Campfire Writer’s Interview (Ryan Foley)
1. Where are you from?
I am from the small community of Adair, Oklahoma, USA. The population is around 800 people. It is in the NE corner of the state roughly 45 minutes NE of Tulsa.
2. How did you first get interested in comics/graphic novels?
I think the earliest influences are picking up comics at my local grocery store during trips there with my mom. It is safe to say I have been a fan of comics for as far back as I can remember, but I started becoming a serious collector around age 14.
3. What inspired you to start writing graphic novels yourself?
I am extremely lucky in that I knew I wanted to be a writer from very early on in my life. I think the first time I really started to get serious was late in high school and during my early years in college. Unfortunately, there is no set road map for breaking into the industry. So it is a tough road to hoe. But once my first comic was published, writing went from something I wanted to do to something I needed to do. This is my purpose in life. No doubt about it.
4. What titles have you published with Campfire so far?
My two published works with Campfire to date are STOLEN HEARTS: THE LOVE OF EROS & PSYCHE and the very soon to be published LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES.
5. Are you working on any other Campfire titles at the moment?
Several books of mine are in the pipeline for Campfire including stories featuring Perseus and Theseus (which kind of gives me the hat trick on Greek heroes) and a story that chronicles Zeus’ rise to power over his father. And the mother load of all Greek adventures – The Odyssey – is currently under editorial review. So yes, I have a few more irons in the fire.
But as for what I am working on right now, I am looking to flex my muscles and expand into a second arena of mythology that is just as rich and fascinating as the Greek myths. But I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say there is a lot of sand and pharaohs involved…
6. You seem to focus on mythological titles? Is there a particular reason for this?
First, I am a huge fan of the mythological stories and I think our comic book heroes today are going to be our “mythology” contribution that will be studied generations from now. For that reason, I feel like comics and graphic novels are the perfect medium for showcasing such iconic heroes and gods. I am really surprised there is not a larger market for these types of stories because I feel like they can serve as wonderful teaching tools.
But I absolutely love my mythology script format. While I enjoyed working on The War of the Worlds adaptation, something like 95% of all the dialogue was lifted straight from the text. I wanted to be fiercely loyal to the original book, but the downside to that is that it is hampering creatively. With the mythology stories, I get to tell more of an original tale. I get a lot more leeway to tell my “version” of the story. So I get to stick with an educational story, but still get to be extremely creative. It really is the best of both worlds for me.
7. Is writing a full time job for you?
When you are a writer, you are concocting stories all the time in your head. I think about it constantly. You can’t “turn it off.” So from that point of view? Yes. But in the literal sense? Not… yet. I am certainly striving to turn this into a full time career. I would love nothing more than to be able generate enough revenue to where I can say, “This is the only job I have to have.” It would make me a much better parent and husband. Ask me the same question a year from now and I hope I have a better answer.
8. What motivates you to write graphic novel scripts after a hard day at work?
Again, going back to the previous question, I want this to be a full time profession for me. That is all the motivation I need. I am not a huge fan of my 9-to-5 (find me someone who is!) and writing is what I am supposed to be doing. But like the song says, “I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed, and ain’t nothin’ in this world for free…”
But when I am on deadline, I tend to structure my life around that deadline. Everything else gets put second. If that means editing on my lunch break or working later in the evening, so be it. I have never had a bad day writing. Sure, I have had days where I suffer from what I affectionately call “brain puddining.” But I zone out, watch some TV or play my video games and I am ready to go the next day. I have never looked around and said, “I don’t want to write any more.”
I need an alarm clock to wake up for my daily job. I never need one on a day for writing. I think that shows all that motivation is never really an issue for me. I want this to be my career.
9. When you’re writing a script, do you imagine how the illustrations will look? And, if so, to what degree?
I initially wanted to break into the industry as an artist but after attending an art invitational in high school for a college scholarship, I quickly realized I didn’t have the chops. So I like to think that I try to approach all of my scripts from a certain artistic POV. Generally I have an idea of how I want a scene to look. I am always throwing out camera angles and scene descriptions – maybe too much so! But it seems like all the artists I work with constantly exceed my expectations. It is very important for me to be as “artist friendly” as possible with my scripts since they have the truly hard job.
10. What has been the most rewarding graphic novel project you’ve worked on so far?
I truly love all of my books but the single most rewarding one has to be Heracles. As a writer, I love to search for universal truths. Like the movie Back to the Future, writer Bob Gale found a universal truth. Everyone wonders what their parents were like in high school and in that movie Marty actually got to see his parents as teenagers. I think that is one of the reasons why the movie was so successful.
So, spoiler alert, my Heracles story revolves around Herc losing his loved ones. I wanted to paint Herc as a tragic and flawed character who is trying to repent for the death of his wife and children. And Campfire allowed me to put my own unique spin on the character and really centre the character on that tragedy. By doing this, he was performing all of the labours to repent for his sins.
Everyone has lost someone close to them. Or if you haven’t, you will eventually. And when that someone is taken from you, you would give anything for five more minutes with that person. I get to give Heracles that five minutes. It was very cathartic for me, very therapeutic, because it helped me expunge some demons in my own life, regarding the passing of my mother. I found my universal truth. And I think because of that, it will always hold a special place for me.
11. What age level would you say your stories are intended for? Should a parent be concerned about the level of violence or mature situations?
I think Campfire always intended the young readers (ages 10-14) to be their target demographic. But I always tried to skew my stories so that they could be enjoyed by a wide range of audience. I didn’t want college age readers and adults to feel like I was pandering only to kids and I didn’t want my scripts to be too complex for the younger readers.
Citing movies, I would say that if you enjoyed the films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or The Lord of the Rings, you will enjoy my stories. I take great pride in showcasing action as opposed to violence. But the Greeks have some real “blood and guts” moments in their stories. Medusas are beheaded. Bad guys are fed to flesh-eating horses. It is some pretty rough stuff! But I never want a parent to read a, story and go, “This is too violent for little Timmy.” So it is certainly action but not violence. I would be proud to see my work in any middle school library and I think it would be appropriate there.
12. Who, in your opinion, is the greatest graphic novel/comic book writer of all time?
This is a whole hornet’s nest you could open up here. This is like asking a comic geek (which I am) who wins in a fight between Batman and Captain America. I mean, if you want me to name the most prolific author in comics, personally, the list begins and ends with Chris Claremont. His run on The Uncanny X-Men is untouchable.
If you are asking me who my favourite comic book author is on the stands right now? J. Michael Straczynski. He is certainly the level that I aspire to match. He is the writer that I most want to be like. Of course, how can you talk comics in this era and not mention Brian Michael Bendis?
But if there is a single author that I wish would do more work, the one and only name is Kevin Smith. I will put his Daredevil: Guardian Devil graphic novel against anything out there. ANYTHING. I read that graphic novel and I get disheartened because I wondered if I will ever write anything that good.
13. Why do you think young people should read graphic novels?
”What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?” I think far too many people dismiss graphic novels as strictly being for kids. I remember having to educate my father. He came from an era where all comic dialogue ended in either an exclamation point or a question mark. It wasn’t until I showed him issues of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn that he realized how serious a medium comics can be. I challenge anyone to read Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns and tell me it is just for kids.
I will read something – anything – every single day but far too many people, once they are finished with their education, will never pick up a book again. If you are a parent trying to encourage a reluctant reader, plopping down Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is intimidating for the size alone. The page count makes it a doorstop and that can be discouraging. I feel like the graphic novels I’ve written for Campfire are perfectly suited to draw in the reluctant reader, but are still wonderfully entertaining for even the most ardent of mythology fans. After all, reading a prose-formatted story about Zeus on a mountain top is one thing. To see him in all the glory that the artists create is a whole other animal.
I feel like readers can tear through my graphic novels for the action, adventure, or romance and be thoroughly entertained and then only realize in hindsight that they are being educated on the stories of Ancient Greece. I think that method of learning is much more conducive. And I hope I can entertain while educating because that generates sales, which hopefully means Campfire orders more stories and I can finally achieve that full time writer dream.