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Wed, 1 Feb ’12

Wry Ryan, Gutterballer

His Blind Ferret lovingly bites the industry hand that feeds.

Whether mocking individual comic-industry creators like Rob Granito and Ross Richie, companies like Valiant and (frequently) DC, or just general storylines, Ryan Sohmer’s Gutters, named after the space between panels in a comic, is a consistent source of mirth for those who read comics and follow the goings-on that produce them. But what goes on behind the scenes of the comics that look behind the scenes? We wanted to know, and Ryan was the guy to ask.

GeekChicDaily: What gave you the idea for Gutters?

Ryan Sohmer: I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the editorial cartoon. Love, because I think it’s a fantastic outlet; and hate, because unfortunately, editorial cartooning long since banged the shark. I started getting back into comic books about 5 years ago, and have since opened up 2 local comic book shops in Montreal and gotten as heavily into the industry as I could, with various other projects. I began seeing all the fun that could be had with characters, creators and the worlds in which they both inhabit, if someone had a bit of parody license and a decent sense of humor. Originally, Gutters was intended to be a single panel gag strip, done by a single artist. Obviously, plans changed.

GCD: How do you find your artists? Do they come asking to work for you, or have you ever had to go pounding the virtual pavement looking?

RS: There’s a huge amount of work that goes into every Gutters page, and believe it or not, we’re a team of 6. To answer your question, both. Some artists find us, some we meet at conventions and others we actively seek out and harass until they agree to do a page.

GCD: How do you see the future of web comics? Particularly with single-panel strips like yours, is there a way to make any kind of income off of it? Got any pointers for anybody who might be thinking about trying something similar?

RS: As [my company] Blind Ferret employs a staff of 20, I should hope there’s a way to derive some income from it. A web comic is nothing more than a comic or comic strip with a different means of distribution, and a lower cost of entry (leaving us plenty of room to try new things). I see both print and online comic diverging in the years ahead, where there’s no distinction between the two. As for pointers, I’d suggest simply this: write a comic, draw a comic, because it’s something you have to do. Something is making you create. Not for money, not for fans, but for yourself. The work comes first, focus on that.

GCD: Are there any memes in the comic world that you’d consider “too easy” for parody, e.g. jokes about Rob Liefeld not wanting to draw feet?

RS: All the time, and I do try to avoid them when I can. Still, every now and then I’ll take the bait. And in Liefeld’s defense, who needs feet? No one. That’s who.

GCD: Conversely, if you’re stumped for an idea in any given week, is there ever a “go-to” source for you that you know you can find something to joke about?

RS: The comics industry is quite giving in what they offer up on a daily basis for us. We haven’t missed a deadline yet.

GCD: What’s the goofiest gimmick you’ve ever seen a company try in order to sell comics? Anything that comes close to being beyond parody?

RS: The poly-bagging practice gets me every time I see it done. What’s the point of that, tell me, when you’re going to spoil it in USA Today the day before release anyways?

GCD: A casual viewer might suspect that strips which spoof narrative trends in comics might be more highly read than those lampooning the personalities of the creators themselves. In your experience, is this actually the case?

RS: A casual viewer would be wrong. These days, fans are paying just as much attention to the comic as to who writes and draws it. I believe the web is fairly responsible for that trend, of constantly bridging the gap between reader and creator.

GCD: Do the subjects of your parodies usually take it well? Have any notably not done so?

RS: We draw comics and write stories about superheroes for a living. For the most part, everyone has been great and in on the joke. Everything we do at Gutters comes from a place of love for comics, and I hope that comes across strongly. But yeah, we’ve had a few upset folks now and then. I do my best to try and smooth things over.

GCD: Parody is clearly protected speech, but has anyone tried to make legal threats anyway?

RS: They have, but for the most part, it’s a scare tactic. We stand by what we produce and we’re more than ready to fight for it.

GCD: What do you think of the current state of digital comics distribution?

RS: I think it has some growing up to do to find its path, but I do think the folks at Comixology are heading in the right direction.

GCD: What are your favorite books right now? Your can’t-miss comics?

RS: Luther Strode, Ultimate Spider-Man, Morning Glories, Bionic Man, The Boys, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Captain America & Bucky, Defenders, etc. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and I always encourage folks to try something new.

Gutters runs thrice-weekly at www.the-gutters.com.