When you attend and report from comic conventions on the regular (for fine media outlets like AiPT!), you tend to see more than a few familiar faces from one event to the next. Illustrator Ryan Santos has one of those faces, because for however long I’ve been covering conventions, I’ve seen Ryan sketching away in artist alleys in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and now Connecticut, where he was tabling at ComiCONN at Foxwoods Resort Casino June 30 and July 1.
As ComiCONN, located in the rural woods of The Constitution State, was smaller in scale than larger New England events like FAN EXPO Boston, I had more room to navigate the convention floor–and interact with artists I may not have had the room to chat with elsewhere. So finally, I was going to learn about “The Art of Ryan Santos!”Ryan’s what I’d consider a convention warrior… a con man? No, that’s not right. Point is, the guy’s been to a lot of these events within the past five years, initially focused on promoting his talents as a painter. Citing artists such as Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell as inspirations, Ryan has produced many oil paintings–some, more traditional and others with a comic book twist. Have you ever wanted a portrait of Doctor Doom that could fit right in at a fine arts museum? Ryan’s your man!
But Ryan also has a passion for illustration, including comic book cover work (he lands the occasional cover project from time to time). As is the case with most artists attending conventions like ComiCONN, you can typically find Santos working on commissions in between chats with passersby. Any guesses as to who the most requested characters are?
“Deadpool is always a huge seller, Ryan said. “I can do Deadpool and sell them all day. As far as Star Wars, Boba Fett too is one that people always request.”
And while we’re on the topic of Star Wars–it turns out one of the freelance illustrator’s regular gigs is producing sketch trading cards from a galaxy far, far away for Topps. Yes, trading cards are still a thing–and the ones Ryan produces are those rare, collectible cards that used to drive you crazy! They’re the kinds of cards collectors buy entire boxes for just to ensure they get the good ones.
Princess Leia is among the most popular characters Ryan draws, alongside other icons like Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt.
So what keeps a card creator like Ryan a regular on the convention circuit after all this time?
“It’s a good opportunity to meet people and connect with other artists and studios–stuff like that,” Ryan said. “For me, I’m just trying to break in a little bit, so it’s a good place to showcase my work.”
Ryan admitted he’d love to do more comic book interiors, but he doesn’t have too much sequential work in his portfolio. So doing more pages is definitely a goal (Sean Gordon Murphy is a modern comic artist he likes). Still, that doesn’t prevent fans of original artwork from stopping by his table with requests.
And yes, sometimes they can get a bit weird.
“At a convention not too long ago, a guy came up and said, ‘Can you draw so-and-so?” I think it was Catwoman,” Ryan explained. “‘Sure, I can draw Catwoman.’ Then he says, ‘But, uh, can she like, have bare feet?’ ‘Sure, I guess.’ So I did Catwoman with bare feet. Then he kept coming back and wanted more, So I did a whole bunch of these barefoot characters. I can’t put them on social media because it’s kind of weird–so foot-centric.”
Looking back on his convention experience, Ryan said the best events have been the ones where the staff shows they care for the artists tabling. Whether that means leaving a goody bag on their tables on day one, or simply walking around asking if anyone needs water.
And for the convention attendees, Ryan has some advice: Ask before you take pictures of artists’ work.
“I think the worst thing people do is they just start taking pictures of everything,” Ryan said. “Because people are trying to sell their work and if you just take a picture of it, you can blow it up or do whatever you want with it. You can ask. I don’t mind too much, but when I have something, it’s in plastic or glass so you don’t get a great picture of it.”
Before I left ComiCONN for the day, I swung by Ryan’s table to say goodbye and wish him luck with day two. But first, I had to wait my turn while an attendee asked Ryan if he could take a picture of one of the artist’s oil paintings he really liked. No joke.
Such is the life of a convention warrior.