Ram V published his first comic in 2016. Five years later, Multiversity voted him Best Writer of 2021. I spoke with Ram about his start in comics, his 2021 output, and what his future may hold.
Ram V: Most most of my daytime is spent writing most of my evening time is spent responding to people about writing.
How many books are you actively writing right now?
RV: Probably seven, and not by any genuine intention. I probably don’t want to be writing more than four. But I suppose you have to figure out how freelancing works, and part of that process is to say yes to everything, and then go “oh, wait, I don’t actually have time to be doing all of this.” I make it work.
We do a category in our in our year in review every year called Breakout Writer, and a couple years ago, you got a lot of votes in that category. That was the year that people felt like, “Oh, wow Ram is really somebody who we have to keep an eye on.” And just a few years later, now you have been voted the Best Writer of 2021 by our staff. Do you feel that 2021 has been a particularly good year for you writing?
RV: I mean, I don’t I don’t really think of my writing in those terms. I suppose I have done work that would have had more eyeballs on it this year, more than any other year. So I suppose it’s a matter of other people thinking it’s my breakout year, or thinking I’ve had a particularly good year. Whereas from my perspective, I’ve been doing this work for the past four or five years. I only started writing comics in 2016. 2018/2019 is when I did “These Savage Shores,” and that kind of put me on a lot of people’s watch lists, if you will. And then also also was the year when I started doing some of my first DC work, and this year, I’ve done “Swamp Thing” for them and “Venom” over at Marvel. So I feel like I feel like this is a pretty natural life cycle for any sort of writer in a popular medium, where the work that they start, the work that you’re doing remains consistent or improves over a period of time, but people discovering them has its own life cycle. It takes its own time.
You mentioned you only started writing comics in 2016. How did you come about to start reading comics, and what led you into writing comics?
RV: I’d always been writing as a hobby, and I actually started out writing prose short stories that have been published in a few places. And then I moved to the UK to study creative writing, because I wanted to take what had been a hobby until that point a bit more seriously. And by the end of that course, which was 2015, I started putting together my first graphic novel, which we then kick started and self published in 2016. The thing that made me want to do it was probably reading “Sandman.” While I was studying to be a chemical engineer, somewhere around 2004 or 2005, I was in the States I was studying at UPenn. And a friend of mine gifted me volume one of “Sandman” and the rest is history.
It’s amazing how many people that book sent into comics. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve interviewed where they’ve said, basically the same thing. What was it about “Sandman” for you that sort of unlocked something special?
RV: I felt like until then there had been, at least in my head, this understanding that you could either do silly things, or you could do serious things. In any medium. “Sandman” was the first time where I read something, and I thought, “wow, this is nuanced, complex, interesting. But it’s also comic, it’s also fun, doesn’t mind being silly in places, whimsical in places, and then all of a sudden, it’s very down to earth and real and human and others.” I suppose reading those books sort of gave me permission to start thinking about writing complex stories, regardless of the medium. And even at that point, it wasn’t necessarily the comics medium that I fell in love with, it was Gaiman’s writing. So I picked up absolutely everything he had ever done in comics or otherwise, and it was that process and then put me on to Grant Morrison. Reading that canon of great, great sort of the late 80s and early 90s, that’s what made me start looking at comics, and immediately was like, “okay, I can do this. I have some ideas. I can try to be like this.”Continued below
It’s interesting that you’re mentioning that late 80s, early 90s Vertigo era as something particularly insightful and inspirational to you. Because I think that your “Swamp Thing” fits in pretty well with that not only because Swamp Thing had a Vertigo era, but just because it reminds me a lot of that era of Vertigo comics. So let’s talk about “The Swamp Thing” for a second. Did you pitch DC on a new character, inhibiting the Swamp Thing title, or did they say to you, hey, we’re looking for a new take on this?
RV: Well, it came, it came around the time that DC were starting to discuss ‘5G’ possibilities with the writers, and there was a list of characters playing around that editors were sending around going like, “does anyone have any interest in doing any of this?” And I picked it up and I said, “Give me a Swamp Thing book.” And they said, “Send us a pitch.”The original pitch involved, Levi, taking on the mantle of Swamp Thing because, again, the Gaiman connection in that it really was Neil Gaiman’s one shot that I think first laid down the idea that Swamp Thing had existed as an avatar over many, many years.
I sent the pitch in, and I heard from three editors separately that they enjoyed the pitch. So I was quite excited by that response. And I was very happy to see DC editorial excited by the idea of a new character inhabiting Swamp Thing, but also a new character that would make the character more pertinent to our time, and also reframe the character with context to a different part of the world, a different culture, different ideas.
It’s a really engaging, interesting title. And what I’ve really enjoyed throughout is that it’s one of the books that I think a new reader could pick up with relative ease. But if you’ve been reading DC for a long time, there’s lots of little nods and allusions to to pass stories. Issue #10 was supposed to be the end, but the run was extended to 16. Was it exciting for you to see the fan response that allowed DC to extend the run?
RV: Yeah, I think it was apparent quite early on that the readership existed. It was a question of me selling them on on a new character who was going to be an interesting Swamp Thing because he was an interesting character, and not because he was Indian. We had a lot of early objections, and I never responded to any of that stuff because I was like, “just read the story and see if you still feel the same way after, we’ll see.” When when issue one sales numbers came in at DC, I got a very lovely message from my editor going saying that it had sold multiples of what we had originally projected. And I knew at that point that okay, you know, we made a good beginning. From there, if the story was good, if the comic was good, we would sustain and we would build up that readership. And then, five issues in the numbers were pretty steady on the book. So yeah, I’m pretty encouraged by that.
Now, you’re also doing “Justice League Dark” over at DC, as the backup in the “Justice League” title. I’m really interested to talk about sort of the structure of doing a backup title. Does that script look very different from one of your normal scripts? Do you think about plotting it differently, knowing you have a more limited page count?
RV: It’s almost more challenging in some ways. I start by thinking about the shape of that story. You know, don’t think about the details, what’s the dramatic shape? What’s my attention? What are the readers going to feel here? What’s the cliffhanger? How am I going to open this in a way that lets me get into without too much preamble, because all of those considerations become that much more pointed when you’re doing a story that’s half the length of the standard issue.
So there were those considerations, except I had to do those twice a month, hereas I would have done that once [on a standard, montly, 20 page issue] So that became quite challenging to do keep as part of the schedule along with all the other books that I was doing, which was part of the reason I stepped off that book, but it was more or less of an exercise. [Right now], it’s the age of comics being slowed down, where you spend 6,7,8,9 10 pages on a single scene with characters talking. And, sure, I think, I think a lot of comics do tend to do that. There are a lot of interesting takes on that, you know, whether it’s Brian Bendis’s a style of writing, or if you read a lot of the Tom King stuff, there are interesting ways to do that.Continued below
But I don’t necessarily think that has run off the sort of that know of condensed, early 2000s/late 90s style of writing comics, where there’s like 15 stories packed into 10 pages. So I kind of wanted to do a modern take on that kind of condensed comic book writing with a really frantic pace. There’s something happening to someone all the time. And I feel like, I feel I was pretty successful in doing that, especially considering, like how much ground we covered in 10 pages each time.
That’s actually one of the things I really loved about that. That backup was that it felt very fast paced. And I’m not I don’t mean this as a slight on Bendis, but compared to his work in the first half of the of the issue that you’re picking up, which is very decompressed and very slow building, it felt like a really nice counterweight to that.
RV: Yeah, I’m glad. I mean, I knew I would have to do that. You know, Brian Bendis is a is a huge name with a lot of respected work behind him. And so I said, “Look, if I have to write a 10 page backup and still stand my ground here, creatively speaking.” I was thrilled by the opportunity to be able to do that and sort of place a 10 pager that was part of the same universe did the same things as a superhero comic does but took a very different approach to how it was done.
<>Yeah. You know, you talked about working with Bendis, and now you’re working in tandem with Al Ewing on the “Venom” series at Marvel. How do you how does the writing breakdown work between you and Al when you’re putting together this these scripts?
RV: I’m typing him a message on Slack right now. That’s how it works. It’s great. I think we get along really well, we vibe off of each other really well. There’s, there’s always been this kind of bouncing ideas back and forth. And I can’t count the number of times where he said something that I was like,” oh, man, I could do this with that in my stuff.” And then I’ll say something and he goes, “Oh, that’s very good. I can use that in my side of the story.” So it’s genuinely that kind of feeling I get when I’m jamming with someone, coming up with a song, It’s the same feeling that I get working with Al, if that if that makes any sense.
So you know, the last couple of years you you’ve been doing this balance between creator owned work, and company owned work. And obviously, the company owned work is where a lot of people put their eyes on a new creator for the first time, just because so many people are buying a comic with Venom or Justice League in the title than a title they’re not familiar with. How has your experience been shifting from the indies over to company own books? Do you see yourself as somebody who’s going to stay there for a long time, or are you just itching to get back to more creator owned stuff in the future?
RV: I mean, I do think about I don’t want to sound disingenuous and say I don’t think about these things. I do think about these things, but they don’t really feature in my choice as to whether I’m staying in one place or not. I would never give up one for the other. I enjoy both of them quite a bit. But that said, you know, I have control over my creator owned books, I can decide to do them, I can decide not to do them. That’s not the case with the company and stuff.
I love all the books that I’ve done so far. But also, there has to be a creative challenge for me, whatever I take on next when my time on these books is done. And the more I do that as a creator, the less number of books there are for me to for me to choose from. There are incredible, incredible creators working on those books. So I think there will come a time where it becomes a matter of really being selective on what kind of sort of superhero work I take on. Because my endeavor, despite all my love for the medium, is always to do something new. And the more popular the character, the harder it is to convince people to let you do something new that. So yeah, so it’s a matter of being creatively enthused to work on a character.They’re certainly characters and story ideas that I have that I want to continue writing for Marvel and DC. The question is, do the stars align?
Is there a character out there at DC or Marvel that you really can’t wait to get your hands on one day?
RV: I don’t spend my time thinking about characters that I could write, I spend my time thinking about stories that I could write. And so there are absolutely stories that I could tell with a multitude of characters. Like, for instance, the one I’m really excited about now is a story I want to tell that the character that no one’s seen for like 50 years. And so and so while it makes complete sense, in my head, if I go say that to an editor at DC, they’re like, “no one’s gonna pick this up, because no one has picked this up for 50 years.” It’s a matter of balance. There are characters that are very popular and huge that I have takes on that I think could do something new and interesting with those characters. But we’ll see. We’ll see where the chips fall.