Posted by Jennifer Smith
Marvel exclusive artist Ryan Stegman first came to my attention with his work on Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sif oneshot, but it was his art for the sadly-truncated She-Hulks that really caught my attention. Stegman’s art is vibrant and dynamic, with characters that are absolutely bursting with personality and action scenes that would make Jack Kirby proud. After gushing all over his pencils in my Newsarama reviews, I decided to contact him to chat about his work, his enthusiasms, and his past and future projects.
First of all, Ryan, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions! We here at Fantastic Fangirls are big fans, and it’s a pleasure to get the chance to talk to you, especially considering the fact that you seem to have more projects by the minute.
Hey no problem. Thanks for liking my stuff!
For those who might not be as familiar with your work as we are, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Let’s see…I have been drawing comics for about five years now, a lot of that in relative obscurity. But recently I’ve been doing some stuff that’s been a little more visible, like Sif, She-Hulks, X-23 and an upcoming issue of Amazing Spider-Man (665) and a three issue mini “Fear Itself: Hulk vs. Dracula”.
Now that She-Hulks has (sadly) come and gone, do you have any reflections on that experience? Was there a particular high point for you in your work on that series?
Well, it was a great experience to say the least. It was the first time I was given the opportunity to work on “my own” book, and do it for more than one issue. It was great to work with the entire crew that made that series happen. A lot of excitement went into it. Having a first-time writer like Harrison Wilcox really added to the experience because we were both entering uncharted territory for ourselves. So our excitement was at a fever-pitch. And I think that showed in the book.
As for a high point…I still think that second page of issue one was it for me. It was a splash page, with the two She-Hulks smashing Trapster’s head into the roulette table. I really felt like I had hit another level in my abilities…Suddenly there was action, acting, and style all coming together. It was sort of a culmination of the learning I had done over my career. We priced that original art insanely high because, to be honest, I want to hold onto it to remember that moment when things sort of came together for me.
One of the things I loved most about your work on She-Hulks was the clothing. Jen and Lyra’s costumes were so practical – flat boots, gloves, shorts instead of bikini bottoms – without taking away from their attractiveness. And the formalwear you designed for the school dance was absolutely perfect for the individual characters, and for teenagers in general. I’d love to hear more about your process in deciding, and designing, what your characters wear.
Ha. WELL. Funny story. What I did was, I ordered a lot of women’s clothing catalogues. Stuff like Delia’s and Urban Outfitters for Lyra, and Saks Fifth Avenue, etc. for Jen. It’s a little embarrassing, because now I get these catalogues sent to my house addressed to “Ryan Stegman”. So I sort of hide them away when they arrive. I also had my cousin, who is in high school, shoot some photos of kids in the hallway. I guess nobody thinks that’s weird anymore because everybody has cameras on their phones. And so I used some of that for the high school stuff.
It was really important to me to make that stuff authentic. I didn’t want to have un-referenced clothing, or even pull stuff out of my head from when I was in high school, because that would come off as dated. And I also get a little irritated when some artists make all the characters SO stylish, as though they get dressed by a designer every morning. So I tried to find a nice balance of what was practical and use the clothes to add a little character to everyone.
You’ve said in other interviews that you enjoy drawing cheesecake, but even your most cheesecake-y art gives female characters spark and personality. How do you negotiate the balance between making your art fun and sexy and portraying women as strong, heroic characters?
When drawing female heroes, I try to put the hero part first. That’s not to say that I don’t take their attractiveness into account, but I just make sure that they aren’t being “sexy” for no reason. It actually goes both ways. When drawing males, people would be put off if you don’t make them attractive. Unless that’s part of their character.
On the other hand, there is some work I’ve done in the past that was intentionally sexy, but that’s what those books called for. And when cheesecake is called for, I can go full cheesecake. I enjoy drawing that stuff as long as I’m allowed to have a sense of humor with it.
In the past you drew the Sif oneshot for Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of the Fantastic Fangirls’ favorite writers. What was it like working with her?
Working with Kelly Sue was AWESOME. She was extremely helpful when I needed explanations for script stuff, etc. She even helped me pick out Sif’s civilian clothes! And the script was just awesome. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve worked on. The story was so compact and yet so full. I think it’s a real testament to her writing abilities that, at the end of that one-shot, you feel like you’ve been given more story than you normally would in a 22 page comic.
I expect big, big things from Kelly Sue. And I hope I can be a part of them!
Your most recent work was on a few issues of X-23, with Marjorie Liu. How did you have to adapt your style for that book? It seemed to me to be a mix of the darker, more serious style of Sif and the keen attention to drawing realistic-looking teenagers that you achieved so well on She-Hulks, with the added complication of the two major characters (X-23 and Daken) being directly related to Wolverine.
It’s strange for me, because I know that my style sort of changed on X-23. But it wasn’t a completely conscious decision. It really just felt like that’s what the book called for. The first time I read through the script, it triggered memories of Michael Turner’s early Witchblade stuff. It was very dark. And I pulled out all that old Witchblade stuff that I loved so much and soaked it in and tried to play up the drama as much as possible. Because X-23 is a very dramatic, dark book. And wouldn’t you know it, amping up the drama was a ton of fun.
What appealed to you about X-23 as a character, and Marjorie Liu as a writer?
The idea of a female Wolverine is pretty appealing in its own right. I mean, drawing Wolverine would be awesome, and I love drawing females, so the combination of the two is pretty awesome. But on top of that, as I mentioned in the previous answer, the drama of X-23 really stood out to me. It was a chance to try something new. Because She-Hulks, while it had its darker more dramatic moments, was mostly a light-hearted book.
And Marjorie is an awesome writer. Her scripts didn’t contain all of the thought captions that the final printing had in there, and when it was all put together I was bowled over by how well it read. Not that I didn’t know she had skills, because the script that I worked from was really enjoyable. But seeing how she fit it all together was great.
Marjorie is another one I hope I can cross paths with again in the future!
Your next work is perhaps your most high-profile yet: drawing Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #665. What is it like, working on such an iconic character? The same question could also apply to your upcoming Hulk vs. Dracula mini. Is there a special challenge in drawing someone like Spider-Man or Hulk or Dracula, putting your own spin on a character that so many artists have drawn before?
Working on Spider-Man is… insane. When I think about my 15-year-old self deciding, “Yeah, I want to draw comic books for a living” and then the road that I took to get to this point, drawing one of the greatest comic franchises in history, it just blows my mind. Spider-Man is what got me into comics in the first place. Todd McFarlane set my hair on fire with his Spidey stuff. So when I did that first page where Spider-Man was swinging out over the city, I was just washed over with the moment.
Interestingly, Hulk is my second favorite character. I always wanted to draw Hulk or Spider-Man as a kid. So suddenly I’m getting to work on both. It’s nuts.
True story: On the day that my son Oliver was born, Feb. 17th of this year, I was almost done with my work on X-23. And a couple hours after the baby was born, I checked my email and I had an email from Steve Wacker that basically said, “Your next two projects are Spider-Man and Hulk.” I still can’t believe that day. It sounds made up!
And as for putting my own spin on the characters: It is difficult to come up with your own way of drawing them, definitely. But it’s very necessary in my opinion because yours has to be YOURS. If you want people to remember what you did, you need to be different. The way I do that is I try to bring out all the character I can in the…Character. So I just try to figure out what they’re all about in my mind and use that as a template.
Also bringing you some attention lately: your hilarious covers for Fear Itself: Deadpool. Given how creative and expressive your work can be, would you like to do more humor-related projects in the future?
I LOVE humor stuff in comics. I’ve always been a big comedy nerd and I feel like it’s a pretty natural fit for me to do that stuff in my work. So yes, that would be awesome. I actually really like books that can go back and forth between very dark, dramatic stuff and then have something funny. Like Spider-Man. It gives you a chance to do it all.
You’ve been working on various comics for awhile now, but it’s been over a year since Marvel senior vice president David Bogart approached you at C2E2 and signed you to a Marvel exclusive contract. Any thoughts on your Marvel tenure a little while after that anniversary?
It’s been amazing. A dream come true, really. I honestly haven’t had one bad experience with anyone at Marvel. All of the editors have been great to work with, and all of the writers that I’ve worked with have been so communicative. I really enjoy the collaboration of making comics, so I like to communicate with the entire creative team on the books I work on. And the lines with Marvel are always open for that.
You’re pretty active on Twitter, using it to share your thoughts and interact with colleagues and fans. How do you think Twitter has changed the comic book industry, particularly in terms of transparency, accessibility, and networking?
There are two ways I look at Twitter. The first, if it had been around when I was 16, I would have died from happiness. I used to spend all my time in a Wizard chat room, and occasionally professionals would drop in and talk to us and it was just the greatest. And that’s essentially what you can do with Twitter. I know I talk to tons of fans on a pretty regular basis, some of them I actually feel like I know now.
And this transitions into my second point about Twitter. I’ve met other professionals, as well as fans, via Twitter. And now when I go to conventions, the ice is already broken. We have something to talk about. We know stuff about each other. So it makes it much easier to connect with people right off the bat.
I’m a very extraverted person, and drawing comic books is a very solitary profession. So Twitter gives me that interaction that I need. I love it!
Most people working in the comic book industry were fans of comic books first and foremost. Have you had any memorable fanboy moments since coming to work on mainstream titles?
Oh yes. The first that comes to mind is when I was doing Red She-Hulk backup stories. I got an email out of the blue from Jeph Loeb telling me how excited he was about these backup stories and how he and Joe Q had picked me for the job and he loved my work and I about died. I’m a huge fan of Jeph’s, and it was just such a career affirming moment. Like, “Jeph Loeb knows who I am!” It was crazy.
And then, on that same project, Ed McGuinness started talking with me, saying he liked my stuff and eventually that led to phone conversations and I couldn’t believe it. Ed McGuinness! I was and am such a fan.
And now, every time I start a new project I feel there is somebody involved that I get to geek out over. It’s awesome.
We here at Fantastic Fangirls like to celebrate enthusiasm in all of its forms. What media, comics or otherwise, has gotten you excited lately?
I’m a huge fan of all the Thursday night shows on NBC. That’s pretty much my stuff. I don’t like Outsourced, but I watch the hell out of the Office, Parks and Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to plug, or any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
Well, I found out what my next project is after Hulk vs. Dracula! And that project is…A SECRET. Sorry!
But check out my tumblr page where I post panels from pages I’m working on and all kindsa stuff at ryanstegman.tumblr.com. And check me out and talk to me on Twitter @ryanstegman! I NEED it!
Thanks so much, Ryan! And please, Fantastic Fangirls readers, do what he says and check out his stuff. I promise, you won’t regret it!
By Jennifer Margret Smith