Chris Ryall –  Mastermind Behind Page and Screen

Crafting Compelling Narratives Across  Multiple Mediums

Chris Ryall discusses his creative process, adapting stories across various media, and his roles at Syzygy Publishing, IDW, and Popularium Game Studios.

Chris Ryall stands as a towering figure in the creative industry, seamlessly blending roles across publishing, television, and gaming. As the publisher and partner at Syzygy Publishing, an imprint of Image Comics, and a narrative consultant at Popularium Game Studios, Ryall’s multifaceted expertise spans an impressive array of mediums. His extensive career includes serving as an executive producer for the Netflix hit series Locke & Key and the BBC Studios’ Eve Stranger, showcasing his unparalleled ability to transition compelling narratives from page to screen.

Ryall’s tenure as President and Publisher/CCO of IDW Publishing marked a significant period of innovation and growth for the company. During his leadership, he spearheaded the creation and successful adaptation of numerous comic book series, including the fan-favourite Zombies vs Robots, which was acquired by Sony Pictures. His editorial vision consistently pushed the boundaries of storytelling, whether in comics, television, or the burgeoning field of interactive gaming.

Before returning to IDW in an executive capacity, Ryall served as Editor-in-Chief of Special Projects at Sky-bound in 2018. His deep-rooted experience in managerial and editorial roles, spanning over two decades, has made him a vital force in the publishing industry. Ryall’s writing prowess is evident in his work as the writer and co-creator of numerous comic-book series, establishing him as a dynamic storyteller with a keen eye for character development and narrative structure.

Beyond his professional achievements, Ryall’s personal passions for comics, books, and music continue to inspire his creative endeavours. His lifelong love for these mediums fuels his storytelling, creating resonant and dynamic worlds that captivate audiences across various platforms. Ryall’s ability to integrate his personal interests into his work enriches his narratives, making them not only entertaining but deeply engaging.

In our interview, Ryall shares his invaluable insights into the creative process, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how he navigates the complexities of adapting stories across different media. From the intricacies of developing a comic book series to the challenges of pitching original content to major studios, Ryall’s experience and wisdom provide a masterclass in storytelling. He also delves into his role as a narrative consultant at Popularium Game Studios, balancing narrative development with gameplay mechanics to create immersive gaming experiences. This conversation promises to be a deep dive into the mind of one of the industry’s most innovative and influential creators.

How do you approach the creative process differently when working on a comic book series compared to a television series?

I’d say my approach has more similarities than it does differences. Both formats involve developing the word itself, as well as the characters who populate it; both benefit from having a clear plan for the characters’ growth and development – their arc – and developing the central plot as well as secondary and tertiary storylines. And both work best when each chapter, whether that be a single comic book or an episode, functions as its own thing but also adds to the previous one and becomes part of the greater whole, too.

The scripts themselves aren’t so different, either. A comic-book script asks a bit more of the storyteller, in that the writer functions as writer, director, and DP, all in service to the art direction that the artist provides. A teleplay doesn’t have to concern itself with so many different aspects since TV shows have a bigger team with more specific roles. That’s also why I love comics, for the purity of it being the production of just a small handful of people. 

As the co-creator and co-writer of a streaming series sold to Paramount Studios, what insights can you offer about pitching and developing original content for major studios?

I can offer one thing not to do if at all possible! And that is to try to operate a visual pitch deck at the same as pitching the property. When we sold this one, since it was sold early on in the pandemic and therefore pitched virtually, I had a long visual presentation on one screen, our treatment/pitch script on another, and attempted to advance both as the pitch went along, while also trying to maintain some sort of eye contact with the faces on the screen, and tried to look natural while doing so… it was grueling. But it worked out okay in this case!

But in practical terms, it’s good to do multiple run-throughs to know the material backwards and forwards before a first real pitch, and also to practice on different audiences to see what kinds of questions they might have about the material in terms of character arc, tone, the audience, all of it. Because there will always be question after any pitch, and you want to have an answer ready as a way of showing how deeply you’ve thought about all possible parts of the story.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working as an executive producer for successful series like Locke & Key on Netflix?

It was nice to be able to go through the show outline and the scripts and offer thoughts here and there, and to give input on the casting, but really, all of that was incidental to the thrill of seeing the two-dimensional world of the comic book, as well as its characters, brought to vivid three-dimensional life. Especially seeing the reverence the show’s art directors had for the source material and how they tried to emulate the artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s work wherever possible.

Zombies vs Robots was acquired by Sony Pictures in 2010. How do you navigate the adaptation process of your comic series into films?

Well, it sure requires some patience, anyway, since it’s now 2024 and I don’t know if we’re all any closer to it becoming a reality. Along the way, there have been various directions and various attachments of screenwriters and directors, and in all of them, I’ve enjoyed seeing the bits of the comic that might remain in the film interpretation, but I don’t think there’s quite been a version that will work in today’s world and film market. But we’ve been talking about it again recently and I was asked to put together some specific thoughts on what I’d like to see, understanding that the film would need to see considerable changes to make room for actual actors, so we’ll see! I’m glad it’s still a going concern for Sony, and I remain optimistic that we can land on a workable approach. But we shall see.

Can you share some insights into your role as a narrative consultant at Popularium Game Studios? How do you balance narrative development with gameplay mechanics?

When I started consulting with Popularium, they had a well-fleshed-out backstory for the game and its initial round of characters, so I originally came in as help on the branding side, and helped develop the game’s brand voice, its name, and its logo, while also working with an art director and various artists to develop the visuals for the characters as well as aspects of its gameplay, its UX, and all the other pieces involved in building out a new game. Along the way, I also helped steer bits of the worldbuilding and character gameplay – sometimes one of those things informs the other, or vice-versa, some details are retrofitted to better match a character’s visual design or other specific game-play needs. The game, now called Chaos Agents, has been shaping up nicely, it’ll be great when it can move from beta into a fully playable game. It was created by Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, so in that way, its pedigree was solid even before these other elements were added.

Beyond your professional accomplishments, what personal interests or hobbies influence your work, and how do they inspire your creative projects?

I’ve been a lifetime comic-book reader—and big reader in general—and I’ve never gotten over my wonder at the worlds that have been built by, in many cases, just one or two people. So comics and books and movies from throughout my life constantly serve as both inspiration but also motivation, to keep pushing to make things that land for other people as memorably as these things have landed for me. The other motivating factor is music – I’m a huge music fanatic, and have found all kinds of inspiration in a great song lyric, a great riff, or a memorable song.