'The 10-year-old me would be very happy with the way things turned out,'
announces Chris Ryall, publisher and editor-in-chief at IDW Publishing, a San Diego-based comic-book company.
It's a few weeks before Comic-Con, the industry's biggest event of the year, but Ryall doesn't seem to be stressing too much about the countdown. The youthful 38-year-old is hard at work, but he's also happily holed up in an office most 10-year-old boys would trade in their sister and family dog to have for themselves.
One shelved wall holds hundreds of neatly catalogued back issues of various comics published by IDW. On another wall hangs apocalyptic artwork by Ashley Wood, one of IDW's regulars and co-creator of Zombies vs. Robots, a pet project penned by Ryall. Even his desk, strewn with cool gadgets and action figures, could send the calmest juvenile into a jealous tantrum.
Ryall is one of the lucky few who have found their calling in life and have managed to get paid for it. He started at IDW three years ago, leaving behind a long career as a speechwriter and ad-copy man. In college, he studied marketing but secretly wanted to be a creative writer.
'It was beaten into my head that you had to study business,' he laughs, aware that he's just relayed the oldest artist-goes-to-college cliché around.
At IDW, though, Ryall's dual business/creative skill sets come in handy. He oversees the publishing process, from choosing projects and hiring and managing freelancers to editing and keeping everything on deadline. He also writes many of the titles himself.
Four entertainment execs and artists founded Idea and Design Works in 1999 as a graphic-design and production company. The publishing arm, IDW, launched a year later.
IDW's first title, Uno Fanta: The Art of Ashley Wood, garnered accolades and remains on perpetual reorder. The first comic-book miniseries, 30 Days of Night-a vampire thriller cleverly set in the north of Alaska, where the sun doesn't rise for 30 days-was the No. 4 best-selling graphic novel of 2003 and prompted a bidding war between major movie studios. In the end, Senator International won out, with Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spiderman) attached to produce. The film, directed by David Slade (Hard Candy), stars Josh Hartnett and will be released by Columbia Pictures in October.
More recently, IDW has produced comics for TV shows such as CSI and Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as books associated with films, including Shaun of the Dead, Transformers and the upcoming Beowulf.
The company was named Publisher of the Year in 2003, 2005 and 2006 by Diamond Comic Distributors.
'The good thing about being an independent publisher is that we only do projects that we like,' Ryall says. 'We have to do things that are commercially viable, but we also get to pour our hearts into things that are fun and creative. It all starts with: ‘Do we like it?''
The Zombies vs. Robots series he co-created, for example, allows him more room for personal expression than creating the comic-book version of a hit TV show, a process that comes loaded with contractual stipulations. But he's content to do both.
As a result, Ryall's job rarely ends when the clock strikes 5-he takes work home with him on a regular basis. He finds it rewarding, and he insists his wife is understanding and has even grown to appreciate comics.
Not everyone gets it, though.
'Bringing up what I do at a party is a real conversation killer,' he laughs. 'The point of reference for most people is the adolescent male power fantasy comic-the superhero stuff. Even Stan Lee'-the prolific DC Comics writer responsible for Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and X-Men-'used to tell people that he wrote for magazines, not comics, 40 or 50 years ago.'
But comic books have come a long way since Lee's heyday. Ryall cites many examples, from the weighty Holocaust subject matter of Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer-winning graphic novel Maus to girl-friendly Gen-X comic-book creators like Adrian Tomine, who created Ghost World. Even the caped crusaders imagined by Lee and his cohorts, once the domain of young boys and men with Peter Pan syndrome, have been rediscovered by a wider audience thanks to big- and small-screen adaptations.
The market for comic books and graphic novels-one and the same, Ryall says, though graphic novels tend to look more book-like-continues to expand, a fact evidenced by the diverse crowd that descends on Comic-Con every year (find IDW at Booth No. 2229). There's a comic for everyone, Ryall insists, not just 15- to 30-year-old males; the biggest buyers for the CSI series, he says, are 40-something women.
One of IDW's special guests this year is none other than Gene Simmons of KISS, who approached IDW with some ideas for his own comic books. Ryall admits that getting to work with Simmons is pretty unimaginable.
'My older brother was into two things when we were growing up: comic books and KISS. Now, whenever I send him anything from Simmons, my brother is just in awe.'
Ryall, who first discovered his passion for comics when he was 5, feels fortunate that he's somehow managed to make a living out of his boyhood passion.
'You never want to disappoint your 10-year-old self,' he concludes with a smile.