Conspiracy comic book new project for artist teaming up with his former teacher

Wallace Ryan taught a teenage Paul Tucker at the Anna Templeton Centre how to make comics. Now they're working together.

Wallace Ryan taught a teenage Paul Tucker at the Anna Templeton Centre how to make comics

Wallace Ryan, left, and Paul Tucker are working together on a new comic called Nobody is in Control, set to be released in February. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

When St. John's artist Paul Tucker started work on a new comic book, he knew right away there was another local talent he wanted to collaborate with: someone who helped teach him how to make comic books in the first place.

When Tucker's new comic — called Nobody is in Control, published by Black Mask Studios — comes out in February, readers will see lettering done by hand, not by font, by Wallace Ryan, known locally as the godfather of Newfoundland comics.

"These days, there's a lot of hand-lettered fonts out there, but they've made the rounds so many times now," Ryan told CBC's Weekend AM.

"Myself, when I'm reading 'em, I can recognize that all the a's are all the same and stuff like that, where with this, like I say, every letter being hand drawn is slightly different ... it's more of an artistic feel to it, I think."

Tucker says the new project is reminiscent of graphic novels published in the 1990s by DC's Vertigo imprint, with darker material aimed at older audiences. (Maggie Gillis)

Ryan, who hosts a YouTube show about comics called "In the Library of Graphic Literature", has a collection of about 3,000 hardcover and trade-paperback comic collections

Tucker says his new project was born when an American writer, Patrick Kindlon, got in touch. The two had collaborated on a short story which went well, and Kindlon had a few projects he wanted to pitch to Black Mass Studios, "a really cool, small, boutique publisher," said Tucker.

The scene itself is really starting to come to fruition.- Wallace Ryan

Tucker said Kindlon described a few possibilities, and asked whether any of them interested him.

"One of them was this project which kind of surrounded the dangers of conspiracy," he said. "I was definitely interested. A touchstone for this book is, if you're a comics fan going back, you would maybe see that it has a very kind of spiritual resemblance to early '90s DC Vertigo books, which were often a little bit more challenging. They would go places the mainstream books wouldn't necessarily."

More adult fare

Vertigo published books like Preacher and V for Vendetta and other books that often tackled darker material. Tucker said Nobody is in Control shares that sensibility.

"This book is not afraid to play around with political things, like really controversial things like mass shootings," he said. "It really gets in there. It has a voice, a really strong voice."

The early '90s books Tucker had in mind were all hand-lettered, so he wanted the same feeling for Nobody is in Control, even before knowing how dialogue-heavy the book would be.

"When I pitched the idea of hand-lettering to Patrick, he said, 'Yeah, I'm all about it, but just warn him, it's going to be heavy.' This was before I had the first issue's script. When I got it and started thumbnailing it, I was like, 'Oh, wow.… I hope he keeps his fingers in good condition.'"

Ryan says hand lettering gives comics a unique look that uniform fonts can't. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

Ryan noted that French artist Jean Giraud — who went by the name Moebius — compared hand-lettering to handwriting, and that's what gives a hand-lettered book a distinctive look.

"It's because there's no other lettering like this," said Ryan.

Tucker and Ryan are partners now, working on their first project, but they've known each other for nearly a quarter-century; Ryan teaches classes at the Anna Templeton Centre in downtown St. John's about making comics, and in 1994, a 13-year-old Tucker was in his first class.

"I was just so thrilled to be in a room where everyone was talking comics," said Tucker. "I even remember Wallace showing me how to use the lettering guide, which is one of his favourite items on his drafting board."

Dream come true

"It's the culmination of a dream," said Ryan, who is able to list students who have gone through the classes, and eventually worked on books or had their own published.

"The scene itself is really starting to come to fruition."

Tucker says he appreciates having a collaborator so close at hand.

"Comics are so solitary most of the time. You're just sitting and drawing. To have someone that I could drive to and go over the beats of the story and talk about the mechanics and question decisions I was making as I was doing it is, like, so much more fun than just, well, sitting by myself."

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With files from Maggie Gillis