Interview with Marc Hansen, Creator of Ralph Snart

October 19, 2007

In this issue of The Cartoonists we take a slight detour from the usual newspaper-style comics and take a look at the comic book genre. But, forget the Superheroes or Archie-type comic books – we're going straight to the quirky with Ralph Snart by creator Marc Hansen. Strong storylines and characters, great art and a sense of humour that is apt to go in any and all directions: Marc Hansen has it all.

Over twenty years ago, Marc Hansen came up with a satirical, irreverent comic featuring the fascinating escapades of a bulbous-nosed, bulging-eyed accountant who has lost his mind, an evil scientist and of course, an evil love interest. Published by Now Comics, Ralph Snart sold 50,000 copies a month and became a cult favourite totalling over a million copies sold. The comic book ended its run in 1994 when the publisher ceased operations. But Ralph Snart went out with a bang in the publication of the series in one large book, Ralph Snart Adventures.

The rights to Ralph Snart remained with the publisher until 2003, when Marc regained the rights to his property and began work anew on his creation. Now a online feature for subscribers, the comic regained old fans and is picking up new readers. Marc Hansen is also the creator of Weird Melvin and Doctor Gorpon, other hilariously bizarre comics.

Let's dive right into the interview with the exceptionally talented Marc Hansen:

Marc Hansen, creator of Ralph Snart

We don't know much about your life. When and where were you born? Are you from a creative family? Do you still live in the same area and do you have a spouse/kids?

I was raised in rural Michigan with two older brothers. I spent summers on my grandparents' farm where they had a lot of comics that my dad had bought when he was a kid, so I grew up on comics from the late 40's and early 50's -- westerns, Disney and horror. I started drawing early on and grew up wanting to be a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. I drew cartoons for the high school and college newspapers. I went to a local college and got a two-year degree in commercial art and moved to Chicago after graduating. I've moved around alot because of my work between Chicago and Detroit. Now I'm in North Carolina. Divorced with one son.

Did you always have a flair for the artistic and quirky? Your work, while looking wild on quick glance, is actually refined and professional. Did you attend Art School or are you self-taught?

My cartooning is self-taught. I drew from an early age and read anything I could find on the subject. I was influenced mainly by Harvey Kurtzman, E.C. Segar and John Stanley, but there were probably a hundred others that had some kind of influence on me.

© Marc Hansen

Do you make your living as a comics creator, Marc? Where has your work been published? What other jobs have you had?

My bread and butter is as a creative manager for an ad agency. I've worked in advertising in some capacity since 1984. My spare time is spent on the comics. I've done a small amount of work for Disney, Marvel and others, but the bulk was done for NOW Comics. Since 1995, I've been self-publishing.

How did you come up with the weird characters and fantastic plot lines in Ralph Snart? Do the characters resemble anyone you know? Which is more important to you – the writing or the art?

Basically, it started from a two-page story I did in '85 about a guy that goes insane and while he sits in a comatose state in the mental hospital, continues to live on happily in his mind and oblivious of the outside world. I thought it was a good idea because his dreamworld could be about anything, which is good for me, because I don't like to do the same shtick over and over again. I need the freedom to write about whatever I happen to be interested in without boundaries.

The writing has always been more important. It's harder and more fulfilling than doing the artwork. Also, writing humor is harder than writing straight stories. There's a lot more pressure with trying to be funny. The art should always serve the writing in helping to tell the story.

How did you first get into the business of comic books?

When I was working in Chicago in the mid-'80s, I was introduced to the publisher of NOW Comics and agreed to do the Ralph Snart comic book series for them - even though I had never done a comic before

The first eight years of Ralph Snart comics were published in comic book form, but your new work is web-based – is there a particular reason you no longer publish on paper?

© Marc Hansen

Actually, I'm now publishing some new stuff in print in a series of trade paperbacks. Some old and some new material. Readers, especially comic book readers, like to have something to touch and caress, hence the move back to print. The toughest part about doing work for the web, is getting your site to be a "destination".

When you received the rights back to your comic after so many years, had your outlook on the world or sense of humour changed? Was it easy to jump back into production?

No, because I'm a different person now. Marriage, kids and divorce tend to change a person's outlook. I was a cynical and skeptical person before, now that's been amplified about tenfold, which has changed the humor. I don't think in 1993, I would've made fun of the president by having him making meth or pimping whores in the White House (not like that would've passed the Comics Code either). The hardest part was relearning some of my techniques of drawing and inking.

The YouTube page demonstrating how you produce a Ralph Snart page on paper is fascinating to watch, with your smooth, steady hand manipulating the paint brush. Is the manual method still the technique you use to begin each comic? Do you have preferences for ink and paper?

My art is done traditionally except the lettering and prepress. I write storyboard scripts and from that I'll rule out the panels in pencil and do loose drawings based on my storyboards. With those complete, I rule the panels with a Rapidograph pen and then ink everything with a brush. Then I erase and scan it to a hi-res bitmap for print. From the hi-res, I'll make a lo-res image for the web. I've written a web app that will let me input the lettering and import elements like sound effects. The lettering is from a font I created based on my lettering style. The web app will generate an XML file that can later be used to either create an HTML page for web display or a hi-res image for use in print publication.

© Marc Hansen

As for ink and paper preferences, I would say for artists to look what's out there and experiment. Everyone's preferences will be slightly different. Just use what feels the most comfortable, and will reproduce the best.

Where is Ralph Snart created – in a home office or a business office? Do you have an assistant to help with production or office duties?

© Marc Hansen

I have a studio at home. My best assistant right now is my computer and the apps I've written to streamline the production. I've got software that does everything from doing the lettering, prepress and creating ISBN barcodes.

You've had to learn a lot of computer processes and updated technology to create the new Ralph Snart series. Do you find the coding and details to be boring and taking up too much of your available artistic time?

© Marc Hansen

Well, once the code is written, it's done. Maybe the occassional update or port for when the OS or scripting environment changes, but other than that, it doesn't take up too much time -- it saves more time than it wastes. Actually, writing code can be as creative as creating a comic book.

Do you have other comics or creative ideas in mind for the future? Where would you like to see Ralph Snart in another ten years – on TV, movies, etc.?

My focus right now is on Snart, but my other creations, Weird Melvin and Doctor Gorpon, may have new material done at some point. Ralph Snart isn't the most Hollywood friendly creation as a premise. I've had more interest in Doctor Gorpon than my other properties.

Marc, in your experienced opinion, what is the future for comic books in general?

Probably not much change. It'll continue to exist despite the outside influences and competition for marketshare. Sales have been surprisingly steady over the last few years.

What advice would you give to aspiring web cartoonists? Are comic books a tough market to break into? How would you compare the comic book market to the comic strip market?

If you simply want to creatively express yourself, web comics is a great outlet. If you're expecting to make it big, then don't bet on it. The Web is a totally different creature than print. How the Print vs. Web battle will play out is a mystery to me.

Comic books are easy to break into if your work is professional. If it's not professional, keep working at it, which may take a few years. It took me about 15 years to get to the point where I was happy and satisfied with my inking technique. Have your work critiqued by people. There's something to be learned even from harshest critics. Reject can be a good learning experience too. Just show your work around to the various publishers at comic cons. It's alot easier than the comic strip market.

I wouldn't want to be a newspaper cartoonist these days. Newspapers are seriously losing marketshare to the internet. The only thing keeping newspapers alive right now is retail advertising. Newspapers are still a cheap way to advertise

Any other comments you would like to make?

Thanks for the interview, and of course, check out my site at:

Thank you, Marc! Cheers for a long and prosperous future with your comics.

Catch a glimpse of Marc Hansen at work on Youtube

Ralph Snart is a registered trademark. Images are copyright 1986-2007 by Marc Hansen and are used with permission.

© Susanna McLeod 2007