Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, a young man girded his loins and decided to embark on a career in comics. Since no one was around to tell him he should be sensible and work for his uncle’s bakery, or something similar, he ended up having a career in comics. Rurik Tyler a/k/a Rik Ty has done everything for everyone and is now launching his own line of comics. A fascinating look behind the scenes of what it was like to work for the Big 2 back in their hey-day, and what it’s like now as an indie.
Strap yourself down, because this is going to be a wild ride.
You worked with a ton of people “back in the day.” Let’s split things out a bit so our readers can catch up. What did you do for Marvel and DC?
Marvel? I started with their humor comic What The!? I had helped Scott Lobdell with a project earlier, and when he sold a story to What The, he asked that I be considered for the art chores. It worked out very well, and I started writing and drawing for the comic for the rest of its run. I got asked to pencil for several light hearted Marvel projects, (Summer specials, and the like). Then for a period of time, I would get called in to bridge issues on the regular books so that an artist who was getting swamped could skip an issue and get comfortably back on schedule. (I could pick up on some of the artist’s stylings, and offer the readership an issue that was a bend instead of a break.) I remember doing a few issues of Quasar, Luke Cage, and eXcaliber, maybe Power Rangers, and the Masked Rider. Eventually, I was the regular penciler on Biker Mice From Mars, The Darkhold, and Ralph Bakshi’s The Mighty Heroes. I also did a pair of issues in Spiderman Webspinners (writing and pencils) where Spidey fought the Vulture in a blackout and we explored the physics of hang time (Spidey has to conserve web fluid, and does a lot of sling-shot flying across New York). There’s a scene where Spidey takes off his mask because it’s scaring the kid he’s trying to rescue, and I hear that idea made it into one of the movies.
DC? Comparatively, very little. I had a very long run of writing stories for Scooby Doo, and for a few years, I helped them design their cover layouts – a very unusual gig.
You sold features to Mad Magazine and Cracked back when they were major publishing forces. What was that like and did any of the art survive?
I was strictly a writer for Mad, and I didn’t do any art for them, but they were super-nice to me. My wife and I got invited to a party they threw for the Magazine, and we got to meet Bill Gaines, and Jack Davis, John Ficarra, Al Jaffe, and a bunch of the usual gang of… . It was a blast! I passed a dollar around and had everyone sign it. I still have it. As for Cracked? Yes, a ton of the art survives – it’s up in my attic, buried under my Christmas ornaments and my Gutbuster 5000s.
You also wrote for Scooby Doo. As you note in your bio, during the 90’s there was an example of your art in every newsstand every month. That must have been mentally, and financially, rewarding.
It was SUPER rewarding mentally. It was not rewarding financially. I just hustled. For instance, when Fangoria Magazine surged, they blocked their own competition by putting out a second magazine (Gore Zone) (interesting move!!!!!). Fangoria did not feature original fiction, so that was something Gore Zone could offer, and I got the gig as the regular illustrator for the fiction feature. This was top of the world mentally, but realistically, the work only paid enough to cover my budget for the time it took to do the work (I had a minimum I had to make every day; some jobs I could spread out over several days, and some had to get done in a few hours. Results varied). But I loved the crew at Fangoria, and was happy to be associated with them in any way. Plenty of magazine spot illustrations paid very little, but I used to love going to the newsstand and pulling out two or three magazines or comics I had contributed to, whether writing, or art, or both.
In your free time you created toys. Tell us first about the “Monster in my Pocket” figurines.
I was trying to pitch toy ideas through the mail, but there wasn’t much that could be done through the mail. My sister gave me a Toy Design class at Pratt’s night school as a gift (!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you believe that? WOW! That was crazy generous. THANK YOU AGAIN KIM!!). Late in the class, my teacher asked me to bring in some of my comic book work. I had done my own annual Halloween Horror anthology (Lunatic Binge), and my teacher liked it. His day job was with Matchbox Toys, and when a project called “Monster In My Pocket” crossed his desk, he thought of me and called me in. One day of sketching got his whole project back on track, and it was a great success for everyone.
I love a good “serves as a warning sign to others” story. My life is festooned with them. Please share your experience of pissing off one billion Hindus.
Alright. That first day of sketching Monster in my Pocket pretty much gave Matchbox their goal posts for a complete first series of figures, with spillover into a second.
HAPPILY, there was a second stage to the work. A control drawing for the sculptor had to be created for each figure. This meant an accurate drawing of the figure in 3 dimensions top, front and side, with an understanding of where you intended the part line to be (the most advantageous way to set up the two part mold). This was difficult work, because the third view revealed all the mistakes of the other two, but I got to do it. The toys were well received. A second series was ordered, and that wasn’t too difficult to fill, but when the third, fourth, and fifth series were ordered, my boss asked me to go find some candidates for figures, (and to charge the company for my efforts. YAAAY). This was pre-internet, so that meant going to the library and the book store. One book of Folklore had an entry for Ganesha, a figure with the head of an elephant and the body of a man. I was super-charged and excited because I remembered a figure from a Conan story that had been illustrated by Barry Smith – one of my favorite artists. In the Conan story, the figure is a King, or at least sits on a throne, and if I remember correctly, he begs Conan to kill him and Conan does. So, I was happy to tap into that idea, Matchbox was happy, and the License holders were happy, EXCEPT I kept the name Ganesha. Ganesha is not FOLKLORE. Ganesha is NOT IN THE CONAN STORY (nor is he a folklore archetype that inspired the story). Ganesha is an active deity in the Hindu faith. It absolutely never crossed any of our minds that it was a current deity. I heard years later that Matchbox received a letter from an offended person. I don’t know what remedy Matchbox offered, but I imagine they stopped production on that specific figure.
There’s no way the book of folklore didn’t mention something along the lines of Ganesha being a deity. My mistake was in assuming it was an ancient figure, and not currently worshiped. We did a Kali figure too, based on the same mistake (and enthusiasm for Harryhausen’s work in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). Just dumb. Just an oblivious Westerner living in cultural isolation. No excuses.
My apologies, Hindu brothers and sisters!
Yes, see? Good old internet – The character appears in Conan #4 The Tower Of The Elephant. The character’s name was Yag-Kosha.
From Britanica: Ganesha: Ganesha, elephant-headed Hindu god of beginnings, who is traditionally worshipped before any major enterprise and is the patron of intellectuals, bankers, scribes, and authors. He is a remover of obstacles. The 10-day festival Ganesh Chaturthi is devoted to him.
Your second career, the one where you had a single boss, was with Toys-R-Us. That seems to have combined all your skills. What was that like?
Frantic. I had one direct boss in “Design”, but we had product development teams that we served for each Brand, (3 CORE Boys’ brands and 5 floaters) each with 30 to 50 products that needed some type of help every year. It started easy, picking exciting colors and making new label art for existing products out of Hong Kong, but we soon started doing products from the ground up. That meant ideation, concept sketches, adjustments, herding the opinions of the global stakeholders, control drawings, prototype critiques, AND THEN colors and labels. We ramped up the work like crazy, but we didn’t staff up. We identified factories and vendors who would take on some of those costs, and we managed their work. Some vendors would get started from a concept sketch or a foam core mock up. Some would only start work after we supplied full control drawings. Every day brought new fires to put out, and you’re right, every day called upon every skill I had just to keep the plates spinning.
During that time you began writing THRILL KINGS: FRAGMENTED SKY. Before we dumpster dive into the whole series, give us some background on this universe and how it came to be.
Well, built into my DNA seems to be a love of gestalt situations. I love it when 2+2 = 5, when the thing you wind up with is greater than the parts it took to make it. Books are great examples. A pound of paper and ink could be a doorstop, or it could be a great adventure that engages your whole soul for a month and a half. A book is more than the materials needed to make it (we can go down a rabbit hole here – this describes any tool, and any radio wave with content, etc. provided you have a human brain involved to perceive it). There are a series of printed moire patterns that have this effect for me. One pattern is printed on an opaque surface, and one patten is printed on a transparency. Simple printing in both cases, but when seen together, they dazzle the brain. I love them. I pitched a toyline to Matchbox, where a moire pattern was activated by the movement of the vehicle (sway plate, or gear system connected to the wheels, or light effect). My idea was to combine the idea with cool styling, and claim that the pattern was an inter-dimensional engine in action. When the pattern moved, the engine was taking you someplace imaginative, and when it stopped, you were there, and free to make up any crazy stuff you liked with anything that was lying around (any plastic dinosaur could get into the play pattern, GI Joe could be a giant, Barbie could be an even bigger giant). Matchbox considered it, but didn’t pull the trigger. Later, I wanted a bigger visible pattern, so I designed the toy offering as a motorcycle / driver combo. This brought characters into the mix, and when I showed it, I got the reaction “This is nice, but this is an entertainment property. You need to get this on TV.” (Okay, which door is that?) Anyway, it went back in the trunk for years. However, ideas kept accumulating. Eventually, I said that I had to pull one idea of mine out of the trunk and try to get it out in the world. I wasn’t thinking toy-line, or TV, or film, but something I could actually do, and stick with UNTIL it succeeded. So I picked Thrill Kings, and secretly started learning how to write prose, and secretly coming up with a single story line that would incorporate all the cool ideas that had built up. The funny thing was, around the same time, I started to find science articles about other dimensions, String Theory, and Brane Theory. Suddenly, there was a whole field of science I had to learn about as well (a very funny coincidence: I was working at my desk at Toys R Us. We worked in a sealed building and none of the windows opened. One of the toys I was working on featured an AM radio. I had the guts open on my desk, and as I was testing it, I got a very weak signal of a broadcast that was happening right at that moment. It was Brian Greene discussing String Theory and higher dimensions – but the signal kept cutting out. I spent the next hour doing insane gymnastics trying to keep listening, and trying to pass it off as official work. Sounds like a comedy scene to me, one I wouldn’t even watch). After ten years of stolen moments ( 2 hours before work, a very long commute, weekends, half hour walks around the parking lot instead of eating lunch) Thrill Kings: Fragmented Sky was done, I just had to figure out what to do with it. Self publishing seemed the most forgiving path, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Okay, now, tells us all about THRILL KINGS and each of the titles.
Thrill Kings — is a project that features Interdimensional motorcycles in place of space travel, stars as omni-dimensional objects, 3,000 planets within driving distance right here in the solar system, and leap frogging-sequenced omissions as outrageous spatial shortcuts. Throw on top of that a ruthless Army Colonel trying to steal the technology for his own purposes, and an eruption of abrasion-point emergencies across the Realmlines, and that will give you a pretty good idea of the breadth of the property.
I’ll dive a little deeper into the abrasion points, They are known to the team as “Bleed Zones”, and anywhere they occur, elements of one dimension are pulled into another — with unpredictable results (It could be an army, or a virus, or a monster, or a pocket of weird physics, or a litter of gentle kittens, but whatever it is, it has to be dealt with before the two involved worlds recognize each other gravitationally, and pull each other from their life-sustaining orbits. Doing nothing is never an option.)
The “Thrill Kings” are simply the bike-pilot team stuck with solving the abrasion point problems.
Seen as a whole, Thrill Kings is a little like X-files meets Star Trek meets Stranger Things meets Hot-Wheels – every genre in one! (The characters didn’t ask to be teamed together. They each have radically different approaches to problem solving. Imagine Calvin and Hobbes, Batman, and a young Jane Goodall, all continually asked to save the world together. Plenty of opportunities for fun, disagreement, action, and soul.)
So far, I have released a GIANT introductory novel about the night the struggle with the Army Colonel comes to a head, (Thrill Kings: Fragmented Sky – the moment the public finds out there’s such a thing as interdimensional travel, and the struggle over who will control the technology almost rips reality apart. This is a pivotal night for the characters, and a bold, exciting story in its own right). I have also released four shorter “Bleed Zone” adventures featuring Nonstop and Krork (a test driver and a linguistic chameleon, both lighthearted and earnest characters, but up against some grim problems). Each of the Bleed Zone stories is ten thousand words or less, and most are packed with bonus materials.
Here’s a brief run down:
The Gray Walls
Nonstop and Krork track a Bleed Zone creature to the fourth floor of a Seattle Office Tower. As they get closer, their movements are restricted by interdimensional surfaces that show nightmare glimpses into other worlds. The team comes to realize they are dealing with a creature that digests pockets of reality, and worse, that the creature may have already eaten the reality Nonstop and Krork are standing in. Tense, fun, and brisk.
The Size of Minneapolis Upright
A gargantuan inter-D has materialized in a cornfield. It’s peaceful, but will likely rampage when the team tries to send it home. Nonstop is asked to get the local farmhouses evacuated. One woman tells him her neighbor has a lot of foster kids and no way to drive them out. Nonstop goes to the house, but finds no sign of the family, just the heartbreaking corpse of a friendly looking dog. What happened? Where is everybody? And what was that noise upstairs? This one starts out tense, and winds up human and heartwarming.
Nonstop follows a small inter-D down an elevator shaft in a condemned factory. He succeeds in sending the creature home, but not before it skunks him. His climb out of the elevator shaft gets very strange, hallucinatory, and dangerous. This story tries some language experiments, including trying to equate the process of unstoppable rust with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Notably weird.
Not So Bad
Nonstop and an expanded crew try to stop a herd of giant, leaping tentacled creatures from rampaging all over a small beach town. The creatures are too big to send home with a quick shot of tap beam, and too fast to catch with a sustained one. How is the team going to get on top of this situation? Lots of straight action: Nonstop tries a new bike – though it’s still a crazy vortex bike/parkour robot hybrid, Grace tries a run as a team member (she’s the news crew intern who helped Nonstop in Fragmented Sky), and Varrage plays a more active role in one of the short adventures.
So far, I haven’t released any shorts where the inter-D talk or scheme. I find that it balloons the word count to the 17 K range, and I’d like the first wave of Bleed Zone stories to be shorter.
There are several shorts already written, and I’ll be painting covers for them to release as singles, and later, as anthologies.
Using a MUCH shorter word count, I have a 100 word sequel project, where random sips of Sci-Fi suggest glimpses into Thrill King adventures. There are 23 so far, and you can see them on the Thrill Kings Now website (I’ll be updating the website this year).
Somehow you’ve managed to fit a moment into your life to get married and procreate. Why not throw some props in their direction.
At the end of high school, I was working in a pizza shop on Fordham Road in the Bronx. The pizza shop had giant windows that looked out on the final stop of the #4 bus (and after a bit of time for the driver to take a breather, it was also the FIRST stop of the #4 bus). I started to notice a heavenly young woman waiting for that bus pretty regularly (ALL the guys in the pizza shop noticed her). She came in once, and I found out her name was Beth, and that she worked in the Woolworth’s across the street. I was friendly with several of the bus drivers, and one traded me a free transfer sheet for a free coffee. I brought a hot chocolate and a free bus ride over to that Woolworth’s, and won the biggest prize this world has to offer. Beth and I started dating. She civilized me. We both went back to college after taking a year off. We stayed in the parks all night. We got mosquito bit from head to toe. We got married. We struggled. I became a cartoonist. We struggled. We had kids (two LOVELY, magnificent daughters (one is a Media Specialist in New York City, and one just finished her Masters in Art Therapy with a 4.0). We struggled. Beth finished her degree, won the gold medal in her field of study, aced her Master’s, and then began her career as a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. She took a job where her schedule matched the kids’ schedules; I took a job with Toys R Us, and finally, finally, finally, we had a good run of years where we stopped struggling.
Hmm. I’m going to conduct an experiment in publishing. I just gave my take on things, but maybe Beth would like to speak for herself, or clout me upside the head for the important things I missed. Let’s see if the technology would possibly allow such a thing… Beth? Are you there? Come in Beth…
Actually, Rurik secretly learned my name from one of my friends, who of course, told me that he had asked. Rurik called me by my name when he first met me and I pretended to act surprised that he knew it. What he didn’t know was that I had already seen him in the window and a little voice had told me I was going to marry him. Funny thing was that I didn’t pursue him, but I was happy to hear he liked me. I think we were meant to end up together and 41 years has proved me right. By the way, I wasn’t so easily bought with a bus transfer and a hot chocolate, though. He was handsome and adorable and being with him felt like home.
Finally, what’s next for Rik Ty universe?
I’m going to apologize to Beth for putting her on the spot. I’m going to explore Amazon Sponsored ads, and see if I can’t grow the Thrill Kings readership. The next major Thrill Kings project will be steered by what I learn from doing the ads. I’ll be doing more freelancing, while I am trying to land my next full time gig.
I don’t want to go back to struggling.
Oh well, I still have that Mad dollar. There’s always that.
Thank you Bill! This was a blast!!!
All Thrill Kings Books:
Thrill Kings 100 Word Sequels:
The Kevin Woods Excerpt (6 Major excerpts from Thrill Kings: Fragmented Sky, each with their own covers. Free).
Available as e-books:
And as PDFs:
(Here is a link to download the Kobo desktop reader – if you need it (free))
Some of my toy work: