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A Short Interview With Johnny Ryan
posted March 24, 2005
 

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Johnny Ryan is the cartoonist behind Blecky Yuckerella, Angry Youth Comix, and the Shouldn't You Be Working? series. He lives in Los Angeles. We spoke by e-mail.

TOM SPURGEON: You're incredibly prolific for an alternative cartoonist. How much of your workday is spent on your comics, and how does that break down between various jobs?

RYAN: Well, that's a very interesting story! I usually spend 2 or 3 weeks working on my comic book, then I'll spend a few days drawing 2 or 3 Blecky Yuckerella strips, then back to the comic book. That routine changes when I get freelance work. At that point, I put the comic book on the back burner for a few days until I'm done with the freelance job or jobs.

Hmmm. That story wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be.

SPURGEON: One of the things I like about your comics is how free-flowing they seem, although I have no idea how you work: how do you "write" your stuff? Do you start with a joke and then work out the timing, do you work from sketches or do you just start drawing?

RYAN: I'll have an idea in my head and then I'll just start drawing. I used to try and plot stories out a little more, but now I work pretty spontaneously. I seem to get funnier results working that way. Things start to get weird.

SPURGEON: I was reading Fantagraphics' catalog where they stress all the people that like your stuff and all it made me think was "Man, a lot of people must hate Johnny's stuff for them to write this." It seems like in comics funny cartoonists have this probationary period before they're accepted. Are you past that yet? Do you even care?

RYAN: We are now in a very conservative, post-Maus comic age. So, I think it's just a harder climb at the moment for someone trying to do humor, especially the type of humor I'm doing. Today's sophisticated comic reader is far too mature to laugh at disgusting toilet humor. I get a lot of letters from people who say things like, "I'm ashamed to admit it, but that shit joke you drew was funny..." or "I have to hide your comic from my girlfriend..." There are certain things, like shit or stds or racism, that many people are simply ashamed to laugh at. Some people need that validation before they laugh at something. "This important guy thinks it funny, so therefore it's okay for me to laugh at it, too!" It's pretty stupid but that's just the way it is.

As for the probationary period... it's hard to say really. I do have more fans now than when I began, but I like to think it's because my work is improving, and it takes time to build up an audience, especially in alt-comics. There are still plenty of folks who hate my stuff, and that's fine. It's not for everyone. So to answer your question, I have no fucking clue.

SPURGEON: Who do you find funny, both in comics and outside of comics, and why?

RYAN: I like a lot of the usual gang of alt-comic idiots, like Peter Bagge, Kaz, Tony Millionaire, etc…

Pete's a great writer. He's got a real good ear for dialogue, and his characters are always fascinating. That scene in Hate where Stinky shows up syphilitic and naked in the middle of Buddy's romantic dinner with Valerie is classic.

When I read Kaz' strip I think, "That's hilarious! Why the fuck didn't I think of that?!" When I read Tony's stuff I think, "That’s hilarious! This guy is a fucking NUT!"

I've recently been reading this funny Japanese comic called "Bakabon." It's about an idiot father and his idiot son. It's meant for kids, but it has lots of gross and stupid stuff that kids comics don’t have over here.

I love the Benny Hill Show. That show is a riot. He wasn't afraid to get really stupid.

imageSPURGEON: Your latest issue of AYC features almost entirely short pieces -- do you prefer the shorter comics? Because there's something the way your humor works that a longer story seems to work in terms of driving the point past being made to really extreme levels that maybe you can't get to in a couple of pages.

RYAN: When I do long stories, people say, "I like your shorter stuff better!" Now that I'm doing short stories the people who like the longer stories are complaining. You just can't win! This issue was sort of an experiment to see if I could come up with 13 two-page stories. It was fun to do and a change of pace. The shorter pieces offer a kind of "hit and run" kind of comedy that a longer piece can't give you.

I haven't written off doing longer pieces. I will probably come back around to that eventually.

SPURGEON: You've been doing a lot of parodies. Is that just to have a hook on which to riff, or do you actually try to get at some point to be made about each comic?

RYAN: It depends... It started out as just an exercise. I'd pick a subject like Beetle Bailey and just have fun with it. Other times I feel like I have something more to say about a particular subject, like in the Super Villain Team-Up parody starring Speigelman, or the Hulk parody. But even in those instances I like to keep it pretty goofy.

SPURGEON: When I've seen you at comics-related events like the San Diego con, you give off this air of bemused irritation, like this is what you're doing while you wait to open a checking account at a bank.

RYAN: That's probably just when I'm talking to you. Ha ha! That's cuz you're so boring! Get it?!

I'm just kidding, Tom. Relax for chrissake.

SPURGEON: Some of your fellow cartoonists have expressed admiration for how open and loose your art style has become. How do you view your technical skill, and how would you like to improve?

RYAN: Do people really say that? Aw, that's nice. Well, I think that drawing the weekly strips has, if nothing else, been good practice for using a brush. I always feel that I want to draw better and I want to improve, so I draw as much as possible. I follow the KKK school of drawing. A drawing must be Klean, Klear and Kartoony. That's what I aspire to!

SPURGEON: You revealed in a recent interview that you had once set out to become a writer of literary fiction. Where would you be today if comics hadn't entered the picture?

RYAN: I would probably be an assistant manager at a candle store on Cape Cod.

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Johnny's Web Site
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Johnny's Original Art