I have had the utmost pleasure to ask Chris Ryall a few questions about his work and the projects he did with Joe Hill. Below you can read all about it, and if you pay good attention, there is good, albeit vague, news for us Hill fans =)
Chris Ryall is best known as the current President and former Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing (June 2004–present), and as a writer in the comic book industry. He has ranked on Bleeding Cool magazine’s list of the Top 100 Most Powerful People in Comics since the list began in 2012. In 2014, Ryall won the UK Stan Lee’s True Believer Award for Best Editor. Additionally, Ryall is an Eagle- and Eisner Award-nominated comic book writer, and the co-creator of Groom Lake, The Hollows, The Colonized, Onyx, and Zombies vs Robots, which was optioned in 2010 by Sony Pictures and remains on their development slate as the film Inherit the Earth. He has also co-written a prose book about comics, Comic Books 101, and has written comics based on The Transformers, Mars Attacks, Kiss, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, Beowulf, Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Weekly World News, Road Rage, String Divers, and he led the revival of and co-wrote the fan-favorite Hasbro property, Rom.
What got you into comics? How did you get started in the comic book industry?
I’ve been a fan since I could read at all—really, before I could read, when I was just dazzled by the artwork and the colorful characters on the pages.
As for when I got started in comics, I was sort of comics-adjacent for a few years prior to joining IDW, working for Kevin Smith on a pop culture web site of his and writing about comics on other sites, pitching comics ideas to publishers, engaging with creators and fans on message boards, and so on. But I joined IDW as Editor-in-Chief in 2004, which I suppose could be seen as a more official start.
Or else it tracks back tom my earliest memories of a convention when I was a little kid, when I happened to get Superman co-creator Joe Schuster’s autograph. I didn’t realize it til years later but that sort of feels like the right entry point to me.
They’re varied, but all steps involve producing comics from all sides—hiring creative teams and helping work a proposal into shape, working on scripts with the writers, keeping the pages moving from artist to colorist to letterer, going through the finished lettered pages before printing, and arranging all other aspects of the comic, hopefully on the schedule the book requires. And much more besides, including dealing with the solicitation process, marketing, media, wrangling budgets, getting everyone paid, and much more, but those are the biggest parts of the job.
How does a typical work day look like when working? And what do you do when taking a short break?
Since coming back to IDW as President & Publisher/Chief Creative Officer, my days don’t really involve editing any more, other than some special projects that I’m working on (one of which that just might be near and dear to the hearts of this site’s readers). It’s hard to define the days now, since none of them are typical, none end up the way I intend, and all involve trying to pack 20 hours of responsibilities across all areas of the company into hopefully not much more than a 10-hour day.
I remember taking a break once, years ago. I remember it being pretty nice. I really should try to do that again at some point. I think I’d take a walk down near the bay near our office. Yeah, that sounds like something I should do.
When working, is there something on in the background? Music, podcast or TV playing? And what kind?
I lose track of podcasts too easily while working—it becomes white noise—but there is always always music. I tend to prefer listening to vinyl records in my office, because then I’m up out of my chair every 20 minutes to change it. Otherwise, it gets easy to just sit and work for hours on end.
I have a wide array of music in my office, from rock to Americana to blues, jazz, and some old-school hip-hop, but I more often reach for soundtrack scores now, since I’ve found it easier to work to lyric-less music.
It is, was, and will always remaind one of the greatest joys of any working experience I’ve ever had. Not only do I love the material but I love those guys like brothers. I stood up alongside Joe at his wedding last year, which was a particular honor, and have visited Gabriel and his family in Santiago and had the good luck of spending ample time with him at conventions and on the Locke & Key sets over the years. I love everything that’s come out of this partnership.
Did you all expect the success of Locke & Key?
It’s never healthy to expect success but it’s nice to position a good project for a success. I certainly think this one had everything from the start—great creators, a wonderful story, amazing art (and great Jay Fotos colors), a solid plan for where the book could go if it did catch on, and so on. But it took a little time and patience for the book to really find an audience, and man, am I glad everyone had that patience here since it deserved it and has delivered on its promise in every way.
Except for the TV. But we’re working on that.
What made it so difficult to get the comic adapted for TV? And do you think Netflix will be doing it justice?
It’s funny, the process hasn’t been difficult—the actual making of the show, since we’re now making it for a third time. So the adaptations have gone well, with solid casting, writing, and directing. It’s that last step that’s uttery out of our control, being subject to the whims of programmers, that has prevented the show from reaching the airwaves.
But that will change this time—the bits I’ve seen look great, Netflix has committed to 10 episodes, and I’m off to visit the set alongside Joe and Gabriel in a few weeks to see it come together in person.
Are you a Joe Hill fan? If so, any fav books or short stories?
Of course—it was Joe’s 20th Century Ghosts short -story collection that caught our attention in the first place, and led to us contacting him about comics, which then led all of us to Locke & Key. I think Joe’s a masterful short story writer (wait til you all read “Faun”!) but his novels are even better. NOS4A2 is maybe the most fully realized and accomplished novel so far but I’ve really enjoyed all of them.
Was it fun doing the adaptation of Road Rage?
Oh yeah! A gritty biker drama with a touch of the ol’ ultraviolence drawn and colored by Nelson Daniel and adapted from a story by Joe and Stephen King that was inspired by Richard Matheson’s “Duel,” long a favorite of mine? There’s not one part of that sentence, and that project, that I don’t love.
I did! Joe and Steve were both great to work with, encouraging and offering plenty of freedom and feedback. Once I got over my trepidation of wasting Steve’s time with my emailed questions and such.
Do you deliver a tight script as a writer or do you leave a lot of freedom to the artists?
I’ve worked both ways, from full scripts with panel-by-panel breakdowns, and also plot-style, which offers the artist more storytelling freedom. I think I prefer full scripts to allow me to pace the story and dialogue as I see it. But either way, I always encourage the artist to make any changes or take any liberties they think the story needs. They’re the visual storytellers and people doing all the heavy lifting on the comic.
What is the work you’ve done that you’re the most excited about?
I’ve enjoyed all of them, mostly for the experiences with artists I like and respect. And I loved being able to bring ROM back to comics after decades away. But I think it’s the projects I’ve co-created with artists like Zombies vs Robots (with Ashley Wood) and Onyx (with Gabriel) that I’m most proud of.
What comic book character or franchise first grabbed you as a kid?
Fantastic Four. Some older neighbor kids had an old comic lying around that just instantly captured me—possessed me, really. Seeing characters made of rock or stretching or on fire blew my young mind and hooked me instantly.
I’d love to write the FF for that nostalgic reason but more than that, I’ve been noodling on a comic series that has been in my head for about 15 years and is finally close to becoming real; that and a new series with Ashley Wood that’s in the works now, those are the things I’ve most excited about at the moment.
Any new Joe Hill projects coming along at IDW you can tell us about? And how about World War Key? Or other Locke & Key projects?
All good questions! All answers to come before the end of year, I promise… (sorry about the vagueness for now but bear with us a bit longer, please! And thanks to you and your readers for the affection and continued support).
—Ben, March 2019