My Hero Academia: Ryan Stegman On His Original Artwork and Melding the East With the West

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This article is presented by Funimation

It’s never been a more exciting time for both comic fans and comic creators. There’s a growing trend that celebrates the merging of worlds and blurring of lines, both when it comes to the characters within comic books, but also the people who work behind the scenes. Collaboration has been embraced in major ways and suddenly creators are able to provide their own slant on classic characters and reinvent them for a fresh set of eyes. 

Ryan Stegman is a talented comic book artist who’s become an important part of Marvel over the past decade through working on series like Venom, Superior Spider-Man, She-Hulk, and X-23. Stegman has built a clear visual style through his work that’s allowed him to take on increasingly ambitious projects and more beloved comic book icons. Recently, Stegman has also re-teamed with his Venom collaborator, Donny Yates, for their own original creator-owned series, Vanish, through Kids Love Chains Press. The gritty take on the superhero genre can be read online and is set to hit shelves in a more complete form in a few months. 

Stegman has an illustrious history with Marvel, but he’s an artist who’s been influenced by manga throughout his entire life and has always been eager to tackle that world. The success of Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia continues to soar and it’s a rare example of a manga and anime series where Western superhero influences are front and center. Stegman has been able to combine his talents with the growing world of My Hero Academia to create a thrilling piece of artwork that captures the climax of the new My Hero Academia movie, World Heroes’ Mission, yet reinterpreted through Stegman’s own iconic style.

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Ryan Stegman’s new artwork celebrates the release of My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission and in honor of the exciting collaboration he’s opened up on his creative process and his history with My Hero Academia. Stegman reveals how he began by working on a cover for the manga’s French publisher, what Marvel characters he thinks of when drawing Deku, the prospect of illustrating a My Hero Academia one-shot, and what prolific anime studios he’d like to see bring his own comic creations to life one day.

DEN OF GEEK: To begin with, how did you first get involved with this collaboration?

RYAN STEGMAN: I had done a cover for the French publisher, Ki-oon, who publishes My Hero Academia in France. I was told—now I don’t know if it’s true—that the creator of My Hero Academia [Kohei Horikoshi] actually likes my work, which was a huge honor. He really does seem like he has some American influences. So I did that piece, which went well, and then I was contacted out of the blue by Funimation to produce some more My Hero Academia art. I was all too happy to do it because both of my kids are obsessed with My Hero Academia, so it’s the one thing that I can do that makes them think that I’m cool.

My son—whose ten—is a huge manga fan. I’ve read several volumes of the book, but he’s like current. He’s read them all. He and I watched the first few seasons of the show—I’m not completely caught up, but I’ve seen a bunch of it and really love it. 

You mentioned you and your son’s connection to the anime, but why do you think audiences have responded to the anime’s characters in such positive ways and what is it about the series that initially drew you into its unique cast?

RS: Well I think it’s interesting in the sense that superheroes have never been more popular thanks to Marvel movies and everything that’s come out. I can’t really think of many other manga that have leaned hard into the superhero angle. There are plenty of characters with powers and stuff like that, but My Hero Academia crafts this entire superhero universe in this one book. It’s like Jack Kirby creating the whole Marvel universe, except that all of these characters fit into the same place and you don’t have to buy like fifteen books to understand what’s going on. I think that’s a big part of it. It’s like with Invincible, Robert Kirkman’s American comic book series, which forges this jumping-off point with Invincible, but then there’s this whole other universe that develops around it. In a way, it’s like you’re reading a team book, but it’s just focused on one character. 

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You’ve done a lot of work with Marvel in the past and it seems like a lot of people see similarities between My Hero Academia and these more established superheroes. Do you see connections between these two worlds at all, and were any Marvel characters on your mind at all when creating this artwork for the movie?

RS: I definitely think a lot about Spider-Man when I draw Deku. I’m a big Spider-Man fan, as my past work might indicate, and so it’s easy to relate to Deku through that Peter Parker perspective. He’s always getting beat up and he can’t give up even when the worst things in the world are happening to him. So I definitely think of Spider-Man the most there and it’s a helpful entry point for the character.

Does artwork like this go through a lot of revisions? Did it look any different in its introductory stages and what’s your process on putting something like this together?

RS: So we make sure to properly plan it out since it needs to go through several channels. So I do a layout, where I want as many notes as possible so that there aren’t a ton later on in the process. Initially I had a few different ideas that I considered, like using Deku’s Black Whip Quirk in the initial image, which ended up changing into his electricity power. Really though, besides that there wasn’t much in terms of changes. It was a very smooth process. 

There are so many powerful scenes from out of this movie, so how did you decide to draw the particular action sequence that’s focused on in this artwork? Were you given a lot of freedom with what you could tackle?

RS: They kind of gave me info on Flect Turn, the villain, and that they wanted the scene to focus on him and Deku. There were several iterations of what we could do for this, but just two characters fighting each other is my favorite image to create. It’s always this dance where the characters need to look like they’re fighting, but that neither one can appear like they’re winning, too. It’s an old comic trope that I’m obsessed with. So once we decided on the two characters for the artwork, I watched the film’s trailer and there was a note to contain it to the certain room that’s present in the trailer. Once I knew the characters and the location, I took it from there.

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That’s so interesting because it really is the type of image that’s common in comic books on a big splash panel, yet also the sort of stylized freeze-frame approach that’s present at the end of anime episodes. It really captures both of those worlds at once.

RS: I’m hugely influenced by manga to begin with. I think that the action in a lot of my work is more influenced by manga than it is by American comics. It’s not a leap for me to create an image like that.

On that note, the animation in this movie is so staggering at times and Studio Bones really outdo themselves here. Are there any stylistic touches or animation techniques in this movie, or elsewhere in the series, that have inspired decisions that you have made in your work?

RS: One of my number one influences is Katsuhiro Otomo from Akira. That’s kind of like where I learned how to draw action. There are some American artists that can pull this off too, but manga is all about elements like the speed lines and the tension in the figure, so that a still image actually looks like it’s moving. So that’s something that’s greatly influenced my work. And even in the anime, they work off “on twos”—I think—which make use of a lot of still images, but they still look like they’re moving within the anime. So it’s something that I’ve learned from them. 

Studio Bones has also just become one of the best. One of my dreams is to have something that I’ve made get turned into an anime by a studio like that. I always try to keep that in mind when I’m working. “Would this look cool if Studio Bones got their hands on it?”

That’s so cool. There’s been such an interesting shift where the public has become much more knowledgeable on what animation studios are involved with productions. People will get excited or frustrated when it’s announced that this particular studio is adapting this manga, or when studios switch between seasons. There’s a lot more interest on that side of things.

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RS: Gainax, they’re another one that for the longest time I was like, “Anything that they touch I will watch.”

No, it’s so cool to see audiences rallying behind an animation studio as much as they would a director or a writer. Your voice really shines through with this artwork, but would you be interested in pushing this partnership further and doing something like a full-on one-shot in this style?

RS: Oh, of course. Like I said, my kids are so into this. I also have a niece that loves My Hero Academia. I’ve always said that my target audience that I want to win over is that ten-to-eighteen year-old group. That’s when I first got obsessed with this medium. I can’t get that out of my head and so those are always the people that I want to connect with. I often think about how it’s possible to bring over those manga fans to the American side of things, so if that opportunity became available I’d jump at it. I’d do anything for My Hero Academia. I just love it. 

And the response is also just so great. I noticed on Twitter after the first time that I drew that cover for Ki-oon that people were like, “Oh my God, look what this Venom artist did for My Hero Academia!?” Almost like they were mystified that an American comic book artist was interested in manga, but this is the stuff that I grew up on. I just happen to draw it in an American style because I’m an American.

Absolutely. It’s really great to see creators drawing other artists’ characters and how there’s such intense passion to connect worlds and play with other people’s toys. Also, the bone and spinal quality that you’ve incorporated into Flect Turn’s equipment is so striking. Talk a little on that detail and some of the other inspirations for that exoskeleton aesthetic.

RS: I was basically referring to the reference materials and I just can’t help but texture everything to death. So I see those elements of Flect Turn, think they look like bones, and then texture them like a skeleton. I’m definitely an artist who doesn’t think that less is more. More is more. I like a lot of lines and my influences were always so detailed with their work. So I guess what you’re responding to there is just my texture work.

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It has a real Cronenberg quality to it!

Ryan Stegman x My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Giveaway

RS: Yeah, right? It’s a little creepy, isn’t it?

I guess off of that, do you find that you have a preference towards heroes or villains when it comes to your artwork?

RS: It’s kind of interesting since I never know how I’m going to feel about a character until I’ve actually drawn them. When I first drew Spider-Man, I got it. I drew up drawing Spider-Man and it was just easy for me. But every so often you’ll draw a character and have no idea how much fun it will be. For example, I did an Inhumans series and I just fell in love with the character of Medusa. She kind of tows the line between hero and villain. It was the same thing with Venom. I was never a huge Venom fan when I was growing up—I mean I liked him—but as soon as I started drawing him there was just a connection there. 

Oh! And I drew some Superior Spider-Man, which features Doctor Octopus inhabiting Peter Parker’s body—it’s a whole thing—and that was just so much fun because I was drawing Peter Parker, but with villainous expressions. He’d be all over the top and it was a fun experiment. But it really just depends on when you get a new character to play with and how you respond to it all. 

Similarly, if you could mix My Hero Academia together with any other existing superhero characters, what kind of feud would you be the most fascinated to draw?

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RS: I think the easiest answer would be the X-Men because there’s the school aspect to it all. The younger X-Men characters could fight with the younger My Hero Academia characters and it just feels like an easy one to play around with. They’re already so similar!

If you had to draw some Old Man Logan style artwork for a character out of My Hero Academia, who do you think would be the most interesting to focus on?

RS: To age them up and make them old? Bakugo could be interesting. It may be a lame answer, but Deku would be a fun route to go just because it’s Deku and you could power him up even more and show how much he’s grown. Maybe make his look closer to All Might even. 

Lastly, are there any other anime series that you’re interested in and would like to take a crack at now that you’ve got My Hero Academia under your belt?

RS: My Hero Academia is kind of the perfect series for me since it’s already such a good fit with the work that I do. I’d have a lot of fun tackling any manga or anime series. In the past I’ve done some Dragon Ball stuff for fun. That’s a good question though….Some of my favorites, like Samurai Champloo, I’m not sure if I would excel in that area. They’re not like huge muscle characters, you know, but I still might end up enjoying something like that. I’m going to stick with My Hero Academia for now, but I’ll give anything a shot if I’m offered the opportunity.

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is exclusively in cinemas now in the UK, and you can buy tickets here! More about Ryan Stegman and Donny Cates’ upcoming Vanish series can be read about at KLCPress.com

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