Probably one of my favorite aspects of comic book conventioning is spending hours running around what is known as “Artist Alley”. Artist Alley is the area where the majority of the comic professionals at a convention are set up to meet with fans, sign some books, sell their wares and do original commissions for comic fans. I am a collector of original comic art and it’s been in Artist Alley that I have discovered and met some people who have become some of my favorite independent comic book professionals in the comic book marketplace whom I probably would have never even heard of if I had not for these trips. Two of the artists that I return to for sketches year after year are Ronn Sutton and Janet L Hetherington who both work on Claypool’s “Elivria: Mistress of the Dark” comic. Ronn and Janet are not only two of my favorite people in the comic book industry, but are one of the highlights of my conventioning experience. My first stop every year is their table where I purchase some often prearranged commissions, buy everything they can sell me and stop frequently over the next few days for a little conversation. Over the years I’ve gathered a fine collection of their artwork that hangs framed in my home and are prized pieces in my ever-growing comic art collection.
In July 2006 I had the great pleasure to talk in length with Ronn about his career as an illustrator. Ronn has been working in the comic book field continuously since 1972 for countless different independent comic book companies (many that I haven’t even heard of) and independent titles. However, within time as a result of his attraction to horror subjects Ronn is primarily thought of as a horror comic artist. Ronn has been working on the Elvira book for the past nine years where he draws voluptuous drawings of the famous horror movie hostess. Really, when you think about that, its not a bad way to spend ones time. However, for the last number of years Ronn has also found a successful career drawing real life horror figures in the form of murderers, arsonists and other high profile criminals as a courtroom artist for the Ottawa Citizen.
I knew that Ronn and I wouldn’t have a hard time finding things to talk about because over the years that I have known him, one of the things I’ve discovered is that he and I have some very unique and similar interests. Join me and Ronn as we discuss comic books, horror movies, and the 1950′s sex industry as we take a look at a man that has lived, and survived, in the world of independent comic books which, as many know, is not an easy thing to do as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
SEX, FANGS AND HI-JINKS:
A CONVERSATION WITH RONN SUTTON
Sam Tweedle: So what have you been working on Ronn?
Ronn Sutoon: Well, as you know I’ve been working on this romance thing and I just finished the first batch of pages, so I’m trying to sorta take a half way break today… sorta… but it’s not completely working out because I’m trying to get a lot done and… well… I’m actually sorting through stuff today… the next batch of pages, making rough sketches… Sam: So when’s the deadline for that due?
Ronn: Well the whole thing is, like, six weeks. It’s an enormous task for me anyway, because it’s twenty-four pages, pencils and inks, in six weeks. So I’ve got another four and a half weeks more. By this point, I’m about a third of the way through the pencils. And if experience proves anything in my contact as with some of the other artists, they ask for a million changes. For the first one, there was, like, sixty-seven panels and they asked for forty-two art changes.
Sam: Wow. Does that happen a lot?
Ronn: That’s an enormous amount. I mean, when I’m doing an Elvira story, they usually ask me for two or three minor changes .So it’s a bit on the excessive side. I don’t like doing any changes once I’m done.
Sam: So what kind of changes are they asking for?
Ronn: Ummmm. Some of them are legitimate, and some aren’t, and some of them… they are being very picky, actually. Things like… for example… in the last one, there was a scene where the waitress is pouring coffee and they made me change the coffee pot from one hand to the other hand because I had switched it at some point which, to me, didn’t seem to be much of a big deal. Other stuff like… although I’d drawn one of the characters to their description, they decided that two of the characters looked too similar because they both had long hair, so they had me change one of them. Which was their fault, not my fault. A lot of little things like that, actually.
Sam: Anyway, do you want to give a plug to this particular strip we’re talking about?
Ronn: Well, it’s for www.myromancestory.com. The first story I drew was called “Summer Love” and this one is entitled “Love In Site”. I don’t know how long this company has been going. I guess it’s been about a year, and they hire writers and artists to do stories, and they post four brand-new romance stories every month. They have a back catalogue of at least forty stories that are already completed and they are about twenty-five pages each. They are sort of typical romance comics, except they are a little bit more modern and there actually are sex scenes in them. So it’s sort of fun on one hand to do, because I have always wanted to do some romance comics, because I don’t do superheroes. I tend to do all sorts of “other” kinds of comics. Romance comics are sort of a fun thing to do. It’s kind of funny; there’s a lot of… I was thinking about this earlier today… there are a lot of things I get to work on like the Elvira stuff. And I get to work on courtroom drawings, and I get to work on this romance stuff, but I was thinking that this was stuff I’ve always longed to do but it would be more fun if I had more time and less pressure.
Sam: Now you say you don’t do superheroes. Have you ever had an interest in superheroes, or is that just something you’ve never been into?
Ronn: I don’t know. I don’t mind reading superhero comics. I’m just built wrong to do it somehow. I just don’t have a real affinity for it. I’ve always been a bit more interested in horror stuff and however you qualify the Elvira stuff… humor stuff.
Sam: Y’know, I just moved and I was setting up some of my comic art the other day and I have a whole wall of just Black Canary pieces.
Ronn: Oh, cool.
Sam: And I think you are the only artist I’ve ever met who has never drawn the Black Canary for me yet.
Sam: I guess its just because I don’t connect you to that kind of thing… but next time we meet I’d like to get you to do a Canary for me.
Ronn: Oh. I’d love to do that.
Ronn: Actually Janet (Hetherington) has hanging in our place here a large Black Canary drawing done by Gray Morrow.
Sam (squirming with jealousy): Oh! Nice!
Ronn: Yeah. She actually bought it at a convention.
Sam: Actually, it’s one of Janet’s Black Canary pieces, along with Darwyn Cooke’s, which is the centerpiece to my Canary display… because they are the two biggest.
Ronn: Well, it’s funny; I sort of don’t really consider the Black Canary really kind of… superhero… although I guess she is. I guess when I think of superheroes I think more of Captain America, X-Men, Fantastic Four kind of stuff. I mean, I could possibly do a comic book of the Black Canary, or a character like that but… I don’t know.
Sam: Now, have you always had an interest in comics illustration from when you were a kid? Or is it something you picked up later on? Or…
Ronn: From the moment I came out of the womb? Is that the question?
Ronn: Yeah. Pretty much. I started reading comics as a kid, like a lot of kids, especially of my generation. I sort of collected them, but I don’t think I really had a bolt of lightening hit me until 1965 and 1966 when King Comics and Harvey Comics were both coming out very briefly. King brought out “Flash Gordon #1″ by Al Williamson and Harvey brought out “Fighting American #1″ by Simon and Kirby and “Spirit #1″ by Will Eisner and the “Three Rocketeers” by Kirby and Williamson, and I think that was kind of the first time that I was really struck by how good comics could be and sort of wanted to do that. So I guess I started doing my own drawings, but it wasn’t until 1970 or definitely 1972 when I started getting serious about it. In the late 60′s and prior to ’72, I was doing stuff for Fanzines and things but in ’72 was when I went down to New York for a little while and was assisting other people like Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams and working a bit with Bernie Wrightson. I’d model for Jeff Jones. I played all the characters in at least two stories he drew, and posed for at least one paperback cover painting. I came back and started doing bits and pieces of comics which I continued to do for twenty years, as well as mainstream illustration and magazine design. For the last fifteen years or so I’ve been doing comics full-time for a living.
Sam: So I met you at a convention. I go conventioning about twice a year and you always see these guys with big portfolios full of work trying to hock it and get some interest and I think I’ve met more people who can’t break into the industry then who can. So how have you been able to do this for a living for so long while hundreds of guys sort of suffer in obscurity? What was different from what you did compare to them?
Ronn: I don’t know. It probably boils down to just luck, to tell you the truth. One of the things that I’m fortunate about is that this is an industry which, especially in the last fifteen years, it’s turned into a real revolving door of talent. I mean, you go back to the 60′s you got people like Jack Kirby doing a hundred issues of Fantastic Four and you got Bruno Premiani doing a hundred issues of Doom Patrol and nowadays guys are doing two issues or a four issue story arcs and they want to celebrate. I guess in my case I’m really lucky that I’ve had Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark as a mainstay. For the last nine years I’ve been able to do Elvira stories and I’ve done 45 issues of Elvira at this point. I’ve just been really fortunate that Richard Howell, my editor, continues to hire me to do stories That’s giving me sort of a basis and from there I’ve been able to get other strips, and other things happening.
Sam: How did you get involved with the Elvira book?
Ronn: Ummmm… it was just dumb luck really. I was sending out samples to people and got involved with a whole lot of people who were hiring me to draw lesbian vampires for different companies.
Sam: Hey! There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of lesbian vampire action.
Ronn: Well, it’s sort of funny because my drawing of women used to look like drawings of men with breasts and long hair. But I ended up working on the Savage Dragon animated TV series and they kept giving me a lot of She-Dragon to draw at which point my drawings of women got really good really quick. From then on all I got offered were female characters and the majority of them, for some reason, were lesbian vampires, and then Claypool came along and rescued me with Elvira. I was just sending out samples to people and I sent samples to Richard Howell who was one of the few people that actually responded by sending me a note saying “thanks but we got all the artists we can use”. I wrote him back with newer samples and said, well, you know I really appreciate you writing me back but here’s new samples and the next thing I know he ended up getting in touch with me and offering me a strip. So I’m sort of very happy about it and was really shocked when he called me up and offered me a second story. And here we are now, forty-five strips later.
Sam: So Elvira was something you sought out to do?
Ronn: Yeah, its funny because I guess I’ve got a great affection for the strip now. It wasn’t something I was dying to work on. I was just looking for work doing anything but it seems to be something I’m really in tune for. As we were saying before I don’t really have the mental sights to do superhero comics but I really seem to click with doing Elvira because she’s an attractive woman and the comic has all the macabre elements and all the parody elements of 1960′s TV and movies and comics and culture and its all stuff I’m really into. So it’s a nice marriage in a lot of respects.
Sam: Did you use to watch the show back in the 80′s?
Ronn: I never saw it. No. I didn’t even have a TV set until about twelve years ago.
Sam: Oh god. I grew up on that show and I think it had something to do with my psyche. Pretty much my love for B films came from watching that every Saturday night. Now I pretty much connect you solely to the horror genre. Is that something you naturally have a love for?
Ronn: Yeah. Pretty much. I’ve always liked horror comics probably best of all and I’m a big horror movie fan, especially things from the fifties, sixties. I haven’t done that much of straight horror comics but I’d like to do more. Big horror fan.
Sam: Favorite horror film? What is it?
Ronn: Favorite? That would be tough. I have a lot of favorites.
Sam: Well that’s okay. Just name a few top ones…and why.
Ronn: Probably “Curse of the Demon,” a British film.
Sam: “Curse of the Demon”…brilliant film.
Ronn: I hadn’t seen it until about five or six or seven years ago but I had been looking at stills of it my entire life.
Sam: Well it was unavailable for a long time.
Sam: I had a friend who had a VHS bootleg and he showed it to me about fifteen years ago but it was finally just released on DVD about three years ago?
Ronn: Other favorite films include “Shockwaves,” another British one with Peter Cushing which are all these Nazis zombies that are underwater.
Sam: I’ve never seen that.
Ronn: Its pretty interesting. Its not all that good but its with all these Nazis that have been sitting in the water for about twenty five years or whatever and they come back to life. They are underwater Nazi zombies so how can you go wrong? I’m of the opinion that any movie can be improved by adding zombies to it.
Sam: Hey, you can’t go wrong with underwater Nazi zombies. They’re right behind lesbian vampires.
Ronn: Yeah, really. “Return of the Living Dead” is another favorite. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”,,,
Sam: Number two?
Ronn: Yeah. The one with Dennis Hopper. He’s a deputy and he’s got these two small single-hand chainsaws (for which he even has holsters). There’s a big finale of he and Leatherface having a chainsaw duel in these miles of underground tunnels decorated with corpses and Christmas lights. Its fabulous.
Sam: Really? I’ve never seen that one.
Ronn: Oh. I like it better then the first one and I think after the first two the rest of them aren’t really worth watching.
Sam: I avoid sequels. I just rather not have to see the original be destroyed.
Ronn: Well you know, it depends. There have been some sequels that have been better, like “Evil Dead II” is better then “Evil Dead”.
Sam: You think so?
Ronn: Oh absolutely.
Sam: See, I like “Evil Dead” far better. I don’t like the comedy in “Evil Dead II”.
Ronn: Oh. Well I actually like horror and comedy which is why I like “Return of the Living Dead”.
Sam: Have you ever met Bruce Campbell?
Ronn: No, but I’m sure he’s a great guy though.
Sam: Yeah. He is. I met him last summer at a book signing.
Ronn: Well I really like him wherever he appears like “Bubba Ho Tep”.
Sam: Where he plays Elvis!
Ronn: Which is just both hilarious and bizarre.
Sam: I thought it was interesting teaming him up with Ossie Davis. That was really inspired pairing and that was Ossie’s final film. Any modern horror films your a fan of?
Ronn: I’m not sure off hand. Nothing strikes me immediately because what I find about so much modern horror is that there is no suspense or tension in them and they’re just out to gross you out basically. I find that most of the horror films I like seem to be from the sixties or seventies but a lot of the stuff that I like is the stuff that I grew up with – Roger Corman movies, all the Hammer films.
Sam: Hammer had it going on.
Ronn: Hammer films are great. Sometimes the action is a little boring but the sets are always the best sets and the costumes and…
Sam: and the women are built in the right ways in the right places.
Ronn: That’s it!
Sam: So, back to comics. Do you have any dream projects? I mean, I was looking at your web-site and you’ve done everything from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Owl magazine. Anyways, what would be the one thing, or person, or character you’d like to revive.
Ronn: Well you caught me off guard with that one. I’m not really sure off hand. It would possibly be something that would be horror or science fiction, probably again with a female character although, again, what I’m finding these days is that I find I like working on these days is something with a touch of humor to it. And even the stuff I’m reading in comics, even stuff like Wally Wood’s “Sally Forth”…I like that stuff where there is a little bit of cleavage and a lot of humor to it so whatever project I’d want to work on, that’s what I’d want to do… with something that had horror or had science fiction elements. Something that was probably somewhat influenced by EC comics. Because they tend to be a big influence on me and that’s what I spend a lot of my time reading. So… hmmmmm… I don’t really have a specific one. As I’ve said before I’m not really ambitious to draw a superhero book.
Sam: Have you ever been approached by and superhero comic companies?
Ronn: No and I… well, some of the smaller ones… on long occasions… in between I’ve talked to them about doing things. Like “Heroic Comics” was the last one I talked to about drawing Flare… well maybe I could do it because it’s a female superhero but for my own drawing I’m not really into people gritting their teeth and punching each other. When it comes to superheroes my favorites tend to be the Spirit by Will Eisner and Plastic Man by Jack Cole. Again, both of those have an awful lot of humor in them and the drawings are much more lively and fluid and humorous and its not a lot of macho posturing and teeth grinding.
Sam: And the Spirit is brilliant. I mean, what Eisner could do in six pages blows your mind.
Sam: Yeah. I guess Darwyn Cooke is going to be doing the Spirit for DC in a couple of months.
Ronn: Yeah. I said this to someone else, but I think anybody doing the Spirit besides Will Eisner is a really bad idea and the exception to that is Darwyn Cooke. Everything I’ve seen by Darwyn I think is brilliant. I love his approach and again, his approach is very influenced by cartoons and comics and magazine illustrations. Its not influenced by that Neal Adams kind of school of drawing or Todd McFarlane school of drawing. It’s not real macho drawings. It’s beautiful and lyrical and touches Alex Toth and touches Frank Robbins and I think he’ll do a great job. I mean, they’ve tried a couple of times in the past to do some Spirit comics that had nothing to do with Eisner’s unique storytelling approach that were just awful.
Sam: Kitchen Sink Press did that a few years ago with “The New Spirit Adventures” where they had guys like Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis but, well, they weren’t very good.
Ronn: Well….Eisner was the only one who worked on the Spirit. Or at least everyone who worked on or as assisted The Spirit was under the direct supervision of Eisner, so that it was always his vision that lead the way. He did it for decade after decade and its one of the high water marks on comics and so why publishers would think that anybody else could come along and do a better job is beyond me. I think it would be extremely intimidating to even try. I didn’t read any of those Kitchen Sink ones. Art wise the only one I thought looked half decent was the one that Bo Hampton had done but…I don’t know…
Sam: Did you read Darwyn Cook’s “New Frontier”?
Ronn: Yes. Absolutely. I thought it was one of the most brilliant comics done in years.
Sam: Now you and Janet do the convention circuit. How man cons do you do a year?
Ronn: Well it really depends. This year we haven’t done that many. We were in Toronto earlier. We did a local one here in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago and we’ll be back in Toronto in the fall but it really depends. Over the last number of years we’ve been in Montreal, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, San Diego, New York, Columbus, Ohio…..there was a horror one in New Jersey. We were at Megacon in Orlando. We’ve been to quite a number of conventions over the last number of years but its not consistent in going to the same ones. We tend to not go to the same conventions too many times in a row except the Toronto one because I used to live in Toronto so its a double bonus for me. Its a good convention and its old home week as I get to see old friends that I never get to see anymore. We go to different cities periodically because that way your not selling the same stuff to the same people and hopefully get to see a little bit of the city. Have a little bit of fun while we’re there.
Sam: We’ll I’m a big fan of both of you guys and I always ask Janet, “what do you have new?” and I buy whatever you guys can sell me but if it wasn’t for the convention I wouldn’t have ever known you folks. Do you find that you pick up a lot of your fan base at these shows?.
Ronn: Yeah. And it’s funny because one of the reasons I like that Toronto show is its such a mixed show. A lot of the shows we go to are just straight comics fans but the Toronto show you’ve got horror people, science fiction people, gaming people and anime people as well because its essentially five separate conventions all taking place at once. There’s an awful lot of people who buy stuff from me who aren’t necessarily comic fans that didn’t even know that there is an Elvira comic book. There’s a lot of goth girls who come by and get all excited when they see the Elvira stuff. That’s neat because I like talking to them and they get excited about the Elvira stuff and the comics in general and they are not all jaded. They haven’t seen it all before and its all new to them and they are a lot more fun to talk to a lot of the time.
Sam: What’s the weirdest thing anybody has ever gotten you to draw for them?
Ronn: I don’t know. There are a few that have been sort of peculiar. I like doing sketches but there was one person who came by who had a pad of black paper and had a white pen that they wanted me to draw with. That’s how they were getting everyone to sketch and it really threw you off your game. But there’s sort of odd things. There’s this one guy who comes around…well I haven’t seen him in a while actually….but he always came along and he wanted specific characters and he wanted them stuck in glue and they’d be trying to pull themselves free and there’d be glue stuck all over them.
Sam: Yeah… uh… I was mistaken for that guy once.
Ronn: Oh yeah?
Sam: Yeah, one time I was at the Toronto convention and I went up to Sandy Carruthers, who had done a piece for me two years earlier, but I hadn’t seen since, and I wanted to get him to do the Black Canary for me and I said to him, “you drew one of my absolute favorite pieces I’ve ever gotten done” and he said, “are your he guy who got me to draw the Insect Queen naked in all the honey trying to unstick herself” and I said, “no… you drew me Mary Marvel” and he looked at me blankly and said, “I drew Mary Marvel?” I always seem to get confused for these perverts.
Ronn: Well its funny. I think that guy has the oddest requests but certainly one of the oddest fans I’ve ever came across was when we went to the Chiller horror convention in New Jersey in 2001. At that time there was a comic that had come out called “Night Terrors” which Bernie Wrightson was putting together and it had a story by Bernie and a story by William Stout and a story by me and a story by a fellow named Quinton Hoover and so we went to the convention because we were releasing it that weekend. Instead of a big convention center it was in a hotel and there was pockets of small rooms with guests. It was Wrightson, Stout, Janet and myself in this room together and there was one guy who came up to me and he said “Have you ever been to Stan Lee’s house?” and I said “no. I don’t know Stan Lee and I’ve never been to his house” and he goes, “oh, well Amanda Connor’s been to Stan Lee’s house”. Then he goes “have you ever been to Jack Kirby’s house?” and I said “no, I’ve never even met Jack Kirby” and he says “oh, so and so has been to Jack Kirby’s house” and he goes on and on and then goes “have you ever been to Al Willaimson’s house?” and he just kept going on and on and on. This guy just keeps going on like this and I look up and Bill Stout is sitting right across from me and he’s killing himself laughing. Of course this guy finally stops quizzing me and goes straight over to Bill Stout and he does the same routine again. It was quite peculiar because he went on and on doing it to Bill Stout this time. Suddenly somebody stuck their head in the door and yelled this guy’s name and he went bolting out. That was the last I saw of him.
Sam: Okay. So have you ever ran into, or how do you deal with people, who “don’t get” the comic industry?
Ronn: Get it?
Sam: Yeah. You know, don’t understand and they still think comics are for kids. You say you work in the comic industry and they don’t “get it”.
Ronn: I don’t get that much actually. When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I draw comic books, people are interested. The majority haven’t read a comic book since they were a kid. They don’t even read the comics in the newspaper but they suddenly become really fascinated because most people can’t draw. In fact, most artists can’t draw. Outside of the comic book field most artists that work for a living do design work or do paintings but a lot of it is abstract or whatever. What I find is that most people are sort of fascinated and they are really interested because I guess most people don’t work in creative fields. So although they don’t relate to what I’m doing exactly, they are sort of excited about it. Almost always people will start telling me about what comics were their favorites when they were a kid. I have a friend that finds it fascinating that I’m drawing comics because she “can’t draw a straight line”. Can’t relate to the actual physical act of drawing something but she’s overwhelmed when she sees the stuff and its funny too because sometimes people will respond differently. If they’re not all that interested or they can’t relate to the fact that I do comics but when I mention that I do court room drawings they get excited about that. Because its a little closer to reality and they can relate to it a little better, I guess.
Sam: So how did you get involved in doing court room drawings?
Ronn: Again, it was one of those things that was dumb luck. I sent some of my Elvira comics to the newspaper suggesting that Halloween was coming up and they should do something about the Elvira comic book. I guess they declined on that but they phoned me and said “have you ever done court room drawings” and I said “no” and they said why don’t you sit around one night while your watching TV and do some quick sketches of the people on the TV set for practice and then send them to us and we’ll put them on file”. I kind of thought, “yeah yeah, like I got time to do these samples for you” and then they phoned the very next day and said, “are you available to do court room drawings today?” I guess they were on the brink of needing somebody. So I’ve been doing them for a couple of years now. Its kind of interesting because they’re all usually murders cases that I am going to. They are usually big crimes. Very prominent stories in the news and three-quarters of the time that I do these things they end up on the front page of the paper.
Sam: I have a copy of the Ottawa Citizen with your piece of the front page from a few weeks ago.
Ronn: The one with the three guys? Yeah. I was surprised about how large it is. 81/2 X 11 inches in color on the front page. What happens is they basically call me up and go, “can you go to the court house right now?” When I get to the court house, and in that particular case I think it was one in the afternoon, the drawing that I am about to do is going to be in the next days paper. That drawing has got to be delivered at peoples houses at six am the next day. Which means the finished drawing has to be in the hands of the newspaper editors by five o’clock pm. So it’s a lot of pressure. In that particular case, it was drawing three guys. I spent an hour in the courtroom getting as good of a likeness as I could of the three guys and then came back to my studio and inked it in and colored it. That was sort of an unusual set of circumstances of that particular drawing because two of the likenesses were dead on of the people I was drawing. The third guy, who was the main guy in that particular case which was an alleged pedophile who set fire to a house to kill a woman and instead her two children were killed in the fire. Well that guy, with the glasses in that drawing… this is the most bizarre thing… the whole time I was trying to draw him he was mugging for me, making faces and then he kept gesturing constantly for me to hold up the drawing so he could see it. I mean this is a guy who is on trial for double homicide.
Sam: You didn’t show it to him… did you?
Ronn: No. I tried to ignore him. I was there trying to get a job done. It’s sort of interesting doing those drawings though because it’s a lot of pressure because you’ve got one shot to do it. There’s no room for error. I was very nervous the first several times I was sent on assignment. What I realized was is that I’m the only person who was there to do the job, that I can draw really well so I have to have confidence in my abilities and that that nobody in the court room is getting a better look at the individual, or individuals then I am and I am there specifically focusing on them. I’ve actually received an awful lot of compliments by the other court room reporters which has sort of been rather nice.
Sam: And you’ve said that your court room drawings have ended up on the internet and on TV news?
Ronn: Well what happens is they…well I didn’t find this out until afterwards…but I thought the drawings were just appearing in the paper but also the internet version of the paper. I’m drawing for the Ottawa Citizen which is part of the CanWest conglomerate who owns TV stations so they are ending up on TV news as well. The drawings also appear in The National Post and online version of that newspaper too. A lot of mileage out of one drawing.
Sam: So you said you’ve been doing this for a few years. So this isn’t a new gig.
Ronn: Well I guess it’s been about two years now. The first time they sent me out it was to draw a guy who was convicted for a double homicide. He had five tattoos on his face including two handguns that were tattooed on his forehead. I’ve said this before but you almost have to admire that kind of dedication to evil to tattoo handguns on your forehead. So aside from the comic books, other things come up like courtroom drawings and magazine illustration. Every now and then an animation job comes along.
Sam: Yeah. You said you did Savage Dragon and the Honey Nut Cheerios commercials?
Ronn: Yeah, I worked on those and I worked on the Rescue Heroes animated tv series and Captain Highliner commercials.
Sam: Okay. I have to ask. What Captain Highliner commercial was it? It wasn’t the ones with the kids talking about how cool it was to eat Captain Highliner fish sticks and then he is in the portrait above them and he comes alive and shakes their hands or winks, were they?
Ronn: I think that’s every one of their commercials.
Sam: Oh. I haven’t seen those in years.
Ronn: Well the Captain Highliner ones go back to when I was living in Toronto so that goes back to 1990.
Sam: It was probably those ones. Ug. Those were awful Ronn. No offense but those are one of the reasons I don’t watch TV anymore are commercials like that. Now I know it wasn’t your fault and it was just a job.
Ronn: Animation is too big a job for any one person to do. So each person is just doing portions of the artwork. It takes a lot of people to do something that even turns out crappy. It was sort of a funny thing because it was a small studio that I was working at and basically how I got involved in working in animation was the Batman animated TV series was starting up. This particular studio, which was called Lightbox Studios was anticipating that they were going to get a whole lot of work to do from the first Batman animated series. So they hired a ton of people, none of which were animators. They just hired comic book people. They brought in myself and Gabriel Morrissette, Kent Burles, Bill Payne and all these other people who were comic book guys to work on the series. And of course they never got the series so in the meanwhile they were trying to find work for everybody to do. We ended up working on “We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story” and of course the Captain Highliner commercials and all the rest of that. I did the Savage Dragon series and the Rescue Heroes since I moved here to Ottawa for a different studio but I’ve been doing that and doing periodic magazine illustrations. I mean the Elvira stuff, and all comic stuff, is where my heart really is. While I was doing all the animation stuff, quite frankly I was doing it strictly for the money. The standards were set by the studio itself. When I work on the Elvira comic I’m not making a huge amount of money and less so because I work at my own pace. The majority of the guys drawing the Elvira comic have strict deadlines but after I worked on the Elvira comic for a few years I finally said to my editor, y’know, I’m really not progressing enough and learning the way I want to. I just want to start slowing down and working at my own speed. I want it to be a growing experience, not just be churning out pages for the dollars. So as a result the stories when I’m working on Elvira, I’m actually taking about twice the time that all the other artists are that work on the book. I try to improve and out-do myself with each strip, so I keep setting the bar higher each new time. My goal is to be as good an artist as the people whose work I admire. Because the book is monthly, they do twelve issues a year, I do about five stories per year. Since the stories are self-contained it doesn’t matter what order they run in. So now they give me a script and I work on it. When I’m done I call them up and say “okay, here it is and give me another one now”. Lately I’ve just started to work a little bit with Hilary Barta who I think is just a fabulous artist. He’s inked one Elvira story that’s been published (Elvira #156) and he’s inking the one that I just finished drawing. I’m lucky to work with him because he’s really really busy. He’s working on a couple of books for Rick Remender for Image Comics so in order for him to get to ink we just have to give him an extended deadline. He’s getting three and a half months to ink it which is taking longer then it took me to pencil it. He and I are also doing a story for Image Comics’ Fear Agent. He scripted it and will ink it as soon as I finish the penciling.
Sam: By the way, I loved the Blackhawk parody you and Janet did in Elvira.
Ronn: Oh did you! Good!
Sam: Yeah, that was great!
Ronn: Well you know, that’s another thing. Besides slowing down and spending a lot more time on all these stories, the last couple of years I sort of stopped taking the scripts that they were giving me. I started making my own suggestions about things I wanted to draw. So as a result that’s why I ended up doing parodies of Mister Monster, Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the Shadow and Doc Savage etc. All those stories were suggested by me. They are all characters that I have great affection for.
Sam: So all those pulp characters. You have an affection for them as well?
Ronn: Oh yeah. For sure. I guess I read some Doc Savage books when I was a kid because they were reissuing all the paperbacks. An affection for the Shadow comes in particular from Michael Kaluta who I knew for quite a few years even prior to him doing the Shadow. Actually, I just sent him a copy of that Shadow parody issue just yesterday and I’ll be interested in seeing what he has to say about it. Its been funny, though, because when we did the Mr. Monster parody as well, Michael T. Gilbert didn’t know anything about it. He and I are good pals. We’ve collaborated on a bunch of stuff together but when I did the Mister Monster parody I didn’t even tell him I was working on it. So of course it was a big surprise to him when it finally came out. Just last month I sent him one of the pages as a birthday present.
Sam: So let’s talk for a second about Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson.
Sam: Now I met her a couple of years ago and we were actually in line together. You were about five people in front of me and I think we sort of shouted a few things back and forth. That was when the photographer took the picture of the two of you together for Rue Morgue. Now how many times have you met Ms. Peterson now?
Ronn: Two separate occasions. When she was in Toronto I talked to her a few times, including getting my photo taken with her but I previously met her at San Diego as well at the convention there. That was kind of interesting because we have a mutual friend. A person named David Russell who I’ve known for thirty-five years and he’s a storyboard artist who storyboarded her first film. I met Dave at the very first comic book convention I went to in 1970 and it was this Detroit Triple Fanfare. I went specifically because Bernie Wrightson was going to be there. In 1970 he was my favorite artist in the world so I spent the weekend following him around telling him that he was a wonderful artist and an incredible talent and of course he took a shine to me for some strange reason. But anyway that same weekend I also ran into another young artist which was David Russell and of course now he’s gone on to storyboard all these movies like the Thin Red Line, Tombstone, the Color Purple and Moulin Rouge. Tons of really big big films and we stay in regular touch as well. And of course with Wrightson, I met him at that convention and for a number of years we were pretty close friends. In 1972 I moved down to Saugerties New York which is where he lived and I spent a couple of months sleeping on his couch. Then got an apartment of my own a few doors away. The two of us were inking a couple of projects together. We stay in touch. I haven’t talked to him in a while now but we give each other a call every once in a while.
Sam: Well… anyways, back to Ms. Peterson. Did she give you any good feedback when you met her? And I mean honest feedback. Not the “I need to give you good feedback because that the nice thing to do” kind of feedback.
Ronn: Well… yes and no. She gave me a little bit. She was complimentary but the comic itself has direct contact with her. She is involved in a very hands on sort of manner so that when an issue is being worked out what basically happens is that the writer puts together a one paragraph idea which they send to her which she either approves or doesn’t approve. After the script has been written and the arts all been drawn, before it goes to publication she sees it again. She goes through it all and she gives it final approval. I know she is very happy about the comic and very positive about it. Periodically she’ll make comments about the art which is directed back to the artist. Usually things like “make the hair look more fluffy” and “don’t make my legs look fat” and “make my figure look taller” but generally its not comments where she wants the art changed immediately as much as its things to do in the he future or things to avoid in the future.
Sam: What kind of things does she reject?
Ronn: I don’t know if she has rejected anything. I know she has been involved in suggesting a few storylines but I don’t thinks she out and out rejects stuff because I’m not involved. That’s not my end. She might ask for changes in things. I’m not sure. Possibly she would want things to change that would be out of character for her. For example I know that Cassandra Peterson is a vegetarian and she’s very involved in animal rights and I’m sure if there was some violence toward animals in the story’s springboards she would object to that.
Sam: Now when I met Cassandra Peterson, well, I’ve met over a hundred celebrities and only twice in my life have I ever lost my cool in front of anyone and Cassandra Peterson was one of them. I turned into a babbling fan boy! I was all like “OH MY GOD MRS. PETERSON I THINK YOU ARE SO WONDERFUL AND YOU HAD SO MUCH TO DO WITH MY PSYCHE AND MY FRIEND RALPH SAW GLEN STRANGE ON STAGE AND…..” and she just sat their smiling, meanwhile thinking “get this idiot away from me”.
Ronn: The only two times I truly was tongue tied in front of somebody was when I met Frank Fazetta and when I met Andy Warhol.
Sam: You met Warhol!
Ronn: Yeah. Just very very briefly. He was in Toronto doing a book signing and I encountered him outside of the bookstore right before he went in to get his autograph. I had my tape recorder with me and I was going to ask him a bunch of questions and I ended up being very befuddled. I kept shutting on and off the microphone because I wasn’t sure if I had turned it on or turned it off and so I ended up just fiddling with it.
Sam: What was Warhol like?
Ronn: Exactly like you’d think he was like. Very non committal and… normally I wouldn’t talk about people’s auras but he certainly did give off a very unusual aura. And when I met Frank Frazetta, the one and only time I ever met Frazetta, I was probably about sixteen or something and I had gone to New York City to some convention. Frazetta wasn’t actually appearing at the convention but he was staying in his hotel room. He had all his original paintings lined up against the walls and was letting in small pockets of invited people into the room. Somehow I got invited in and I was just so flabbergasted to be in his presence that I barely could say even two words to him. Of course now if I met him I’d have a lot of questions and things that I’d like to talk to him about.
Sam: Now who have you not met that you would have loved to?
Ronn: Well the number one and the number two… well I can think of three actually… the three people that I’ve never met that I regret is that I never met Wally Wood. That’s absolutely number one. He’s definitely my favorite artist and number two would be Rand Holmes.
Sam: Who’s that?
Ronn: Rand Holmes?
Ronn: Well, he was a Canadian artist. I guess he died about four or five years ago. He was living out in B.C. and he was doing “Harold Hedd” which was an underground comic. He was doing a lot of stuff in his later years for Death Rattle and some of the more ground level comics that were coming out. He drew mostly horror and science fiction stories and was very influenced by Wally Wood’s work for EC Comics. But on the other hand he came up through the undergrounds and Georgia Straight. So his comics were basically hippie dope comics influenced by EC. The drawing is just magnificent. He was a real favorite of mine. I really regret not getting in touch with him while he was alive. I guess the third guy is Jack Kirby because your really can’t talk about comics without talking about Kirby. I mean I’m just astounded when I look through his work, particularly the peak periods of his work. He was turning out three or four pages a day. I can’t turn out that many panels a day. He was putting out multiple pages a day and it was just brilliant.
Sam: I read once that he had so much original art lying around his studio that if he had a leak he’d patch up his ceilings with it. Now me. I remember a couple of years ago I remember that I decided I was going to try to contact Eric Stanton only to find out he was dead. He had died only seven months before I was going to contact him.
Ronn: Oh, he would have been interesting for sure!
Sam: I’m a Stanton fan. I keep thinking about writing an article on Stanton but I’m not sure if I want to admit that I’m a Stanton fan.
Ronn: Why not?
Sam: I dunno. The guy sometimes makes the Marquis de Sade look like Teletubbies. I like his stuff from the fifties and sixties. His book covers. His women are just so sexy and dangerous and there’s just this sense of darkness to everything. Its the most beautiful darkness ever drawn.
Ronn: I just picked up a book. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Its called “Sin-A-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties.” It’s put out by Farrell House. In fact if you go to their website which is www.farellhouse.com…they are also the ones that put out that book called “It’s a Man’s World” about men’s adventure magazines of the 1960′s.But this book is about three hundred pages and has about four hundred reproductions of 1960′s sleazy paperback covers So it’s stuff like “Sin Hostess” and “Everything Goes”, “Any Man Will Do”, “Lust Games”, “Gutter Lust”, “Neon Jungle Gang Girls”, “Lust for Kicks”, “Ringside Tarts”, “Topless Waitress”, “B Girl Decoy”. It’s one of those books you’ll have to find. I picked this one up at Chapters. But I really like this kind of stuff. 50s and 60s bad taste kind of stuff.
Sam: You know, everyone has their vice, and I’m not a fan of porn but for some reason that 50s sleaze… I’m fascinated by it! That’s my version of porn I guess. It’s more interesting I suppose.
Ronn: Well it also depends on what kind of porn you’re talking about too. I mean I’m sure you’re a big Russ Meyer fan.
Sam: I am a big Russ Meyer fan. We’ve talked about that.
Ronn: Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Sam: Well I like his early stuff. I don’t like his later stuff. I like stuff like Motorpsycho, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Vixen… the early stuff. But once you get into Ultra Vixen, Mondo Vixen, Beyond the Valley of the Super Vixen… that stuff I think is just garbage.
Ronn: Well I think that’s a bit strong. Again I like Meyer’s stuff because I like his sense of humor. Kind of the same mentality of Wally Wood’s “Sally Forth” or “Little Annie Fanny” or any of that kind of stuff. I don’t consider Russ Meyer to be porn. He stopped making movies because he didn’t want to make hardcore porn movies and the type of more innocent films he made just weren’t what was wanted anymore. Not dirty enough. Rather than compromise, he quit.
Sam: No, I don’t consider it porn either really. Well… as I said, it depends on what era its from. I like how he… well… just like everyone from Ed Wood to Alfred Hitchcock to Orson Welles, Meyer seemed to work with the same actors and they have their little inner circle and I love Meyer’s inner circle. I’m a big John Lazar fan. Saw him in two Russ Meyer films and an episode of CHiP’s.
Ronn: Well, speaking of Ed Wood and that book Sin-A-Rama, they actually have reproductions of four sleazy paperbacks written by Ed. Wood.
Sam: Yeah. I’ve tracked down one of those.
Ronn: Was it the “Orgy of the Dead” one?
Sam: No. Oh god. I wish. Y’know. I don’t understand how there could have been a novel based on the Orgy of the Dead film. I mean, what would it say? “And then they watched the ghoul dance… and she danced… and she danced… and she danced…”
Ronn: Well there wasn’t much of a plot to that movie.
Sam: “And then Criswell laughed… and she danced.” No. I got the novelization of Jail Bait. Yeah, Eddie actually wrote about a hundred books.
Ronn: They have four reproductions here. They got, “Orgy of the Dead”, “Watts… the Difference,” Parsian Passions” and “Side-show Sirens”… but what’s sort of interesting about it though is from reading a bit of the text about it is that apparently he insisted that they use his real name. Most of these guys were all using pseudonyms. Donald E Westlake wrote a ton of them, Robert Silverberg wrote a ton of them, Harlan Ellison wrote something. There was a lot of now prominent authors who were writing these things under pseudonyms but Ed Wood insisted on using his real name.
Sam: Well Eddie was one of my favourite deviants of all time. If you watch his movies there was so much hidden sexual innuendos that you’d have to be watching for to notice. I love Eddie. I’m a big Eddie fan. I loved the Tim Burton fan but I feel they romanticized Eddie way to much because a big part of Eddie’s character was the fact that he was a giant pervert. Anyways, have you ever looked at John Willie’s work?
Ronn: Some of his stuff. I haven’t seen a ton of it. I know there was a three-volume hard covered set Bizarre or the best of Bizarre that was put out that I kept meaning to buy but by the time that I was ready to get it it was gone. So I know some of that stuff. I like all that stuff. Like… Bill Ward. To a degree I like Bill Ward’s stuff too although there’s some point in Bill Ward’s career where his women stopped looking like women and started looking like transvestites. He was trying too… I don’t know what it was… I guess he was trying to be as feminine as possible and as with transvestites they tend to over-glamorize women to the point of absurdity. I find that’s what happened to Bill Ward’s stuff. Willie’s stuff, I’ve seen some but not a lot. You know I saw “the Notorious Bettie Page” a couple of weeks ago…
Sam: You did see it!
Sam: Did you like it?
Ronn: Oh. Very much so. At the end of the movie as I was watching the credits one of the characters, and I don’t know what actor it was, but there was somebody playing John Willie in a scene where she was being photographed for the Klaws. I’m still not sure which character he was. The film is very very good. Mary Heron is an excellent director. I really loved “American Psycho” and really loved “I Shot Andy Warhol” and she did a couple of Six Feet Under episodes. She’s a tremendous director and Gretchen Moll was really good in the role. She really sparkles and its an interesting look into 1950′s pornography such as it was. My only real complaint of the movie is that it just focused on such a small period. It’s really not a biography of Bettie Page at all.
Sam: Yeah. That’s what I heard. It doesn’t say a lot.
Ronn: Yeah. Well the problem is that it covers her years as a pin up model and that’s it. It doesn’t go into all that stuff that happened to her in the fifty years since.
Sam: Well, basically she ran off to Florida, went into hiding, went crazy…
Sam: Are you a big Bettie Page fan too?
Ronn: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Sam: So am I. God. The woman’s just my dream girl. I just don’t know what it is about her.
Ronn: Well you know, again, I like all that 1950s, 1960s, quote, unquote “porn” because it’s all very soft core, very innocent, and, again, its what I like about doing the Elvira comic is that its more tease. There’s a lot of cleavage. It’s not “in your face” as it were as is contemporary pornography. As I said, I like all that stuff and it does affect how I draw the Elvira stuff because I like looking at that kind of stuff. Janet has cleverly termed that sort of material as “flirty”.
Sam: Well, you know, that could be why I like your art so much.
Ronn: Well, amongst the things that I said about working on the Elvira book, I like it because it’s a humor book and it’s an all ages book so it means kids can read it as well as adults, and the fact that its self contained stories so anybody can come along and read an issue. It’s not like picking up an issue of X-Men for example, and coming out of the cold, you haven’t have a clue of what’s going on.
Sam: Well that there is what I think one of the biggest problems with the comic book industry is, but at the same time the most exciting thing about the comic book industry. I mean, I’ve been collecting comics for twenty five years and I’m the most excited about comics now then I ever have before because, especially at DC, the stories are so solid and all commentated. But for someone who never picked up a comic… well… I wouldn’t envy them. Now, every now and then you hear critics talking about the death of the comic industry. That its going to shrivel up and die and that soon there will be no industry. What do you think of that?
Ronn: Well I think they are one hundred percent right,. In 1972 Steve Skeates was walking around bemoaning that the comics were going out of business and the wisdom around DC in particular was that soon there would be no comic book industry and, of course, its easy to laugh at them but they weren’t wrong. They just had their dates out of whack. Year by year sales have been getting lower and lower. I mean, in 1970 is you put out a book that was selling eighty thousand copies it was cancelled because the sales were too low. Now if you put out a comic and it sells eighty thousand copies its reason for a Champagne celebration. Year by year sales are going down. There are not many new readers coming in in droves. The kids today are doing stuff on their blackberries and their computers and stuff like that. I don’t know why a thirteen year old would go out today and try to seek comics. When I was thirteen years old comic books where everywhere. They were at grocery stores and drugstores and variety stores and now the only place you can buy a comic book is if you specifically go into a comic book store. If you never go into a comic book store, you’ll go your whole life without seeing a comic book. And despite the fact that all these comic book movies are coming out… I mean X-Men 3 was the number one movie the weekend it opened… despite that it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the sales of comics in general let alone even X-Men sales. So, I don’t know, I see more and more people doing things like the web-comic. Even I’m getting involved with web-comics, doing these romance things and with Christopher Mills… we’re doing a strip that will be coming up before too long which I think is called “Midnight Eagle” which is a 1940′s adventure kind of thing but that’s going to be on the web as well but there will be no print edition of that comic. It makes me wonder what will happen in the future if somehow people will be trying to track down back issues of things that don’t actually physically exist but on the web.
Sam: How long do you think the comic industry will last?
Ronn: Well I don’t really know. Technically I think its dead already. I think it’s being kept artificially alive by this point. I mean, you look at some of the sales figures on DC books. There are DC books that are selling at twenty thousand copies and a lot of books are being kept alive because they are good licensing products. Y’know, they are keeping the licensing alive so potentially there can be a film or a TV show or whatever. I think the majority of the people who are buying comics now are people who are in my generation. the baby boomers, who are in their forties and fifties and when all of us start dying off I don’t know if there will be anybody left buying comics. The pulp magazines were huge at one time but, of course, they don’t exist at all anymore. Maybe comics will morph into something else. Maybe they will morph into movies or maybe they’ll morph into existing on the web. I don’t know. In the 1940′s comics were selling millions of copies. Now, if they’re lucky, they are selling tens of thousands.
Sam: Well I can’t imagine a life without comics.
Ronn: Well I hope that they hold on until I’m dead. I mean, the moment I drop dead if the whole industry falls apart that’s fine by me.
Sam: Well… I guess at that we’ve covered the gauntlet. I guess that’s it unless you have anything else you want to plug.
Ronn: If anyone wants to see more of my work, I have a website at www.ronnsutton.com there’s about 60 pieces of art on display there including several complete comics to read.
Sam: Thanks Ron. Hopefully I’ll be seeing you in September.
However, not long after I conducted my interview with Ronn I read a new item on a comic book industry news group that Claypool Comics, the company that publishes “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” was going to be folding. In early 2007 the final issue of “Elvira” will be published. I quickly sent out an email asking Ronn if that was true and what it would mean to him and Janet. I received this following reply:
“Hi Sam,No it’s not a rumour, its a press release. The Claypool line is shutting down come February/March 2007. Claypool told me just moments before they sent out their press release. While it came as a shock, it wasn’t a surprise. They had almost folded twice in the past year, once last August 2005 and again in January 2006. So while I didn’t know they were coming to an end, it was always a possible threat. On one hand, I can’t complain, I had a good 9 year run but I’ll miss drawing Elvira. I’ve always felt like she’s MY character (although obviously she isn’t).
At the moment I’m trying to get through the last of the www.myromancestory.com assignment and then I’ll be finishing off my Fear Agent story. I have to get in touch with the guy doing the Midnight Eagle web story and see where we stand on that project (basically I was holding it up).
I’ll have to start hunting out new work but in anticipation of Claypool’s possible failure I’d begun some new samples and projects. So things will be happening. Coincidently Janet has been redesigning my website, www.ronnsutton.com for a new launch, so that’s timely.
I don’t know how this will affect our interview, I hope you’re still planning on running it after all the work we’ve both put into it. Maybe you might want to add something to the Introduction. Or not.
Anyway. Life goes on. Pages get drawn.
I want to wish Ronn luck on his next project. Whatever it is I’ll be buying it.