Indie comic artist stages ‘War of the Independents’
Dave Ryan is like a caped superman from the pages of his comics who bravely battles on in the face of insurmountable odds.
Ryan and his fellow independent and small-press comic book creators wage a constant battle in a marketplace dominated by DC and Marvel and their vast resources, their welloiled publicity machines, their cons iderable distribution systems and their tried- and-true heroes such as Batman and Spider-Man.
So, the Aberdeen artist/ writer spent the better part of five years enlisting a few hundred of his peers and their characters, and bringing them together in one comic book series.
While “War of the Independents” is a groundbreaking, six-issue epic uniting some 200 characters as widely divergent as the Crusader (a hero who’s faster than a lightning bolt, but can’t muster the courage to tell his girlfriend he’s more than an accountant), Shi (a femme fatale and descendent of ancient warriors) and Cerebus (a gun-toting aardvark), it’s also a lot more.
As Ryan hints in the book’s very title, “War of the Independents” is a battle cry.
“Independent comics have a lot of imagination and creativity to offer,” said Ryan, who will be signing copies of “War of the Independents” and doing sketches May 5 at TheHobby Shop inAberdeen as part of the store’s Free Comic Book Day promotion. “Independent creators have the freedom to do or say whatever they want or draw whatever they want. You get the true expression from the creator or the artist.”
But bringing together Shadowflame, Atomika, Glitter Girl, Captain Canuck, Lady Nocturne, Mad Man, Cassie Hack, Johnny Raygun, Ms. Monster and dozens of others in one story took a superhuman effort. He contacted dozens of creators, some living in such far-flung locales as Taiwan, Turkey and Ireland. Others he approached at comic book conventions with waiver in hand and an appeal: There‘s strength in numbers.
“What appealed to me about Dave is the humanitarian way he’s gone about ‘War of the Independents,’ ” said Mercer County creator Mariano Nicieza, whose character, Phazer, plays a pivotal role in the storyline. “On one hand, it’s self-serving. He’s putting out a book using characters he doesn’t own. But on the other side, there are many, many, many characters and creators in the book that, if Dave had not had the wherewithal to make the books, they would have no way to get their work out there.
“He’s providing a service to hundreds of these creators, these talented guys in their basements or whatever, who had no real venue to get their characters out there.”
Getting permission to use Shaloman, Doc Creepy, Space Wraith and Drunken Monkey in “War of the Independents” was only half the battle. Ryan had to figure out how to incorporate so many characters into a coherent storyline. That’s when, ironically, he drew inspiration from the big publishers’ major events, such as Marvel’s “Civil War” and DC’s “Infinite Crisis.”
“What I decided to do was to break the issues up into themes,” said Ryan. “In Issue 2, we use all the African American characters. In Issue 3, it’s the supermen. Issue 4 is all the cartoon characters, such as Too Much Coffee Man, the Flaming Carrot, Zippy the Pinhead Clown.” Ryan says that the Archie crew and Felix the Cat will likely make an appearance in Issue 4 at a Public Enemy concert — yes, the legendary rap group has given Ryan their blessing to put them into “War of the Independents.” Then Issue 6 will feature the lower-powered heroes, before the whole thing ends in what Ryan calls a “brawlfest.”
There’s a classic good vs. evil theme running through the story. Maldestrak and other villains are trying to collect various artifacts that will unlock a portal and allow the insidious Razorjack through. Captain Action, El Valiente and the other heroes will risk everything to stop them.
While DC, a subsidiary of Time Warner, and Marvel, a subsidiary of Disney, have deep pockets, Ryan is a freelance artist who does commissioned work and gives art lessons to make ends meet. So he turned to the comic book community to help bankroll “War of the Independents.” He used Kickstarter.com, a platform where creators can offer perks such as original artwork or copies of the comic in return for pledges. The $5,000 he raised helped pay for the letterer to add the word balloons and a colorist to ply his pallet to the panels.
With the first two issues already published through his Red Anvil Comics label, Ryan said Issue 3 should be out by the end of May. There are plans to send some of the characters off on their own adventures in some spin-offs. Eventually the main story line will be collected into a graphic novel. There’s even a card set cataloguing some of the characters.
Texas-based creator Richard Dominguez, who has lent his character El Gato Negro to the comic, said “War of the Independents” has become the nexus in a revolution that has bonded dozens of indie creators who can swap war stories about distribution fiascos and share publicity successes.
It’s been a dream come true for Ryan, who has been nominated for three Eagle awards — one of the most prestigious honors in the comics industry — for his work on “War of the Independents.”
“Dave has shown so much drive and energy in how he went out and recruited these creators,” Nicieza said. “It’s no small feat getting hundreds of creators under one roof. It’s historic. That part of it cannot be underplayed. It’s monumental just getting them to make it happen, and that’s not including producing the book and the marketing and getting it into stores.
“Just making it happen is huge.”