Sunday, October 24, 2010

From an article in Sunday's MACON TELEGRAPH

I was lucky enough to be around for this interview with my best pal, and long time inker, Ray Snyder.

Macon artist Ray Snyder has become one of comic industry's best inkers
By CHRIS HORNE - Telegraph correspondent

Editor’s note: Through the early 1970s, Macon was an unexpected hub of world renowned music whose greats were none other than Little Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and the Allman Brothers Band, among others. That creative spark has manifested lately as an unexpected hub of world-class comic book creators. This week we meet Ray Snyder, a local artist who has risen in the ranks as one of the industry’s best inkers. His work is on display through the end of the month at the Macon Arts gallery alongside the art of Craig Hamilton and Atlanta’s Steve Scott. His work on a riveting fill-in story for the “Wonder Woman” series with former Macon resident Drew Edward Johnson will hit stands in the coming months.

Back in the day, like, you know, 7 years ago, Ray Snyder and Drew Edward Johnson would celebrate the end of a marathon of penciling and inking comics with a blowout of pizza, whiskey, cigarettes and a round of Risk, the strategy-first board game about conquering the world.

“And then the next day, we’d start all over again,” Snyder says, sitting down on a stool that looks like it never leaves his large slanted drawing table. He settles in as if he wouldn’t know where else to be in this room.

The soundtrack to “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” plays lightly in the background, barely audible over the excited nostalgia sparked between the two illustrators discussing their earlier days.

They may have aged some since they first met, but, in a heartbeat, the two seem boyishly devious, like latch-key kids with a stash of dirty magazines, a bag of candy and all afternoon before their parents get home.

“I usually come out here and visit Ray, commit all my sins and then go home,” Johnson jokes. Kinda.

Working vacation

On this weekend, a week after Macon Arts opened a gallery exhibition of comic art featuring Snyder’s work, he’s hosting Johnson for a sort of working vacation. Over the last few years the two have worked side-by-side on monthly titles like “Wonder Woman” and “Supergirl.”

Johnson would do the pencils and when he was done, slide them over to Snyder to get them inked. Their working relationship illuminates the levels that go into each comic book. Pencilers get most of the credit, wrestling into creation images from a script, and inkers are often overlooked by anyone unfamiliar with the intricacies of the form.

“It is a lot easier than staring at a blank sheet of paper,” Snyder confesses.

But it isn’t easy, Johnson chimes in. He explains how, from his perspective as a penciler, a good inker can make (or a bad inker can break) the illustration. He relates an instance in which Snyder, simply doing his job, so successfully added seemingly physical depth and texture to Johnson’s pencil work that their editors called to express how impressed they were with the team.

Some of that comes from the relationship Snyder and Johnson have developed over the years. When Johnson was at a low point and needing a fresh start, Snyder suggested he move to Macon so the two could work side-by-side.

The rest comes out of how Snyder approaches the work itself.

“He does a lot more than most,” Johnson says, noting that no assignment with Snyder starts without a phone call and conversation about the aesthetics and feel that he wants to convey.

Snyder, Johnson points out, came into this work as an illustrator himself — evidenced by the “surreal work” he did in his early 20s that hangs above his desk. So when, for instance, he notices a hand is disproportionately small and needs to be adjusted, Snyder will fix it.

Just doing a job

Snyder puts a VHS tape in and turns on the little TV by his desk. It’s an old Chevrolet commercial that he and local illustrator Tony Harris put together for the car company’s Super Bowl ad in 1999. The animated short follows a Chevy S-10 outrunning a gargoyle then sliding to a stop and becoming a “real” S-10 once the gargoyle had smashed itself against a wall. Ironically, a guy steps in from off-screen as a narrator says, “Meet Chris Worth, animator. Knows good; knows evil.”

It gets a laugh.

Fresh from a tour in Atlanta, Harris was “some guy who’d fallen asleep on Craig Hamilton’s couch,” when he and Snyder first met. Now the two join Hamilton as a sort of Comics Triad, ennobled by an exhibit at Museum of Arts and Sciences, honoring their work.

“Yeah, it’s strange. We’re just doing a job,” Snyder says. “I do what I do because that’s what I enjoy doing.”

The way he says it, he could be a plumber or carpenter — proud of his work but not boastful. His talent doesn’t make him special.

As a kid, he said he’d get into trouble in class, like a lot of kids, drawing when he should be doing schoolwork. The difference is that he never stopped.

Though he was “into math and computers,” he says he was determined to make it as an artist. There was no fail-safe, no back-up plan.

Before he came into comics, Snyder was arranging advertising displays for a retail chain, but he was still drawing, still pursuing art. He was invited to do a show at Wesleyan College called “Flying by the Seat of Our Pants,” and illustrator Craig Hamilton was in the show as well. It was Hamilton who recommended he get into comics.

Lessons with Houser Smith, Hamilton’s mentor, followed and Snyder was on his way. Before moving the operations to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Harris and Hamilton formed Jolly Roger Studios and rented space in the Clisby Building.

Judging from Snyder’s casual tone, the move from penciling to inking was perhaps more practical and convenient than moving Jolly Roger. He’d long worked with the pens and was already familiar with the techniques.

“It was an easy transition.”

At home in Macon

During the First Friday chaos at the Macon Arts gallery, where his work presently hangs, Snyder smiled and talked about the benefits of staying in Macon.

“I get paid the same page rate as the guys who live in New York, so why move?”

Born in Enterprise, Ala., and raised in Macon — after a short stint in Dothan, Ala. — Snyder married his high school sweetheart, Kim, on Coleman Hill and hasn’t moved far from it since.

His home studio is close to old hangouts and haunts, and the salon next door, Sculptures, is theirs, too, because he thrust his dream of small-business ownership upon his wife.

Pragmatically, though there’s plenty to do, Macon isn’t full of constant distractions, especially for younger artists.

“They can come here, get grounded and build a portfolio. Plus, when you’re just starting out, Macon’s a much more affordable place to live.”

When he needs to, Snyder says, “I know how to drive to Atlanta and get on a plane.”

But it’s also more than that.

“Macon is an inspiration,” he says, noting the architecture and natural beauty.

Drew Edward Johnson says he loved working on the heavy rainy nights.

While Johnson only lasted three years before heading back to Los Angeles — where he met his eventual wife, a director for “The Simpsons,” at his grandmother’s funeral — Snyder plans to stay.

“It’s a great place,” he says, “I’ve never found a need to leave.”

Thanks to technology, these days, Johnson can scan and upload his drawings so Snyder can download them and begin inking right away. This has allowed them to continue their partnership from opposite ends of the country.

“The desks are just further apart,” Johnson quips.

Prior to the digital age, the inker worked directly on a penciler’s pages and they sent the combined effort to the publisher, who might not return the pages for months. When the artists did get their pages back, they’d have to split the book in half.

Now, they each keep a set of their originals. Johnson’s drawings never leave his California home. Snyder’s inks stay in his portfolio and the publisher uses the digital copies. The welcome, if unintended, consequence is that they both have whole sets to sell to collectors for a few extra bucks.

For love or money

Johnson quotes Snyder saying the only meaningful reasons to take a job are for love or money. The work you do for love doesn’t usually pay, but it fulfills you. The work you do for money doesn’t usually fulfill you, but it pays.

Their history of work together has been full of money jobs, usually cranking out monthly books when time is precious. No time to think or feel. It’s just a job that has to be done.

Have they ever worked together on a project that was both for love and for money?

“Yes,” they immediately respond, pointing to the large hardback album that lies like a sleeping child in my lap.

In the first half of the book are Snyder’s copies of the inked but uncolored pages from an upcoming story in the “Wonder Woman” series, which began as an inventory story intended to give the monthly book’s regulars a chance to catch up. It became a fill-in for the series — as a flashback — that could’ve made it as a stand-alone book.

Working from a violent script, Johnson and Snyder said they turned the volume up a touch.

The two dissect exactly how they made a bloody battle even bloodier, pulling up digital images of the pages colored by a prodigy that Johnson worked with previously. The blood is red, which is unusual in comic books, which go with black to tone down the impact.

But the real heft is in the cold, emotionless way that Wonder Woman finishes her opponent off. No expression, not even a glint of feeling in her eyes.

“It’s just a job to her,” Snyder deadpans with a smirk.


WWFan627 said...

Who is writing the Wonder Woman arc?

Drew Edward Johnson said...

It's just a one-shot issue. It was written by Michael Jenenic, who wrote the Wonder Woman animated DVD movie that came out recently.

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