For as long as Ryan Brady can remember, comics were a way to escape from reality and enter new, enchanted worlds full of mystery and intrigue.
As the Collingswood resident recalls, in the early 1990s, he and his older brothers began collecting comic books, and the boys became enthralled with the unfolding, dramatic events of their heroes.
“I especially remember The Death of Superman – that was an epic event in our house,” recalls Brady, who graduated in 2011 from Rutgers University-Camden with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “Even though comics weren’t real, it was real to us, and that aspect of it always amazed me.”
Fast forward to the present day, as Brady is the writer, illustrator, and producer of the increasingly popular comics The Bolt and The Anomaly, weaving personal experiences, fantasy and the familiar cityscape of Camden into original plots that pit good versus evil.
This spring, Brady and professional comics illustrator and animator Phillip McNulty have been sharing the wonders and joys of comics with Camden schoolchildren, giving the kids the tools to create and enter their own worlds of fantasy.
As part of an art residency project through the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, the dynamic duo have been instructing two fifth-grade classes and one sixth-grade class at Henry L. Bonsall Family School in Camden on the creation and development of comic book characters and storylines. Brady has been leading the classes on the writing aspect of the script, while McNulty has been focusing on drawing and sequential art.
The project will reach its conclusion in the form of two 11-inch-by-17-inch posters – one featuring the character and script, and the other featuring a one-page origin comic – that will be unveiled at the third annual Camden Comic Con at Rutgers-Camden on Saturday, April 9.
“The students were excited and couldn’t wait to start the project,” says Brady, who calls the students by their “superhero” names, such as “The Hypnotist,” “Dr. Pluto,” and “Nor' Easter.” “They weren’t afraid to ask questions and they really surprised us with their wealth of comic-book knowledge.”
Meeting twice a week for six weeks, Brady and McNulty – who met at a comic convention several years ago – first introduced the students to the history of comic books, and discussed the impact of the creative teams behind the scenes of some popular storylines. The students then learned the concepts of character design used to develop heroes and villains, as well as the elements of costume design – how it goes hand in hand with a character’s personality – and the motifs of modern characters.
After only a couple of classes, the students were drawing and designing their own heroes and villains, fleshing out the characters’ origins, powers, and motivations.
“It’s so cool to see how excited they get coming up with new characters – and that’s what I’m so passionate about,” says Brady, who, by night, manages a GPS systems antenna department at Rosenberger-Toth.
The Bonsall students then learned how to write a working script and sketch out the comic panels – exploring the different types and their reasons for implementation – before putting their final product on paper.In his students, it isn’t difficult for Brady to recognize the same wide-eyed exuberance and creativity that he had as a child. Equipped with only a pencil and a wild imagination, he began creating characters and stories with his friends in elementary school.
He then fine-tuned his skills in high school by taking drawing and digital-imaging classes – and always found the time to draw. Even years later, while pursuing his criminal justice degree at Rutgers–Camden, Brady spent his time between classes drawing in the cafeteria.
Two years after graduating, Brady got his big break – unbeknownst to him – when a friend and fellow Rutgers-Camden graduate asked him to post his work on his new comics website. Although reluctant at first, Brady inked and colored his first issue of “The Bolt” – a kid-friendly story featuring a superhero pitted against two, rival groups of supervillains in Camden – figuring that only a handful of people would see it anyhow.
Surprised by the positive feedback from readers, Brady continued to self-publish subsequent issues and began attending conventions to showcase his work. He also then began publishing “The Anomaly” series, centered around a robot with human-like qualities who wants to be a superhero.
As both series gain popularity, Brady has especially enjoyed sharing his passion for comic books and drawing with others. He has been a regular guest at comic-book conventions and workshops, including appearing regularly as an art instructor for the Camden County Library System.
He is now excited that the Bonsall students will have a chance to showcase their work at Camden Comic Con, hoping that the momentous event is just the beginning of many great adventures to come for the budding creators.
“I really hope that they continue drawing,” says Brady. “Some of the students created superheroes and others created villains, and are already planning to team up. I guess you can say that a sequel is in the works.”