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Rune Ryberg:

“It feels good to own the work that I spend so much time on”

Rune Ryberg: It feels good to own the work that I spend so much time on

WeAnimate 2024-04-09 | wam#0034

Rune Ryberg is a multi-award-winning independent comic artist. His books Gigant, Death Save, Turbo Fang, and others, have won international acclaim and rave reviews, including being recognized by the PING and Claus Deleuran awards. On the eve of yet another successful book launch, we talked with Ryberg about his background, his passion, and the processes that drive him forward.

WeAnimate Magazine: How did you transition from animation to comics?

Rune Ryberg: I first got into animation in high school when, together with a friend named Martin, we talked the teachers into allowing us to make an animated commercial as our graduation project. We set out to make a 30-second animation without knowing anything at all beforehand, except this book from the library that said you need a light table. So we found a piece of glass in a dumpster and set it up on a stack of VHS tapes with tinfoil beneath it to reflect light. It was wobbly and ridiculous, but it worked.

Looking back, the film was crude, but I’m impressed that we managed to do that, working day and night the final week because we didn’t realize how much time it would take. Right after high school, Martin showed the film to an ad agency and got hired on the spot. As for myself, I traveled for three years before eventually setting my eyes on The Animation Workshop in Viborg. To improve my drawing skills before applying, I attended The Drawing Academy, a place of deep frustration for me 80% of the time. [Laughing] I just couldn’t seem to get it.

Up until then, I had only been drawing outlines, inspired by comics like The Adventures of Tintin. I would draw an outline and be done, while the other students were making elaborate constructions where you could see the skeleton and the surface texture and all the hair strands, and it just looked great. Meanwhile, I was making weird, ugly outline drawings. Finally, three weeks short of completing the course, something clicked for me. Suddenly, I understood the whole construction aspect and started working hard on my life drawings. Every opportunity I had, I would go out and draw people on the street, and go to croquis and make a lot of sketches.

I found that I enjoyed how liberating and free life drawing is. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look like the actual subject. It’s your interpretation of the subject, your viewpoint on what you’re drawing, so instead, it becomes an image that comes from within you. That spoke to me, and I tried to use that approach in my more stylistic work when drawing characters. At some point, I discovered the new comic work coming from France, like Joann Sfar and Blutch, and they were so free form and expressive.

I later enrolled in The Animation Workshop, from where I graduated in 2008 in the second group of graduates right after it became a government-funded education program. After graduation, I landed an internship with Mac Guff in Paris, before finally moving back to Copenhagen where I spent ten years working in animation.

One of my concerns right after school was whether I would be able to work as quickly and efficiently as professional animators. We had a long time to work on our school projects, polishing them for a week, but things are different in the real world. I once worked on a project where we had to deliver 8 seconds of animation every day, which is a lot. It was very stressful, but it also trained me to be efficient and think economically about my animation. I learned how to make good choices that work, and I was able to incorporate all that experience into my work and making comics. I learned to think about the whole production, so as not to get lost somewhere along the way by focusing on one specific detail. Instead, you have to focus on a final product that is consistent from the first page to the last page. So a lot of those animation-based efficiency tools transitioned well into making comics.

In the beginning, all I had was an idea for a story. First I thought I would turn that idea into an animated film, but I knew that to make an animated film would require a lot of collaboration with others and I would need to ask for help and I would need to get some funding… and none of that is making the thing I want to make. It’s not the work itself, it’s just other stuff. And it’s annoying stuff – that’s why you need a producer. I realized that if it were a comic, I could just get started and make it myself. I did that and learned that I love that process.

To sit down anywhere, with just paper and pen, and make something is liberating. Eventually, you have a finished story that you can print and share with people. And to do it all by yourself means that you own the entire thing. You wrote it and you drew it. It is your IP, and that’s worth something. So it’s not just the fact that you made and sold a comic book; it’s also the fact that you own that IP and eventually it may turn into something more. It could become a film or a game or something. It feels good to own the work that I spend so much time on.

A lot of people say that they can see the animation in my comics. They point out that the characters are very animated, that there is a lot of motion. It’s not something I think about a lot myself when I’m creating a comic, it happens naturally. The ideal place for me to be is when I can get lost in my work, then suddenly realizing that it’s six pm and the whole day has passed on a whim. If I know what time of day it is, it’s a sign that I’m bored.

WA: How similar is an animation storyboard to a comic page?

RR: You can basically take a comic book and turn it into a film. Of course, you have to account for the timing and pacing of the film. With a comic, on the other hand,  you need to consider the graphic layout on a comic page, which is a part of storytelling in comics, but not something that is possible in animation. Ultimately, there are strong similarities as well as things you can’t transfer.

Look at the intro to Tekkonkinkreet (dir. Michael Arias, 2006), for instance. They transitioned it from the comic to animation, and the intro just blows you away. They nailed it by making sure that it looks like the comic, but in a world where you can do anything. If you watch it through the eyes of an animator, or a compositor, you see the technical components and how they trick you into believing it is fluid motion. They were working in a very efficient, economical way, which is hard to do and takes a tremendous amount of skill.

WA: You are multitasking on many different projects, and running a business while being an artist. Do you have a process or system that lets you stay so productive?

RR [laughs]: Well, it’s important to get enough sleep and exercise. That helps. I always have a project going, in a very organic way. I like to schedule one main project that I’m focused on and keep the others going on the edges. I avoid downtime where I’m looking for the next project or the next idea after I’ve finished something. Instead, I work so that my next project is already ready, and I can just move my attention straight onto it that same day. So I keep about four projects going at once, in different stages.

When I am writing scripts or doing thumbnails and story processes, I have a big overflow of ideas. My ideas are usually very simple, just two or three lines. I write them down in a document and put them away for later. Sometimes they turn out to be something I can build on, or spark other new ideas. It’s a lot like my thumbnails: some of them are so badly drawn that when I look at them a month later, I’m not sure exactly what they were. But then I get an idea of what it could have been, and work with that. Maybe this new idea is better than what I was thinking when I originally drew the thumbnail.

WA: What inspires you?

RR: I surround myself with a lot of sources of inspiration accumulated over the years, mainly from my childhood in the 80s and 90s. My shelves are full of toys and comics, like Masters of the Universe action figures and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, that I never could afford as a kid. Now I like to mash all those things together and blow them up and try to make them bigger and more exaggerated while keeping the characters and stories more grounded in my comics. To be honest, this improves them a little bit: a lot of the things I loved in the 80s and 90s were really… bad. There was horrible animation and not good personas, but there was great energy, and I try to capture that energy in my work.


It’s your interpretation of the subject, your viewpoint on what you’re drawing, so instead, it becomes an image that comes from within you.

Rune Ryberg

It’s also not true that those were the golden days. There is a lot of brilliant stuff today that inspires me, like the work of Gipi and Daniel Clowes, and Danish artists like Søren Mosdal and Mikkel Sommer. Sometimes I need to remind myself to take 30 minutes and read a new book because I forget to do that. On the other hand, some of these newer works are just lying around on the table, and I’ll pick them up to look at something specific and end up getting absorbed in it and reading the whole thing.

WA: You have successfully crowdfunded a comic book. How was the process and what were your main takeaways?

RR: I just received my new book Les Dinosaures de L’Apocalypse last week, released by my French publisher, Les Aventuriers de l’Étrange. They wanted to publish it in French, although it’s not really in French. Or Danish, or English. I made it in iconic speech, without words, so it can be read in any language. I originally self-published it here in Denmark three years ago as Turbo Fang (2018), but they wanted to republish it in French for easier distribution. It’s been reworked, with two new short stories and more pages, and it turned out nice.

I had never crowdfunded a project before. It was my publisher’s idea. I had all these concerns and stories from other artists I know, who almost got PTSD in the process. Crowdfunding campaigns can be a lot of work, a million things can go wrong with the rewards that need to be made and shipped, items get lost, people change their minds… all these complications can happen along the line.

Luckily, I had a lot of merchandise  before we even went into the campaign because I had previously self-published the book. I already had stickers, pins, patches, and T-shirts, and all sorts of crazy stuff, and they were perfect rewards, so we didn’t have to invest in making a lot of things to support the campaign. Spending money to make the rewards can end up costing more money than you raise by crowdfunding.

For this particular campaign, I was busy working on another book and could not be too personally involved. I posted things on Instagram from time to time but the campaign was primarily run by my publisher. At one point, we thought it wouldn’t succeed, but then we made more than 50% of the whole campaign in the final 24 hours. This seems to be the way with most campaigns, where it escalates towards the very end. You need a certain amount of online following, to begin with, to generate a little bit of traction. The artist is the only one who can attract people into the campaign, the platform does not help extend your reach. Only when you generate enough traction on your own, might the platform step in and help create more visibility. You either need to start it with an existing following, or you need to make something outrageous.

I think crowdfunding works so well because being able to sell the concept without having to sell the finished product is a good way to support more experimental and artistic artefacts. Normally it is hard to estimate how many people will buy an experimental work, so you may invest in printing 2000 books but end up selling a mere 200. It is also costly to find storage for a few thousand books, so you may end up having to destroy them, which is horrible. But with crowdfunding, you get good feedback on how many people want it and how many you need, which makes the whole thing more feasible. I mean, you’re not going to make a living on it, but at least you’re not going to lose money either. I’ve been really curious about how it would work and wanted to try it, so this gave me a low-risk opportunity to try it. I would be open to doing it again.

WA: What are you working on right now?

RR: Right now I’m coloring the final pages of Westend Boy by Tomas Lagermand Lundme, in collaboration with the Danish publisher Cobolt. It’s coming out in the next few months, so that’s very exciting. It’s very different for me because I just drew it and he wrote the story. It’s about a boy who is a sex worker, who has fallen in love with one of his clients and has very romantic ideas about how they are going to be together, even though the client is an older man with a wife and children. I love the simplicity of the comic: 120 pages that all take place in just one hotel room and just a few characters. I enjoy the limitations of the comic because it zooms in on the characters and their thoughts and expressions. The comic has some really psychedelic parts, where you doubt what is real and what is just imagination.


The drawings become more than the written word because they can communicate things that aren’t said or described.

Rune Ryberg

The storyline is very heavy, but I like dealing with these subjects and bringing something fun to them. I have a very loose style, and I get to introduce a lot of subtle acting with the characters by using their expressions. The drawings become more than the written word because they can communicate things that aren’t said or described. It’s magical how people read the comics and they perceive these things, picking up on subtle elements that you thought no one would notice. But people see it, and sometimes they also put meaning into things that I didn’t necessarily intend, finding things that were just a sublayer in my consciousness while I was creating it. That’s just brilliant – I love that.

I am also working on Homunculus 2 with Benni Bødker, and after that a sci-fi epic, and I have some other ideas. I probably have work for the next four years on my plate right now. Hopefully, I will make all these things before I die. But I will have to be very efficient.

Meet the Artist

Rune Ryberg

Where can you find Rune?


Text: Rebekah Villon


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