When Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane (among others) founded Image Comics, they revolutionized the comic book industry. The artists were treated like—and acted like—rock stars everywhere they went. It was that attitude that put the creator-owned mindset of Image on equal footing with Marvel and DC.
Twenty years later, Image Comics is still a force led by some of the most famous creators working today. Its continued success is thanks, in large part, to books like Invincible—illustrated by local artist Ryan Ottley. Ottley may not have the bombastic, rock star personality of some of his Image peers, but he is every bit as talented. His line work is some of the cleanest and most detailed in the industry, and the level of gore he reaches at times is a stark contrast to the personality of the mild-mannered Utah resident.
Since 2004, when he began penciling Invincible on a regular basis, Ottley has been attending Draw Night at Nobrow Coffee. It’s a low-key, weekly tradition in which a group of local artists get together for a few hours and sketch, chat and just be creative. “I met [local artist] Derek Hunter online, and he used to do Draw Night,” says Ottley. “They’d been doing it for years, but stopped for a while. I said I’d be interested in doing it, so we got together and started again. We’ve been doing it like clockwork ever since.”
The number of people attending varies from week to week. Sometimes it’s small, but on this particular night, there were nearly 10 people packed in, all working on various projects. For Ottley, it’s just a nice break from the daunting task (but still a better gig than most jobs, of course) that is illustrating a monthly comic. He uses Draw Night as an exercise in sketching, where his mind can wander and he can let his pencil do the talking. “I have no clue what’s going to happen here,” says Ottley. “I just start drawing.”
Ottley held a number of different jobs while harboring dreams of becoming a comic artist. After he was fired from a warehouse, he saw an opportunity to actually go for it. He began posting his work online and trying to find writers he wanted to work with. He contributed to various anthologies and illustrated a number of short stories, including Ted Noodleman: Bicycle Delivery Boy, until his work was discovered and he was asked to fill in on an issue of Invincible. “I did pencils and inks in two weeks, which is way too fast, but I was really hungry at that point,” says Ottley. “I actually finished [Issue 8] before Cory [Walker, Invincible co-creator] finished his pages for Issue 7, and then they asked me if I’d come on full time.”
Since then, Ottley has penciled nearly 100 issues of a book that continues to be a refreshing change of pace from other superhero comics. With a dedication to characters and a strong focus on family dynamics, it still manages to contain some of the most imaginative—and sometimes brutally realistic—takes on traditional superhero tropes.
Since Invincible is on a monthly schedule, Ottley works six days a week to make sure the book ships regularly, which leaves little time for anything else. That’s not to say he doesn’t try. He and fellow artist James Harren have a site called The Bog (the-bog.tumblr.com), which is mostly for fun, brain-dumping sketches. He also has his own book with Jason Howard (artist of Super Dinosaur) called Sea Bear and Grizzly Shark. Ottley promises that they have more in store, but want to make sure they can get them out on a regular basis before any official announcement is made.
While Ottley may not get recognized on the street yet, that could all change if the upcoming inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con is any sort of success. Ottley is a veteran attendee of conventions all over the country, most notably San Diego Comic Con and Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. Dan Farr, the hometown convention’s organizer, has been working hard at pulling together some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to make sure it’s a memorable first year. “We’ve had some good ones here and there, but this one feels like it’s going to be the biggest,” says Ottley. “I really hope that it’s good, and that it’s huge and that it lasts. That would be great to do a convention and then just drive home.”
The convention is on the same weekend as Baltimore Comic Con, which Ottley had already committed to. He will have a presence on at least Thursday of the Salt Lake show, which runs September 5–7 at the Salt Palace. You can purchase tickets and find more info at saltlakecomiccon.com.
The next year is looking to be just as busy for Ottley, with Invincible showing no signs of slowing down. He’s excited about the direction the book is going and the popularity it has. He’s also looking to branch out a little bit more to some of his own projects, like Grizzly Shark, but it’s just a matter of finding time while trying to keep some semblance of a normal family life. Well, as normal of a life as you can have when your job is to draw immortal beings punching holes through people’s stomachs.
Keep up to date with Ottley’s work at ryanottley.com.