Road to Runes

Comic book’s rebirth reignites local writer’s passion

BEND ’EM, FOLD ’EM, READ ’EM <br>Ty Gorton next to the promo poster for issue one of <i>Runes of Ragnan</i>. Gorton was inspired by <i>The Crow </i>comic and has a tattoo on his left forearm. He says he’s not the typical comic guy, and actually makes fun of collectors who carefully place the books into air-tight plastic sleeves and never read them.

Ty Gorton next to the promo poster for issue one of Runes of Ragnan. Gorton was inspired by The Crow comic and has a tattoo on his left forearm. He says he’s not the typical comic guy, and actually makes fun of collectors who carefully place the books into air-tight plastic sleeves and never read them.

Photo By Mark Lore

The search for Ragnan: Runes of Ragnan can be purchased at BaT Comics in Chico.

“In the end, Eldjarn has been running like the rest of us, running against the tide of a world obsessed with self-destruction.”
Runes of Ragnan

Ty Gorton came to Chico from Phoenix on a Greyhound bus in 2004, burned out and exhausted. He left behind all his belongings except for a backpack full of clothes. Gorton didn’t have a plan, but he knew he needed a break from the comic book he worked a year trying to put out.

Just as Runes of Ragnan was scheduled to print, the comic book’s publisher went bankrupt. About 1,400 stores had already ordered copies, and Gorton was aggressively promoting the comic online and at conventions.

The opportunity was gone—all his hard work seemingly for nothing.

Gorton ignored comics and spent his time in Chico partying with friends.

“I went on a downward spiral for a time,” he said. “I did the bar scene for a while. That’s pathetic.”

But after a year of what Gorton called an uncreative and robotic lifestyle, his drive to produce—to publish his comic—overcame his disillusionment. He slowly got back into the online comic communities and heard from his artist that a new publisher, Silent Devil, was interested in Runes of Ragnan. Gorton retrieved his computer from Phoenix, which contained all the digital comic book pages, and began work on a second issue. Upon the issue’s release, representatives from Image Comics’ Shadowline division saw it at a Chicago comic book convention and signed Gorton for three issues of the comic.

Runes of Ragnan is an epic good-versus-evil story spanning 1,000 years that centers around two brothers, Eldjarn and Gunnarr. In addition to sorcery and bloodied swords, the plot permeates Viking mythology as Eldjarn makes his journey to avenge his sinister brother.

The fourth and final RoR issue is scheduled to be released at the end of March, which Gorton sees as a minor setback since he hoped to continue publishing the comic.

But Gorton prefers to focus on long-range goals rather than short-term failures. He knows success takes time, and the RoR franchise he wants to establish won’t come easy. The 30-year-old Gorton has a vision and a drive to reform a dying industry by making comics less expensive and more relevant.

All this is from a man who never read a comic book until he was 22.

As a child growing up in the small mountain town of Quincy, Gorton spent most of his time outdoors playing and using his imagination, which he said helped develop his creative nature.

“I wasn’t plugged into entertainment,” Gorton said. “I had to create my own worlds. I wasn’t locked into other ideas from TV.”

At 8 years old, Gorton was already making bold statements about becoming a writer, and by the time he reached his late teens he had already written 300-page novels which he says are irrelevant today.

“You have to find your voice and gain some wisdom,” he said. “That takes time.”

As a teenager, Gorton said he had dark thoughts that he wanted to express in his writing, but, like many teens, he worried what people would think.

Gorton’s attitude changed in 1993 when he saw The Crow, the 1989 comic turned 1994 movie about a man who, after being murdered alongside his girlfriend, comes back as The Crow to seek revenge against the killers.

"[The movie] showed me that dark can be beautiful,” he said. “The Crow made me realize dark isn’t misery, suffering or evil. It’s an expression of who we are.”

Gorton, who sports short, spiked hair, combat boots and piercings in both ears, now does all his work in a spare bedroom in his west Chico apartment where he is surrounded by art and novels. Next to his computer hangs a poster from The Crow comic. The titular character is also tattooed on his left forearm. Without the movie, Gorton said he probably wouldn’t have considered comic books as a creative outlet.

“I had that preconceived notion that they were immature and not trying to make powerful statements,” Gorton said. “It’s impossible for me to write something that doesn’t have something to say.”

In 1999, Gorton started a Crow fan site where readers posted their own comics and drawings based from the story. Collective Crow Comics gave Gorton, who went by the alias “tWISTEd sPINe” online, the opportunity to network with other writers and artists—people he would otherwise never meet.

Also after watching The Crow, Gorton became interested in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comics and started a Web site in 2001 that featured hundreds of fan-made drawings. He also ran contests for artists and interviewed the creators of Spawn.

One contest theme was to draw the most revolting image. Future RoR artist Josh Medors entered with a drawing of a clown holding a jar of demonic sperm.

“I saw his piece and I said, ‘I need to work with him,'” Gorton said.

Knowing that Medors loved to draw scenes from Viking mythology, Gorton thought of a story and pitched it to him.

A few days later Medors completed drawings of Eldjarn and Gunnarr, both of which hang on Gorton’s wall.

The two brought a couple of other artists on board and made a five-page sample of RoR, which Gorton pitched at the 2002 San Diego comic book convention, the largest in the nation. Roaring Studios, which went out of business in 2004, liked the comic and signed Gorton on the spot.

To write, draw, ink and color a single 22-page comic book takes time, and the collaborative process the RoR team uses adds hours to its production.

“It’s a very strenuous process,” Gorton said. “It’s a very demanding medium with constant deadlines. It’s more intense than assembly line comics.”

Gorton e-mails the script of each month’s issue to Medors in Ohio. Medors spends between five and eight hours drawing each page of the book. He then scans the pages and e-mails them to inker Bryan Boland in Amarillo, Texas. After printing out the drawings, Boland spends around six to 10 hours per page bringing Medors’ drawings to life.

“It’s really more than tracing,” Gorton said. “An inker creates line widths and makes [the drawing] pop.”

Boland then scans and e-mails the inked drawings to Gorton, who adds the basic colors to each page with Adobe Photoshop. When he’s done, the images look like a completed page from a coloring book.

The pages are then e-mailed to colorist Jay Fotos in Phoenix, who uses a computer to add depth, definition and shadows to the images. The process takes about three to five hours per page. Fotos e-mails the pages back to Gorton, who adds the lettering to each page using his computer. The pages are then sent to the publisher, who sends them to the printer overseas. There were about 7,500 copies of issue No. 1 printed and about 3,000 of No. 2 and No. 3.

Gorton met all the people who work on RoR online, and says technology makes everything easier for comic book production.

“The Internet has been a savior,” said Gorton, explaining that e-mailing the pages is quicker and eliminates the chance of images getting lost or damaged in the mail. “Trying to find a local artist would have been hard.”

Gorton would someday like to see his creation become a popular franchise like Spawn, complete with movies, comics, action figures and video games.

"[Spawn] is this empire of creation,” he said. “It’s making money and giving to the fans. If we don’t shoot for that, then why try?”

The final issue of RoR focuses on Eldjarn’s and Gunnarr’s origin. New readers will be able to understand the storyline, while fans of the comic will learn more about the characters’ beginnings.

“The first three create the tension,” Gorton said. “[The comic] will mean more to the reader when they see how it started.”

Gorton plans to take a break from the comic, but eventually wants to combine all four issues into a paperback, which he says is a self-contained sales pitch that makes publishers and media companies take it seriously.

To make some money and gain exposure, Gorton is going to take a different approach by submitting his comics to magazines that pay upfront. With most comic books costing $3.50, he wants to publish a 75-cent comic in black and white on newsprint.

“We need to expand our audience and the key is lowering prices,” he said.

But for now Gorton has other things on his mind. He thought writing a farewell note to readers about the comic’s end would be easy, but after reflecting on the four years he spent working to publish RoR Gorton said saying goodbye became an emotional experience. In the end he said writing RoR turned out to be everything he didn’t want but everything he needed.

“It was too soon for success,” Gorton said. “It’s just another step in becoming an artist.”