For full disclosure, I’ll admit, I am no comic book connoisseur. The closest I’ve gotten to reading comics are Simpson’s episodes with Comic Book Guy cameos and the most recent Superman movie. That said, I know a Clark Kent when I see one. And I met one last night. Ryan Browne is a total Clark Kent. On top of the fact that he sports way cool thick-rimmed glasses, there’s no way he doesn’t spin through revolving doors at the speed of light in order to change fast enough from his graphic design day job to super hero comic book writer and illustrator from hours 5 pm to whatever the craft demands.
And while that may seem like a cheesy description, I stand by it; because there is no one more superhero-like in my eyes than the person who drives to work every day from Chicago to Northern Indiana and back.. For us artists out there, we share our deep envy admiration for those lucky few who can magically pull in some bank to subsist on while practicing their craft. And although incredibly humble and modest and perhaps in denial, Ryan Browne pulls it off—perhaps not as idealistically as every artist would hope for (i.e. absence of day job + tree that grows money)—but he has yet to stop drawing despite his daily commute.
Browne graduated from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration. He will tell you himself that he was knee-deep in artist-pretentious-syndrome, donning a black wool turtleneck, black coffee, cigarette and a beret (at least that’s what I imagine when someone utters “pretentious” and “artist” in the same sentence). He neglected his beloved comics to designate school time to the more prestigious major, painting; however, when he realized he’d been spending all his spare time drawing comics, he threw pretense to the wind and gave into the so-called lowbrow art of comic illustration and story making.
Browne has recently self-published and distributed his original comic book God Hates Astronauts – which may be the best title I’ve ever heard. The comic is a miraculous result of a self-imposed “24-hour comic.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Browne sat down with no preparation and drew for 24 hours straight. He explained that it yields the best ideas. Like an impulsive 6-year-old I blurted out “Wait. Do you go to the bathroom?!” A long pause, and from the other side of the table, “Yes.”
As I mentioned before, I’m no aficionado, but I know awesome eye-catching illustrations when I see them, and God Hates Astronauts not only catches your attention with its hilarious title, but its use of color, humor and big ass bears. Browne is currently working on a new book entitled Dutch Vs. The Future, which has a plot more complex and intelligent than my senior thesis.
So, over a beer in Logan Square, I asked Ryan about his craft, and although I’m no expert in comic book illustrators, I know someone who’s incredibly passionate about their art when I meet one.
Here’s what Ryan had to say:
Q: How did you fall into art, and more specifically comics?
A: I love drawing. Honestly, I’d be drawing right now if I had a pencil. I’m an imagination whore. (Momentary freaks out that that’s inappropriate; when I assure him it’s not. I don’t think…) I like making stuff up. I like making myself laugh. It’s kind of selfish.
Q: In your opinion, where do comics fit in on the “art spectrum”? Are they more than entertainment?
A: Like any fine art, they are so labor intensive. At the same time, they definitely function more as entertainment. They tell a story. They don’t have to be interpreted like a painting might be. I’ve always felt like the world of comics is an exclusive club that you were either part of or not.
Q: Where do you see the place for comics in popular culture?
A: It is an exclusive club. Of man-children. There is a place [for comics], but the problem is that comic books don’t have any new readers. It’s a dying medium. The people who used to read them, still read them. But comics aren’t gaining any new readers. Video games, the internet—it all distracts kids from reading comics. On top of that, and maybe because of that, a lot of comics are geared toward adults. So gaining a younger audience is the big challenge right now. America’s the only place where comics are thought of as children’s literature, but at the same time we tend to market toward adults.
Q: How does your work translate to the web?
A: I wish it did! I feel like an old man when it comes to the internet. (Browne is still under 30). I have a disinterest in online networking. It just doesn’t click with me. I just recently joined Facebook because my friend made me.
Q: What attracts you to comic illustration and story besides the fact you basically can’t stop drawing?
A: There are no limits. A comic book is like a movie; it can have all the special effects you want. It can be any genre you want. Comic books are essentially storyboards for movies. A lot of times movies are based off of comics and we’re not even made aware of it. It’s also self-centered. I try to make myself laugh. I like when something I’m working on makes me laugh, and there is an awesome payoff when someone else laughs as well.
Q: What are your professional aspirations and other comic book illustrators who’s careers you admire?
A: My inspiration…definitely Mike Allred, writer of Madman and Geoff Darrow of Shaolin Cowboy. My goal would be to do a comic—write and draw—and get paid for it. Get paid well enough to continue making them. Like I said, I didn’t go to art school because I like money.
You can read more about Ryan on his web site http://ryanbrowne.net/ and see more of his great work.
Last 5 posts by Dara Katz
- Shhh! Under-The-Table with Underground Chef Christine Cikoski - August 25th, 2010
- Tea Time with Sarah Rose - July 13th, 2010
- One Last Hissy Fit with Fashion Designer Lisa Rigney - May 4th, 2010
- Chicago Hot Glass: The Harley Davidson of Fine Arts - February 21st, 2010
- The LUSH Life: Interview with Chicago’s LUSH Wine & Spirits' Rachel Driver - January 15th, 2010