Riley Rossmo draws some of the most interesting new comics from the “New Image Comics.” His series Proof is an intriguing take on the Tarzan concept, while his series Green Wake is a character-based horror comic and Cowboy Ninja Viking is a hyperkinetic and wild adventure. I spoke to Riley at April’s Emerald City Comicon, and hard a great time doing it.
Jason Sacks: What did you want to talk about first? Proof or Cowboy Ninja Viking or…?
Riley Rossmo: Proof is just coming to an end now. We switched to a miniseries format from an ongoing, so we had more time to get off the grind. Doing independent comics gets to you after a bit. And Cowboy Ninja Vikingwas a crazy experience, crazy book, crazy characters.
Sacks: What’s Proof about?
Rossmo: Proof is “Tarzan backwards.” So, it’s humans that raise a Sasquatch or a monkey, essentially. He grows up to be a gentlemen and Thomas Jefferson found him, so he’s really long-lived. There’s some historical tie-ins.
Sacks: Interesting twist! Smart monkey in Revolutionary War era. Must have been fun doing the research on that.
Rossmo: It was awesome. Then we did a Victorian story.
Sacks: So you’re doing different eras through time?
Rossmo: We do a contemporary story always, and then he’ll have a flashback to his origin. We did all this research into the Victorian stories about sideshows and human anomalies in the era.
Sacks: So you really got to get into that world. And you’re drawing it, so that must be a lot of fun to bring it to life. I noticed with the style, you bring the spirit of it as well as the actual facts of the era.
Rossmo: I’m really into expressive art in general.
Sacks: You can tell it’s a grittier world that your characters live in. And Cowboy Ninja Viking is all visceral.
Rossmo: It’s super-kinetic. Everything is really intense — the colors are intense, the way it was written is intense. Each character is three other characters, essentially. So, Duncan, the main character, has a Cowboy, a Ninja and a Viking inside his head. They all talk to each other, so it’s like they’re having a dialogue. So, the Cowboy’s talking to the Viking, the Viking will talk back and the Ninja will pipe in. The world we created is just insane.
Then they’d meet other characters who are triplets — who also have three personalities — so by the time we got to issue 10, I was juggling like 64 characters or something. It was intense.
Sacks: It’s a weird book, because it’s almost like it’s animated, but it’s got this wholly different style. Did you make an effort to really exaggerate the way you told the story?
Rossmo: I just wanted it to be really different from Proof. I wanted it to be a different world from Proof. I’d been reading some British comics from the ’80s that were two colors, so I really wanted to do a true two-color comic, and so the first five issues I tried to. It was really cool, ’cause I wanted to do all the art — I wanted to color, too, because I like to be the master of everything.
Sacks: Are you going to do more stories in that world?
Rossmo: A.J.’s pursuing some TV right now, so none for now. But I’m taking what I did learn from that series. I’ve got a new book coming out called Green Wake — shameless plug – that came out in April. It’s a horror book, kind of Twin Peaks-themed — lots of David Lynch imagery to it. Pretty spooky, mysterious. I’m taking everything that I learned from drawing Cowboy Ninja Viking and applying it to a mystery-horror story.
Sacks: I love the David Lynch stuff, so how is it similar to Lynch?
Rossmo: It’s like Twin Peaks — both the writer and I are deeply into that show, so we watched the whole series again, wrote the first issue, pitched it, wrote up the storyline, pitched it like that. In Twin Peaks, the characters are so relatable, you spend time with them and then one character who’s from outside that world shakes things up. So, there’s one thing that’s normal that goes into that world.
We wanted to try to capture the scariness of the Red Room, the Red Tent — I forget what it’s called right now — that kind of fear that stays with you. Not just, “Blood! It’s gross” but a psychological element that stays with you after you finish it.
Sacks: All three stories are very different. That sounds very fun from a creative standpoint. Do you enjoy playing with different pieces?
Rossmo: I just like different themes. I like tailoring the art to be thematically really different for each thing.