently finishing up some work on a few anthology stories. Working on a story with some sharp fellows that we hope to pitch within the next few months.
AC: How can readers best support you and your work?
RL: Read the Naturals, chat and follow me and writer Chris Meeuwes on Twitter, and check out my blog and Facebook page…then, tell people about it if you dig what you see. Word of mouth is king…especially on the internet.
AC: Thanks Ryan!
Folks, the Naturals is a great comic with so much going on. Mystery, incredibly violent action and Ryan’s killer art work. The comic is available completely free but if you wish you can purchase a copy and show your support. Read it, tell your friends and let Ryan and Chris what you think!