For artist Ryan Browne, “a comic is a movie with an unlimited special effects budget” | Art Review | Chicago Reader

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For artist Ryan Browne, “a comic is a movie with an unlimited special effects budget”

In the new issue of Curse Words, expect more deadpan humor and boisterous excess.


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D on't you hate when you've defeated another of your fellow wizards from your hellish home dimension, only to find the U.S. government kidnapped your buddy the talking platypus?

Such is the current status of Wizord, the protagonist/antagonist of Curse Words, an ongoing comic that's raised the profile of 36-year-old Chicago artist and writer Ryan Browne. Browne believes "a comic is a movie with an unlimited special effects budget," and he consistently takes advantage of that freedom.

Curse Words , a collaboration with writer Charles Soule published by Image Comics, tells the story of Wizord (yes, a wizard), who left the Hole World for Earth, where he put out his shingle as a magician for hire. But Wizord is far from a kindly Dr. Strange: he's brought wizard-on-wizard violence to Earth and plenty of entertainment for readers. The third arc kicked off February 14 with issue 11.

Browne-who moved to Chicago from Boston 11 years ago to be around friends and closer to his hometown of Detroit-has gained a following in the past decade thanks to his use of bonkers imagery, ridiculous violence, endless jokes, and boisterous excess.

Browne's first professional work was a 2007 issue of Stormshadow written by G.I. Joe creator Larry Hama. That's the year he also started writing, illustrating, and self-publishing God Hates Astronauts. This sci-fi superhero series about farmers illegally launching themselves into space helped build his rep as a weirdo auteur. As guest illustrator for Image's The Manhattan Projects, an alternative history about the scientists working on the atomic bomb, Browne took readers ringside for a civil war inside the brain of Robert Oppenheimer's cannibal twin. When Browne decided he needed a break from the hand-straining labor of monthly comics, he began a new project where he worked on each page no longer than one hour: the result was Blast Furnace, a loopy heist comic that rivals the best improv comedy.

Humor is a constant in all of Brown's comics, including a terrific satire he wrote but didn't illustrate for Dynamite last year, Project Superpowers: Hero Killers. This absorbing story of a pathetic sidekick turned even more pathetic superhero serial killer is damned funny, which makes it unlike many comics today. Like deadpan comedians, Brown makes you laugh by playing things straighter than straight, even when, for example, a character has an oven mitt tied to his head to hide a mark left by Rainbow Boy (don't ask). "No matter how crazy and weird things get," Browne says, "the characters in the story do not have a sense of humor about it and don't seem to notice that anything is out of the ordinary. This makes the comedy pretty easy, actually."

Most of Browne's inspiration comes from movies, not other comics, which may explain the freshness of his work. "The films of the Coen brothers are my main influence in terms of storytelling and character," he says, "and I really gravitated towards the absurdity of The Tick and the early Adult Swim shows like Space Ghost and Aqua Teen." Another early influence was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: "I like drawing human anatomy and animal heads."

Browne's art has always been weird. His first comic, Holocaust of the Pigs, would probably yield a call to social services if it were produced by a second-grader today. "It was about three pigs with guns shooting bad guys," Browne says. "I'm pretty sure I didn't know what the word 'holocaust' meant in any way."

Browne has a sideline in graphic design: He did the poster and flyers for Logan Arcade, and he's collaborated with Half Acre for Beer Hates Astronauts, a seasonal IPA. He also draws an occasional poster for friends' bands, such as Murder by Death.

He has plenty lined up for the future. Besides year two of Curse Words-the project has a planned three-year arc-he's self-publishing Trash Bridge with cowriter Steve Seeley and artist Jim Terry. Browne calls this comic his "love letter to buddy-cop and postapocalyptic films of the 80s." He's also working with other artists on new God Hates Astronauts stories that will be published in an anthology comic. Kickstarters for this and other projects are coming soon (check for details).

In all future work, though, Browne promises more great jokes and grotesque animal people. Also, you can find one actual animal: Browne sneaks his cat, Simon, into every issue he produces, creating his own version ofWhere's Waldo?  v

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