Talking with Paul Ryan

The new artist for The Phantom comic strip

by Ed Rhoades

Despite a demanding even grueling schedule of working for both comics and comic strips, Paul was generous in taking time out to discuss his work with me. I found him to be intelligent, articulate and an interesting conversationalist. Having enjoyed his art for years with Marvel, DC, and Scandinavian Phantom comics, fans are delighted the daily Phantom strip is in good hands.

Paul began his work on comics later than most artists in the field. Although he was a long time fan of the medium, he first began as a graphic artist.

"I've got a Bachelor's degree in graphic design from Massachusetts College of Art and worked in the graphics department of an engineering firm for 11 years", he explained.

In the course of his tenure in the comics genre, his talent led to an impressive resumé. His artwork has been enjoyed by fans in such comic titles as Fantastic Four, Avengers, Avengers West Coast, Iron Man, Quasar, DP7 and Squadron Supreme for Marvel Comics. His work for DC includes Superman, Batman and Flash.

Paul described his start on illustrating The Phantom. "I'm one of those guys who never seems to get the assignments I pursue. I just sort of fall into the ones I do get. About three years ago a fellow in Sweden, Jonas Vesterlund, wrote to me in response to an auction I was conducting on Ebay. He mentioned that he was a fan of my work and asked if I ever considered working for a company outside of the US. He said some years ago he had been an intern at Egmont, a company that publishes Phantom comic book stories in Sweden. I believe it was called Semic back then. He asked if I ever thought of working on The Phantom. I told him I'd been a Phantom fan since I was a kid. He gave me contact information. I sent samples of my work to Ulf Granberg, Editor/Publisher at Egmont. Ulf liked what he saw and asked if I could draw some model sheets of The Phantom and his supporting cast. I did. Next thing I knew, what I thought would be a one time assignment, turned into a permanent position among the international cast of artists who make up Team Fantomen."

Paul has introduced two other American artists to the ranks of Egmont artists: Bob McLeod and Dick Giordano. "The story about Bob is that Ulf asked if I could do two Fantomen stories back to back. Each story runs 32 pages long. That's 32 pages that have to be penciled and then inked. The equivalent of drawing 64 pages plus a cover. With Fantomen coming out every two weeks this would be an impossible assignment without resorting to cloning myself. Luckily I knew that Bob McLeod has some space in his schedule. I suggested to Ulf that he should consider Bob. Bingo! Bob is now part of Team Fantomen."

Cover sketch for the Fantomen story "Diana Goes Missing" Nr.9/2005 "Bob is helping me out by inking my latest Egmont story Diana Goes Missing. My parents have had some serious medical issues this past year and I had fallen behind on my schedule. Bob, an old buddy, was nice enough to jump in with his magic brushes. Diana Goes Missing is part one of a story arc where she and Kit are on vacation on an island off Bangalla; she goes off to the bank and never shows up again."

Paul is a longtime Phantom fan who followed the strip at an early age. "I discovered The Phantom even before I could read. He was in our local newspaper. I've always liked action heroes. When I was a kid I ran through the neighborhood, jumping fences and climbing trees. One day I would be Tarzan. The next I would be The Lone Ranger or Superman.

I've always liked action heroes like Prince Valiant, Tarzan and The Phantom. I enjoyed the work of Wilson McCoy but really got excited when Sy Barry came along. He drew like my favourite Superman artist Curt Swan. Sy Barry is my template. I don't trace his stuff but that's the look I try to bring to my work."

In addition to being able to work on a character for which he has been a longtime fan, Paul has found another new pleasure. "I get to draw animals. I love horses and I love dogs. In the first seventeen years of my career I rarely got the chance to draw horses. In a Superman story, I drew a statue of a man on a horse even though it wasn't called for in the script just so I could draw a horse."

Although he doesn't consider himself a collector, like most Phantom fans, he appreciates the appeal of The Phantom's rings. "I don't really collect things. I just forget to throw them away. My wife, Linda, calls me a pack rat. I probably have thousands of comic books in my basement. I had someone make me Phantom rings. I had these little rings that came with the Egmont comics, and I was talking with a friend of mine at MegaCon, and I said I wanted full size sterling Phantom rings. I asked if he knew anyone who could do it, and it turns out he used to work with jewelry. So I currently have two sterling rings; the good sign and the skull ring. Next thing I need to pick up is two 45's. I will start with one and if my wife doesn't complain I'll get another."

Like the character he draws, Paul has experience in fencing , firearms and horsemanship. He was on the National Guard pistol team during his time in the military. He left the Guard in 1978 with the rank of Second Lieutenant. When illustrating fighting techniques in comics, Paul also draws from personal experience having studied martial arts with Police Sergeant, Jim Tatosky. Sensei Tatosky was a Black Belt in Shotokan and Tae Kwan Do. He incorporated the best aspects of each discipline in his own style. "I studied karate for a couple years. I got as far as brown belt in Shotokan, then I got married. The Phantom has learned many, varied martial arts techniques over centuries. One of his ancestors learned martial arts in Japan. He's kind of like the Ninja with 45's on his hips. He's got to be able to appear and vanish in the blink of an eye. He's a mystery man."

Paul's work on The Phantom, which has been published in Australia and Scandinavia, has already won the hearts of many international Phantom fans. Now poised upon presenting the character to an even larger audience, he talked about creating for a new format. "My approach to the strip would be determined by the size constraints. In the Egmont stories, I show the skull cave as a very large, natural formation. I've been in caves, and I know what they look like. I show various tunnels descending or ascending in the foreground and background. That's not something you can do with newspaper strips."

Pencilled page from Fantomen Nr.3/2005 Inked page from Fantomen Nr.3/2005

Better known for his penciling, Paul explained his approach to his pen and brush-work. "I'm more comfortable with a pencil. There was a point where I felt inking my own stuff was just redundant and boring. Never completely comfortable or confident with ink, I would draw fully pencilled pages before attempting to ink them. Working on The Phantom and forced to ink my own work I developed a method that works for me. When I pencil the page now, I draw only the line work. I work out the lighting, shadows and texture in the inking stage. I go in with the brush first and hit all the shadows and large dark areas. This helps define the page. Then I go in with a finer brush or pen to add details, texture or contour lines."

When asked about the advantage of inking his own work, he said simply, "When someone else inks my pencils it doesn't always come out the way I had intended. When I ink it myself my personal vision, for good or bad, is there on the page."

Egmont, a company known for painted covers for five decades recently began featuring excellent pen and ink covers. Paul may have had a hand, inadvertently, in that change. "On my first Phantom story it occurred to me that I was expected to produce a cover for my issue. All the Egmont covers I saw were painted. I hadn't done any painting since Water Color 101 at Mass. Art. That was in 1967. With no time in the schedule to relearn the art, I did my usual inked cover. I called on my friend, Tom Smith, to digitally colour it for me. Ulf liked the results. Apparently the Swedish fans liked it as well. All my covers have been done this way. Ulf noticed that the sales on these issues showed a slight rise in numbers. The fans were responding to what they perceived as a more "modern" approach to the covers. Ulf then asked the other Team Fantomen artists to do the same. As I said before, I tend to fall into things. My deficiencies in painting led to an innovation at Egmont."

Paul Ryan & Tom Smith's first Fantomen cover, Nr.25/2001 Fantomen cover, Nr.17/2004 Fantomen cover, Nr.18/2004 Fantomen cover, Nr.3/2005

Although Paul has a creative and original approach to his drawing, he cites individual artists as being inspirational. "Growing up I was a big fan of Hal Foster, Sy Barry, Dan Barry, Mac Rayboy, and Curt Swan. I'm pretty much influenced by anybody whose work I admire. If I'm unsure about how to do a scene I will go back and look at Prince Valiant. In the story I'm doing, The Phantom is wounded but needs to get to Bengali to save the President. He lashes himself to a log and proceeds to travel down the rapids. I have a Prince Valiant story where Val sails to the Americas in search of a kidnapped Aleta. There are many examples of rivers, rapids and waterfall. When in doubt seek out Hal Foster. He was a master illustrator. He solved all the problems for the rest of us."

When asked which artists he enjoys collaborating with, he responded "Bob McLeod for one. I remember how excited I was when Tom Palmer and I worked on The Avengers together. One of my favorite inker/artists is Mike Perkins formerly of CrossGen."

One interesting Phantom topic he talked about was the problems of the timeline of the 21st Phantom. "The Legend of The Phantom has a specific starting date. Our Phantom is the 21st Ghost Who Walks in the line. He has been the 21st Phantom since 1936. Our Kit is a very old, old, old Phantom. In a recent story for Egmont, The 21st Phantom we see our Kit carrying his deceased father to the burial crypt. He then proceeds to chisel the date of passing on his fathers tomb. The writer indicates that the date is 1959. This was the first inkling I had as to how The Phantom timeline is treated in Sweden."

He discussed the problem with the syndicated strip writer, Tony De Paul: "We were talking about the current story line that deals with a secret map discovered on a sunken U-boat from World War II. Tony mentioned to Ulf that perhaps our Phantom read something about this in the Chronicles -- that his grandfather was involved. Somehow, with the sinking of the German sub, Ulf stated that our 21st Phantom would have been the one involved. At that part my head just about exploded. I discussed it with Ulf. If he became The Phantom in 1959 say at age 21, he'd be 67 right now. I think what they need to do is stop referring to him as the 21st Phantom, or in our lifetime we'll actually see young Kit and Heloise take over."

"People have asked what my plans are for The Phantom. I've been on the strip for a minute and a half. At the time of this interview my strips have not even seen print. It would be presumptuous for me to suggest a direction but there are certain things I'd like to see. One, I'd like to see the time frame dealt with, and second, clear up for the modern day audiences The Phantom's relationship with the jungle folk. He does not rule the Bandar. He is their friend; they work together to promote peace. I've read rumors that editors think he is a white supremacist and don't want to carry the strip for that reason."

Paul enjoyed the Paramount Phantom film and thought Billy Zane was perfect for the role. "He was the living embodiment of the Ghost Who Walks. Zane is a fine actor who brought just the right blend of heroism and humor to the role."

Paul explained that drawing comics is more involved than many people may realize. "Stan Lee had a high regard for comic artists. Once at a high class party it became known that Stan was involved with comics. One of the guests made some derogatory comments about the comic artists in general. How they were at the bottom rung on the art world. Stan responded that comic artists have to be costume designers, set designers and cinematographers all rolled into one. And they have to do it on a tight deadline every month."

Having worked on Fantastic Four for nearly five years Paul is looking forward to the upcoming film. "I've seen some trailers and back stories on the making of the new Fantastic Four movie. The costumes look great and the actors are decent. The fellow who's playing Reed Richards, Ioan Gruffudd, is the same actor who played Horatio Hornblower in the TV series, and Jessica Alba plays Sue Storm, the invisible woman. Michael Chiklis, the actor who portrays Ben Grimm / The Thing was in a series call The Commish."

Although originals to Paul's published Phantom art are not for sale, fans can get information about obtaining commissions of his drawing at his website.

On behalf of Friends of The Phantom, I would like to thank Paul for his gracious participation in this interview and wish him continued success in his Phantom comics and best wishes for his new assignment on King Features Syndicate's The Phantom newspaper strip.

© Copyright 2005 Ed Rhoades

Paul Ryan's Fantomen Covers

Fantomen Nr.25/2001 Fantomen Nr.15/2002 Fantomen Nr.22/2002 Fantomen Nr.6/2003 Fantomen Nr.14/2003
Fantomen Nr.8/2004 Fantomen Nr.11/2004 Fantomen Nr.17/2004 Fantomen Nr.18/2004 Fantomen Nr.25/2004
Fantomen Nr.26/2004 Fantomen Nr.2/2005 Fantomen Nr.3/2005 Fantomen Nr.9/2005 Fantomen Nr.23/2005
Fantomen Nr.3/2006

Paul Ryan's Phantom Stories

CodeFantomenFrewStory TitleWriter
F67725/20011308The Invisible PhantomRaab
F69215/20021329The Mysterious LongbowBishop
F69722/20021336The Deadly FeastBishop
F7036/20031352Return of the Halloween GangReimerthi
F70914/20031360The Ring of NebuchadnezzarDe Paul
F71725/20031371The Crystal Skulls Mystery Pt.3Reimerthi
F7258/20041380Dogai Singh's TreasureReimerthi
F73317/20041390The 21st PhantomReimerthi
F74025/20041402The Black WidowReimerthi
F7433/20051408The Grim ReaperReimerthi
F7499/20051415Diana's Crisis Pt.2: Diana DisappearsReimerthi
D21323/20051418The U-Boat MysteryDe Paul
D2143/20061434The Secret Temple on EdenDe Paul

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Bryan Shedden /
Last updated 7 April 2006