For Michael Ryan, Wednesday, April 4, is a big day. The Fuquay-Varina resident, who's been illustrating comics professionally for a decade, is poised to get his biggest book yet with Runaways #25, which comes out from Marvel today.
Written by cult TV creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), who hand-picked Ryan for the book, it's due to be a huge launch, with at least one local comic shop saying it's their most-ordered Marvel title for April.
Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Ryan is just trying to keep up. He's currently penciling the third of his six issues on the book, and his schedule is getting crowded. "It's almost entirely just working," Ryan says. "Every once in a while I'll stop to watch a movie or sleep. But that's abnormal status—it's usually just me at an art table drawing."
Ryan is modest about his work, but it's getting noticed. According to Nick Lowe, the Marvel editor who recommended Ryan's work to Whedon, the artist "just thrives with teenagers and he never cuts corners, even when I want him to," Lowe says in an e-mail. "He puts so much time and detail into the pages. The good work he's doing on Runaways is going to push Michael to another artistic level."
Ryan, who moved to North Carolina about a year ago to be closer to his family, has a history of working with top talents. While in art school, he got an internship at Wildstorm, a company started by superstar artist Jim Lee that's currently an imprint at DC. Within a few years, he was penciling regular titles, before jumping to Marvel. His first collaborator was Chris Claremont, whose long run as the writer of Uncanny X-Men was one of the major inspirations for the film series. "That was one of those, 'Holy crap! Now I gotta do this!' moments," Ryan said.
Since then, Ryan has continued to collaborate with some of comics' best-known writers, including Peter David, Walt Simonson and Brian K. Vaughan, who co-created Runaways with artist Adrian Alphona. The book is a cult hit about the rebellious offspring of supervillains. It combines superhero action and teen melodrama with witty dialogue and a subversive sense of humor: A Goth-like teen witch accesses a mystic staff by cutting herself, while a confused lesbian finds love with an alien Skrull who easily shifts between male and female forms.
"It's a funny thing," Ryan says. "You read a book like [Runaways], and the characters are really endearing, and you start to enjoy it, and then you also find out you're going to be working with someone like Joss Whedon, and you're like [imitates fainting] 'Uhhhh....'"
With Whedon, who's also continuing Buffy as a series of books at Dark Horse and doing an award-winning Astounding X-Men run at Marvel, at the helm, Runaways is an almost guaranteed bestseller, a circumstance that Ryan admits has caused him a bit of a "freak-out."
"I'm incredibly lucky," Ryan says. "All along, I've been trying to get better enough to have deserved the jobs I've already had. I keep on thinking, 'What could I do better, if I could just go back in time?' All you do is hope to go back in time and do it better next time."
Though he thinks Runaways is "definitely the best penciling work I've ever done," and Whedon's writing is "as good as it gets," he's aware of the pressure that comes with a high-profile book. "It's been a lot of work, a lot of hard work," Ryan says. "And hopefully, it's going to be appreciated in the end."
Runaways #25, written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Michael Ryan, goes on sale Wednesday, April 4.