Chris Ryall is the Chief Creative Officer of IDW Publishing, whose work as a writer earned him an Eisner nod for Zombies vs. Robots, co-created with artist Ashley Wood. His published work include an adaptation of the film Shawn of the Dead , the Kiss comic series, Mars Attacks, Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons, Onyx, and more. Recently, he’s co-writing the rebooted/re-imagined fan-favorite property, Rom. His tenure at IDW has seen the publisher become a premier publisher, winning many awards and being the fourth-largest publisher in the U.S. He spoke to Comic-Book101.com, and herewith are excerpts:
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
You’re a Rom super-fan, as we all know. For how long did you pursue the rights to the character for your excellent series for IDW?
Chris Ryall: I like to think that I’m more of a ‘Rom protector’ (you need to read that in Nicolas Cage’s voice, and even then, it’ll only make sense if you’ve seen the movie National Treasure). Ultimately, what I’m getting at is, this is a terrible first response here and I apologize.
But really, I started asking/pestering Hasbro about Rom in early 2006. Right after the Transformers was established and signed, I thought I’d see what could be done there. Turns out it was nothing, for about ten years. But after much looking, digging, cajoling and, very likely, annoying, I got the good word in July 2015 that we could finally do Rom, and we launched less than a year later.
The fact that it’s something of a total reboot, how many new baddies do you have lined up for everyone’s favorite Galadorian?
CR: Well, he’s now everyone’s favourite ‘Elonian’, not ‘Galadorian’, actually. Galador is Marvel’s domain. But we’ve got endless amounts of Dire Wraiths to contend with, and now there are different castes, from the soldier-grunt types to mystics to some others we’ve not introduced yet. And there’s some kind of Wraith out there known as ‘The Absence’, who bears watching.
Beyond that, the first new non-Wraith villain Rom faced showed up in our Rom: Revolution tie-in, the half-Wraith, half-human Axiom. And coming in issue 11 are a couple other big threats. Are they Wraiths? Non-Wraiths? We’ll see soon…
We know about the possibility of a Rom movie. But how soon before we get there?
CR: I don’t have any information there yet, actually. Long as it happens in my lifetime, it’ll still exceed any dreams I ever had as a Rom-loving kid.
‘Earthfall’ has been collected, and we’ve had a brilliant annual come out. Will we ever see an Artist’s Edition of some parts the original series, at least?
CR: I’d love to see both things happen but there are no current plans. If that changes, though, you can believe I’d shout it from the rooftops.
The first Rom TPB is in stores. What extras are within, for those who are yet to get it?
CR: The first trade—the first-ever Rom trade paperback, come to think of it, since the old series was never collected—has issues 0 and 1-4 as well as the Rom Revolution one-shot. We put in all the covers, of which there were scores, and David Messina’s original concept art, too. It’s a nice package. It makes me really happy to see it on my bookshelf. The culmination of another childhood dream I never would’ve imagined would come to pass.
David Messina’s doing a swell job defining Rom’s look, cast and world(s). How did you come to partner on the book?
CR: I love David, and we’ve worked together frequently ever since my early days at IDW, both on series I edited like Angel and on series I wrote, like Infestation 2. I knew, after his years doing Star Trek and other kinds of spacey series that he, and his artistic partner Paolo Villanelli, would be a perfect mix of old and new on this book, and make it its own thing from the first page forward.
This won’t be complete without a question about the movie progress of ‘Zombies vs Robots’. How involved are you with the project, and how far along is it?
CR: I’m involved in knowing when the option is extended, tweeting hello to the new writers or directors when they sign on and hoping it all comes to pass some day. Actually, I’ve gone through various iterations of the script, but it’s basically all in Sony’s hands and I’ve no doubt that, whether it takes a similar form to the last version I read or becomes something even vastly different than the comics, it’ll be nothing but a thrill for me to see it happen.
Genre-splicing is now officially a genre in itself. Do you feel responsible for all that beautiful chaos in a way?
CR: I’d love to take some of the blame for that if anyone ascribed it to Ash Wood and I! I doubt they do, but we definitely did try to bring much-needed humor and goofiness into the zombie story.
‘Onyx’ was pretty exciting and I hoped it would go further than it has. Any plans for a return to that character?
CR: Gabriel Rodriguez, Onyx’s co-creator, was just in San Diego last week and we talked about bringing Onyx into Rom, so you never know…
You’re buddies with Kevin Smith. How much sooner before he writes a title for IDW?
CR: If by buddies, you mean I worked for him for three years and then haven’t spoken to him since—outside of a quick shout-out at one of his live podcasts—then yes, we’re very tight. But I think he’s done great, re-establishing himself as a TV director and podcast innovator and everything else since those early Jersey Girl days when I was in his orbit.
I think Kevin’s time would be much better spend the way he’s been spending it rather than writing comics—he seems to have scratched that itch and moved on, which is smart. Flex other muscles, you know.
Which non-IDW character do you want to write the most, and why?
CR: Without a doubt, the Fantastic Four. First comic I ever read as a kid. I also think the Legion of Super-Heroes for DC would be fun, too—I’d love to see Rom cross over with that team. And also the Ninja Turtles which, you know, could possibly happen before too long.
How do you get prepared, get in the right mindset, to write?
CR: I like putting music on when I write, but the past few years it’s been all film scores or other quiet, barely-there background noise, if anything at all. There was a time I used to listen to music with lyrics when I wrote and for a while now I’ve wondered how the hell I ever did that. It’s far too distracting to me now to have anyone singing.
I’ve also since given up the idea of the perfect writing scenario. I used to always aim for that and that just turned into me making excuses for not getting enough done. I realize it’s always a challenge to find time and seclusion to write at length, so I fill in the cracks when I can, however I can. I plot most comics longhand and then type all the various drafts as time allows. Which means, when you write in pieces as much as I do, that I rewrite a lot.
As a writer, what advice would you give someone learning the craft, the 101 of it, if you will?
CR: I think there’s no better answer, as trite as it is, than ‘just write all the time, every day if able’. And when not writing, read a lot. Immerse yourself in the craft and hone those muscles. Also, give up on the idea of trying to find the perfect time or setting to write and just make it work however you can, whenever you can—sleep an hour less or eat lunch at your desk and type away or whatever it takes to just keep moving. Keep moving and finish things. Finishing projects is under-rated but it’s so much more valuable to finish one thing than to have a half-dozen things in the works that never get fully realized.
And as much as possible, turn off other computerized distractions: phones, email, social media. Writing and getting a lot done requires near-monk-like discipline at times and it’s always a challenge to maintain that, but it’s worth it when you can.
Conversely, I’d also say that getting up and stretching the legs every 20-30 minutes, rather than just sitting at a desk for hours on end, is essential, too. So, yeah, that’s about it: write a lot, read a lot, turn off the distractions and move around enough to keep the heart pumping. How’s that?