|Hey, Ryan! Congratulations on escaping that hole you were stuck in. Oh, and also congrats on your latest chooseable-path Shakespeare book, Romeo and/or Juliet!
Thank you! I was glad to get out of the hole, and also glad that I can now say that I’m a guy who can mess up walking his dog SO BADLY that it makes the news. For a while if you Googled “ryan north” it would autocomplete to “ryan north hole”, which was a fresh change from “ryan north height”. For the record, I am 2m tall, and I defy all holes.
You previously turned Shakespeare’s Hamlet into a chooseable-path adventure, and you’ve done it again to Romeo and Juliuet. Where did this idea come from?
The first book, To Be or Not To Be, was launched on Kickstarter where it did, uh, really well? We raised $580,000 and became their most-funded publishing project at the time. And as part of that I promised a sequel. Romeo and Juliet wasn’t my first idea for the sequel book, mainly because I always found how the play ended to be supremely frustrating. But then I (finally) realized – hey, wait, I CAN FIX THAT. So my very first goal with the book was to have an ending where Romeo is delayed by just a few minutes on his way to meet Juliet, and that means that when he arrives she’s recovered from her “fake your own death” potion, and hey presto: happy ending!
Also that’s kind of a spoiler, but it’s actually REALLY DIFFICULT to spoil a book with over 100 different endings. (All illustrated by the greatest artists working today! Check it out at romeoandorjuliet.com!)
Did you always have an interest in comics? What are some of your favorite children’s books from your youth?
I did! But I didn’t really read them for DECADES. I grew up in a small town before the internet was a thing, so the only comics I could get were Archie comics. Which were fun, obviously, but I sort of stopped reading them in high school, and only started with the medium again when I graduated and got a job. With my very first paycheque I stopped by a comic book store downtown and just grabbed whatever seemed interesting! That worked out pretty well, actually.
My favourite children’s book I can no longer remember the title of, but I made my mom read it to me ALL THE TIME. It was about a kid (a rabbit?) who went out at night and saw all these scary things, but then in the morning realized they were just regular things lit dramatically. Maybe someone reading this knows what the book is?
Getting older to books I can actually remember the titles of, I loved loved LOVED “The Monster At The End of This Book” by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin. I think what attracted me to it is the chaos in the book, the sense that here is a book that’s breaking all the rules. It’s a book that literally begs you not to read it! It blew my mind as a kid, and I’ve been interested in playing with the form and pushing up against the limits of a medium ever since.
As a writer, you’ve collaborated with a lot of artists. If you were an artist, what writers would you like to work with?
Oh man, I’ve actually never considered this before. Matt Fraction, I think – he’s clever, inventive, and not afraid to throw down challenges to his artists like “this entire comic is from the point of view of a dog (Hawkeye #11)”. I think, seeing as I don’t ACTUALLY have to draw anything, working with a writer who makes me draw new and crazy things all the time would be a lot of fun.
For someone interested in purely writing for comics, either for creator-owned work or licensed work like you’ve done, what advice do you have for them?
If you’re doing creative-owned work, it helps a lot to have an audience who already knows your stuff, because then they’re willing to take a chance on your new thing. If you’re doing licensed work, it helps a lot to have an editor who already knows your stuff, because then you can get hired much easier. So in either case I recommend doing stuff that people can see, and in most cases that means online!
You can look at webcomics – or essays, or blogging, or any other thing you do online – as this sort of really weird, really entertaining essay. It says to people “hey, here’s what I can do, here’s what I’m interested in” and that can be a great boost when you’re doing creator-owned or licensed work through another publisher. You can, of course, take this too far and start thinking that hanging out on Twitter is now your job – don’t do that, it’s not – but I think there is an argument to be made that hanging out on Twitter is a fun way to take breaks that’s at least not 100% UNproductive.
So yeah: my advice is to practice writing, and put that writing someplace people can see it. You’ll get better at it as you do more – hooray! – and if you’re lucky you’ll attract an audience who likes what you’re doing.
Do you have any upcoming projects? What’s the next tale from Shakespeare, or other classic author, you’ll turn into a chooseable-path adventure?
Romeo and/or Juliet comes out on June 7th, so I’m super excited for that, and sharing some sneak peeks at the book and its art at romeoandorjuliet.com. Beyond that I’m writing The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for Marvel, and I’ve got a couple SECRET PROJECTS that haven’t been announced yet. But they are very secret and very exciting!
What’s currently on your nightstand?
I’ve been on this long kick of People Dying In Lonely Places (I don’t know why; it’s not connected to anything I’m writing) so I’ve recently finished Earnest Shakleton’s “South”, which is his story about the ill-fated Endurance expedition to the south pole. You know what’s crazy? He passes everything off like it’s NO BIG DEAL. Like, their boat gets crushed by the ice, and part of me was wondering if this was the plan all along because he’s so matter-of-fact about it. Only when they shot all the dogs was it super clear that things weren’t going according to plan. Anyway, it’s fun! Unconnected to that, I’ve also just recently finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” and enjoyed that as well: he’s got this beautiful, evocative voice.
In terms of more YA lit, I read Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and loved it. I ended up sending my copy to my friend who just recently opened a derby store because I thought she should stock it there. It’s this really compelling story about friendship and how friendships change, all told through the lens of the toughest sport. Loved it!