Tell us a bit about yourself! What’s your background, and how did you get into comics?
My name is Ryan Pagelow. I’m the creator of Buni, a webcomic about a bunny with terrible luck, which has more than 600,000 followers on Instagram. I’ve drawn comics for most of my life and started by drawing a comic strip that appeared in university newspapers. I then started freelancing for Mad magazine. I created Buni in 2009, and since then, it has been featured on GoComics and Webtoon, and I published a book of my favorite Buni comics in 2018. When I’m not drawing comics, I work as a photographer and videographer. I’ve visited more than 40 countries, including traveling from Argentina to Chicago without a plane. I currently live in Chicago with my wife and two kids.
What sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist?
I never had formal training in comics, apart from reading some cartooning books when I was a kid. I studied journalism and worked as a reporter and photojournalist for newspapers. Meeting all kinds of people through journalism helped teach me about storytelling, which is great for making comics.
Who are your art heroes? Who inspires you?
I follow all kinds of different artists, but in the webcomics world, some of my favorites are Reza Farazmand of Poorly Drawn Lines, Sarah Andersen of Sarah’s Scribbles, Shen of Blue Chair, Adam Ellis, Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship, Ruben Bolling of Tom the Dancing Bug, Gemma Correll, Weird Helga, and Nathan Pyle of Strange Planet to name a few.
What comics are you working on right now? How did the idea for the storyline first come to you?
I am still creating two new Buni comics each week. The idea for creating a visually cute but dark comic had been bouncing around in my head for a few months before I created Buni for the Comic Strip Superstar contest in 2009. I didn’t intend for the comic to be wordless, but after I made the first one without words, I made the next one without words too. And then that sort of became Buni’s thing. This was the first comic I created specifically for the Internet, rather than for newspapers.
How would you introduce your work to the readers?
My Buni comics rely on images to tell the story, which is often twisted, sad and funny all at the same time. Buni, who lives with his cynical dad, doesn’t understand that the cute, surreal world he lives in is usually out to get him, yet he wakes up each day hopeful.
What comic book character do you identify most with, and why?
I think my personality is split between Buni’s optimism and Buni Dad’s cynicism. They represent the ying and yang of my life.
What’s the relationship like between you, the comic book writer and you, the illustrator?
I am both the writer and the illustrator. I show my wife my comic idea sketches, and she helps me figure out which ones are good enough to actually draw for real.
Do you keep a little notebook and sketchbook around you at all times in case inspiration strikes, or is this more of you sit down at your work desk, and you bang it out?
I try to sit down and write for about an hour every day. It’s like a daily meditation. Since my comic is essentially wordless, I sketch out the comic panels with a regular pencil and paper. I start with one panel and then see what happens from there. It’s rare for me to randomly get a bolt of inspiration of a fully fleshed out comic outside of when I’m sitting down and consciously thinking of ideas. But it does occasionally happen, and I’ll try to write it down on a scrap piece of paper or my phone.
What outside of comics inspires your work?
I work as a photographer and videographer when I’m not drawing comics. So I enjoy great photos and videos as much as I do comics. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts while drawing and have subscriptions to two newspapers and a couple of magazines. So I try to fill my brain with as much information as possible and then see what gets mixed together and result in comic ideas. I also enjoy traveling and doing outdoor things like hiking, kayaking, biking and snowboarding whenever possible.
What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use?
I draw my final comics on a Wacom MobileStudio Pro tablet and use the program Clip Studio Paint. After penciling, inking and coloring the comic on the tablet, I open the file in Photoshop on a desktop to format the comic for whatever platform it will be published on.
Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?
I create two Buni comics per week, so I have a deadline to keep. That’s pretty much what keeps me motivated. When I have time, I work on side projects too. I just try to set goals to achieve by a certain date.
What experience do you transfer from comics when working in other media?
After drawing comics for so many years and learning how to compose a frame, I naturally learned how to compose photos. I didn’t formally study photography but became a full-time photographer and videographer, largely due to my experience in comics. Also, storytelling and timing in comics helped me to learn how to tell stories through videos.
What do you desire most as an artist?
I just want to be happy and to entertain myself. I figure if I enjoy what I’m doing, then someone else out there must enjoy it too.
What’s a trend you see in comics art today that gets on your nerves?
To be successful in comics today, you have to cultivate a social media presence. To gain followers on Twitter, it seems like the best way is to always be on it posting, and not even about comics or your work, but about politics and cultural critiques. It seems like the angrier and meaner you are, the better. I’m someone who rarely posts personal stuff on social media. I just post my comics. I have very strong opinions about things, especially while living in the United States right now, which is truly embarrassing on so many levels, but I would rather spend my time drawing comics than obsessing on social media.
What does the world need that comics, or art more generally, can provide?
Comics provide an escape for people. A moment of happiness, or a moment of relatability that you’re not alone in the way you feel. Comics can also educate readers on different perspectives and points of view, which is badly needed right now.
Do you have any quick advice for aspiring comic book illustrators out there?
The best advice I read was from Charles Schulz, who created Peanuts. He said something like; everybody has 100,000 bad drawings in them, so the sooner you get them out of the way, the better. So basically, just draw and draw, and after a while, your natural style will develop, and your humor and storytelling will improve. And it will keep improving. I always feel like I’m only as good as my last comic, and even when I create that one, I’m already looking ahead to the next one because it will be better in some way.
Where can our readers find you online?
Readers can read Buni online at: bunicomic.com and @bunicomic on Instagram and Twitter, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bunicomics. You can also read my comics early and see exclusive comics on Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/bunicomic