Interview with Ryan North

Feature image, Ryan North, Dinosaur Comics

Dinosaur Comics. Machine of Death. Galaga. To Be Or Not To Be. Whispered Apologies. That’s right. We’re talking about that mad genius Ryan North.

Earlier this week he took the time to answer my questions about webcomics and other such coolness.

First things first, what is your favorite dinosaur?

T. rex is my favourite species, T-Rex is my favourite individual!Dinosaur Comics, Ryan North, T-Rex

Who lives in that little house that’s about to get stomped in Dinosaur Comics?

I always imagined it belonged to the tiny woman who’s about to get stomped in the next panel. Either T-Rex misses it or she’s REALLY good at rebuilding by now, because it’s always back the next day!

To Be or Not to Be is an awesome book and an awesome concept. What do you have in mind for the next book in the series?

I’m converting another Shakespeare play into a gamebook. To Be or Not To Be was my choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet, and my next book is going to be called Romeo And/Or Juliet.Ryan North, To Be Or Not To Be, Kate Beaton

Do you think the Choose Your Own Adventure format could work for ongoing webcomics?

It has. Sites like MS Paint Adventures grew out of that “here’s a page, choose what happens next” model and that one in particular is brilliant and insane and super successful. So I can answer with an unqualified “yes!”

The Galaga webcomic and your contribution to the Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary art show are examples of retro media getting the love it deserves. Are there any other classic games, shows, or movies you would consider writing for and/or revamping?

I’d love to do something with Back to the Future. [Premiere date TBD in 2015] There’s that musical coming out in the UK in the future, so maybe now is the time for a comic based on the films? Are you hearing me, Universal? LET ME WRITE BACK TO THE FUTURE COMICS. I PROMISE THEY’LL BE SUPER RAD.

Ohnorobot is a fantastic and labor intensive resource. Is the majority of transcription contributed by the webcomic creators or by their fans?

Oh, the vast majority is by fans. It’s great. It lets readers do a tiny little bit of work (transcribe a comic so that it’s searchable) and in return they get the gratitude of the comic creator, the other readers, and everyone gets a comics search engine to enjoy. People are pretty awesome, and sometimes you just need to give them the chance to show it.

Which medium have you found to be the most fun/fulfilling to work in? Webcomics or print comics?

They’re pretty similar, I think. You can move fluidly between them, and while there are some practical aspects to consider, generally they’re pretty closely related mediums. The advantage of doing something online is that when you get an email saying “hey, typo in panel two” it’s a quick, one-minute fix and not years of seeing that typo in print and feeling bad about it every time. But for me, the satisfaction comes from a joke or a story well-told, and that is medium-transcendent.

Machine of Death is so inventive. Having multiple authors approach the same topic, and it being such an interesting topic, was refreshing. What were some of your favorite contributions?

Oh gosh, so many. The stories we got for the sequel, This is How You Die, were among the most creative and inspiring things I’d gotten to read — and it was crazy and humbling to think that they all were inspired by this Dinosaur Comic I wrote in 2005 where T-Rex explained the concept: a machine that tells you how, but not when, you’re going to die. The fact that there was a choose-your-own-path story submitted made me really happy, and I lobbied hard to have that in the final book. Actually, it wasn’t THAT hard of a lobbying process: my co-editors David Malki and Matt Bennardo loved it too. But if they didn’t — man, they would’ve learned to.Machine of Death, Ryan North

What were your favorite books when you were a kid? And movies? And comic books?

I didn’t read any comics growing up except Archie comics, which, in retrospect, I loved more for the medium than the actual content. I spent years and years as a kid thinking about Back to the Future (as you may have guessed) and recently went through the (completely bonkers) novelization on a page-by-page basis, reviewing each page. It’s at Lots of favourite books, but the ones that spring to mind now are ones that had science experiments in them (those Science Experiments You Can Do At Home books). I also remember having my mind blown by Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future which is basically a picture book where humanity genetically engineers some new humans, dies out on Earth, and then these new humans begin to evolve on their own over millions of years. At the end, humanity, unrecognizable, returns and mines Earth for resources, never realizing this was their home planet. BLEW MY MIND.

What is the question you get asked most often?

The question is, “Where do you get your ideas?” and the answer is, “Everywhere!” I keep a giant text file of snippets of dialogue and stuff, so if I ever get stuck, I can look at it and use an idea I considered in the past but never did anything with. It’s handy to have an Idea File lying around.

What is your advice to anyone starting a new webcomic?

My advice is, first, do it. It’ll be fun and awesome! Second, update as often as you can. And third, don’t put up any work you’re not happy with. In the future you’ll look back on earlier work and feel like it’s not up to par, but that’s a problem for future you. If present you is putting up work you don’t think is great, then why are you doing that? If you don’t like it, it’s unlikely other people will think it’s brilliant. So keep working on it until you are proud of it, and then share it with the world. And then get started on the next thing. A webcomic is like writing (and drawing) boot camp, and you’ll get better and better as you go. You can look at the early archives of the webcomics you like to see how far they’ve come, just by practicing every day.

You seem to always be one step ahead of the industry. What do you have up your sleeve next?

Up next is Romeo And/Or Juliet, and after that — who knows? I’m leaving an opening in my schedule for something awesome. I just have to think of it first.

Another resounding thank you to Ryan North for his time and lovely answers. Ryan North, Photo

Romona Williams

Romona Williams

Romona Williams is an ex-librarian, current tutor, and constant writer. She can usually be found in antiquarian bookstores, curiosity shops, and carnivals after dark.