Interview with Ryan Armand (Minus, Great and Others…)

7 Sep

Ryan Armand is the Eisner-nominated creator of several successful webcomics. Minus, for which he received his nomination, Great and many more found on his website, Kiwis By Beat. Though each series differs they are share the wondrous and joyful style which sets Armand’s work out as his own.

What was it like receiving the Eisner nomination for Minus?
It was interesting. I went to the ceremony and sat in the general audience with a friend. When the webcomics nominees came up someone sitting in front of me said “Yeah, Minus!” and I debated whether I should tap them on the shoulder and say “CREATED BY ME.” In the end I decided against it.

It appears that Minus, from it’s beginning, didn’t have any particular arc or end in sight. Why did you make the decision to end Minus?
An ending for Minus was actually one of the first strip ideas I came up with, and it’s why the phrase ‘It’ll be updating every Thursday until I suddenly stop!’ was included in the comic’s description, since it was designed to be inserted at any time. I had never made a series of comic strips before, so the planned length of Minus was relative to how difficult that ended up being: if it was hard to come up with ideas, then I planned on doing about 20 strips; if it was easy then I would do 100, but it was never intended to run for a very long time.

Minus appears to be the only series of yours done in colour, why did you choose not to continue this pattern with your other work?
I’ve worked on other comics in colour, it’s just that none of them ever developed into something that went public. I guess I just have a problem with the way my paintings come out, I’ll probably have to force myself through another colour comic until I’m comfortable enough with it for that to stop happening. Also: black and white is cheaper.

Many of your comics such as Modern Fried Snake feature very minimal dialogue, allowing for the images to tell the story, what is so attractive about this style of storytelling?
Hard to say. I don’t have a special interest in comics with minimal dialogue and I don’t think I’ve made many deliberately silent comics. It’s probably just a side effect of de-emphasizing plots. So rather than being the focus of most events in a story, the plot chugs along silently beneath the surface as time progresses. Along those lines I try to play most scenes evenly to let readers decide on how significant anything is, or maybe get them to stop worrying about trying to figure out how important to the story a given scene of piece of dialogue is at all. So scenes that might be edited to save space in other stories end up being focused on and the camera gets to linger around following silent scenes instead of rushing past them towards the next event.

I have read that Great begun as something to keep you busy until you came up with another idea for a comic. What are the advantages/disadvantages of allowing things to develop as you write instead of planning them out ahead?
There might be a misunderstanding about Great because of that comment: it was planned out almost completely before I started drawing it. When I said that it was something simple to do while I worked on other projects, what I meant was that I could get the pages done quickly, which would let me keep updating the site while working on other things. When I first put it up I had lost a few months work on another comic called Socks, so that’s what I was drawing for the few months of Great’s run. The mistake I made with Great was that I severely misjudged its length. For some reason I thought I could finish it in about 200 pages when it ended up taking over 600.

I don’t know how people can just allow things to develop as they write, honestly. Even if you try to, drawing an idea takes so much longer than coming up with it that after drawing for a few weeks you should already have the comic planned out for the next few months. Maybe it makes more sense with comic strips, or some people are just so focused on what they’re currently drawing that they don’t look too far ahead of themselves until they’re done.

There is a clear Japanese influence on your visual style, is it true to say it has had equal influence on your narrative style?
Absolutely. With comics, art and story go hand-in-hand so being influenced visually is already changing your narrative style. One quick example would be that Great was tremendously influence by Akatsuka Fujio’s comics. He had a way of drawing characters that made them seem like they really enjoyed being in a comic, so I tried to capture that. But influence is like a filter; if you really like Bill Watterson and want to make the next Calvin and Hobbes, rather than reproduce it, you’ll most likely end up making a comic full of what you personally liked about it, which may differ entirely from what went into actually making it or what people liked about it. In that sense, what you’re capable of taking from your influences is more important that what you’re influenced by.

Minus was part of the webcomic collective, Koala Wallop. How important is having a strong community of fellow artists for the success of developing webcomics?
We didn’t really do anything in Koala Wallop, or at least I didn’t. I liked it because I thought it was a set of good comics that were distinct from each other which is what I hope I can eventually do with my own work, but it was also a warning against forming superficial groups. If you’re going to do something with other artists it’s best to have a specific goal or project in mind rather than just a banner.


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