Welcome to Self-Published Spotlight, a regular interview column where I will be highlighting self-published comics and the creators and small print publishers who make them.
I discovered Ryan Tavarez’s work when I was lucky enough to do an early review of the upcoming comic A Game Of Doubles. Being floored by the art, I reached out to him. When he told me about his book Nomads, I knew I had to read it. Nomads is awesome and I just had to talk to Ryan about it. So check out our chat and then make sure you order a copy of Nomads!
Monkeys Fighting Robots: First of Ryan, thanks for taking some time to talk to us. How are you today? Working on anything?
Ryan: Hello again! Doing great! Been working on the next chapter of Nomads, and been messing around with block printing!
MFR: Origin time! What’s your comic book fan origin? Where did your love for comics come from?
Ryan: My earliest memories of comics come from an older cousin of mine sharing his books with me. We’d spend hours and hours with him showing me X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Spawn, The Maxx. I would just flip through them and look at the pictures. When I got a little bit older we would ride our bikes up to a card and comics shop. So many memories of just getting random comics and not even knowing what was happening in the overall story but just loving the action in them. Around the same time 90’s cartoons like Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman TAS helped teach me some of the overall mythos and let me kind of piece stuff together. And I think that feeling of this massive unexplored history really kept me interested.
MFR: When did you decide you wanted to create your own comics? And then when did you decide to publish yourself?
Ryan: Making comics was always something I did as a kid and continued to do so through high school. My friends Steve, Mike and I would make up characters and stories in class. Some would be funny comics, some would be our own versions of superheroes. When I graduated and went on to college I stopped for a time, focused more on school, but eventually, in 2009, I dropped out. I got a job at a grocery store and was just kind of going through the motions. One night, as I was getting out of work and a storm, was rolling in. I got in my car and I noticed my old friend from school Steven Kuerbitz was getting ready to ride home on a bike in the rain! I offered to give him a ride home so he could stay dry. We ended up stopping at a diner to catch up and get some dinner. While we sat and sipped on coffee, I doodled on a paper placemat, and he asked me: “Do you still make comics?” Next thing I know we’re brainstorming and riffing like we used to. That night was kind of the serious beginning of doing this stuff. We ended up getting back with our friend Mike Butler and we’d meet at this 24-hour diner and would just do work. Writing, discussing, passing books around, studying, and just really trying to teach ourselves how to make comics. It’s weird because now there are youtube videos on so many things. But just back in 2009-2010 it seemed like a mystery. Being able to get stuff like the right-sized paper or a large enough scanner was something that took quite a bit of effort and just trying stuff to figure it out. But the whole thing was always like this idea that we were going to just make the stuff we wanted to make and to figure out how to get something from an idea to a real tangible book. There wasn’t anyone else we knew at the time who made comics. None of us had ever been to a comic convention. Never interacted with any other creators. Only things we had were actual comics and a few books on how to make comics like Scott McCloud’s books, and the DC Comics guide to writing.
MFR: What was the first comic you created?
Ryan: Well the first comic I ever made that I remember was some computer paper stapled together of me and some friends being Power Rangers in elementary school. Hahaha, but the first comics we made as Attack of the Rivals were Mouse Warrior: Written by Steven Kuerbitz and art by me. Then there was Space Samurai: Written by Mike Butler also drawn by me. And we worked on both of these at the same time. With Space Samurai I was doing just paper and ink. For Mouse Warrior, I was working on that all digitally on the computer. Then there was my personal project which was the first comic I ever took to print: Nomads.
MFR: How would you describe Nomads to someone who hasn’t read it?
Ryan: Nomads takes place in a world thousands of years after mankind has fallen. This world has reverted back to a primal state where the animals are massive and vicious, the humans that remain live in small tribes, and the entire landscape from what we know has radically changed. Nomads follows a character named Hawk whose entire tribe has vanished overnight leaving him alone with nothing but tracks to follow. Now Hawk must venture out of the secluded confines of the Lush and into the savage lands in search of his missing tribe.
MFR: Did Nomads have any specific influences or inspirations?
Ryan: Definitely Nomads takes from some of my favorite movies and a stories. The action of Conan the Barbarian, sci-fi elements from Terminator, a desolate future similar to Mad Max, and its inhabitants and wildlife like in Princess Mononoke. Mankind is on the rebound from near extinction, locked in a constant struggle with nature, cyborgs, and one another.
MFR: What is Nomads publishing history? The edition you sent me says Kickstarter edition. Was Nomads strictly put out this way, or was there some version before?
Ryan: So Nomads was the first book I ever printed, in its first iteration it was a 13 page full-color ashcan. I hadn’t quite figured out the scale of the story yet. From there I was printing individual issues, which were the first 3 chapters of the series. But eventually as the story started to develop I came to the conclusion that I wanted to transition the series into a yearly graphic novel. While doing small runs of single issues for local cons was affordable for me to do without crowdfunding, it was easy to see it getting out of hand trying to keep stock of all the issues as the story went on. It also seemed like a better deal to first-time readers to just get a big chunk instead of having to piece together a bunch of single issues from me.
MFR: Kickstarter has definitely become one of the major ways to publish comics in the last year or two. Why do you think so many creators jumped on this publishing platform? And what drew you to Kickstarter?
Ryan: Distribution and access to a pool of new comic book readers. I think of Kickstarter as a good way to get your book in front of new eyeballs. For the last 5 years, I have only really sold my stuff locally. Never being able to get much traction fighting the Facebook and IG algorithms. It can be difficult to get people to see your stuff. But Kickstarter is a smaller pool with a focused audience where there are people LOOKING for new books to support. Also, it makes it really easy for people who do read your comics already to preorder your latest book.
MFR: What’s your creative process like? For instance, with Nomads where did you start with it?
Ryan: My creative process can be pretty sporadic. Like a jolt of lightning sometimes. I’ll spend days just cranking out scripts or days just pouring out ideas into a sketchbook before I am ready to work on any pages. Nomads came from long drives in the car by myself. At the time, my GF was living out in Chicago, and on Fridays, after work, I would drive out from Michigan to spend the weekend with her. During those 4-5 hour drives Nomads started to form. I’d get scenes in my head that played along to the music I was listening to. Little snippets that I’d write down and try to capture. From there it was figuring out the characters and who they were, what they were doing, and what the world was like that they lived in. I spent a lot of time just sketching the characters and animals that lived in that world before actually putting a cohesive story together.
MFR: Speaking of process, do you have a favorite part of creating? Is there one you would say is your least favorite?
Ryan: My favorite part is inking. It’s the turning point for me when the pages finally start to take form from this idea to a real thing. It’s putting the pen to paper. It’s clean and refined and other people can start to look at it and see what I was seeing in my head and actually get it. I don’t think I have a least favorite part of comics as in something I don’t like, but the most difficult part for me is taking it from script to thumbnails. There is a lot of doubt in those early phases. I spend a lot of time second-guessing myself and my compositions and the panel choices. It’s a step of the process that I feel a lot of resistance in progress. But once I start laying the inks down there’s a lot of momentum and excitement pushing me to the finish line.
MFR: I love the texture your art has in this book. And the colors are amazing! What tools did you use to create the pages for Nomads?
Ryan: Nomads has been a testing ground for me, I’ll use this series to try new techniques and processes and then take what I learn from this into my client work. The first chapter there is no ink. The linework was all pencils with digital colors underneath. The second chapter is all digital linework, and the 3rd and 4th chapters are a hybrid of traditional pencils and inks with digital colors. For the traditional stuff I use; 11 x 17 Strathmore 300 series paper, Pentel brush pens, G nib dip pens, and Speedball super black ink. For the colors and letters, I work in photoshop using dry media brushes to add an additional layer of texture. The idea for Nomads was for the art to reflect the rough natural feeling of the world. The colors are vibrant but with a gritty texture, the brushes are fuzzy, and the sound effects are done in a loose style. Everything comes together to help fill in the aesthetic of the world.
MFR: I also love all the process stuff you share in the book (like the sketchbook, guest pin-ups, etc). Why do you think extra features like this appeal to fans?Ryan: Thanks man, I was so stoked to get some really cool contemporary artists to throw in on some pinups and art. I think this stuff is interesting to people because it allows them to connect to the story on a different level. Letting people participate and contribute art to the book, or see some of the rougher edges in the early sketches. It’s more intimate than just “here’s my story. read it, goodbye!” You get to see where some of this stuff comes from and potentially be a part of it.
MFR: You credit Steven Kuerbitz as editor and giving you writing advice on Nomads. Can you describe this work process?
Ryan: Steve is a long-time friend and collaborator. He’s been a ride or die since the beginning, and he is always the first person to take a crack at my first rough drafts. He is a fantastic, brilliant writer, and is a lot like an editor for me. For Nomads, he helped give me direction to make it a more complex and meaningful story. More specifically by focusing on the relationship between Hawk and Boar, and their strengths and weaknesses as characters. It’s just like how we used to do in the diner days, I usually just drop in a DM like: “Hey I got this crazy idea, you wanna read it?” He takes a look, gives me notes. And I go from there. He’ll send scripts my way to read, and I’ll give feedback. And we’ve just kept it going. It helps to have a really close friend who can give a fresh set of eyes to whatever you are working on. And I think through our years of workshopping together we’ve got a dynamic that is hard to come by for collaborators. Sometimes it can be tough to take a critique on something you are just starting, but I trust Steve to give me honest constructive feedback.
MFR: You’ve also collaborated with others before (like with Jonathan Thomspon on A Game of Doubles). What’s it like working for someone else’s script versus working on your own?
Ryan: It’s fun man. I think comics are their best when they are a true synthesis of the creators involved. Each person who touches the project leaves a bit of themselves in it, and it becomes something new. And what’s really cool is that each combination with creators will create an entirely different comic. And it’s exciting to see how my style interacts and changes with other styles of scripts and stories.
MFR: So what’s next for Nomads? Because what I read ends in a big cliffhanger!
Ryan: I am aiming to have a campaign for NOMADS Volume 2: The Freeze Arc ready for December 2021. Really trying to step this one up in scale and in the world, and take what I learned in 2020 and use that as the foundations for Volume 2.Hawk and Boar despite the odds have found the Shaman: Oramana! And from there are hoping to find clues and guidance on where Hawk’s tribe has disappeared to. It’s a journey to the lands far beyond the Lush and the Badlands. The Nomads will be traveling north to the frozen forests of The Freeze.
MFR: Are you working on anything else aside from Nomads?
Ryan: I have a dark fantasy series coming up with the aforementioned Steven Kuerbitz that we’ll hopefully be announcing in the Fall. It’s like Goodfellas, meets Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Meets Dungeons and Dragons. It’s going to be one hell of a reunion for us, as our last collaboration was released in 2017.
MFR: And finally, where can readers find you and your work?
Ryan: You can buy a copy of Nomads Volume One at tavarezart.bigcartel.com, you can catch a sample at www.tavarezart.com and see more of my work there. And if you’re on Instagram I post process stuff there @tavarezart. Thanks for taking the time! Hope you enjoy the savage world of NOMADS!