Thursday, August 9, 2007

All My Secrets Revealed

I did a big general email interview with Canadian comic book site Jazma Online about a week ago - since I was only asked basic boilerplate questions with absolutely no follow-up I ended up doing 99.9999% of the writing, so I'm posting it here in its entirety instead of just linking to it. I also added in some pictures. Enjoy!


Jazma Online interview with RYAN DUNLAVEY, Co-creator/Artist of Action Philosophers

What is "Action Philosophers" about?

Action Philosophers is a comic book about the lives and thoughts of the greatest thinkers in human history but told with a lot of jokes. Every issue we cover three different figures linked together by a common theme – like our "Hate the French" issue which was all French dudes: Sartre, Descartes and Derrida - or "The People’s Choice" issue which was made up of figures people voted for online. Even with the theme issues, each short is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to read the Plato comic in order to understand the Aristotle comic.

A lot of people see the title and at first they think it’s about philosophers stopping bank robbers and stuff but in fact they are historically accurate history comics where we make fun of everything and also place them in a modern context in order to make it entertaining and easy to understand. Our tagline is "All the philosophy is real, all the jokes are fake!"

Do you and Fred Van Lente work well together?

Pretty well actually – we were friends for a long time and had worked on comics separately before we ever collaborated, we respect each other a great deal and give each other a lot of creative freedom. I trust Fred will write a great script, he trusts me to draw nice artwork. We’re both pretty hands-off with each other - we talk pretty broadly about what we’re going to do in each issue before we get started, then Fred writes a full script for me, I pencil and ink everything, scan and shoot it off to Fred, he letters it and shoots it back to me, I do some visual and compositional tweaks to the lettering, then I send it to the printer.

The only real control we have over each other is if I draw something that goes against factual history Fred will ask me to correct it. That happens about once per issue. And if Fred writes something I don’t think is funny or worded awkwardly I let him know, sometimes he changes it, sometimes not. I think that’s happened maybe 3 or 4 times total. The only downside to our partnership is that Fred wishes I could draw faster, but then again so do I!

Can you tell us a few of the philosophers that are featured?

All the big names: Plato, Kant, Rand, Aristotle, Neitzsche, Sartre, Descartes, Jung, Rousseau, Hobbes, Francis Bacon, St Thomas Aquinus, St. Augustine, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, etc, etc, and a good number lesser-knows we found interesting like Bodhidharma, The Pre-Socratics and Epicitus the Stoic. We also did a number of people that don’t really fit the traditional definition of a Philosopher but we thought were worth including since their ideas were so important: Freud, Marx, Machiavelli, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Jefferson. Pretty much everyone from the history of philosophy who had something new or interesting to say or whose life made a great story, usually both. In nine issues we covered 37 different philosophers, plus several more were discussed within other’s stories – like how Socrates’ played a big part in Plato’s story.

We could have continued the series with more philosophers or gone into greater detail as many of our fans and critics have suggested, but Fred and I both agreed that it would have sucked all the fun out of it – both reading it and making it. Our goal has always been for our comic to be a lighthearted and easy to understand introduction to philosophy, not an all-encompassing work.

Do you have certain types of drawings you prefer doing over others?

I think I have artistic ADD – everything has to be either full of action, really funny or incredibly cool looking or else I get bored instantly, probably because the act of drawing itself can be very tedious. I’m from the ever-shrinking school of thought that believes that comics should be loud, trashy, visceral and above all else, FUN. I hate boring stuff, boring stories and pretentious crap that’s in most comics nowadays - I don’t like drawing quiet scenes, people sitting around talking and stuff (or worse: explaining continuity) like most mainstream comics nowadays where the superheroes talk about their feelings or look at photographs for four issues – to me that garbage is the antithesis of the spirit of comics. I don’t like reading that crap and I sure as hell would hate drawing it too. Yet I’m best known for drawing a comic about philosophers. Irony. Luckily me, Fred writes damn entertaining scripts with lots of jokes and action because he knows how important it is to entertain people, especially his artist.

I also don’t really like aping other people’s styles though I seem to have a knack for it and it’s gotten me a lot of freelance work. Very time consuming, and towards the ends of some those projects I just want to tear out what little is left of my hair.

What is minimate art? Why do people enjoy minimate drawings?

Minimates are these little blocky action figures that kind of look like Lego men – all the characters are sculpted the same but they paint and color them differently so they look like different characters, they are very cute little toys. I did 2 illustrations for Toyfare magazine of minimates figures in action one of the Marvel and DC characters fighting, the second was an homage to a Power Man and Iron Fist cover – they couldn’t photograph them because they toys didn’t exist yet, so they asked me to draw them instead. I stopped collecting toys years ago so I had to go out and buy some minimates so that I could draw them correctly.

Shortly after that I posted them to an online art site and people went berserk for them and started asking me to post more. Unfortunately they are incredibly hard to draw – it took me about 4 times as long to draw than something I would do in my own style - because the figures have all these little details in the joints and stuff that I had to get right so they would actually look like the toys (which I guess is why people liked the drawing so much), and I was limited by the articulation of the figures themselves, unlike when I draw in a cartoony or realistic style where there are no limits. I’m never going to do another one unless I get paid for it. Toys are fun, drawing is fun, but drawing toys is not fun. Again, irony.

Who is "Tommy Atomic"?

According to my wife, he’s a complete dick.

Tommy Atomic is a series of comics I’ve been doing off and on for years about a reluctant superhero with a bomb stuck in his head that gives him superpowers for 99 seconds per day – if he uses them for any longer than that he will blow up. The only reason he’s a superhero is because his girlfriend Polly wants to be one, and she’s the only person that knows how to operate the remote control that switches his powers on and off.

So Tommy reluctantly agrees to become a superhero with Polly right by his side as his non-powered spunky sidekick just to keep her happy. I came up with the idea as a big "f-you" to mainstream superheroes – Tommy refuses wear a costume, doesn't have a code name or a secret identity and most of his fights take a few seconds. His name isn’t even Atomic – that’s just the name of the strip. I made some mini comics of around 1999/2000, and it appeared in Royal Flush a few times, then earlier this year I took it to the web as a weekly web comic (and used a lot of his earlier print appearances to pad out the archive.) Since I went online I’ve barely done any superhero stories with the characters - all the strips have been about things like board games and food.

Why would someone want to pick up an issue of Royal Flush?

Royal Flush is what would happen if Mad Magazine and Rolling Stone had a love child back when they were both still good (actually I think Mad is still good, I'm just not 11 years old anymore). It's got music, underground comics, wrestling, stupid action films, low brow art and dick jokes - all the things worth living for. It's beautifully illustrated throughout. It has unbelievably offensive comics that no one else is brave enough to publish like "Hispanic Batman", "The Mitzvah Four", and my own strip "Diarrhea Dog". It's got more going on in the first 10 pages than all other magazines have in a year. Like the tagline says, "You can't lose with a Royal Flush"!

When and why was Evil Twin Comics formed?

Evil Twin is brand-name I’ve been using for all my comics pretty much since I started making them – it was the name of my college comic strip, a mini comic series and my website. I came up with it in the early 90’s - I was imitating other indy books like Eightball and Palookaville to sort of invoke a feeling with what my work was like. My first comics were filled with aggression and negativity but in person I’m actually a pretty nice guy so the name seemed appropriate. When it came time to publish Action Philosophers in 2005 we needed a company name and Evil Twin Comics sounded as good as any so that’s what we went with. I didn’t even discuss it with Fred, I just wrote the name in the catalog solicitations and on the cover – at the time I thought we’d only be printing two issues of Action Philosophers and be done, so what did it matter? But the book because a success and the name stuck. In the Diamond catalog we’re placed between Dynamic Forces and Fantagraphics - which is oddly appropriate.

What would you like to accomplish next in your career?

I guess I would like to write more of my own comics but Fred writes so damn fast I can’t get out from the mountain of excellent scripts he’s given me. And it would be nice to get hired by a company to draw a comic once in a while instead of having to self-publish all the time. I make my living as freelance illustrator and have a lot of great clients I love working with but it’s doesn’t really scratch the creative itch the same way making comics does.

What do you do with any free time you have?

Drink the pain away.

Which comics besides Action Philosophers would you recommend?

Anyone who digs Action Philosophers should definitely check out Jim Ottavani’s Two-Fisted Science and Jay Holster’s books Clan Apis and The Sandwalk Adventures. Jim and Jay do for science what Fred and I do for philosophy. I would also highly recommend the one-shot comic Dr. Id by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri, he’s like a Doctor Strange of psychoanalysis – incredibly fun stuff!

As for comics I’m a fan of – there’s way too many! I was a Marvel Zombie when I first got into comix, then a rabid indy fan all through the 90’s and now I like a little bit of everything. My favorite series right now are mostly original American manga: stuff like Sharknife, Scott Pilgrim and King City. I will pick up anything by Kyle Baker, Becky Cloonan, Bernie Mierault, Steve Purcell, Matt Wagner or Jeff Parker. My guilty pleasures are GI Joe, The Avengers and the Marvel Adventures line. I’ve gotten back into mini-comics to some of my current fave mini comics folk are Pat Lewis, Alec Longstreth, Liz Baillie and Chris Schweizer. Oh and Achewood – best web comic EVER. Probably tons more I’m forgetting.

How can someone contact you?

I have an uncommon last name, which makes it incredibly easy for semi-stalker ex-girlfriends, former co-workers, classmates and other human flotsam from my past to track me down. (And to whoever is reading this, of course I’m not referring to YOU).

People can check out my art and comics at my website:

I also have accounts at comicspace, myspace and deviantart, plus a livejournal feed for Tommy Atomic and probably some more. Be my fake internet friend! I am so, so lonely.

Any final words of wisdom?

Hell no!


Chris Sims said...

That MiniMates PM/IF #50 has a pretty good shot at being the best thing I have ever seen in my life.

I mean really: Mini Misty Knight!

Ryan Dunlavey said...

Oh wow - I forgot people could leave comments on this thing. I *love* the ISB - thanks for being my first Chris!