Paul Ryan was the penciller and co-plotter on the Fantastic Four for nearly five years. His first issue was #356, and his last #414 when he became a very real casualty of Onslaught. He worked on 59 issues, giving him the third longest artistic run on the series behind only Jack Kirby (106 issues) and John Byrne (74 issues). At the time of this interview, he was working on The Flash for DC and he is now currently pencilling The Phantom comic strip for King Features. This interview I conducted with him dates back to May 1997...
SKleefeld: I have been a long-time fan of the Fantastic Four and I would like to tell you that I thought you did an incredible job on the series. Your excellent ability to draw any and every hero as well as frequently create new ones makes your run on the book truely outstanding. I have found very few artists with your caliber and even fewer who have tackled "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."
I was hoping you might be able to answer some questions about your nearly five year run on the book. I think it might provide some excellent insights to your outlook on both the Fantastic Four and comics in general. If I have offended you by asking this (or from any of my questions), I sincerely apologize.
Paul C. Ryan: I never consider it an insult when someone shows interest in my humble efforts in the comics field. Thank you for your kind words concerning my run on the FF.
SK: How did Marvel first approach you about doing the Fantastic Four? What was your initial reaction? At the time, did you know Tom DeFalco would also be working on it?
PCR: It is kind of funny how my tenure on the series came about. When word of Walt Simonson's decision to leave the FF was announced I got a call from John Byrne asking if I would be interested in working with him on the title. John and I had recently collaborated on Avengers and Avengers West Coast. I was very excited at the prospect of not only working with John again (his FF run was one of my favorites) but working on my favorite Marvel title. I bought the first issue at the tender age of 11.
What John failed to mention at the time was that editor Ralph Macchio had not offered him (John) the book. John was of the opinion that because Ralph knew that John wanted the book that Ralph should call John. In speaking with Ralph I discovered that Ralph was of the opinion that if John wanted the book, he (John) should call Ralph. I made repeated calls to both parties. They wouldn't budge. I could see the FF series slipping through my fingers. Finally I just gave up and continued to work on the two Avengers titles.
Not too much later John asked me to pencil Iron Man. I gave up the WCA to do Iron Man. The following Friday, Ralph called to offer me the penciling chores on the FF. DeFalco was to be the writer. I said NO, along with a few expletives. I had just taken on another series and I wasn't too happy at the prospect of having to give up the Avengers to take on the FF. That's how we left it on Friday. All weekend long I kept thinking about the FF and how much I loved that series. First thing Monday morning, even before office hours, I left a message for Ralph, "I'll take the book."
My timing couldn't have been better. On Friday, after I turned down the offer, Ralph called Dan Jurgens to offer him the book. Unable to reach Dan, Ralph left a voice mail message. I got through to Ralph first and the rest is history.
SK: How did you feel about so closely following Walter Simonson's run?
PCR: I never gave much thought to following Walt on the book. Walt is a great guy and we've have a good relationship for years. I heard that he left the book because of too many restrictions placed on him during his stay.
SK: You and Tom seemed to collaborate quite well; how did the two of you work together?
PCR: I worked with Tom the same way I worked with all my writers. I would occasionally pitch ideas, some were used some not.
SK: You received plot credits more often than not; did you have more input on the FF than other books you've worked on?
PCR: Tom just liked to spread the guilt around.
SK: Your stories have a similar flavor to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's FF; how intentional was that? Were you a fan of Stan and Jack's FF?
PCR: If the stories had a Lee/Kirby feel to them it's because both Tom and I were big fans of those two giants of the industry.
SK: What was the biggest problem that you ran into with the book and how did you work around it? Are there any issues or stories that stand out for you, either good or bad?
PCR: One problem I faced were late plots. I tried for nearly five years to get that book ahead of schedule, turning down other assignments, to no avail. Tom was just too busy with other projects, not to mention his duties as Editor-in-Chief.
Another was changing plots. A story we discussed and which I found very exciting was frequently changed when it reached printed plot stage. I think Tom spent too much time second-guessing himself. Lyja and Johnny were supposed to actually have a child. I was shocked and dissapointed when Tom changed the child into an artificial implant housing a monster.
SK: When Marvel had begun laying plans for Onslaught and Heroes Reborn, were you and Tom hurried in finalizing certain plotlines to accomodate that series? Why didn't you work on issues 415 and 416?
PCR: The whole Heroes Reborn situation came as an unpleasant surprise to me. I learned through the internet that I was losing the FF. Tom and I were suppossed to work together through issue 416. Yes, we were told to complete our story arc as quickly as possible. The powers-that-be (executive level management) came up with the idea of luring Jim Lee back to Marvel in the hopes of recouping lost sales figures. Jim wanted the FF. Marvel gave it to him over the head of Editorial. Editorial decided to show that they also could do an Image style book without Jim Lee. Therefore I was unceremoniously removed from issues 415 and 416 and they were given to Carlos Pacheco.
This whole situation left a bad feeling with me toward Marvel. I was cast adrift after 11 years of loyal exclusivity. I have not followed any of the Marvel titles since then, so I cannot comment on their merits.
DC welcomed me with open arms. They seem happy to have me on board and are keeping me very busy these days.
SK: Would you like to return to the Fantastic Four? What are your future plans?
PCR: Nobody at Marvel has offered me the FF again and I don't think I would return to the title any time soon if they did. I have always been of the opinion that things happen for a reason. I am going forward with DC projects right now and I am content.
If some time in the future I was offered the pencilling AND WRITING chores on the FF.......who knows?
SK: I appreciate your taking the time to answer these questions. I mentioned before that I have a great respect for you as an artist and creative thinker. I hope to see your work in some of my other favorite titles.
PCR: Hope that answers your questions satisfactorily.
SK: I think your answers have been quite enlightening. Thank you very much.
PCR: You're welcome.