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WEDNESDAY COMICS Thursday 4:RYAN SOOK Brings KAMANDI to Life

By Jamie Trecker
posted: 06 August 2009 10:40 am ET

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WEDNESDAY COMICS THURSDAYS (4 of 12)
By Jamie Trecker


Welcome back to our weekly miniseries covering DC Comics’ broadsheet Wednesday Comics. Our musings on the first four issues  are after the jump, and this week, we begin our series of interviews with the creators behind the project.

Ryan Sook, artist on the outstanding Kamandi strip, was kind enough to take time out to chat with us about the book this week and how he thinks the whole project has come out.

Newsarama: The strip seems to quite obviously reference the old Prince Valiant strips by Hal Foster and John Cullen Murphy. Was that your idea, or Dave (Gibbons’), and how the process come about?

RYAN SOOK: That was Dave’s idea, actually. What he said to me was, ‘I want it to look like the old Prince Valiant strip!’ He said he wanted a title bar and one or two big flashy images in each page. And, he mentioned the old Japanese wood block prints [such as the ukiyo-e art of Utagawa Hiroshige] for a palette. I was familiar with Foster’s work, but I didn’t really need a lot of reference work; I just kept it in the back of my mind when I drew the strips. We went from there.

NRAMA: The colors in your strip are really popping out. Were you worried about the newsprint format at all, and the size of the pages?

SOOK: Well, the pages for me are actually 18 by 24”. I actually quartered some pieces of this huge paper I bought online somewhere. They’re just giant Strathmore boards that are so big I had to bring a piece of plywood in to strap them to my table!  I’m actually still working on the last couple of pages, too — because of the size of them, they’re really more labor-intensive than you’d expect.

But I’ve always really liked the look of newsprint, so I was eager to do it. The challenging part is that I had been doing covers and color work that ends up being printed on high-gloss paper. On that paper you can delineate a multitude of colors real easy. But on newsprint, the challenge is to be as primary as you can — fewer greytones, blacks, no softs, because they just gets lost on the format. I’ve noticed on a couple of issues that some of the pages have had that happen, but, once I knew it was going to be on newsprint, I aimed for an old 16-color palette, same way the old newspaper guys did, and I think it’s printing great.

NRAMA: Were you a fan of newspaper comics when you signed on to do this project?

SOOK: Well I was and remain a huge fan of the classic strips like Little Nemo, Johnny Comet, Prince Valiant and Tarzan. The old strips really appealed to me, and the format was just great for them. But I honestly was never a fan of the newer ones. I mean, Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts did some great stuff, but other than that I can’t say I really like a lot of the new stuff in the newspapers today.

NRAMA: Was the appeal then in the character and the chance to play around with the format?

SOOK: Absolutely. Mark [Chiarello, editor of the series] offered Kamandi to me and I said yes immediately. I am also a Kamandi fan, because a few years ago I did a Kamandi cover for Countdown, and DC sent me a collection of the 1970s Kirby stories that I had never had had access to. I loved it, and that character was one of my favorites of the series of covers. And this was just such a cool opportunity on top of that.

Here, you have one page to accomplish basically the same thing you get to do in one issue of a comic book. You’re allowed to be more of an illustrator than a comic book artist. See, in a book, you can spread things out and move things from page to page, but here you have to hit the all the notes and the high points in a confined space. Dave’s scripts have been great — he’s somehow managed to get a cliffhanger on every page! — and it’s just worked so well. I think we’ve nailed it, getting all those big moments there front and center, and that’s been really exciting.

NRAMA: Are you surprised by the great reaction the strip has received?

SOOK: I don’t know if I am surprised, because when I read Dave’s script, I thought this story would really be a perfect fit for the book. I knew some people wouldn’t be as familiar with Kamandi, but he gave all the back-story on the first page, and just pulled you in. Dave just did a great job handling that, and gave me great stuff to draw. But I also I know that Kamandi was a character that a lot of intense comic fans had wanted to see, so in that regard I wasn’t surprised that they were excited about seeing him back. But I also like taking hold of an unfamiliar character and breathing new life into it! I think a lot of other people do too!

    For more on Ryan Sook, you can visit his website at www.ryansook.com.

Musings, Thoughts, Geekery
    This week’s “high points” in Wednesday Comics:
    Sook and Gibbons’ Kamandi continues to be a blast. It’s got apes on motorcycles! How can you not dig that?
Two other strips took left turns this week that are just as notable:
 
      First off, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Batman just got a whole lot creepier as Alfred begin to figure out that Bruce Wayne is being played for the patsy by moll Luna.

Second: You know that Boston Brand guy over in Deadman? He’s dead. Again. And Dave Bullock and Vin Hueck’s crown-headed demons have eyes on their shoulders. Eww.

    Many readers (including this one) have had a struggle deciphering Ben Calwell’s intricate Wonder Woman feature. So, it’s ironic that one of Calwell’s tiny panels is blown up on this week’s cover: It’s freaking gorgeous. Maybe instead of a “treasury-sized” reprint of this series, we could get a poster-book?

    Also really cool this week: Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher’s Flash sees Barry Allen (I) tossed into Gorilla Grodd’s new universe while Barry Allen (II) tells Iris he’s giving up the tights. And as far as I’m concerned, Paul Pope can draw Ranagar for as long as he lives: His far-off worlds in Strange Adventures actually look and feel alien.
   

GEEK NOTES: In this week’s Hawkman, the plane goes down, and things get worse. I’ll bet even money that the island they crash on might be one that Time Forgot. ...Why are Morgane Le Fay’s magical runes shown to be, um, Egyptian? Ask the guys behind Demon and Catwoman, because I can’t figure that one out. ... Metal Men antagonist Bela Pretorius is introduced in this issue, confusing some of us continuity buffs who thought T.O. Morrow was Will Magnus’ old professor and benefactor. Speaking of: Catch Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire’s take on the Metal Men in the new Doom Patrol #1 this week. It’s the backup feature....Whoops! The letterer on Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s Metamorpho flipped one of the text balloons. It’s Urania Blackwell who figures out how to defuse the chlorine gas attack, not Rex Mason. (OK, ok: It’s actually Gaiman — these are fictional people, after all. Sheesh.)

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