Last week I had the pleasure of attending the UK’s No. 1 show for comics fans, the wonderful Thought Bubble Comic Convention. To call the event star-studded would be a gross understatement, as you will see over the course of the next few days. There I spoke to industry legends and stars that are breathing new life and energy into the industry, one of those is Ram V.
Ram is about to conclude amazing runs on Catwoman and Justice League Dark, but a continuation of his fantastic The Swamp Thing series will be coming in 2022.
Ram V, is an award-winning author and creator of comics & graphic novels such as Black Mumba, Paradiso, These Savage Shores, and Blue In Green. Since self-publishing in 2016, Ram has gone on to create critically acclaimed work with the industry’s major publishers, including DC and Marvel.
Steve J. Ray: Vault comics, why don’t more people know about them? These Savage Shores is fantastic and it was my first exposure to your work. How did you go from the indie scene to writing some of the biggest characters known around the world?
Ram V: Before These Savage Shores, in 2016, I put together a book called Black Mumba, which was a series of black and white short stories set in Mumbai. I kick-started that book, turned it into a nice, hardcover, and (comics editor) Jamie Rich who was at a convention here, was also at another in 2016. So I gave him the book and did the same with a lot of other editors and publishers, and gave the book to Image Comics.
Jamie got back in touch about a year later, so that would have been 2017, and asked if I wanted to work on making a second volume of Black Mumba with him at Vertigo, and I said, yeah, I’d love to. I had gotten into comics off of reading, a lot of Vertigo books. Unfortunately, while we were in the process of pitching that book, Jamie reached out to me and said, he was no longer at Vertigo. I was obviously terribly disappointed, but then a week later he says, “I’m now heading up the Bat office, so would you like to write a Batman story?”, I said, “Yeah, that will do!”
So I ended up writing a short story in Secret Files, uh, with Jorge Fornés, and it did quite well. People responded to that story and I think DC was quite happy with the story as well. That led to more opportunities. I did a couple of Catwoman issues for Jamie after that, which is what led to me eventually taking over the series.
By that time, because I’d been doing other DC work, James Tynion read These Savage Shores, and so he said, “Do you want to do Justice League Dark? It’s going to be a Swamp Thing story”, and I was like, “Yes, of course!”So that’s kind of how I started writing these stories. In the meantime, Marvel got in touch as well because they’d seen them come out.
So, I did a couple of short things for Marvel. I was supposed to do the Thor tie into the “Secret Empire” event, which then fell by the wayside because of the pandemic, unfortunately. Then they reached out and they said, “Do you want to write Venom when Donnie (Cates)’s done with his run? Actually, to be honest, it was Donnie himself who reached out and asked if I wanted to write Venom. I said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to!” It’s still a shame about the Thor thing though, I think it was a really good story, you know? Thor, in India… this isn’t a thing that has been done before, and people don’t realize how much crossover there is between Norse and Asian mythology.
SJR: Yeah, I would’ve loved to have read that. Maybe one day. Hey… never say never.
I’m so glad you said that you grew up a fan of the old Vertigo Comics because that’s something I really wanted to ask you about. Reading your comics, especially your mainstream stuff with Marvel and DC, you reference back and show a lot of love for all the same stuff that I grew up loving. That may well be why I liked your work so much, particularly your Swamp Thing. The way it hearkens back to sprout, Swampy taking over Constantine’s body to create the next Swamp Thing… and you’ve done that. You’ve brought us the next Swamp Thing, the next member of the parliament of trees. Were all those Alan Moore stories something that inspired you, with your work on the character?
Ram V: I really appreciate that era of comics, and what they tried to do. They said that there doesn’t have to be a line between fun and intelligent, you know? Things can be both fun and really smart, and interesting and complex at the same time.
I think we kind of lost that post, that era of writing. You have Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, all of those guys. I understand why things changed, but I felt like, especially with the other White Noise creators as well, I felt like there was a need to see that type of comic again.
That’s where my interests lie. So, more than having a direct influence, I’m trying to write stories the way those writers approached stories. Rather than reference specific things that they did, it’s more like feeling that it’s more of your own voice being heard.
SJR: Yes, your story is completely unique, but I can sense a lot of affection, rather than a direct impact.
Ram V: Yeah, I mean that’s bound to be there. I think every writer, every artist has their influences and they’re influences because you love them.
SJR: Wonderful. Many of the writers and reviewers here at DC Comics News, and our sister site, Dark Knight News, are loving your work, including my offspring. They’ve given me a couple of questions to ask you about Catwoman. Was it a distinct decision on your part, or was it part of your pitch to bring Selena back to ground level and the Alleytown roots, rather than have the high society thief that we’ve seen her in previous iterations?
Ram V: I don’t think it was, it was an editorial directive, it was just the direction that I wanted to take it. Partly because I wanted to find a way to make the story meaningful to the character and have her experience some kind of change. I felt like, with everything that had happened before in Selina’s book and story, it felt like it was a bit too much of the aftermath of what had happened with Batman.
I felt like I needed to take the character away from being somebody else’s love interest, and the comic needed to become about Selina. So what better way to do that than to take her to where she became Catwoman in the first place. Obviously this Selina, this Catwoman isn’t all about a failed relationship with Batman, or any kind of relationship with Batman. This is about a character finding her own path and not necessarily being defined by anything else that came in her past. That’s what I wanted. Turning, or at least taking Catwoman, from what point I had control over her, and turning her into a three-dimensional character.
Of course, the relationship with Batman is a very important part of her, but if you think about real people, they’re not defined by their love interests. They’re not defined by their job. They’re not defined. There’s a lot more nuance and a lot more complexity to their individual choices. We make choices because we want to see ourselves a certain way.
This might be a cynical way of looking at it, but when someone gives something to charity… yes, of course, it’s a charitable thing, it’s, it’s a wonderful thing, but also on some level you’re doing it because you want to be that person. So, I was trying to answer a lot of questions about Catwoman and her motivations and that’s who this Selina Kyle would have to be. What does she want other people to see when they see Catwoman?
SJR: Thank you. So… back to Swamp Thing. Thankfully, it’s no longer just ten issues and is going to carry on in the new year, which is going to please so many of the team at DC comics news. Can you talk about the creative team, or is it the same guys from the current run? The team working with you on that book is just awesome.
Ram V: Yeah, it’s the same creative team, everyone’s sticking around. Mike Perkins, Mike Spicer. We might even get another one-shot after the next six-issue run with another artist at some point, but largely it’s just going to be that creative team again.
SJR: That’s great news because I get the sense of horror and that ache in the gut from your Swamp Thing that I haven’t honestly felt since the Moore run. You’ve got a background in darker stuff, work that’s based on more psychological horror. Do you think that’s where your strengths lie as a writer? Or is that something you just love?
Ram V: I just don’t find myself frightened by any other kind of horror, to be honest. I always quote the John Carpenter line where he said that the key to good horror is to trick other people into scaring themselves, rather than you trying to scare them. I think people tend to think that blood and gore and guts on the page are what’s scary, or people tend to think like doing jump scares. They don’t really work in comics. The thing that really works for me is, more than scare someone, I want to off-center people. I want them to feel disturbed at some point after they’ve finished reading an issue.
Just to link that back to some of my creator-owned stuff, the most common comment I get after people have read Blue In Green is, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a week after. I was sad. I felt perturbed by it.” That to me is the greatest compliment. That’s a great experience. I prefer implying what’s going to happen, rather than actually showing it.
That’s what plays on the brain. Comics are about like, literally the story should happen in the gutters. Very, very early on when I was starting to write scripts for Mumba, a very good artist from India, Singh, said to me, “In comics, you should never show the moment during, you should always show the moment before or show the moment after” if you think about it in the most rudimentary terms.
Like when you see a character punch another character on film, almost never do you see the actual moment of impact? If you take that philosophy and then apply it to a story, it’s almost always better to imply the moment when it happens, either before or after the fact.
SJR: What can fans look forward to, not necessarily just with DC, for 2022?
Ram V: There’s an as-yet-unannounced DC project, Swamp Thing, obviously. I’m going to continue writing at Marvel with another unannounced project as well. Then I’ve got a potentially creator-owned thing with Dark Horse also coming up. That’s why I’m stepping back, but not that much.
SJR: You can’t keep a good man down. On that note, you work with some amazing, amazing guys, but you can write and you can draw. Will we see a bit more of Ram the artist with Ram the writer? Are you thinking about doing that?
Ram V: I don’t know. I quite enjoy keeping one thing as a hobby, because of how much I love doing it. I mean, it’s not like I’ve stopped loving writing because it’s a job, but it is a job. It entails me doing things that are tedious sometimes, but I have to do them because they’re a job. I don’t want to ever feel that way about two things.
SJR: That’s a great answer.
I know you’ve self-published some stuff before going to DC/Marvel, but what did it feel like when you saw your first story featuring a childhood favorite character? Was that a good moment? Something you can clearly remember?
Ram V: To be honest, no. I have a weird thing where my interest in a story or a book stops the moment it’s left my desk. I don’t like going back and looking at the things that I’ve done. There are comps of books that are sitting at home which I’ve never picked up, or even looked at since I finished writing them. I’m very interested in seeing the pages come back from the artist and seeing them lettered, but once it’s lettered and done, once I’ve signed off on that final proof, that’s it… I’m no longer interested in picking it up and reading it again. Everything that happens on release day, the reviews from people, like yourself, enjoying it or not enjoying it… that’s enough. I watch it all from a distance and it becomes this kind of, oh, that’s entertaining. You know, sometimes I get bad reviews, I’ll look at it and go, “Oh, that’s interesting. You thought that this was weird”, but that’s cool. I’m able to look at it from a distance. I think I’m far too much of a child really, I’m more interested in making the thing.
I mean, I’m not doing it out of any sort of considered thought process. The reason that it genuinely is that I’m more interested in playing the game. After I’ve done it, I put away my toys. I really don’t care. Once I’m done, I’m done. You know?
SJR: Wow. I actually think that’s really mature, not childish at all. That’s really fascinating, it leads me to think that you’re a writer who’s a lot more concerned about the writing, about making your story. Then once it’s done it’s out there.
Ram V: So to come back to your question, yeah. I felt like that once, and it wasn’t when something was released. The first time I wrote for DC, I put down the words in a panel, like “Page one, panel one; Batman does this”. I just went, oh, I just wrote Batman does that. That’s pretty cool. Like I’m writing a character that’s been around almost a century. I’ve never had that moment since writing anything else because I’m way more interested in, what can I do with this? What story can I tell with this?
Even with creating our own stuff, uh, I was just talking about this with someone downstairs when Blue In Green was finished… I didn’t want to look at it. The book came out, and like six months after we published it I picked it up again for the first time, looked at it and I was like, “Okay. Yeah, we did a good job. That’s amazing.”
SJR: I’m blown away. So many people are probably, “Oh, I can’t wait to see this come out”, I think I would be, but you’re just about the creation. That’s actually beautiful to me.
SJR: So, you’ve done a few conventions, you’ve been in the industry for a while, you’re a recognized pro and a respected one. You’ve probably done a thousand interviews and been asked every question under the sun. Has there ever been a question you wish you’d been asked? Anything you wanted to tell people about, not necessarily just about your work or your life as a creator, but as a person. Something you think might help them on their journey in life as a creative, or otherwise?
Ram V: Yeah, just be a kid. So many people get embroiled with the idea of being successful. “I have to pitch this editor. I have to go see this person at this convention”. Too many people come to convention parties with scripts in their hands, and you kind of get jaded and lose your sense of why you’re doing this in the first place. I think preserving that and being around people who are like that, that’s far more important. You know, much better in the long term than, you know, putting your efforts into, into all the stuff that goes around the creation process. I think that’s important because I still want to enjoy writing the story 40 years down the line. If I stop enjoying it because everything around it got too big or it got too annoying, that would be a travesty, you know?
I think this is a hallmark of other great writers. Like, I really enjoy writing from George Saunders who’s a short story writer. He said something that was very beautiful to me, “Sometimes you need to take a deep breath, take a step away, walk out”. So, remove all the cynicism from your head and realize that the world is just as beautiful as it was when you were eight. We forget that. Yeah, we do. We get so caught up in all the, you know, achievement and ladder climbing, and all that stuff. When we forget to get to think, “Heck, I’m making cool stories and comics, and let’s look at this art. It’s amazing!”
SJR: You’re so right. I’m supposed to be here for work, but this whole show has really been 30% work, 70% having fun, talking to people like you, getting my comics signed, and learning about new stuff I didn’t even know about. Hey, enjoy what you do, life’s too short. I felt a bit guilty about that, but you’ve changed my mind. Thank you.
Ram V: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
SJR: Where can people catch up with you?
SJR: Thank you.
What a conversation, and what a wonderful man. Please tell us if you’ve met Ram, and let us know what you thought of the interview. Please look out for more conversations from Thought Bubble too; here, and on our sister sites, Dark Knight News and Fantastic Universes.
Huge Thanks to Ram V, Thought Bubble, and the convention organizers, Hanglands. Images May Be Subject To Copyright.