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‘Invincible’ comic book artist talks cons and his long tenure

Interview » Ryan Ottley’s rare commitment to the comic engenders a strong empathy for its characters.


| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Aug 28 2014 04:27 pm • Last Updated Sep 03 2014 12:58 pm

Before Ryan Ottley was the long-running artist of the superhero comic "Invincible," he was downtown, painting Ben Franklin.

"My first job in life was working at my step-grandparents’ shop in downtown [Salt Lake City] when I was a teen," said Ottley, who now lives in Midvale. "They made lots of statues and things, and I was hired to paint Benjamin Franklin busts to be used as some kind of graduation award over at Franklin Covey. So if you have one of those on your shelves, I probably painted it."

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Convention Info

Ryan Ottley is scheduled to be at Salt Lake Comic Con all three days, Sept. 4-6 at the Salt Palace Convention Center. See saltlakecomiccon.com for details.

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Now those busts might be worth all the more as Ottley originals. Since the Utah artist jumped into comics, he’s put in more than a decade drawing "Invincible," written by Robert Kirkman (the creator and writer of "The Walking Dead" comic). In an industry where artists and writers often spend only a matter of months with any particular comic, Ottley’s tenure stands out.

And while he may not stand out at Nobrow Coffee’s artist nights, where he’s been known to sketch, it will be hard to miss him at his personal booth at this year’s Salt Lake Comic Con, which starts Sept. 4.

You’ve stuck with "Invincible" a lot longer than most creators do on books. What was that commitment like for you as an artist, and what do you think that’s meant for readers?

Growing up reading comics, it was always a bummer when you pick up a new issue of your favorite series and there is a new artist and all the characters look so different that it just feels off, and it actually takes you right out of the story. So I always appreciated when an artist stayed on a story for a good amount of time. So it’s been nice to stay with "Invincible" for over 10 years and really get connected with the characters to the point where I care about them. It’s an odd thing, feeling bad for a character when I have to draw them in a certain predicament, facing an unbearable act.

How would you say your art has evolved and changed since you started in comics?

I am always trying to one up my past self. I try not to compare myself to others, since that’s what makes one give up. I’d rather be inspired by others and only compare myself to my past self and strive to be a better artist today than I was yesterday. So looking at my comic work as a whole, you will notice a gradual change; hopefully you’ll notice a change for the better, because that’s what I was going for! Just trying to be a better artist. That’s the plan!

Tell me a little about your convention experience. Is there a touching or crazy experience you’ve had with a fan that jumps out at you?

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Conventions are always fun. I go from being a hermit drawing alone in my office to going to a con where fans love your work. It’s a bit shocking to see someone appreciate your work so much that they’ll travel long distances just to see you. I always leave a con rejuvenated and ready to draw more comics!

Is there a commission that you’ve always wanted someone to ask of you? Is there a weird request you’ve had that comes to mind that might serve as a good example of what not to ask for?

Hey, you can ask me to draw whatever you want if you are willing to pay for it and I have room on my sketch list, and of course if it’s not too risqué!

One year at San Diego Comic-Con, a fan asked me to draw ["Invincible" character] Omni-Man with his shirt off. I didn’t care, I mean drawing a superhero is basically drawing a figure, then adding a few lines. So I basically just didn’t have to draw the lines on the figure. No biggie. So I drew the shirtless superhero for the guy, he was ecstatic! He walked away, but then five minutes later he came back and shyly and quietly said, "Hey um.... If I gave you 5 more dollars could you add one more thing?"

I said, "Well, it depends on what that one thing is." He said, "Can you just draw chest hair?" Relieved, I took the drawing and said, "Heck I’ll do that for free!" And scribbled on some chest hair. He was super happy. Haha! To each their own.

Having done other conventions and signings, is there anything that stands out to you about Salt Lake Comic Con?

I was surprised with the first Salt Lake Comic Con, it was enormous and such a great fan base coming in. It really was refreshing. I only did one day last year since I had already accepted a con in Baltimore, but this year I’ll be there all three days so I can get the full taste of it all. As a kid I always dreamed of going to a convention but couldn’t ever afford to travel so far for one. Nice we finally have one, and it’s huge!


Twitter: @mikeypanda

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