Artist dreamed up comic strip at Speedy Wash
By TIFFANY RONEY
When local artist Ryan Negus is not dressing up as comic book characters, he is drawing them with mechanical pencil and technical marker.
Negus has self-published two comic books, and he is currently working on a third, which he plans to sell locally. All three books feature Tigeron, a superhero who has tiger-like strength, balance, agility and senses.
Christian tiger hero
Negus first created Tigeron when he was a senior in high school. At that time, Tigeron had only a few tiger stripes and was not a fully developed character. Negus put the sheet of paper away with other old drawings and forgot the character for years.
“When I had gotten out of college, I was toying around with creating a new comic book, and I came up with the idea of a Christian superhero team,” Negus said. “I designed a bunch of superheroes, an I took the drawing and redesigned him. I took the tiger stripes and just thought, ‘well, why don’t I make this guy all tiger-like,’ and that’s how Tigeron came to be.”
Tigeron then underwent several revisions of costume, origin and synopsis. About four years ago, Negus finally settled on a fully formed character. Though Tigeron is an original superhero, Negus said the character is influenced by two famous characters.
“One of them, of course, is Spiderman,” Negus said. “I’ve been a Spiderman fan since I was 4 years old.”
The other influence was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan character, from the original novel.
Negus said his Tigeron comic strip is of the action-adventure genre and carries a classic good v. evil theme. The main character is a Christian, so some issues of the comic show him living out his faith, but not every issue has a directly spiritual message, Negus said.
“I think they’re really awesome,” Denise Blehm, director of the Arts Council of Dickinson County, said of Negus’ Tigeron comic books. “It’s just a completely different kind of art. They’re really great.”
Blehm said she has gotten to see the process of Negus’ comic creation, from one draft to the next.
“It’s really difficult from what I understand to do proper anatomy on them, to place the muscles correctly, but he does a really good job,” Blehm said. “He’ll bring in and show me a piece when he’s working on a new character. He’ll stop by and visit once in a while and show me what new stuff he’s drawn. He’s eager to share. He’s a really nice guy.”
Moving into the paper
Additionally, Negus creates a bi-weekly comic strip, “The Masked Defender,” for the Wakefield Times.
“I’m a big fan of the classic newspaper strips, the ones that were around long before I was born,” Negus said. “I really enjoy a lot of the classic comic strips and the old pulp fiction magazines like The Phantom and The Shadow. So when I created The Masked Defender, I took a lot of influence from the characters in the 1930s and the ‘40s.”
Though The Masked Defender fights crime and saves lives, he has no superpowers. Negus said he is a “non-powered superhero,” like Batman, rather than a powered superhero, like Superman. The Masked Defender fights villainy with his own natural wits and strength, Negus said.
“It’s funny how I designed it,” Negus said. “You see, when I create most of my characters, I rarely think of a synopsis first. Usually, I make a visual design and then I look at the design and I say to myself, ‘Who would this guy be? What would his powers be, if he has any?’ The Masked Defender is no exception.
“When I created him, I was over at the Speedy Wash Laundromat here in Abilene,” Negus said. “My clothes were drying, and I always have my sketchpad with me whenever I can. Well, I was killing time, I was just drawing and doodling, and that was where I created The Masked Defender.”
Like Tigeron, The Masked Defender underwent several revisions, but his start was at the Speedy Wash. The Masked Defender’s entry into the Wakefield Times was another unlikely beginning.
Shortly after joining Christian Comic Arts Society, a cartoonist association, Negus went to visit his friend John in Wakefield. Negus showed John his new profile page on the association’s website. On Negus’ profile, it said that along with comic books, he would like to someday produce an action-adventure comic strip for a newspaper.
“The reason I put that down was because back in the old days, when my dad was a kid, you had a lot of humorous funnies, but you also had an equal amount of action-adventure,” Negus said. “You had Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Dick Tracy. You had a lot of great action. But nowadays, humor seems to reign supreme in the comic strips. I’m not dogging humor. I love humor, but I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to try to inject an action-adventure strip in a time when it’s very rare?’”
John read that wish in Negus’ profile and, on the spot, asked Negus, “Hey, how would you like to have your strip printed in the Wakefield Times?”
“My first response was, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ and he said, ‘No, seriously, we could do this,’” Negus said.
John served as editor through several revisions, making suggestions for elements to add and remove.
“Basically, after all that was done, a strip was prepared, and it was off and running and, as they say in the movies, the rest is history,” Negus said.
Sharing the wealth
Negus does not keep his talents to himself. He teaches cartooning classes through the Dickinson County Arts Council.
Blehm said Negus stopped by the office when he was new to Abilene because he wanted to find out about local opportunities for artists.
“We got to talking, and I’m always locking for new and interesting things to try for the kids, so I asked, ‘Hey, you’re itnerestied in doing a class?’ and it just kind of blossomed from there.”
Blehm said Negus’ classes receive repeat attendance from budding artists.
“Kids tend to enjoy his teaching style; it’s just really unconventional,” Blehm said.
“There’s more to do in places like Kansas City or Salina, but one of the things I really like about Abilene is the arts council,” Negus said. “One of the main reasons I teach the classes on cartooning is because, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist, and, unfortunately, it was something my parents didn’t understand, so they really couldn’t help me with that.”
Going off to college Cloud County Community College did not help his search for cartooning assistance.
“I took art classes, but none of them really focused on drawing comics or drawing for animation,” Negus said. “My teacher was like, ‘what do you want to do?’ and I was like, ‘I want to be a cartoonist,’ and they were like, ‘Okay, how are we going to do that?’ it was something that was lost on them. But I always told myself, especially if I was in a small town, if I had the opportunity to teach kids how to draw comics and comic strips and cartoon characters, I would jump at the chance.”
Negus took the jump, and now teaches two classes for the council each year.
“Cartooning is a really great art form and it’s a lot of fun,” Negus said. “Not everybody understands it, but cartooning is as much an art form as sculpting or painting. Cartooning is a really, really cool work of art, and if you ever get the chance to really explore it, give it a shot.”