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



TANGEN-MILLS: Your Character Parade comics, do you print them yourself?

RYAN: Kind of. It’s sort of like a collaboration where I print up the guts of the book and then my friend Alvin Buenaventura has the letter press and he would print up the cover and then I staple them all together. It’s a homemade thing.

TANGEN-MILLS: You worked for Nickelodeon for a while.

RYAN: I used to work for Nickelodeon Magazine, but they’re out of business.

TANGEN-MILLS: Did they know of your comics?

RYAN: [Laughs.] Uh, yeah. They were one of my first freelance jobs. When I found their magazine on a newsstand, I noticed that they worked with a lot of alternative cartoonists, who were more well-known for their adult work: Kim Deitch, Kaz, Ivan Brunetti. I was kind of like, well, obviously the person who is running this show realizes that the cartoonist that do stuff for adults can also do stuff for kids. So I decided I would do some stuff for them and they liked it. They never had any problem with me and my other work. They were just like you do really good gags for kids, so we’re going to keep hiring. I’ve also done stuff for National Geographic Kids, for the short-lived Mad Kids. I’ve done stuff for kids before, other than Nickelodeon.



TANGEN-MILLS: Do you do a lot of freelancing?

RYAN: Freelancing is my main source of income, because comics don’t really make a lot of money. A lot of income used to come from Nickelodeon Magazine. Or I do a lot of stuff for Vice Magazine. Just other freelance gigs that I get here and there. My whole job is kind of like juggling several different jobs at once just to pay the bills. So there’s not one thing you do.

TANGEN-MILLS: How did you begin working with Vice?

RYAN: That was also back in 2002. Dave Cooper was doing a comic for Vice called Pip and Norton with Gavin McInnes. Dave introduced my comics to Gavin, and Gavin really liked them so he wanted to run something of mine in his magazine. So they started running the Blecky strip. I’d color one strip, and they’d run it once a month. I’ve been working for them ever since them. I think Gavin has since moved on, but I’m still there.

TANGEN-MILLS: The Prison Pit, your most recent comic, is really different from your other stuff: less gag-oriented, more alienating.

RYAN: That was the idea. I wanted to do something different. I felt like I wanted to try to do a book that was more action-oriented. I wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t overtly funny like the previous work. I thought, If I want to do something in this genre I’m going to take it completely seriously without any irony and approach it that way. There is humor in the book, but it’s not meant to be a humor book. It’s sort of like the same type of humor you might get if you’re watching WWE wrestling and the guys are trash-talking each other, or if you’re watching a really violent horror movie — I’m a big fan of horror movies — this completely insane gory kill scene, I always find that funny as well.

TANGEN-MILLS: Do you like wrestling?

RYAN: Not so much any more. I used to watch it when I was a kid. Then I watched it again when I was in my early 30s. I have off and on been a fan of wrestling over the years.

TANGEN-MILLS: When I’m lending out your comics, putting people on, I’m apprehensive about lending this to anyone who isn’t white. Some of the jokes come off as blatantly racist. Like the blackface characters. Have you gotten any flak for that?

RYAN: No. Like I said before, in this sort of world of comics, if someone doesn’t really like what you’re doing, they just ignore and don’t want anything to do with it. But also, I think that, in my work, it’s pretty apparent that it’s done in a way that’s completely outrageous. There’s obviously no political angles that I’m going for. It’s an apolitical book. I get questions like: Do white supremacy groups come to you asking you to draw stuff? I don’t get anything from that side either. I don’t get attaboys from racists, because I think my stuff is too disgusting or repellent to them. And also because I’m not taking the subject seriously. I think it’s pretty clear my book is meant to be stupid, crass, immature, misanthropic humor. I don’t think there’s too much confusion.



TANGEN-MILLS: So you’re not a big fan of political correctness?

RYAN: Well, no I don’t think that has a place in humor. That obviously has a place if you’re working at the Post Office or something, where everybody needs to be on equal footing in a work environment. But when you’re trying to write comedy, writing comic books, it’s no holds barred.

TANGEN-MILLS: Do you care about being funny?

RYAN: With Angry Youth Comix my goal was to be funny. I would cram as much material as I could. If you look at the book, every panel is filled with all sorts of jokes, a joke a second kind of a thing, sometimes almost too much. Then with The Prison Pit I was going to go with a different angle. I was going to take the work seriously and in a way I kind of feel that in taking it seriously it is funnier than if I was doing some kind of jokey superhero type thing. I felt like if I’m going to do this book that is completely different than my previous, then I’m going to go all the way: draw it differently than before, format it differently than before, paste it differently than before. I felt like I’m just going to do a complete departure from everything.

TANGEN-MILLS: Will you go back to Angry Youth? Or are you sick of it?

RYAN: Well, I kind of just work with what I feel like doing. So if I get an itch to revisit those characters and do something new with them I will, but right now I don’t have any desire to. In a way, I felt like with the last issue I took it as far as it could go. It’s a Boobs Pooter story. He plays a prank on this guy where he slips on a banana peel and breaks his back or something, and then he has to wear some kind of weird machine because he becomes paralyzed. It starts to become a lot more serious and disturbing than the previous ones.


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