Portrait of An Artist as an Angry Youth: An introduction to the comic artist Johnny Ryan

Posted by on October 11th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

By Jesse Tangen-Mills



A preemie Lolita tells Humbert, “Golly, you sure know how to impress a baby lady.” Don Quixote fights the windmills in La Mancha by gluing a baby to his penis. As Johnny Ryan’s throwback comedian character Boobs Pooter says, “That’s comedy!” Or so it is for cartoon artist, Ryan, creator of the gag strip Angry Youth Comix, hailed by the Guardian as “the most gleefully offensive cartoonist in the world.” But to call Ryan’s comics offensive is understatement. His demented doodling is the stuff censors dream of: sophomorically sadistic, absurdly filthy, overtly offensive, and of little, if any intrinsic value. And yet for his readers, it has no equal. On his pages one finds something original and authentic, albeit quite perverse.

After encouragement from a friend at 22, Ryan began self-publishing the strips he had only been sending to a handful of friends — mostly to mock them. This would become Angry Youth Comix, featuring the nauseating comedy duo Loady McGee, a pimply red-headed alpha rebel and Sinus O’Gynus, the submissive nerd. Other characters followed, Blecky Yuckerella, a bearded blond hair girl, and the lesser known Sherlock McRape who, as you might guess, is a detective-rapist.

Almost 20 years later, most issues of Angry Youth Comix are available in trade paperback collections. In 2007, he began drawing literary parodies (on his own terms) with Kool Komix Klub cited above, as well as The Comic Book Holocaust, a brutal indictment of every comic from Marmaduke to Optic Nerve. In addition, he’s draws an idiosyncratic color comic strip for Vice Magazine.

His most recent graphic novel The Prison Pit Volume 2, due to come out in October, marks a new movement from the gag comics he’s famous for, to cartoonish slasher science fiction. That isn’t to say the gory slow-motion space adventures aren’t without classic Johnny Ryan word bubbles like, “C’mon assrat, let’s move.”

A fan of his work for years, I’ve always wondered: Who is Johnny Ryan? Why does he draw “misanthropic” comics, as he calls them? In speaking with him, weathering long pauses and Gene Simmons-like evasion, I learned that Ryan was not an angry youth at all — well, not entirely.

— Jesse Tangen-Mills



TANGEN-MILLS: When did you start drawing comics?

RYAN: Do you mean when did I start doing it thinking that I would make a career out of it?

TANGEN-MILLS: First memories of drawing comics, not professionally.

RYAN: I mean, I don’t know. Probably, when I was just a child, just sort of fucking around.

TANGEN-MILLS: Did you read a lot of comics?

RYAN: Yeah, I would read the newspaper comics. Archie and Richie Rich. Then as a teenager I started reading the Marvel superhero stuff and Mad Magazine.

TANGEN-MILLS: And when did you start drawing professionally?

RYAN: Not until I was like 22, 23 did I think I would try to make a go at it as a professional artist, professional cartoonist.

TANGEN-MILLS: You studied at UMass Amherst.

RYAN: Correct. When I was at UMass I was an English major. I had ideas of maybe being some kind of English professor or writer of fiction or something.



TANGEN-MILLS: Did you draw comics in college?

RYAN: Kind of. I used to correspond with friends. Instead of writing a letter, I would draw comics for them. They would usually be comics starring them. So it would be making fun of them in some manner; they would have some kind of crazy adventure. So I was doing it just to kind of entertain my friends. But I never thought of it as a career.

TANGEN-MILLS: Did you see comics then as a possible venue for the same sort of artistic expression you were studying?

RYAN: No, there was some kind of weird thing going on. When it came to my writing, and my aspirations as a fiction writer, I was very serious. My work was very William Faulkner type fiction; opaque, really heavy in description. My thinking was: the more difficult it was to read, the work the more intelligent it was, more to it. It’s important if it’s incredibly hard to read. Obviously. I think I was going along those lines. At the same time when I was aspiring to do that, this was sort of just this stupid hobby, these comic strips that I would send to friends. I’d do it for one friend and then they would show another friend. And they would say, send me one. It kind of went snowballing. One of my friends was like, “Look, these comics you’re doing are hilarious; you should pursue this. This writing stuff not so much.” The writing was a real chore. I guess I was also under the impression that if something is incredibly difficult and unpleasant, only then is it good. Because I was enjoying the comics, that couldn’t be any good. My friend was sort of like, “You’ve got put the fiction stuff aside. This is your calling here.” So I followed the advice.

TANGEN-MILLS: You’re originally from Massachusetts.

RYAN: Well, I was born in Boston, but I lived most of my life in Plymouth.

TANGEN-MILLS: Maybe I’m totally off with this, but in Boston and the surrounding areas, punk was pretty big in the ’80s and ’90s. Sometimes I see your comics as sort of punk. I mean the title Angry Youth Comix sounds punk. I was wondering if you had any connection with a scene there.

RYAN: I was born in ’70 so I pretty much lived in Plymouth. As far as the punk scene I was totally oblivious to that kind of stuff.


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