Today is the last day of the House Coffee shop as I know it, and I’m sitting here waiting for Riley to show up. Riley Rossmo is the very talented illustrator of some great books like Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking (which recently got optioned for a movie), Drumheller and his most recent endeavor, Rasputin, which reunites Rossmo with his long time collaborator, Alex Grecian. I was kind of sad to see that they weren’t doing their very underrated series Proof again, but I honestly can say their time apart has reinvigorated both of them now that they are together again.
Rasputin is one of the most famous figures in Russian history. Taking on telling the tale would be daunting for a lot of creators, but Grecian and Rossmo’s approach is nothing short of genius. For one thing, both creators establish the very neat whole life flashing in front of your eyes. Issue one begins on the night he was murdered, just before he sits down for that fateful dinner. I love this feel as it goes back to Rasputin’s humble beginnings, going over his abusive father and slowly coming back into the modern day.
This isn’t just a biographical tale; fantasy rears its head in some very creative ways. By issue three, you realize that this is an epic fantasy as much as it is biography. It reminds me a bit of Pat Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind series in the manner the tale is told. The story is grimmer – it is Rasputin after all – and I for one am enjoying the slow journey back to when he was murdered.
What makes this comic stand out for me in particular is the storytelling. Grecian wisely let’s Riley do the heavy lifting in terms of the illustrations; letting his pictures tell the story without so many dialogue boxes and thought bubbles. Riley’s pictures are breath taking, from his designs of frigid Siberia to Rasputin and his powers. It’s one of the most well put together books out there right now. This series is definitely one to watch, and one that you should pick up. It is both the Rasputin you know, and the one you imagined. My hats off to both of them.
Beyond his talents, I actually consider Riley to be a friend of mine. I’ve known him since before he broke into comics with Proof and I can say that without him when I first came into Calgary, I probably wouldn’t be reading comics like I am today. In fact, as we talk, he’s still recommending books for me to read. He’s still a fan.
He also did something else. He’s watched me develop as a creator in my many mediums, and he’s always been a source of encouragement. He’s the first creator I know that treated me like a professional, and I am truly privileged to have the opportunity to chat with him about his current successes and projects.
Joshua Pantalleresco: Congratulations on Cowboy Ninja Viking being made into a movie.
Riley Rossmo: Thanks its exciting it’s cool and all, but I know that it doesn’t really mean much till a it actually gets made.
RR: I kind of look at that like this: Even if I was getting something that seemed like a lot of money to me , the Avengers did over a billion dollars in revenue what ever a creator gets is a small part of the hollywood profit/budget. The money isn’t the exciting part seeing CNV get made is the what I’d really like even if it was small budget, news like this is cool but I don’t want to get my hopes up.
So what’s your creative process like?
JP: In what way?
RR: When I’m doing a page I need to have the idea down by about noon. If not, I just lose it you know? So what’s your ideal time?
JP: Me? Well, you got to understand that with me, I have this day job that right now is insane.
RR: Yeah, it’s Christmas right? You must be crazy.
JP: You have no idea.
RR: Still, you got to have those times when you’re on.
JP: For me, it’s one of two times. When I wake up, and I’m up about an hour to just come to, I do stuff. Then I do something like meet Riley Rossmo or something. Then at the end of the night, when I work, I usually take an hour off to decompose and then I go.
I usually have a podcast on. Usually angry men in suits arguing about sports.
JP: It’s mindless right? It makes it easy to just go. Usually when I break and come back to the night, it’s something else. Maybe a comic script, or a novel, or whatever. The important thing is that it’s different, and then I look back to the next day. Last night it was the sequel to the Watcher.
How about with you? Do you go backtrack until its perfect, or do you just go forward?
RR: You have to go forward. Once the composition is down, the rest is busy work. And with comics, you have to deliver those pages you know?
JP: Makes sense.
RR: I’ve been thinking about writing lately. I’ve been talking to a creator about working on something up the road. We’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth for a while now. We’re really putting together some of the story beats and it got me thinking about this. Writing is really something that should be collaborative. I just imagine myself working in it by myself and it’s hard to see.
JP: It really depends, I think. If I was doing a prose novel or my longer stuff, I don’t know if I could. Writing is a vaccum but there is something really sacred about the long stuff. Comics on the other hand, I want to collaborate.
RR: You have to collaborate on comics though.
JP: I don’t know, I’ve heard some horror stories about um…
RR: I think we’ll call them challenging creative types.
JP: That’s a good word. But with comics you have creative people right? It only makes sense to have them have input. They get more invested for one, and two, they often have better ideas than you do.
RR: Exactly. That’s what it should be all about.
JP: By the way, I loved Rasputin number one. The Siberia page was awesome.
JP: It’s probably the best stuff I’ve seen since your Green Wake stuff.
RR: I’ve gotten better since then, but it’s taking me longer. Right now I can do about eighteen pages a month, which isn’t so good because a monthly book is about twenty I think?
JP: It makes sense though, you’ve gotten better.
RR: Yeah, but it’s challenging because Rasputin is a creator owned book and both of us agreed it would be as long as it needs to be. Issue one is twenty eight pages. Issue two is twenty, and issue three is twenty four.
JP: Twenty four seems like the magic number.
RR: It’s about right, and it’s not going to happen at eighteen.
RR: It does.
JP: Also, especially in the last couple of years I’ve learned to be unsatisfied with my work.
RR: I’m never happy with my work. I may like it today – well, sometimes, and then a few days later I’ll look at it and despise it.
JP: There are parts I like, even from when I started. I look at this novel I did and ninety five percent of it I cringe. There’s this five percent I can read and go, you know, this isn’t bad?
RR: I can do that with my earlier stuff. I can look back at Proof and can say to myself this is pretty good I just can’t do that with anything recent.
JP: Yet, especially with you. Not many can do what you do.
RR: Thanks man.
JP: So what are you reading right now?
RR: I’m liking Captain America right now. Have you picked up issue one yet of the new one?
JP: No. I hit the shop next week to catch up. One book I’m really enjoying right now is Silver Surfer.
RR: It’s a good book.
JP: I know it’s kind of Dr. Whoish, but it’s fun.
RR: Did you ever pick up Daredevil?
JP: No. I missed the boat on that.
RR: I consider Surfer and Daredevil in about the same league. They aren’t always great books, but they are always at least really good and entertaining. Eight out of tens guaranteed, every month.
JP: It’s interesting. Right now I’m kind of veering away from the big two. If you looked at my pull list right now, it’s Image primarily right now, followed by dynamite.
JP: Yeah. I’m a real big fan of the gold key books. Solar, Magnus, Turok…
RR: Turok is a really good book.
JP: I liked Jennifer Blood from back when Garth Ennis was back on it. I like the John Carter stuff and then there is Red Sonja. I just think that book is amazing. It really won me over to reading Gail. Not to mention I love Walter Geovani and those Jenny Frisson covers are awesome.
RR: Those covers are really good. I have this print at home with her doing this drawing and she kills it. Jenny is very talented.
JP: Cool. But as you can see, suddenly I’m reading six books and I never planned on it. Then there’s the valiant stuff, and then there’s things like Rachel Rising.
RR: Rachel Rising is a great book.
JP: Can’t blame you for that one. Then it’s Marvel, and then DC. I’m just disenchanted with them now. They just seem to have lost the ability to take risks. In all fairness to Marvel, they seem to do more, but I hate that they stick to just superheroes.
RR: I can see what you’re saying about Marvel there a bit, but Marvel really does take chances with their superhero stuff though. A lot of the big books have a voice that is unique. We mentioned a few already, but if you read She-Hulk or the big Xmen books or Spiderman you can see that voice separate themselves from a lot of content.
And DC does have a little of that with the batman books in particular.
JP: The Capullo/Snyder stuff?
RR: I prefer that one in trade, but I mean you look at the bat books and they are all over the place in terms of tone and style. The new Batgirl is really good and have you heard of Gotham by Midnight?
RR: Buy that book. It’s really good. Have you read Multiversity?
JP: No. I’m not sure I want to?
RR: Grant Morrison hate?
JP: Not exactly. I consider Seven Soldiers of Victory the last truly ambitious thing he did. And all in all it’s really good.
RR: Some were better than others. Frankenstein was fantastic, Zatanna was pretty good and so was Bulleteer and Klarion.
JP: I liked Mister Miracle.
RR: The art change ruined the book.
JP: Maybe, but I still dig the story. And I loved the concept until the last issue. I really feel like it just was a letdown, you know?
RR: Was the last issue when all of them confronted that hive thing?
JP: Yeah, without ever meeting.
RR: Yeah, I remember reading it and going, meh.
JP: I really give it to Morrison – when he crushes it, he crushes it, and I’ll give him props for trying things. Sometimes you have that, and then sometimes you have Final Crisis.
RR: I liked parts of that, but I see where you’re coming from. That said, you should read a little bit of Multiversity. All the issues are one shots. You need only the first issue for background, and then the one him and Quietly did was surreal. It was Watchmen essentially in one issue.
JP: Okay, okay, you talked me into it. I will buy them.
RR: Just those two. You’ll love it.
JP: Okay. Before we go, I just wanted to say I really am happy you and Alex are working together again. He’s good.
RR: Have you read the Yard?
JP: Not yet. I have it. It’s on my to be read list.
RR: When I read Alex’s stuff , there is just enough info to get the point across. Kind of like an Elmore Leonard book or Cormac Mccarth’s the Road just the right images with amazing dialogue.
JP: It kind of makes sense. Literature has changed since the invention of television.
RR: I think all art has changed as time gone on. I love some of the 1930s films, but if they are completely different styles than today. Some of them are excellent, but some of those silent films today just are brutal to try to watch all the way through. Things move.
JP: It’s true. I really love the last judgment, life flashing before your eyes feel the narrative has. Was that on purpose?
RR: Absolutely. The book goes through a bit of a narrative change in issue three. We go into full blown epic fantasy. Some people have complained that this was a historical fiction and we upped and moved it.
JP: As long as it makes sense, I’m down for it. I can’t wait until he gets murdered. The real thing for me is the potential after that scene. Even issue one created some neat moments.
RR: If the book does well that long, we’ll do some neat stuff. I promise.
JP: That’s great. Have you read my tweet about this book yet?
JP: I said this book is the one to watch. I truly believe it. It’s great so far.
RR: Thanks man.
JP: No, thanks for doing this. I wish you and Alex the best. Good luck with your projects.
RR: Same to you.
Rasputin number four, is out January 28th. Ask your local comic shop to pick this book up. It’s one of my favorites, and will be one of yours too after reading it.
Riley is online at his webpage at http://www.rileyrossmo.com where you can see galleries and samples of some of the work he’s done. The art he displays is more than worth a click on the mouse. You can also find him on twitter @rileyrossmo1. I want to thank Riley once again for his time and talking shop. I did pick up his suggested issues and do have Gotham by Midnight on my pull list now. Also, the Multiversity issue with Frank Quitely is awesome. Riley is right again.