Ryan Vella self-published his first comic in 1994 and since then has continued to write and illustrate a variety of his own underground comics. Notable works include, Sunburner, Turbo Supermax, The Deadly Hands Of Jesus Christ and Team Bastard. He has also contributed art to numerous other Australian comics as well as Ninja High School, Gold Digger and Demi the Demoness in the USA.

In 2003 he met writer John Birmingham and illustrated the graphic novel version of his cult novel, He Died With A Felafel In His Hand. Ryan recently illustrated an issue of Stewart Cook’s Dave: Zombie Hunter – Autotune and did a series of superhero bootleg comics including Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman and Robin.

What sort of comics do you read these days, Ryan?

I mainly read old Marvel and DC reprints nowadays. But even that isn’t too often. The last thing I got was the Erik Larsen Spider-Man Omnibus.

That Spidey omnibus is on my list (got the McFarlane one already) – did you know that Marvel never contacted Larsen about putting that together, and didn’t even send him a comp copy?

Really?! Wow, that’s really crap. Seems like Marvel has gone back to its old days of treating artists like dirt.

You have a very distinctive art style – has it evolved over time or just become more polished?

My art certainly got more polished over the years. Just from natural evolution. I’ve never really tried to get better. I’m pretty lazy with technical stuff. But I spend a lot more time on doing layouts and the storytelling side of it than I used to.

Have you tried digital art yet? I had a go on an iPad Pro the other day with one of those apple pencils and I’ve really got to get one!

I’ve mucked around with digital art a little. It’s pretty cool. I mainly still just stick to using pencil, ink and brush and a heap of pens.

Who were your inspirations and artistic heroes?

I have heaps of artistic heroes: Steve Ditko,  Simon Bisley, Sam Kieth, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Kent Williams, Geoff Darrow, Frank Quitely.

You have excellent taste, sir. Those are some of mine as well – although Bisley’s recent stuff hasn’t really inspired me much.

Yeah, I feel the same about Bisley’s art and his choices in books to work on. Same with a few of my old favourite artists. McFarlane stopped drawing…and when he started again he was boring. Miller’s writing went bland and he got a bit too loose with his art. And for some reason Sam Kieth only draws books with little girls in it. Lol.

You mostly work on your own books, but occasionally you either contribute to others’ anthologies and books – I loved your DAVE: ZOMBIE HUNTER book for Stewart Cook. What attracts you to a project like that?

I read the first issue of Dave: Zombie Hunter and I really liked the character and Stewart Cook’s writing. It’d been a while since I’d collaborated with anyone else so I was keen to have some fun.

HE DIED WITH A FELAFEL IN HIS HAND. I think I might have asked you about this before, but how did you come to doing an illustrated edition of this book? How long did it take you to draw that?

I met John Birmingham at a local art exhibition that I had some paintings in. He liked my art and he asked if I was keen to do a graphic novel version of his book for it’s tenth anniversary. It took about six months to draw it. I was burned out after doing it but I learnt more than I ever have. I became a lot more disciplined with my art. It was a fun challenge.

I’ve been trying to track down a copy lately, looks to be well out of print. Found a couple copies on ebay though.

The only thing that bugs me about Felafel, is the awful cover art they used. I had no say in it and didn’t see it until it came out.

Did you receive any royalties from the sales of that book, or was it just an upfront payment?

I got paid half when I got the job and half when I finished it. I get a small royalty on the second edition printing. If it ever happens. Lol.

Do you think you could do another job of that scale again?

Yeah , if it was a really exciting story I’d do it. For sure.

The Bootleg series are a hell of a lot of fun, and nice and disturbing as well. It looks ike you’re having a lot of fun with those.

Yeah , I figured that I’d never ever get to draw for Marvel or DC so I thought why let that stop me having fun with their characters. I love the classic superheros. Plus I’d have total editorial control. I just give them away for fun or leave them in public places for people to find. Haha. I might do a bootleg of The Phantom or Southern Squadron next.

I’m sure Chaloner (the boss) would love to see a Southern Squadron bootleg book!

Cool – he’s a great artist. Lots of energy in his work. I really liked Southern Squadron when I first got into comics. It was the first Australian comic I’d ever seen. I’ve got a story idea for a bootleg so, hmmmmmm….

The SPIDER-MAN edition remains perhaps one of the most brutal comics I’ve ever read – and frankly given how big a rogue’s gallery of villains he has – it kinda feels like we should have seen a story like this in the regular book.

I’m a big fan of Spider-Man. He’s got the coolest rogue’s gallery. Steve Ditko did amazing costume designs back then.

You’ve played in your band VIPER SYNDICATE for years around Queensland – is there any crossover with your comics – do you sell or give away those at gigs?

I’ve given away comics at gigs before. I eventually made a comic with a short story about the band and all the gig poster art that I’d done over the years. Plus I do all the art for my band’s albums and a lot of it is comic styled art.

Have you thought about getting an instagram account? I’d recommend that you do, and learn about hashtags. Coupling that with a bigcartel online store for your books would be great to get your stuff out to a wider audience.

I should make one. I can spread my evil more. Lol.

Your books are really not readily available for people to check out, or even buy them – most of the copies I have you simply mailed them to me for free! Is this deliberate?

That’s a tough one to answer. I used to be super motivated about making comics , but then I slowly lost motivation to promote my art. However I still kept doing as much output. I still love the creative side of it and drawing comics , but once I’ve finished a book i immediately lose interest in it. I just want to move on to the next artistic thing I’m doing. Whether it be doing comics or writing songs. I don’t even bother charging money for my stuff anymore. I’d let anyone publish my work as long as I didn’t have to do anything but write and draw.  I just enjoy the creative process. Maybe it’s my isolation from the rest of the comic scene. I’m the only comic artist in my area of northern queensland that I know about. I’ve sorta evolved independent of everyone.

My motivation is just the love of comics.

I admire the purity of that. But we need to get your stuff in front of more people – there’s definitely a market for it. 🙂

Yeah, ok. You talked me into it! I’ll make a Facebook page and sell my stuff there. It’s a start at least. Thanks.


About Darren Close

Darren Close
Darren is the creator and publisher of the KILLEROO series, and also the creator of the OzComics website and subsequent drawing challenge on Facebook. He's been around the local comic scene for far too long for many people's liking. Gary Chaloner was foolish enough to make him the new Managing Editor of

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