By Steve Guntli
Birch Bay resident Steve Ryan has dedicated a large portion of his life to the exploits of a cartoon dog. Now, with the support of his family, he’s hoping to make it a full-time job.
“Marley,” a comic strip Ryan has written and illustrated since 1997, features the adventures of the titular border collie, who has moved from comedy clubs to ski slopes to the beaches of Birch Bay. So far, Ryan has had to settle for producing “Marley” strips on an irregular schedule, sketching out the loveable pooch when he isn’t working at his construction job in West Vancouver. With the help of a Kickstarter.com account, Ryan wants to dedicate much more of his time to his dream project.
The Kickstarter account has a goal of $10,000. That money would allow Ryan to replace his old computer, purchase software to help produce animated “Marley” shorts and publish an 80-page “Marley” compilation book. If the fundraiser exceeds its target goal, Ryan will use the money to supplement his income so he can spend more time working on the comic. His long-term goal is to be able to produce the comic strip full-time.
Ryan first developed the character when he started working at the Laff Stop, a popular comedy club in Houston. It was also where he met his wife, Susie.
“It was a great place to be, a great place to build a comic strip,” Ryan said. “We were accepted amongst all the comedians. Even though I never did stand-up myself, I was doing the same thing in a different medium. They were great and they got involved in it. The cast members in the strip are all comedians, and they still contribute jokes.”
In those days, Marley the dog worked in the comedy club and struggled in vain to forge a career as a comedian. When the family moved to the mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado in 2004, “Marley” really began to take shape, adopting a ski bum persona.
“Breckenridge was where we were most productive,” Ryan said. “I was putting out three or four comics each week.”
In 2010, their son Charlie was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a lung disease that can affect children living at high elevations. In order to treat the rare disorder, the family had to leave the high-elevation (11,400 feet) town of Breckenridge and move to Birch Bay.
When the Ryan family relocated from Colorado to Birch Bay, Marley moved with them, the dog’s priorities shifting from skiing to boating. However, the stress of the move and a number of other setbacks forced Ryan to cut back on his cartooning almost completely.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Susie fell ill, leaving Steve as the sole provider for the family. His job requires him to make a three-hour daily commute to Vancouver, where he often puts in 12- to 13-hour workdays. To make matters worse, the diminishing value of the loonie has the effect of a nearly 25 percent pay cut.
With all the family has been facing, it seems an odd time to try to revive their dream project. But with extra encouragement from his twin sons, Charlie and Terry, Ryan has decided to go for it.
“Marley has been a part of the boys’ lives since before they were born,” Ryan said. “They insisted it was something we get back into.”
The boys contributed their technical know-how. Charlie taught himself to use Adobe Dreamweaver through YouTube videos and built the comic’s website, Marley.net. Terry built a corresponding Facebook page and set up a store through Café Press.
Regardless of how the Kickstarter campaign pans out, Ryan intends to stick with “Marley,” and is planning on making more Blaine and Birch Bay-specific comics.
“We’re just going to take things as they come and see where it goes,” Ryan said. “We’re just going to keep at it and hopefully the popularity will spread.”