This year's nominations for the Best Digital Comic category of the Eisner awards is a strong group with a mix of styles and genres. Ryan Armand is a first time Eisner nominee and he got the nod for his webcomic Minus. Minus is a wonderful tale of a slightly mischievous girl named Minus and it features Armand's beautiful dream-like artwork.
Congratulations on the Eisner nomination. How does it feel to get this kind of recognition?
Thanks. It feels pretty good, I think? I don't think I've really wrapped my head around it just yet.
You started posting Minus on the web a little more than 8 months ago – how fully formed in your head was the concept of the strip and the main character when you started?
I started it a little over a year ago, actually. The dates on the site are day/month/year. Anyways, I had always sort of wanted to do a large comic strip so I already had come up with the general concept and the "I want to be an elephant" idea to start it off with, but minus was designed and named while I was penciling the first panel of the first strip.
What can you tell us about the character of Minus that we don't already know from the comic? How do you describe her?
I don't think I can say anything. This is probably terrible for an answer, but I try not to explain things outside of what shows up in the actual comics. I describe minus as a young girl with magical powers. That's also a terrible answer, I think =\ I apologize for both.
On your website you wrote "Each minus strip is painted on a 15×20" piece of Illustration board. With this comic I am pretending I am making a comic strip for a newspaper in the early 20th century. A special newspaper that lets me use as much color as I want." Are you consciously trying to capture the feel of strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland?
That was the plan initially and I was going to do a comic with an obvious throwback "early-20th century" style, but changed my mind before I started working on it. I guess it's more of me thinking of what I would do if that kind of space was still allowed in papers today. Online a large comic strip isn't really a big deal as there are plenty of comics which are regularly as large or larger than what I put up, but for me it's more about creating and seeing the comics at their actual size on the illustration board and the interweb just happens to be the only easy way to show them to other people. I also thought that the large format would allow me to create huge detailed drawings in panels, but instead I seem to just fill the page up with tiny boxes.
The influence from Little Nemo comes from strips like the one where he meets the glass princess which really caught me off guard when I first read it, or just in general how it comes off as a playground for bizarre ideas which are ends in themselves- the strips usually just end with a shot of Nemo waking up, which is a little different from the way strips focus on building up to a final payoff now. Granted I'm still kind of stuck on payoffs but I try not to worry about what kind of idea I have for a strip so long as it is generally interesting.
The first thought I had on reading your comic was that it reminded me somewhat of Kazu Kibuish's Copperin the way that you created a magical world around a young person. Do you read Copper and if so do you see some similarities?
I did read Copper. I hope it will be continued. I think there are similarities in that they're both large format comic strips with frequent silent sequences. The art is stronger in Copper though, it's mellower and it often focuses on dialogue to illustrate a strip's point which doesn't happen much in minus; I think that when minus opens her mouth to say something all that usually comes out is "ok", so in general at least, I don't think the content of the strips are very similar.
What can you tell us about yourself? Where are you, how old are you and what do you do all day?
No, I'm 25, in California and spend too much time drawing comics. I did a mock interview before I graduated from school and when the guy opened with "tell me a little bit about yourself" I said "I've got nothing" at which point he gave me a funny look and ended the interview. A little while ago before a real interview I gave the same response to the same question and so apparently asking me to talk about myself at most only leads to me telling this story about how I can't come up with anything to say.
What are your influences in terms of art, story and just comics generally?
For comics I like manga from the 60s and 70s and early 20th century comic strips. I have an arbitrary interest in things that are old, so I tend to gravitate towards them. Shigeru Mizuki has probably been the biggest influence on my art in the last few years.Growing up I was mostly into Calvin and Hobbes and Akira which is probably very normal for the early 90s. If I were to pick something that sums up my interest in storytelling, it would be Cannery Row by Steinbeck. It features a great cast of characters, plenty of interesting events involving them and I think has no real concern for plot or conflict or anything like that. It's just like "here are some people… here are some things that happened… THE END". Also Takeshi Kitano's films, which have a distinct lack of focus in how the stories are delivered. There could be a twenty minute sequence of people playing games and there would be no point to it other than showing people play games, and I love that. The lack of focus makes it easier to not try and figure out or be concerned with what will happen later on and just enjoy things for what they are and that's an element I'd like to have in what I write.