Interview: Ryan Heshka
Last year, Nobrow Press released Mean Girl's Club by Ryan Heshka as part of their 17x23 comic series. Hot off the heels of it's huge success, Nobrow quickly commissioned a full graphic novel from Ryan so he could delve further into the women's backstories and continue their journey with Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn.
Just like it's predecessor, the graphic novel is illustrated in a striking mix of monochrome and hot pink. This bold aesthetic is sutiably fiery, fitting the cast of ferocious females the story follows. In the comic, a power-crazed mayor blackmails a young mechanic named Roxy to infiltrate the Mean Girls Club who have been laying waste the town for years. Torn between the sleazebag Mayor’s dirty threats and her unexpected friendships with the Mean Girls, Roxy holds the fate of the Club in her hands.
Packed with action, humour and the occasional dash of heart, Pink Dawn has become one of my favourite graphic novels Nobrow have ever released. Intrigued to find out more about the inspiration and creative process behind the book, I had a caught up with Means Girls Club's creator Ryan Heshka to find out more...
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I trained in university as an interior designer, and left that field to work in animation. But the illustration bug bit, and around 1999 I started to create a portfolio. Shortly after, Kate Larkworthy Artist Representation in NYC took me on as a budding illustrator, and I’ve been a freelance artist ever since. I started creating my own personal work in 2004, and about half of that body of work appears in my first monograph, FATALES which was published by Cernunnos Books. I do mostly painting now, and less illustration work, and the Mean Girls Club is my first venture into professional comics.
How did the idea for Mean Girls Club come to you?
It began as a sketch in a small vintage daytimer I keep for spontaneous image creation. It was a painting of the (now) Blackie character shaking her fist in rage and saying “It’s my brow, isn’t it?”. From there it grew into a painting and then into an installation show at Weiden + Kennedy in Portland in 2014. The comic book was part of that installation, as well as a full-scale built out of the Mean Girls Club clubhouse. I have always loved the tough girls of the 1950’s juvenile delinquent films, as well as old horror comics, so I jumped at the chance to create my own comic as a tribute to various genres.
Can you explain the process behind creating a graphic novel? How long did it take to complete?
This is my first graphic novel and second professionally published comic, so I executed it in a very linear, organised fashion. From initial plot to thumbnails and script, to pencils and inks, to compositing and edits. Once I had thumbnails and script locked down the art part of it took about 4 and a half months. I put myself on a tight deadline to keep it (and me) from spinning out of control with detail and too much re-thinking.
When did Nobrow get on board? How were they to work with as a publisher?
Nobrow picked up my self published MGC comic not long after the installation show in Portland. The Nobrow 17x23 version came out early 2015. Nobrow has been wonderful because they really keep to the outside of the project, letting me execute my vision. They offered me editorial guidance to hone the story points when required, but let me keep some of the more questionable moments in tact. They just flew me to Toronto to officially launch Pink Dawn, and it was a wonderful event. It's a dream to work with Nobrow.
Is it more of a challenge using a limited colour palette when creating comics?
The two-colour palette is all I have used to create my recent comics, so I can’t honestly say. It feels natural to me, and I feel that adding more colours would not have improved it. It likely would have spoiled the look. Nobrow gave me the choice to add more colors, but I declined. The raw economy of two inks split into solids and tonals gives plenty of opportunity for mood, impact and effects.
If you were a member of the Mean Girls Club yourself, what would your nickname and weapon of choice be?
Nick O’Teen and a blackjack!
Have you always loved telling stories? And were you a creative kid?
I am not a story-teller by nature. The focus in my practice is mostly on the single image. So writing Pink Dawn was the actually biggest challenge in its creation. But as a kid, I did create a lot of narratives. I churned out dozens of my own hand drawn comics, as well as reams of drawings and reels of super 8mm stop motion movies. I think in childhood there is a need to create and tell stories, which maybe has bled over to my career.
Do you have any advice for aspiring comic book illustrators?
Self publishing your work is a wonderful way to start building an audience if you can’t land a publisher. Also, don’t get too caught up trying to fit your work into one style or genre… explore your passions and your visual voice.
What comic artists are you loving at the moment?
That changes so quickly. My standard favs are Basil Wolverton, Bill Everett, Tarpe Mills (an early female comic artist), Fletcher Hanks, and Chester Gould. They were all big influences on MGC. I can’t help it, I love the classic, underrated, underdog comic artists.
Finally, do you have plans for any more Mean Girls Club adventures?
Not immediately, although I feel that the Club has just gotten started. Now that the world has been established, I would like to go further “off the grid” in the next book, fusing some more of my favourite genres together, and get WEIRD. I hope that Pink Dawn will be well received enough that it merits a follow up!