In the current media landscape, clearly the internet is the environment of the future. What you hear again and again, though, is the notion that industry is behind. From the issues with copyright infringement to legal battles between bands and their labels over whom owns music and videos. However, the internet represents, in most respects, a near perfect environment to let even someone as untalented as me a place to put forward their opinions and art. Of the many people who have done this, one of my real heroes in this realm is Ryan Sohmer. From a webcomic hero, to format redefiner, to award winner, Sohmer has been at the cutting edge of internet entertainment for years and I have been a huge fan for years.
The flagship comic of the Sohmer empire is Least I Could Do. The often absurd daily comic is based around Rayne, the aggressive macho womanizing stereotype with a penchant for imagination and Family Guy style cutaways. The comic mixes sitcom style story-lines with cultural parody, including the recent Game of Thrones story arc. The one exception is the adorable Sunday comics, based on a younger Rayne in a watercolor Calvin and Hobbes style comic. The comics are wonderful and self-deprecating. Discovering this comic in 2004, after the comic had been around only about 18 months, was a pure treat. The comic illustrates and satirizes much of modern media. However, Sohmer works to keep this out of his art. “Influence is a tricky thing. As a writer I need to take the things that influence me and find my own take on them to fit into the strip. If you’re not careful, you lose your own “voice” to what you’re reading or watching, and that’s not good for your characters or your readers. A lot of the little moments just flow from things that happen with me, my staff, my family and friends; throw in some careful crafting to make it fit in the LICD universe and you get a fun comic. I grew up in the generation of sitcom shows, so there’s no escaping that that influenced me as much as every other writer out there.”
In recent years, though, Sohmer’s properties have expanded significantly. In 2006, Sohmer and his cartoonist Lar DeSousa started Looking for Group, which felt very common webcomic, where someone reenacted their D ‘n’ D campaigns, Lord of the Rings with intentional humor, or recreation of old RPGs with punchlines. However, before long, the complexity of the story and the world they created went far past that and the story become highly engrossing. The idea came about very organically. “When Lar and I started LFG, we really just wanted to play around with the archetypes of the fantasy genre. Richard was borne of the simply wanting to give voice to the evilest of evil archetypes that most people won’t or can’t commit to when playing a social game. And as we talked about it we realized we just had so much story to tell that we had to do it as a full page comic and that it was going to take some time. It’s been really fun to work on the characters and have them maintain their simple archetypes while slowly starting to develop as real people with real character, though the current storyline (June 22nd) throws that into question a little.”
Their newest comic innovation places their sense of satire and places this against an entire industry. With their comic book friends and the dearth of new comic movies, the frustration of the Comic Industry is able to be brought to the page. The Gutters, as the comic is called, plays off of the ridiculous nature of the comics and has their very illustrators as the the creators; a creation so popular that the members of the industry keep the comics for themselves.
However, possibly the most important creation of Sohmer is Blind Ferret, a new form of webcomic syndicate. Traditionally – think newspaper cartoonists Charles Schultz to Stephen Pastis – a comic has gone through a Syndicate, like United Media, who then distributed them, sold them to newspapers, made their books, etc. Sohmer brought this idea to the internet with his own form of syndicate for comics. “Syndicate has been a really ugly word in certain circles for the last little while, but the idea of comics produced, distributed and promoted independent of the ‘syndicates’ and ‘the mainstream’ isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s just business and it’s a business we have worked hard at for a decade. We make comics, and the fact that we have chosen a different medium, the web, to distribute them isn’t revolutionary, we’ve just gotten really good at it. So why shouldn’t we offer our skills and assets to other creators with similar needs that want to work with us? Again, it’s good business and while it’s a newer model, it seems to be working pretty well.”
With his continued success, Sohmer has made a huge impact in the web community. From a successful Kickstarter to make an animated pilot, to his comics, to the creation of Blind Ferret, Ryan Sohmer is working to not only make the industry more professional, but raises the bar for all involved. When I approached Sohmer about the interview, through his PR rep, I didn’t know what to expect. There is a certain amount of anxiety and fandom whenever one approaches someone they admire. However, the answers were curt, but earnest. I wish him many more years of success.