Seattle isn’t just gum walls and sweeping Puget Sound vistas. When it comes to exploring the Emerald City’s nooks and crannies, it seems fair to say that no one has uncovered more hidden gems than the woman behind Seattle Walk Report.
Susanna Ryan has walked more than 5,000 miles in Seattle over the past few years. And she’s used hand-drawn comics to document all the quirky, mundane, and extraordinary things she’s seen along the way. She was anonymous on social media for two years but revealed her identity to coincide with the release of her new book, also titled “Seattle Walk Report.”
The book is far more than a collection of repurposed comics. Alongside maps of neighborhood routes, it dives into the stories of historic figures, geological artifacts, and presents some seriously delightful details — like the origins of Seattle’s manhole covers and a collection of Arboretum-themed valentines. Dog tallies appear throughout.
Susanna, a lifelong Seattleite who currently resides in the Central District, is also good at tactfully poking fun at some of our city’s insecurities. One comic, for example, mentions the giant ice sheet that covered the Puget Sound region thousands of years ago and includes a line about “missing the old Seattle.”
We recently chatted with Susanna to learn what inspires her to keep walking and to hear more about her journey as an artist and author.
How has your style evolved over time? And why do you think it resonates so well with Seattleites today?
Susanna: Like with anything, if you do something for long enough, you just get better at it. When I started Seattle Walk Report, I didn’t see any similar comics out there that I could use as a blueprint, so I just had to make up the rules as I went along. While I was working on the book, I loved any opportunity to take something that almost everyone in Seattle knows and turn it into something unexpected, either by shining a light on a little-known historical fact about it or just by reframing how it can be perceived.
I think it resonates with people because I strike a balance between honoring the past and appreciating the present without being overly sentimental about either one. It’s just a reminder that there is magic, mystery, and history everywhere in Seattle if you take the time to really look, and who doesn’t want that reminder?
You’ve been anonymous for two years on Instagram. Why?
Susanna: The decision to be anonymous wasn’t something I put much thought into initially. When I registered the Instagram account, it just made more sense to call it Seattle Walk Report than to tack my name on it. As time went on and more and more people started following along, though, I realized that being anonymous gave me the ability to be out in the world and observe things without having to think, “Is this person only hula hooping while eating two hotdogs because they know I create Seattle Walk Report and they want to be in a comic?”
But with the book coming out, I needed to weigh the joy of anonymity with the joy of having my name on something that I’m super proud of, and ultimately the latter won out. No regrets!
You write in the book that you started walking on a whim, and that “slowing down and being open to possibility allowed me to see my city in a different way.” Has that change in perspective affected other areas of your life?
Susanna: Before I got into walking, all forms of transportation were about getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think in many areas of my life, I was similarly interested in just getting from point to point instead of appreciating the journey and uncertainty of it all.
Something magic happened when I got rid of the physical barrier between me and Seattle. It allowed me to see the city, and in turn myself, just how it is on a particular day instead of with some idea of how it’s supposed to be. Moseying down an interesting looking side street I would’ve previously overlooked and seeing a weird fire hydrant on it, or petting a neighborhood cat who is napping on the sidewalk … With time, it has added up to make me realize that there is no use worrying about where I end up, because in that moment I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Tell us more about Susanna Ryan, the person behind Seattle Walk Report. What’s something your fans might be surprised to learn about you?
Susanna: I feel like if you know Seattle Walk Report, you’ve known quite a bit about Susanna Ryan all along! There are just so many parts of my personality, sense of humor, and interests wrapped up in this comic.
While I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, some people might be surprised to learn that I didn’t have a ton of experience making comics prior to starting Seattle Walk Report two years ago. I just learned and improved with time and practice. Also, I love garlic dill pickles.
Hypothetical question time: A meteor is headed straight for Seattle and will erase the city from the map in two days. Where’s the last place you would go for a walk?
Susanna: It’s a toss up between either walking the Mount Baker Tunnel or the Chief Sealth Trail in South Seattle one final time, followed by some aimless wandering until the meteor hits. I’d be counting dogs til the bitter end.