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Art, Color, Backups: We Talk Rick and Morty with Creators CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby, and Ryan Hill Part 1

What better time to talk to a group of creators than after their third volume is collected? In this two part interview we talk to writer/artist Marc Ellerby, colorist Ryan Hill, and artist CJ Cannon about their work on Rick and Morty, whether being funny is required, and more!

AiPT!: Ryan, the first thing you notice is the color and Rick and Morty really pops! Being the first line of defense in the eyes of the viewer is a lot of responsibility. What led to you becoming a colorist?

Ryan Hill: First off thank you very much. I’m really proud of the work I get to be a part of on Rick and Morty. I actually started as a production artist at Dark Horse and worked there for about a decade. I had wanted to cross over onto the creative side (my degree is in art) for some time and made the jump about four years ago. Coloring was something that I really enjoyed and had done in my tenure at DH (on the random occasions of emergency color work). I had the fortune of lining up some opportunities when I left. I had the the fortune to hit the ground running and have been going ever since.

AiPT!: Is there anything you haven’t drawn/written/colored you’d like to?

Marc Ellerby: Y’know I’d really like to draw a straight up Birdperson backup or a backup with Birdperson, Rick and Squanchy back in their band days. I had an idea for a Birdperson and Tammy strip where they’re just going about their daily routine but answering one of life’s mysteries: “What’s it really like to live with a giant man-bird?” but the network didn’t go for it. Then in a few episodes he was dead soooooo maybe that ship’s sailed forever? So long ship!

CJ Cannon: Yeah. I once did an alternate universe drawing where the entire Smith family turned into dogs due to one of Rick’s drunken moments. Due to being dogs: civilization and social links collapsed so rapidly that Rick, who’s now a dog, had to find a way to save his family while avoiding severe global societal collapse because of his mistake.

Or alternatively: our Rick goes to another Rick’s universe where everyone’s permanently dogs, due to an irreversible method this alternate Rick used, and you see the post-apocalypse everyone there must endure.

Ryan: I have a big dream of getting to work on a Marvel comedy book. Something featuring Spider-Ham or the X-babies or the Pet Avengers. My ultimate dream is Power Pack though, I’d kill to work on Power Pack. Other than that, personal projects.

The cover to the Vol. 3 trade paperback.

AiPT!: Readers might not know how much time goes into making a comic. How long would you say each of your processes are?

Marc: It varies on the panel count per page, but roughly I’d say I can get 3-4 pages penciled a day, probably 5-6 inked. My editor Ari keeps me very busy with work; I think at one point this year I was working on 10 different backup strips at the same time, just all at various stages so I try and be as on top of everything as I can as those deadlines sure come round fast.

Ryan: My end tends to be faster comparatively. Obviously by the time I’m getting the story all the heavy lifting has been done. It normally takes anywhere from 3-4 days. Maybe slightly longer if there are a lot of action sequences as CJ tends to really kill it extra on the action heavy parts of the book.

AiPT!: What is a dream job or collaborator you’d love to work on and with next?

CJ: My dream job’s to someday experience being a storyboard artist working with some of my industry buds on the shows they direct or produce. As for collaboration: I’d love to work under Eric Powell since we live in the same friggin’ town and his work’s so friggin’ amazing.

Marc: I’ll echo CJ here and say I’d love to storyboard for some animated shows at some point. I love comics with all my heart but I’d love to contribute to a different medium for a while especially working in a studio where you can collaborate face to face with others and bounce ideas off an actual human sitting next to you. Comics can sure be an isolating job for the most part.

In terms of comic collaborators, I’ve always wanted to work with Liz Prince, she’s one of my comic BFFs and her comics always make me laugh and we have similar sensibilities so I think it’d be a lot of fun. I’d love to draw a comic written by my pal John Allison too, he’s really at the top of his game at the moment and it’s great to see him get the recognition he finally deserves.

Ryan: I actually just had the opportunity to color a Steve Dillon Preacher piece for the CBLDF. That was a big bucket list dream job, as that’s a “reason-why-I-do-this-in-the-first-place” title by one of my favorite artists.

A page colored by Ryan Hill and drawn by CJ Cannon.

AiPT!: CJ, do you do anything differently to match the style of the cartoon? What would the unleashed CJ look like?

CJ: I do a lot of stuff differently if you look closely at my work compared to the show’s! My style tends to have a more biologically realistic tone concerning the anatomy.

For example: molars, the uvula, and gums are more visible within the mouths of speaking or emotive characters compared to just the front row teeth seen in the show. Skin wrinkles, bones, muscles, and joints also tend to be a bit more evident in my style. In my older personal and production Rick and Morty art: the ears used to be lower like the model sheets’. Now they’re placed more accurately as they would be on a human’s head.

AiPT!: Is it required to be a funny human being to write, color and draw Rick and Morty?

Marc: Yeah, I think so. I’d say a level of darkness might be required as well? It’s a really dark show at times, it can show you stuff about your own life that you never wanted to address and all of the characters are more than a little tortured. I mean it’s funny as f--k but it’s very grounded and relatable in its emotions.

When I told my buddy Tom I was starting to write the backups he did say to me he didn’t think I was dark enough to write them, so I’ve taken that as a challenge. I’LL SHOW YOU TOM!! Ari keeps saying how dark some of them have been but I’m like “They could still be darker Aril! MORE INNER TORTURE FOR BETH!!!!”

CJ: I think being funny’s part of it, but I also think you have to have a good grasp on human interactions, motivations, and how they reflect upon themselves and others to really create iconic characters that are both humorous and relatable to a wide audience.

Ryan: I think it helps, though I’m not very funny but can simulate it decently enough under work conditions.

Read part 2 to read about their approach to the comic series, if they feel any pressure creating a comic based on a hit TV show, and more!


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