Hello Ryan, can you tell us why did you decide to become a part of this project?
Because this is an amazing project! I felt really inspired by the idea when you told me about it. I love football and am a big fan of the UEFA Champions League. Zenit have had many Brazilian players over the years too, and as I am from Brazil, it was especially nice for me to take part in such a cool idea.
Tell us more about your own interest in football.
I grew up in the country of football! Football is a huge part of the national culture in Brazil. If you don’t follow or play football here, you will find yourself excluded from life! From my childhood, I was in love with the best sport on the planet. It's hard not to fall in love with football when your country has the best national team in the world and some of the best footballers of all-time. Honestly, I am so-so as a player, but I'm a very passionate fan. In Brazil, football is in our blood.
You talk about football like a Brazilian and not as an American. Are you more Brazilian or American?
My parents are Americans and I was born in the USA, in Michigan. But we moved to Brazil when I was six years old, so I grew up and spent most of my life in Brazil. Most of my friends have forgotten that I am American, and now Brazilian culture is a big part of my identity.
Let's talk about our Raise the Sails project. Did delve deeply into the history of Zenit to understand the message?
Oh, very deeply! I wanted to learn as much as possible about the club’s culture and the history of Zenit, the city of St. Petersburg and the Russian fleet. I did quite a lot of research and learnt all about the different types of ships and uniforms worn by the various ranks and all about St. Petersburg and its most important buildings. I studied in detail the Zenit squad and the names of the star players from the past, some of which are very well known, like Hulk, also from Brazil. I am happy that I had this opportunity to get to know the players, St. Petersburg, and the club. I was especially impressed by the supporters’ culture at Zenit, all the celebrations from the fans, their activities, and the passion which they show the club. It was really cool to dive into all this.
What was the most difficult part of this project for you?
I had to meet a very short deadline and finish many drawings to tell the cool story that we came up with. Since we were portraying the players and the coaches, we needed to be very precise with the details. It was a challenge and I'm happy that we were able to bring the personality of each character to the forefront of the project. Quality work is always difficult, but I am delighted with the end result and I am sure the fans will like it.
What’s your system of working? How do your ideas move forward?
It all starts with an idea, like the one you came to me with. Then I try to visualise it in my head and imagine how it might look. I follow that with the first sketches and drawings to outline the arrangement as a whole, after that, I start to draw and work out the details, such as the faces of the players. Then I add the colours. All in all, I just draw a lot! (laughs).
Which illustration from Raise the Sails is your favorite?
I really like the main ship, the one on the cover of the whole campaign. I like its epic, moody appearance, the player’s roaring, the sails, the sea and the blue smoke too. I also love one of the last scenes where the whole team with the manager and captain are looking out towards the ships of the rivals and awaiting the upcoming battle, this is very inspiring. Overall I like all of it!
Who was the hardest to draw?
All the Zenit guys have beautiful and expressive faces so I was pleased to work on their portraits. None of them were easy, because I try to get them as similar to the original as possible. But if you want me to name someone, then perhaps Anatoly Tymoshchuk was the most difficult to draw.
Can you tell us about your previous work, what has been your coolest project?
Most of them are pop culture related. I’ve done some things for Marvel and DC, for Paramount, official illustrations for some of their advertising campaigns for new movies. Then I had to totally bring the images of the actors as close to the original as possible, so I’ve had lots of good practice.
In terms of football work, I did some covers for the Neymar comics, he has his own comic book that tells his story and some great professionals are working on them, I was lucky enough to work on them too. One of the covers I did shows Neymar in a post-apocalyptic world, while the other focused on his tattoos. I am a big fan of Neymar, he is the best Brazilian player, so it was especially enjoyable to create those drawings.
Perhaps the Zenit illustrations have been my largest project so far, I’ve set myself a new bar.
Why do you like comic culture and who is your favourite character?
I think it comes from childhood, comics were the main thing I drew at art school and I learnt to draw from them. I didn’t read comics much, but I looked through a huge amount of them. When I saw some beautiful cover, I immediately bought it and copied my favourite drawings.
If you ask me about my favourite comic book hero, then it is John Romita Jr. an illustrator from whom I’ve learnt a lot. And also Spiderman, I even have a Spiderman tattoo and I can draw him all day long!
Have you ever worked with football clubs or teams from other sports?
Perhaps the closest I’ve been in the world of football was working with Neymar, so when a Champions League team like Zenit approached me I was very happy! Really it’s like a dream come true. As a big football fan, it has been a great honour to work with a club playing in the Champions League. Perhaps this is the first experience of many, but Zenit are the debut football club in my career.
Final question. You spent several weeks looking at hundreds of photos of the Zenit players and coaches and the Gazprom Arena. Do you have a desire to come here and see it all with your own eyes?
Of course I do! I have never been to St. Petersburg so can only imagine how beautiful your city and stadium are. Again, I was struck by the passion with which your fans support Zenit, how they celebrated the championship title win and what they organise to honour the team. I would never have thought that football in Russia evokes such emotions. I would like to come to St. Petersburg as soon as possible!