Talking with Ryan Dunlavey about M.O.D.O.K.
Earlier this week Marvel released a Dark Reign tie-in on their Digital Comics Unlimited service that features the comedic adventures of M.O.D.O.K. The four-part online series will be collected into a one-shot in September.
To chronicle the triumphant return of everybody’s favorite big-headed super villain to his brand new hometown (wha?), Marvel enlisted creator Ryan Dunlavey, co-creator of the Action Philosophers and Comic Book Comics series.
My thanks to Ryan for agreeing to this interview on all things M.O.D.O.K.
JK: How did you get the gig at Marvel?
Ryan: Ask any publisher who their dream creators are and the answer is always the same handful: Moore, Ditko, Steranko… and DUNLAVEY. It’s been well documented that Marvel has been after me for years — everyone knows that Bendis chump was Marvel’s second choice for Ultimate Spider-Man after I turned them down. I finally got annoyed with them constantly pestering me so I took some time out of my busy schedule drawing low-selling non-fiction humor comics and restocking cans of beans at the local bodega to write and draw M.O.D.O.K. for them.
But really, I just begged Fred Van Lente to get me a job there. Every day. FOR YEARS. He was originally going to script the M.O.D.O.K. story, but when it got green-lit he got too busy writing Spider-Man and Halo and all that, so I made the leap from mere co-plotter to full-on writer, in addition to being the penciller, inker, colorist and letterer because I’m greedy. And poor.
JK: You’ve gone from drawing comics starring some of the greatest philosophers in history — Plato, Aristophanes, Jung and, um, Stan Lee — to writing and drawing M.O.D.O.K. Which seems like the natural progression, really. What sort of life lessons can we learn from M.O.D.O.K.? Does he have a more philosophical side?
Ryan:Let me respond to this as I have many, many times to similarly great questions in other interviews. Uh… um… I don’t know. Sorry. Look, M.O.D.O.K. is a giant floating head who’s biggest concern is that his arms are too short to wipe himself — he doesn’t have time to be philosophical, frankly. Even if you strip away the hover chair, the 144-lobed brain, the powers, the freakish appearance, M.O.D.O.K. would still be a giant a-hole. The best lesson one can learn from M.O.D.O.K. is… don’t be M.O.D.O.K.
JK: As this is a Dark Reign tie-in, will we see M.O.D.O.K. trying out for the Dark Avengers? What super hero could he “fill in” for if he did join the team?
Ryan: With those legs and that awesome rack, M.O.D.O.K. is a shoo-in for Dark Spider-Woman.
JK: I also see on your blog that you’re rewriting Marvel history so that M.O.D.O.K. is now from Erie, Pennsylvania and not Bangor, Maine. Why is this significant? And on behalf of M.O.D.O.K. fans the world over, what gives you the right? (*shakes an angry fist*)
Ryan: Woah – easy there with the fist shaking! Other than the obvious dirty pun on the name, Erie is just funnier than Bangor. I give an explanation to the Bangor/Erie switch-up on page 2 anyways, and Erie’s geographic proximity to Canada is a big plot point in the story. As far as I can tell the only place M.O.D.O.K.’s city of origin is mentioned is in those crazy Marvel Universe Handbooks and isn’t even mentioned in any actual comic stories, so who gives a crap, really.
JK: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in comics. Was Action Philosophers your first gig? And what else have you worked on?
Ryan: I’ve had the comic book-making disease since forever. I went to college for illustration and have always made a living as an artist doing things like graphic design, animation, web design, illustration – you name it. I’ve always made comics on the side – usually doing both the writing and drawing myself – I made mini comics and contributed to some magazines and anthologies and had a few unmemorable freelance gigs here and there. I had a few friends in the comics industry and didn’t see how my writing or drawing style could fit in so I just did it for fun and didn’t really pursue it seriously – I went to conventions every once in a while but I was pretty half-assed about it to be honest. I tried to self-publish Tommy Atomic back in 1999, but Diamond rejected it outright. I didn’t really get serious about making comics until 2003 when I started getting steady work at Wizard and ToyFare doing original illustrations and comic strips, and I started doing comics for Royal Flush around the same time. Shortly after that Fred and I created Action Philosophers, which got us Xeric Grant in 2004 and went on to became a big hit. Since then, we’ve done nine issues and three trade paperbacks of AP, I drew an issue of Tales From The Crypt revival, and we started a new series, Comic Book Comics , and have finished three issues so far. M.O.D.O.K. is my first real mainstream comics work, and seeing as how the top of the sales charts are constantly dominated by humor comics staring deformed super villains drawn in a cartoony style, I’m sure it will make me a superstar in no time.
JK: What’s next for you after M.O.D.O.K., in terms of comics work?
Ryan: Fred and I have a story in the Awesome 2: Awesomer anthology coming out from Top Shelf this month, and I’m writing and drawing another Diarrhea Dog story in the next issue of Royal Flush, which will be out late in the summer. The More-Than Complete Action Philosophers drops in November 2009, which reprints the entire series plus 24 pages of all-new material — we’ve arranged all the philosophers in chronological order so it’s a complete 300-plus page comic book history of philosophy. Issue four of Comic Book Comics comes out very, very soon and I’m aiming to finish up the six-issue series by the end of the year as well. Next year – Action Presidents, which is exactly what it sounds like. As for M.O.D.O.K., I’ve got lots of ideas for a sequel if Marvel is interested in doing more — that giant headed bastard is comedy gold!
Ryan has a lot of fun artwork, which you might recognize from Wizard Magazine and other places, up on his website. You can also check out his webcomic, Tommy Atomic. If you’re interested in his indie work, visit the Evil Twin Comics site. And finally, you can also check out a few preview pages of his M.O.D.O.K. story at Marvel.com.