Instead of manning-up and actually going the emotionally hard route of being outrightly rejected by publishers, I’m rejecting them first and allowing you to give my entire book a preview, let you read the whole thing or, if you like, download the whole damn thing at no cost. Download and read my first book “Thank You, Goodnight” for FREE.
He gave me my first opportunity to write.
Apart from the clever quips that I could make regarding whether Chris Ryall’s decision to allow me to talk at great length about the one thing I still love about making the trek to see a movie, the trailers, was a good one I cannot help but just feel in awe of the level of intelligence Chris brought to a site called MoviePoopShoot.com.
Whether it was his One Hand Clapping columns or his weekly quest to skewer all things television there was a quality control about the site that always made me want to be a better writer. It didn’t help that when I tried to spread out a little bit in the column that PR flunkies would ostensibly hang up on a guy saying he was from a place called Poop Shoot but Chris was always there to offer advice and was always physically quick to turn around every…single…e-mail with blazing quickness.
Chris has now found himself in the envious job of being the Editor-In-Chief of IDW Publishing which, among other things, has put out 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, POPBOT, SCARFACE: DEVIL IN DISGUISE, TRANSFORMERS and scads of other titles that aren’t your daddy’s superhero books. He’s made it great to be a fan of comic books that aren’t nearly as obtuse as the stranger, art for art’s sake, independents that you can find choking any respectable comic book stand. I’ve found more hits than misses coming out of the IDW showroom and the level of artistry that graces some of its pages is genuinely top shelf.
I was able to talk to Chris prior to his appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con and it was a conversation that certainly spans many of the titles that IDW has been publishing lately but this was a conversation that I hope illuminates a little about the day-to-day operations an EIC has to go through in making sure the product that is released is good and how it’s fun to be king when you’re able to visit the set of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT on the underside of the world and witness the comic book finally coming to life.
We got to the point of talking about how the Comic-Con has inflated to a gigantic, almost sentient, beast:
RYALL: It’s all getting really ridiculous.
Christopher Stipp: It is. And you’re obviously going to be part of the ridiculousness. What’s your schedule like?
RYALL: My schedule is horrible. I’m doing a couple signings but I’m doing three different panels and have non-stop meetings for four to five days. The usual….Nonstop hustle from one to the next.
CS: Is it an enjoyable experience for you at this point?
RYALL: Well, it’s fun being there and everything but…it’s fun talking to people and I like doing signings and all but you just don’t have enough time to see some of the things I want to see. There’s not enough time to talk to people. I’m able to talk to people for 30 seconds then I have to run off. I don’t like that. That’s why nights are more fun. You can spend more time with people. You don’t have to run from meeting to meeting. It’s alright. It should be a good one for us because we are just coming off Transformers and we have some big announcements to make while we’re there as well.
CS: I have a whole lot of questions for you. And that’s one of them. Are you benefiting from how well TRANSFORMERS has done in the past weeks?
RYALL: Yes, it’s been great for us. It’s been our best year ever. We got to go into places that we’ve never been to before like Target with our book which is pretty cool. Transformers has been pretty good for everybody so far.
CS: I read that in previous interviews….you guys seemed to be able to leverage that – the properties being attached to films – 30 DAYS OF NIGHT really took off when people were starting to get attached to it and the same thing with TRANSFORMERS. In your opinion, if the movie didn’t do as well, would this….were things in place before or is the book doing as well it is because of the success of TRANSFORMERS?
RYALL: They were in place before. Like when you buy a book at bookstores like Borders or Barnes and Noble – those books are returnable. So if the movie didn’t do that well then those books would have come back to us. I think because the movie did do so well, made people want to actually pick them up. We did a special one for Target and that one actually sold out in a couple weeks…We gave away a million and a half copies of the comic of the video game and gave away millions at movie theaters. So, yeah, all those things have just been stuff that we never really had an opportunity to do before on that scale. It’s kinda nice.
CS: Absolutley. And I’m curious to know on that level, when you are taking a property as wide as you have on uncharted waters, how do you tip toe into it and determine what would work or try – how do those decisions get made in the end?
RYALL: I think the cool thing is that we didn’t even over think anything. We were like, hey, the movie is coming. Let’s do a prequel and explain some things that were referenced in the screen play or allude to in the movie but don’t necessarily have time to cover in the movie. Let’s do a whole prequel that will answer these questions and explain why Bumblebee can only talk to the radio and that kind of stuff. We sorta jumped in from there. If we do this four part epic story that leads into the movie and then do the movie itself it just creates a huge massive epic Transformers story. And the cool thing about that was we were in the stores in February for the start of the prequel so you got the first official look at the characters and the story line.
CS: It was weeks and weeks before…It was a nice little push to at least get people ready for it.
RYALL: And I think it paid off a bit more after you saw the movie and saw the stuff we referenced in the movie but then if you go back and read the prequel after you see the movie, it’s like “Oh yeah…that’s what that was”….that’s what they were talking about.
CS: So you were using the screenplay in small bites, here and there, to help bolster the storyline?
RYALL: Yeah. They gave us the screenplay then I went through and developed this four part plan on what we’d like to do with the prequel. Got on the phone with Miramax and got the screen writers involved so everyone had their input involved, do this do that, make sure this happens…it was very collaborative which was cool for a project on that scale it can be difficult but it wasn’t the case this time. It was fairly smoothly done for as big a project as it was. You have Hasbro on one side, then you have Paramount, then you have the filmmakers and the writers….there is potential for all that to be egos or different things people want to happen but there was none of that. Everybody was just working toward telling a story. It was pretty fun and very gratifying thing to do.
CS: That’s amazing. Do you credit that to anything in particular why everyone was just able to go forward instead of having Hasbro being a bureaucratic pain in the ass or the screen writers taking umbrage with something nitpicky?
RYALL: I would like to think it was because the proposed outline was so solidly done, but I have no idea. We were just so excited about getting stuff out there and making it work on every level. And I think at some point because we had been doing it for a year and a half there was some trust level, at least with Hasbro and also with Paramount…..as far as the comics go it was always our thing so having that previous history, doing the books gave us a trust that we never had before.
CS: And I think during the proposal stage you said before there were other people with more money than you had in getting a licensing agreement and it was all about the quality of the work that made you guys the obvious choice to pick…is that the way you approach the proposal process? I mean do you have to play up to your strengths and hope that money just isn’t the bottom line?
RYALL: Yeah, I think just even getting the licenses we’ve shown that we’ve done things like this before and even though we weren’t the biggest publisher we could show that, unlike a huge publisher we could make the property our flagship title whereas Transformers was never going to be a priority for someone making all the Batman, Spider-Man books first. We could, though, put all our energy into it to make it the best we can. So, all those things combined, I think, a year and a half later, Hasbro seems pretty happy at the things that we’ve done so it’s worked out much better than you would have assumed it would from the start.
CS: As Editor-In-Chief, when you have a property like that, myself growing up in comics I’ve been privy to a whole bunch of crappy comic adaptations of films, what’s important to you when you get a property in your hands – what’s at the forefront of your mind? What are you thinking?
RYALL: First thing always is, “Do we like it?”
I would never want to do…I don’t want to single anything out that I hate, like American Idol…A big easy money making kind of thing that I can’t stand because it would just take over your life. It’s just work. So we think, “OK, do we like it, do we have an idea for it, what do we think we can do with it?” Like, with Transformers, we have the luxury of looking at what’s been done before. What do we think worked before? What did the fans think worked before? What didn’t work? Then we can just base our plan off of not only what we think that we’d like to do with it but what the fans said they want to see.
CS: So you’ve actually taken that into account as well?
RYALL: Oh yeah. Before we put our whole plan together for Transformers I spent two months lurking on some of the bigger Transformers message boards just learning what they had to say, what they like and what they don’t like. It’s certainly an opinionated crowd. But that’s cool. What mass comics worked for them. It was a good basis – a good starting point.
CS: I liked the GI Joe and Transformers story arc circa 1980 something…
RYALL: Some of it was done well some not so well but….
CS: I was going to ask working in the medium now being Editor-In-Chief are you more critical of the products being sold to kids – not even just to kids – to comic consumers being more critical of what’s out there?
RYALL: Completely. It’s hard because I know a lot of the people that are creating that stuff too so now I would be more inclined to say hey he’s a nice guy …he probably didn’t mean to hack it. But some of the stuff is so shameless. I’m sure people could look at us and say the same type of things. But it does give you a more critical eye for that type of things.
CS: And you are “hands-on” especially with your adaptations of LAND OF THE DEAD, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, Great Big Secret Show, and now with BEOWULF, I’m curious to know I have not seen an editor in chief take on such an active role with adapting as you have. What’s it been like to try and translate a lot of these projects into actual comic books themselves.
RYALL: The cool thing of just being in this role is allows me the luxury of picking and choosing what I really want. So if something comes along that I just love and I really want to do, I can opt to do it. I do try and make sure not to take work away from other people because I don’t want to be selfish and just do things myself. But some of them – like Transformers was pretty cool and Clive Barker, I have a relationship with him – it just makes more sense when you are dealing constantly with the studios like Transformers…it’s just easier to deal with it yourself than try and explain it after the fact to writers so that’s kind of my thought process.
I got to say the Clive Barker thing was a bit daunting because it was almost an 800 page book to adapt to 20 comic book pages – I guess it’s more than that – 22 pages times 12 so I guess 240 pages. But anyway, it’s a lot to condense a novel into a comic book. Movies are a bit more easier because they are set up more visually and the scenes kind of follow the same, whether it’s a movie, screen play or comic book. Try to figure out the breaking point – the cliff hangers is the challenge of comic books. Books are a bit more of challenge because the visuals aren’t fully developed and you have to be a bit more presumptuous, like I’m going to cut out the Clive Barker’s dialog because it’s not needed here but then who the heck am I to decide to cut out Clive Barker’s words?
But like anything you have to adapt it to the form that it’s going to be presented and he understands that more than anyone because he’s had his works adapted to comics and moves and each one is different you have to make sure it works for the format. The books, the comics we can condense things here and there and if he’s happy with it then I am and hopefully others will be to. We try not to disrespect the material.
CS: But now you don’t have the author of Beowulf to go back to. How’s that been?
RYALL: Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery are the authors of the screen play.
CS: So, you are basing it on the screenplay then?
RYALL: Yes. Fully movie based.
CS: How’s that been? Have you been working with Gaiman back and forth on your adaptation?
RYALL: Not so much back and forth. I did send over some of the art and showed him what we were doing and he said he loved what we’re doing so that’s good enough for me. If I don’t disappoint the people who originated the material then I feel like I’ve done my job. And he’s the captain of it. 200,000 copies of an 8 page promo to give everybody at the show for free so they can see how it starts anyway. And it’s fun. I’ve never really done any sword and sorcerer stuff before.
CS: Is it difficult to switch mediums? I’m not a big sci-fi guy myself but when you get into an area that you’ve never dabbled in before is there any time when you say, oh I’d be good enough to do this or….
RYALL: I never really thought that. I’m not steeped in it in the way some of the fans are so, in a way, I hope I handle the dialog properly. Especially with the prequel because we developed it on our end and not based on an adaptation so it was like uncharted territory there. But I will say that Zombies Vs. Robots is such a different world. It’s so much easier. Because it’s mine. I don’t have to worry about disappointing anybody if I screw it up.
CS: I read that when you do at something, when you take control of a project, you are really personally invested. You are not just writing for the sheer joy of writing and you are really concerned about getting things right. Do you think that that’s something that people have said about your work that at the very least it’s an honest adaptation?
RYALL: I don’t know. I’ve never really heard that from people – but I guess I have with the Clive Barker stuff that I was true to the material and I handled it the way they wanted to see it handled. With that Clive book, it came out in ’89, it’s been some people’s favorite book for 20 years or what have you. Those people have seen that book in their heads for two decades so now we are actually putting a definitive visual down on paper, if it doesn’t measure up to what they expect it to be you really have a chance to disappoint them.
But, so far, everyone seems to be pretty happy. I try not to do too many of these because I really want to take the time and be sure it’s up to the best of my ability. Plus I try to hand-pick the best artist on these things which also helps. It helps carry a script if you got Gabriel Rodriquez or Ashley Wood working for you.
CS: Did you ever make it to the TRANSFORMERS set?
CS: No, as in, they didn’t let you go?
RYALL: No, I tried to go but it didn’t work out.
CS: Well, one that you did make it on that I’m really interested about is 30 DAYS OF NIGHT.
RYALL: Yeah, that was cool. That was a lot of fun.
CS: Was it just as a spectator or did you get to offer any input into anything?
RYALL: No. They were well into the shoot at that point. Who am I to be telling David Slade what he should be doing? He was showing up and being respectful to the material. So we just were able to sit back and watch the process without getting involved or anything like that. He had it well in hand anyway so he didn’t really need me getting in the way I think.
CS: And what was that experience like seeing something that year’s ago was just ink and paper. It must have been – this stuff being right in front of you live and people trying to bring it to live action. How was that?
RYALL: The coolest part was watching with Ben Templesmith…Because he was there with me and it was his book. He did the visuals and everything like that. It was kind of like bringing your kids to Disneyland for the first time – watching through they eyes. Just watching him and seeing how amazed he was by seeing his talent come to life and seeing character shirt designs come to life, he was so ecstatic to see something he did come to life. It was cool for me to see it but I would imagine it would be more fun for him to see something he created brought to life like that.
CS: And David is a curious choice as a director. I think he can be credited with capturing the most agonizing castration scene ever put to cellular.
RYALL: There’s a horror movie for you.
CS: So who ultimately gave that green light to him?
RYALL: Oh, I don’t know. I know somebody talked to him but I wasn’t involved in that part of the process. But I know somebody really liked his work on HARD CANDY.
CS: Great movie.
RYALL: Yeah, it was a pretty uncomfortable movie.
CS: But I think that’s the kind of guy you want. The guy who can make something out of something that’s not really there.
RYALL: Yeah, he also built characters in that movie too. So his ability to handle characters and work with actors to that degree, the thing’s got more potential to be more than just a slasher horror movie. Good characters.
CS: It’s also has a great trailer. I’ve been wanting something good and it’s the little little things. It’s the finger on the record…the little details. And the vampire’s face – the actual physicality of a vampire is something I have not seen before.
RYALL: Yeah, it was fun to watch that on the set. Danny Houston was so in character as the lead vampire. It was fun to watch the makeup after they are just sitting there all eating salads with their fangs….
CS: I listen to Michael Chabon talking about – this is a lengthy question so sit down for just a moment. Michael was talking about his new book and somehow they got on the topic of comic books and he has mentioned that one of the best stories he read growing up are the ones that took like Superman what have you and put another type of reality on top of that. Superman goes to bizarre world or dual layered and it got me thinking that when I saw that Ben is coming back with the WWII 30 Days of Night that he’s taking the already fictional world of these vampires and he’s putting on an additional reality of WWII – any reason why Ben went with that time period with these vampires or is it just something he’s always been thinking about doing?
RYALL: Well, I know that he’s been talking about that for years. He’s sort of a history buff – he’ll tell you about thousands and thousands of troops that marched into Russia and just disappeared. They say because of extreme cold and everything else they faced but there was a chance that vampires had killed them so he thought that playing off the fact that it was based in the circle of fact and the story paralleled the original 30 Days so it was a fun idea for him. I know he didn’t want to do something different. He’s turned into quite a good writer. He’s got a good wicked sense of humor. He’s turned in some good stuff now.
CS: How does Ben try to keep the genre fresh? You talk about vampires – just look at how many comic books out there are based on vampires. How does he look at his role as a creator to keep these things from becoming just ho-hum?
RYALL: I think he stepped back from doing the 30 Days the last two to three years because he was worried about that too. He didn’t want to get to the point where he did so much of that that people just take it for granted or only did it for the vampire guy. So he was trying to do other things like Hatter M and Wormwood to try and break out a bit. I think now he can go back and revisit this world and be effective especially when he has a good idea, like he did in this one. People won’t take it for granted. He’ll put something different out there – something exciting and new.
CS: I read in a recent interview about the proliferation of people who are downloading scanned comics files – is it really something that companies should be moving toward or investigating or is it something that is almost like Chicken Little…the sky’s is falling because people aren’t buying the comics, they’re reading them on-line. Are people really downloading at an incredible pace for publishers to start thinking about…
RYALL: I just want to say no because I personally don’t want to read comics on-line – anything more than just a page strip I find obnoxious to read but I think you can’t ignore big numbers like big torrent sites where there are hundreds and thousands of people downloading comics. So I certainly think it is something that some of us will have to figure out what to do with it.
I don’t know that there is a quick settle – I know we’ve all gambled here and there as far as offering up downloadable content but I think it’s still not formatted in a way that is all that palatable, so I don’t know. It something that people just shouldn’t ignore but it’s hard for me because I like to have something tangible in my hands. I’d like to think that they wouldn’t replace the comics themselves any more than they would replace books or magazines but I know there is a growing number of people out there that don’t think along the same lines so we are looking into that, as to what the best kind of approach would be.
CS: And certainly in your job as Editor-in-Chief for the last couple years.
RYALL: It’s been three years now.
CS: How have you – what has been your keys to success these last three years? You’ve obviously never run a comic book company before – how did you learn as you go?
RYALL: It’s not a whole lot different – there’s a lot more deadline pressure but I’ve always kept deadline pressure on myself to come up with new content everyday. That did help a lot as far as just dealing with a lot of different people, a lot of different deadlines, so all that is on a grander scale now. It helps to have a background in comics. I think I have an affinity for it so it makes it a lot less feel like work.
CS: And certainly one of the things that I will publicly say that I admire about you is that you were constantly producing on a deadline whether it was One Hand Clapping or the TV listings that you set the example for everyone else on MoviePoopShoot.com that deadlines can be hit no matter how busy you think you are. Do you think that’s translated to what you are doing over at IDW?
RYALL: I hope so. The one thing that I realize here is that it’s no longer a 9 to 5 job. I pretty much work day and night, and mornings and weekends, year round. But the reason I do it is to stay ahead of these things but also because of the freelancers are working at all times during the day trying to get things done on deadline. I don’t want them out there alone. I want to be accessible to them. I want them to know that we are all doing stuff together no matter what time of the day. So, I try to do the same thing – try to set the example. I’m right there with you. Even though no one but me would know that I’m late, I make it a point to never be late just because I think people might be telling somebody else to get there stuff in on time - on deadline. But yes, I put all this undue pressure on myself that I probably don’t have to but it helps me anyway.
CS: And the final question to people out there, you have seen some great success in the last few years but looking ahead where does IDW see itself evolving or does it need to evolve at all, just happy being what it is?
RYALL: I think you have to evolve. When I first started here we did some license stuff and we did a lot of horror stuff that I’ve tried the last three years to help us branch out more than just pigeon holed and I think we need to keep doing that sort of thing. Stuff that’s more kid friendly make sure that we have stuff for different audiences. If you’re ready for horror, we’ve got that, if you’re younger and your sensibilities are younger then we have stuff for you there. Just proceeding that way and vary the content for different people. I want to write more creative rock stuff – that’s my big goal. I like to do adaptation but I have some other stuff that I want to try and get to next year.
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