Talking With Rick And Morty Series Artist Marc Ellerby, Plus Issue #35 Preview

by Richard Bruton

Rick and Morty Issue 35 is out this week (28th February) and features the full-time art debut of Marc Ellerby. He’s been involved with Oni Press and their Rick and Morty comics for quite a while now, contributing covers, backup strips, and full art for the 2017 limited series Pocket Like You Stole It.

In issue 35, Rick, Morty, and Summer take a trip to a prehistoric land, with dinosaurs all around them. Rick thinks he’s got everything under control, but when he’s suddenly out of commission it’s all down to Summer and Morty to find the right way home. Lots of chance for some Jurassic Park style gags all round.

(Mesozorick Park, from R&M Issue 35, art by Marc Ellerby, published by Oni Press)

Richard Bruton: Hi Marc, you’ve been involved with the Rick and Morty comic for a while now, contributing back-up tales and covers. But with issue 35, you’re the main artist. Can you tell us a little about how the gig came about and what it means to be taking on the main art duties now?

Marc Ellerby: Well, it’s a bit of a long story, but to get to the point, essentially about ten years ago I illustrated a book for Oni Press called Love The Way You Love with writer Jamie S. Rich. When it came to Oni picking artists for the not yet released Rick and Morty book they approached me as we already had a working relationship and as my style is already quite cartoony. I even remember a getting a review on Love The Way that referred to my work as looking like an adult swim cartoon (I’m not sure it was a compliment, but still). As I was already a fan of the TV show I couldn’t say “yes’ quick enough.

As for what it means…more drawing essentially! I’ve been working on the book since the first issue, first drawing and coloring 4-page back up strips written by Zac Gorman. Then writing, drawing, coloring the R&M back-up strips for about a year, more backup work on the Lil’ Poopy Superstar book with Sarah Graley and then I drew the five issue mini-series Pocket Like You Stole It. So at one point, I was probably drawing about 30 pages a month but now I’m at a relaxed 18 pages a month…let me tell you my wrist is very happy!

It’s my full-time job so I’ve been able to give up any non-drawing secondary jobs. I love it, it’s tiring, but I draw for a living and that’s something I’ve wanted since I was a kid.

RB: How much of a fan of the show were you before landing the job?

ME: Massive fan, I watched it from the moment the pilot dropped. I was a big fan of Community and Lemongrab on Adventure Time so when I found out there was a show from the guys who created/voiced those shows I was instantly on board.

RB: What sort of difficulties are there in adapting something so uniquely televisual to the comic page?

ME: The usual, with animation they have a team of people working on various aspects so one will design weapons, one will design characters, one will design the sets but with comics that all falls to me so there’s not really enough hours in the day to be as extravagant with the designs as I’d like. Sometimes I have to plan/rough/design an issue in a day and then hope for the best when it comes to drawing. I saw that Kris Anka takes a week or two to plan not on the layouts for his work but also character costumes and designs. TWO WEEKS! I’d kill for that. Two days is a luxury!

RB: Have you run into any issues with restrictions on artwork, or had any problems adapting your art to a specific R&M style?

ME: There are a few licensing no-go’s but it really has been the easiest licensed job, with Adult Swim very relaxed. I’ve rarely had to change anything significantly in the past three years. My drawing style is already so much like the Rick and Morty look that it’s not a stretch for me to draw the book at all, it’s all coming from the same part of my brain.

RB: After years of creating your own comics, as writer and artist, how much input have you at a story level, or is it merely a full story/script sent to you thing?

ME: Now I’m on drawing the lead story I do get a script sent to me but I feel that phrasing belittles things slightly, it’s essentially dialogue and scene instructions, I get to lay the page out how I want and control the storytelling, come up with the designs etc. I have a good working relationship with Kyle Starks so I feel comfortable about changing some sequences to make the page look more interesting and he gets what I like drawing. It’s a really good gig.

RB: Let’s go back a little bit now to take a look at your early encounters with comics. What were your first experiences as a reader, and as an artist?

ME: The usual British newsagent stuff like the Beano, Dandy etc. Also, weirdly, I loved the comics in the newspapers. I used to cut a bunch out and stick them in a scrapbook making my own trades, I guess. From there, X-Men, from there Preacher, Vertigo etc. Then a big break, then Oni books like Blue Monday, Jim Mahfood’s output, then the literary stuff like Chris Ware, then the ‘Top Shelf autobiocore’ scene of Jeffrey Brown, Craig Thompson, Liz Price.

I was always into cartoons as a kid so I always wanted to draw in the “cartoony” (god I hate that word so much) style. I mean, TV is probably one of the biggest influences on getting me interested in drawing, the Ninja Turtles boom was huge for me I was obsessed with them and would draw them all the time. The Simpsons as well was massive in getting me to develop a unique style but also telling (relatively) down to earth stories.

RB: When did the decision to pursue comics as a career come in? And why? (insanity is not an answer here!)

ME: I went to uni to “become” an illustrator as if I had a notion that I could only draw for money if I had a degree, which is not the case at all, believe me. I guess it was during my Art Foundation course when I moved into the design part of the programme that I figured out that I enjoyed drawing more than doing graphic design work. That stuff didn’t click with me at all so I moved over to Fine Art.

It’s hard to answer why I want to draw as a living as it’s all I’ve wanted to do, and part of me thinks this is all I’ve got. It’s pretentious to say it’s a calling but I’ve tried to give up many times when it got tough to make a living. As in actually find a desk job and pack drawing in entirely, even interning at businesses to switch industries. But somehow in the past four or so years I’ve been fortunate to have work come in when I’ve needed it most. Just when you think they’re out they pull you back in!

RB: I’ve been following your work for a long time. You’ve created two series thus far, amongst many other projects, that I feel are deserving of more exposure. Firstly there’s the autobiographical Ellerbisms. It was a compellingly honest series, hilarious at times, heartbreaking at others. How did Ellerbisms come about?

ME: I was drawing Love the Way You Love but I was getting burnt out on the daily grind, so I started drawing my little diary comics just to make me a little happier with drawing. People responded really well when I posted them on my LiveJournal (showing my age there). As mentioned I got really into that wave of Top Shelf autobio books I kinda thought that was a more “worthwhile” subject to draw, y’know it’s really deep and brave to draw about yourself!! The book Ellerbisms really came into its own when I started drawing comics about the relationship I was in and really didn’t hold anything back. I’m honestly really unsure how I feel about it looking back on it, whether I had the right to draw comics about someone else to put everything out there.

(Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby, published 2012)

ME: It’s a weird thing to look back on, as I know it’s the best thing I’ve made, but it’s also not a part of my life I enjoy reminiscing about, so to table at conventions with a pile of it in front of me is weird. I will say it’s nearly at the end of its print run and I don’t have any plans to reprint it,so it will be nice to draw a line under the sand once there are no more boxes of it at home.

(The whinging ginger ninja herself, Chloe Noonan, by Marc Ellerby.)

RB: The other series I want to talk about is Chloe Noonan. Your “whinging ginger ninja”. For those who’ve never had the pleasure of her company, can you tell us what that that one’s all about?

ME: Chloe Noonan is a Sixth Form student who is also a monster hunter who doesn’t have any superpowers. She can’t run, she can’t fight very well, but she has to protect a small British town from their overflowing monster problem. She’s very grumpy about it. It’s Buffy meets Daria essentially.

I got bored drawing comics about myself (there’s a trend here isn’t there?) and so I wanted to draw something more fantasy, so I came up with a character who was essentially my friend Tara. Buffy is the chosen one, she has the powers, the skills, but what if for Chloe monster hunting was her part-time job? Everyone remembers their first weekend job and how much they were bored by it, what if saving the world was like that? There wasn’t much more thought behind the book than that, I just wanted something fun to draw really.

I love the book, just making those monsters up and drawing fight scenes in this weird indie comic sorta way really made me happy. Honestly, I’m never happier drawing as when I’m drawing those characters and that world. I really miss drawing it.

RB: Any plans to do some more at some point?

ME: I would love to, but maybe it’s been such a long time since I’ve worked on the book, I’m not sure if there’s a demand for it and there’s already a lot of stuff that is similar to it out at the moment. It’s a shame as I wasn’t earning enough money to work on the project full-time so I just couldn’t put the time over to work on developing it. I did start forming ideas for an anniversary comic next year, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time to work on it to be honest. I’d love to, I really would but maybe it’s time to move on.

RB: Finally, what are your future plans?

ME: I’d like to keep working on Rick and Morty until Oni fire me but I would love to draw my own creations again. Maybe I can do both? Maybe I can invent an 8th day of the week.

(Marc Ellerby, real and self-portrait… but which is which. And oh, those boyish good looks!)

Thanks to Marc Ellerby and Oni Press for chatting to us at Comicon.com.

Marc Ellerby’s website is marcellerby.com and you can find him in all the usual social media places, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Now, as a special bonus, the Comicon.com preview of Rick & Morty Issue 35. Enjoy…