An Interview with Ron Garney

09.03.2021 by

Within the past few years, comics have become the blueprint from which nearly all media now builds from. Television, video games, and movies have all sought to make the most popular adaptations of our favorite superheroes. 

A staple of any good comic, or superhero blockbuster is explosive, and inventive action. What Jiu Jitsu player hasn’t secretly pretended they were the star of their own action story when they land a technique perfectly?

For comic artist Ron Garney, there’s no need to pretend. When he isn’t on the mats Garney is putting ink to page helping to bring to life various characters and heroes we’ve all come to know. Check out what Ron had to say about his comic book and Jiu Jitsu experience.

What inspired you to start Jiu Jitsu?

I started in 2005 although I had been watching UFC since its inception back in the early nineties, and was fascinated watching Royce Gracie so I always toyed with the idea of training it.

I would watch Ken Shamrock, Dan Severin, or Oleg Taktarov and all of the others, and what fascinated me was how colorful Jiu Jitsu seemed by comparison to other fighters disciplines like say, Tae Kwon Doe for instance.

Can you tell us about your Jiu Jitsu?

I’ve been training Jiu Jitsu since 2005 and I’m a first degree blackbelt under world champion Rafael Formiga Barbosa. 

I started training at Ultimate MMA in North Haven CT and that’s where I met many amazing people like yourself.

From there I actually opened up my own school with a black belt named Chris Watson who was an instructor at my friend Tom Smith’s martial arts academy in Northford Ct.. 

I met Rafael Formiga Barbosa, who I trained with for seven years until he moved to Texas, and I continue to train under the Double Five banner with Diogo Araujo, another Double Five champ, to this day. 

What inspired you to start drawing? Was it something you always wanted to do?

I have had a penchant for drawing since I was very young ( like many children actually)  and still have drawings I did when I was three-years-old of Superman. Little balloon figures with a backwards ‘S’ on the capes. The interest in that kind of mythology was there from very early on. 

I continued drawing I think because of the positive response you get at that age. Then as you get older, that sort of wears off as your parents get used to what you’re doing, so it was a challenge to try to bring that positive response out of them by getting better at it.

What were your favorite comic books growing up? 

Superman initially, then as a young boy I got into the campy seventies Batman series. It’s funny how at that age, you don’t see the campiness for what it is, you only see that the heroes are doing good things and could kick butt and always win. 

The older I became I realized it was meant as a comedy! I read the comics here and there when I was a kid and remember Neal Adams’ Batman where they were more serious until Frank Miller really turned the mythology into the ultimate expression of what it could be.

When did you get your big break in the comics industry? 

I was actually bartending at the time and a bartender had a comic he was reading behind the bar. I thought “hey i remember these.” As I moved forward in  life and became more involved with sports and girls, comics became a thing of my early childhood. 

That aside I always had an interest in storytelling and was an illustration and psychology major at Southern Connecticut State University. The idea of narrative storytelling mixed with superhero fantasy was an appealing prospect for me to get into, and Marvel was the biggest. 

I found out about someone who lived in the area who happened to be the artist on the comic the bartender had and so I looked him up and he agreed to look at samples and give me some direction. Then he started coming to my bar, and when I was ready he took me into DC and Marvel to show my work around. 

By the time I got home, I had a few offers on my answering machine, where I received my first assignment which was ANIMAL MAN for DC. That didn’t go further than eight pages, as the original artist who turned it down changed his mind. I was also offered GI JOE 110 from Marvel and that was my first printed work and the rest is history. 

Who in the industry would you consider inspirations in your work? 

Everyone and anyone whose work I find appealing for whatever reason past and present. Even younger artists who haven’t quite gotten their legs under them I can see potential in and that inspires me. 

By name, probably Frank Miller, John Buscema, the Romitas, Kuberts, my buddy Lee Weeks, and Jack Kirby of course. There’s so many to list. 

Can you describe the process of how you help to build out a comic? 

Well, it starts with an idea, which a writer fleshes out to me. Then, it’s written and I sit and visualize how i’m going to approach the look of the character and environment. For me, I prefer to give a character their own identity visually. For instance, the way I draw Wolverine is vastly different than the way I illustrate the Silver Surfer. 

One is gritty and rough, the other is sleek and alien. Then, once I’ve come up with that motivation for the thrust of the work I start thumbnailing and sketching pages after I’ve received the script up through the final finished page.

If they’re not the same, what would you say is your favorite project you’ve worked on, and what is the most important to your career?

I’ve had a number of high points and some low ones. I think I had a jump in my artistic growth right after Spiderman, working on a Wolverine project called ‘Get Mystique!’ with Jason Aaron. The reason it was a jump was because I happened to be working on another high point in my career on the movie ‘I am Legend’ with Will Smith. 

Working with Michael Kaplan, the film’s costume designer, really ignited growth. Through that enthusiasm it translated into the comic work as I was trusting my own instincts a bit more than I ever had. This project I’m doing with Keanu is also a ton of fun. We’re having a blast on it.

Any favorite characters to draw? 

BRZRKR at this point! I’ve done so many it’s hard to pin down one–maybe the Hulk–who doesn’t like to draw a gigantic green monster? Spiderman, Wolverine, I’ve really enjoyed them sometimes it depends on the story too.

What would you describe as the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Well, seeing the book come into fruition where it’s in your hand and printed has never gotten old, the creative aspect in that regard is fun. 

And the fans. Their enthusiasm is a gift that I never take for granted and I try to be as accommodating as I can to them. That is difficult at times because as I’ve gotten further in the more requests I’ve had made of me that I simply can’t get to. That said, their love for the medium is a special thing to see. 

Your newest project BRZRKR has you working side by side with Keanu Reeves, how did that project develop?

Yes, well, I was actually thinking about retiring from active duty on regular books, actually. So, I didn’t renew my contract with Marvel, and wanted to pursue other projects. I have a TV series based on a creator own called Men of Wrath, that we’ve been trying to get off the ground for awhile.

I received an email from Filip Sabik and Matt Gagnon at Boom studios who just happened to ask me what my availability was.They brought up Keanus’ name and told me he likes my work and wanted to know if I’d work with them. 

I really wasn’t sure if it was just a hook to try to get me so I said “well I didn’t hear that from him,” thinking that would be the end of it. A couple of days later they asked if we could still talk about it and do a zoom meeting.

 I said “sure,” and when I logged on Keanu (and others from Boom) was staring me in the face telling me he loved my work and wanted to work with me. That was a bit trippy and serendipitous, I’ll have to admit, as it fell from the sky into my lap right at the time I had left my contract.

Would you say this is a collaborative project, or are you more “along for the ride”?

Well, it’s very collaborative, in the sense that I’m responsible for the actual living, breathing visuals, which is what a comic is. I mean it wouldn’t be a comic without them, and there’s a lot of back and forth with Keanu. We’ve developed a good relationship for it;  same with the editor and the colorist etc..

 It’s all been very collaborative, actually. As far as the story, Keanu works with writer Matt Kindt to flesh out this world from 80,000 years ago to the present for this character and then it’s up to me to interpret it and make the ‘movie’ on the pages.

Can you tell us a little about the story of BRZRKR?

Sure, he’s an 80,000-year-old immortal, born of a god and a woman from a tribe that needs protection, but with that comes a cost. I wont get into too much, however. 

We travel with this character over the eons, and watch the relationships that develop and fall along the way. There are plenty of immortal stories, however the character development in this one makes it stand apart.

What are your hopes for the book?

Well, we’re shooting for the big screen, regardless though, I hope that people enjoy the escape and the ride when they read it. 

We need a bit more of that, since the idea of good stories seem to have gotten lost in this day and age of formulaic reboots and formulaic messaging. I’m hoping people will find it refreshing, and yet familiar in that they remember what it’s like to get pulled into an escape and adventure. 

Given Reeves’ own Jiu Jitsu experience, have you two ever discussed the sport in depth? Would you roll with him if you got the chance?

We’ve talked about it. He was open to it, however, he said that his training is more involved to have specific outcomes for his movie roles. I told him it doesn’t matter and that it would still be a lot of fun. Someday though, I’m sure, we’ll see. We also talked about riding motorcycles as we’re both into that too.

Have there been any other ways that your Jiu Jitsu experience has crossed over with your comic experience?

Well, I’m pleasantly surprised how many fans there are in the Jiu Jitsu community. I’ve had the good fortune of talking with Renzo, Marcelo, and many other luminaries because of it. I’m very fortunate in that regard and have gotten wonderful messages from instructors from all over. 

Do you have any other personal projects in the works? 

Yes, I’m pushing toward more projects to be made into film and television like Men of Wrath, and BRZRKR and have offers to do so with producers, so we’ll see how it all plays out!