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The Johnny Ryan Interview

Which comic of yours feels like the start of your actual career? Because I know Angry Youth was a ziney thing in the beginning. So where does the official comics discography start for you?

As far as when I first started to feel I was getting good, it was probably around Angry Youth #7. I thought I was on to something. It looked polished.

What’s the cover on that one?

It’s just a bunch of floating heads of the different characters. But it wasn’t until #9 that I dropped the guy that I was doing it with and went solo.

What happened to that guy?

He’s still a friend of mine. His name is Matt Sanborn. When we started, I did the comics and he did the zine writing. He would review porn movies and write fake hate mail and other shit. The reason I did it with a partner was that I was sort of daunted by the idea of doing it on my own. I thought it would be sort of fun to have a friend to do it with. After about seven or eight issues, he got pretty bored with it. He didn’t want to do it anymore. I think he might have felt that he had more of a second banana role. He kind of phased himself out of it. Being thrust into doing it on my own was a kick in the ass. Like, “Now I really have to make an effort.”

Are you still friends with Sanborn?

I guess so, although he unfriended me on Facebook. [laughs] I guess this goes back to your question about whether I’ve ruined any friendships. Sometimes I think I might heckle a bit too much on people’s Facebook pages and then they get sick of me.

Every time I put up a Facebook post, I pretty much start a mental countdown until you come in and call me an asshole for whatever it was I wrote.

That’s why Facebook was invented. [laughs]

In fact, whenever I talk to you for more than a few minutes, you either make fun of me really brutally or tell me about making fun of another friend really brutally. Is that because you’re afraid of intimacy with other men?

[laughs] Probably. All humor is just a fuckin’ defense mechanism…

So it’s armor?

Armor, that’s all it is. I really must be fucking hurting, man.

I don’t see you ripping on women that way.

It depends on who they are.

Off the top of my head, the only women that we both know besides your wife are Laura Park and Lisa Hanawalt. Let’s use them as examples. If they put something on Facebook, I’m not expecting you to write some vicious shit in the comments. But if I or another man posts something, it’s inevitable that you’ll be fucking with it.

There are certain people that I feel like they get it, and mostly it’s guys that get it. But there are exceptions. There are women that get it. I find it surprising that some people are so sensitive.

Does Jenny get it? Do you do the vicious riffs with her?

Yes and no. Sometimes she gets it, and sometimes she’s not in the mood for it. You’ve got to pick your battles, I guess. [laughs] Or pick your jokes at least. You know, “Should I say this, or do I not want to be in the fucking dog house all day long and into the next week.”

But with your friends, it’s slash and burn.

Yeah. [laughs] But it’s not like I’m saying this shit to ruin friendships. I’m just saying it because I think it’s funny. My intent is never to be really hurtful. I just see it sort as busting chops.

No, I get it. And I’m the same way. For me, it’s a way to weed out the people I don’t want to bother with.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m going to brutalize someone until they fucking unfollow me on Twitter or something. [laughs]

I know. That’s not what I’m saying. If someone can’t deal with it, it’s pretty much a good sign that…

You’ve got to be able to roll with it, dude.

That’s right. With the big dogs.

Yeah.

Angry Youth Comix #5

So, getting back on track: You were giving Sanborn a hard time and he unfriended you on Facebook?

I always gave him a hard time. A lot of the shit that I built my humor around in those early books was me picking on him. Like the Sinus O’Gynus character—a lot of that was him.

Oh shit.

You know, in a lot of those early issues, how he was really into Freddie Mercury and AIDS awareness? Sanborn really was into that whole deal. He would inject these things into our magazine like, “Wear a condom!”

Weird.

I was really humiliated by that kind of stuff, so I would try to counter it by putting lots of AIDS jokes in. [laughs]

So Angry Youth was self-published until…

#11.

And then Fantagraphics took over?

Yeah.

What did you think of other underground comics at that time?

Well, going back to when I was still in college, I would go to a comic book store at the mall. It was run by a retarded guy with a fucking dead eye. I used to go there all the time and buy superhero stuff even though I was starting to get tired of it. I was looking for something new. I can’t remember if it was a Drawn and Quarterly anthology or if it was just a copy of one of Joe Matt’s comics, but I bought that and read it and it made me so mad. I threw it in the garbage at a McDonald’s and I was fucking like, “I’m never reading or buying comics again.”

Why did it make you mad?

Because it was fucking stupid. It was all just like, “I got up. I brushed my teeth.” It’s just sort of that daily bullshit that nobody gives a shit about. Stories about non-stories, which I fucking can’t stand. I pretty much swore off comics for three years after that. It wasn’t until ‘98 that I started to seriously get back into them.

Still, you were making comics during the time that you weren’t reading them.

Oh yeah. But I was totally out of the loop. I was really unaware of any of the zine things that were happening, the minicomics. I didn’t even know that I was making them. I was doing it but I wasn’t going to conventions or talking to other artists, so I didn’t really know it was happening.

What was it that got you back into reading comics?

I think I was getting tired of feeling so isolated. I wanted to know what else was out there, who else was doing comics. I started to actively seek things out at that point.

And what did you find?

I found a lot of other shitty comics that people were doing that I actually really liked. But they were by people who eventually gave up—very talented and funny people that couldn’t take it anymore and quit.

Like who?

Doug Iannucci who, did a funny comic called Sham, and Aric Calfee, who did a comic called Deathfart, and another guy named Bruno Nadalin who did a comic called Churn. But also, I was starting to discover Kaz and Underworld and I was reading Love and Rockets, checking that shit out.

What was your day job in DC when you were starting to get into reading comics again?

I was working at another Borders books. But I left DC in the summer of ‘99. I moved back up to Massachusetts, where I did a couple temp jobs in Boston. That was only until the end of October, when I moved to Seattle.

Why did you end up in DC in the first place?

A girl.

I figured. You don’t go to DC and work at some random Borders if it’s not for something like that.

Yeah. The girl I was dating at the time was moving there so I was like, “Fuck it, I’ve got nothing happening here. I might as well go.”

Was this the 40-year-old with a bunch of kids?

I had broken up with her.

So this was girlfriend number two. What was her story?

I met her at the first Borders I worked at, in Hyannis, Massachussets. She was a lot younger than me.

You went from a 40-year-old to, what, a 16-year-old?

[laughs] I was 28 and I think she was 20. Is that horrible?

No. Maybe dating the 40-year-old for so long was like serving time in purgatory and it earned you the right to date someone younger than you for awhile.

And then enter Inferno?

What was this girl like? Why do you think she was attracted to you?

We were both kind of nerdy. She liked comics and things like that.

Was she your usual physical type? Jenny told me that you don’t like flat chests or short hair.

At that point, my physical type was “someone who likes me.”

But now, if have your druthers, you lean toward zaftig.

Yeah.

Where do think that predilection comes from?

It comes from sucking my dad’s fat tits.

That’s all I wanted to hear.

Interview over.

Tell me about your animation deals.

I have maybe one and a half going. I’m definitely working on something with Dave Cooper. It’s a kid’s show for Nickelodeon. Right now we’re sort of in the Bible-writing stage. I’m the writer, and it’s Dave’s drawings. That’s how we work together. We used to collaborate for Nickelodeon magazine. We would do this thing where he would come up with three or four characters and then send them to me and be like, “OK, write something.” I’d write maybe a two-page comic. We took that way of working, developed a new idea, and sold it to Nickelodeon—the network.

How much of your time does that take up now?

It’s like a part-time thing. It fluctuates. When we first started, I had to write a little trailer and Dave had to do all the work of animating it. Now I’ll write a whole bunch of shit and then send it over to Nickelodeon to review. I think if it gets past this point and on to actually making the show it might get a little bit more intense.

And the Bible you mentioned, that’s like a breakdown of all the characters and their backgrounds, right?

Right. All animated shows have a Bible with breakdowns of the characters, drawings of the turn-around of all the characters, descriptions of the land that they live in, episode ideas, and so on.

OK, that’s one thing. What’s the half thing? It’s something that’s more your own, right?

It’s a thing I’ve pitched to Adult Swim. It’s basically like an Angry Youth Comix idea for a show. But it’s not.

Are you going to use characters from Angry Youth?

No. I’m pretty much ripping myself off and creating a show that’s very similar in tone and in character to Angry Youth Comix but it’s not Angry Youth Comix. We pitched it to Adult Swim, and they liked it on some level. Initially it was about the two main guys, much like Angry Youth was about the two main guys. Adult Swim wanted it to be more of an ensemble thing, sort of like Archie.

You said “we” pitched it. Who is “we?”

It was developed by me and Eric Kaplan, who was the guy behind that Maakies series, The Drinky Crow Show. He has an animation studio and he produced that. He took our idea to Warner Brothers Animation and they wanted to do something, so it’s basically me and Eric Kaplan and Warner Brothers Animation. Then we took it and pitched it to Adult Swim.

Let’s talk about the Blecky and Sinus-y and Loady era of your work now. I want to hear about how you would start a story in the Angry Youth days. Was it via doodling or sketching? Did you ever begin by writing notes?

It can vary. The most ideal situation is when an idea pops into my head and I can immediately jump right in and do a complete finished comic. That doesn’t happen all the time.

When that happens, is it the punchline that pops into your head?

There have been instances where I’ll just have a really great idea for a comic but I don’t know what the punchline’s going to be. I’ll just have an idea. There are a lot of variables—it can often depend on how much time I have. Like with a Blecky Yuckerella strip—that was stuff I had to get done in a certain amount of time. There would be weeks when I didn’t fucking have shit. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I’d start jotting down notes or doodling and then, hopefully, I’d have the kernel of an idea. Something I could build around.

A Blecky Yuckarella strip from 2008.

So you don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You sit down and get started.

If you’re a freelance comics artist and you’re working on a deadline, there are going to be plenty of weeks where you don’t have a really good idea. You’ve just kind of got to work with what you’ve got. You’re not going to hit a home run every week.

Is that freeing in a way, to know that you don’t have to be the funniest son of a bitch in the world every week?

It is. I’ve encountered a lot of cartoonists and straight-up artists who are crippled by the feeling that every time they do something it has to be a masterpiece. If something isn’t good enough, they’ll tear it up. But if you’re on a schedule where people are paying you to do a job and you have to do it—it’s required of you—you kind of have to get over that, quick.

Where was Blecky published?

Just in the Portland Mercury.

And it’s the only weekly you’ve done, right?

I guess I would also qualify those Comic Book Holocaust strips as weeklies.

Those were self-published on your website.

Right. And Blecky started out in the Portland Mercury. It was published there for three years, and then it was exclusively on my site for the following five years.

The Mercury killed it and you kept going on your own?

Yeah, out of spite. [laughs]

Really?

Mostly.

How did they first contact you about working with them?

Some guy over there—I guess he was an art director or something—asked me if I’d be interested in doing a strip. I said, “Sure, I’ll take a stab at it.” At that point, I’d never done a weekly, but I thought it could be an interesting opportunity—an experience. I also thought that having to do this exercise every week would improve my skills. And I had already developed that character, Blecky Yuckerella. She appeared in Angry Youth Comix #3. I thought she could be a funny thing to build a strip around.

It makes sense because she was obviously a Nancy reference, and that’s one of the best weeklies ever.

Yeah. So I did a couple strips, I sent them in, and they dug them enough to run them. After three years, they had a new art director take over and—

The first thing he did was fire you?

Not the first thing. It took him maybe two or three months. It was kind of funny because in that interim, a Blecky book came out and I had a list of thanks in it and I thanked him. A week after the book came out, he fucking dumped me.

How often, if ever, did they reject a strip or ask for changes?

Just once. If I remember correctly it was during that period of time when there were all those cartoon riots in Europe.

All the Muhammad stuff?

Yeah, all the Islamic dudes were getting nuts over cartoons. So I jumped on the bandwagon and did a cartoon where Blecky’s wiping her ass with a guy’s turban while he’s wearing it. The Mercury said, “We’re not running this.” I got the sense they were afraid. The latter five years of Blecky Yuckerlla, when it was just on my site, were a little more freewheelin’.


A late-in-the-run Blecky Yuckarella strip.

Just a quick side thing here. How long after 9-11 did you make your first 9-11 joke in print?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I have no idea. I think it was right after the first plane hit. [laughs]

A big question after 9-11 was, “How soon is too soon?”

I remember living in Seattle and it was just a couple months after 9-11 and Peter Bagge went to Spain or something for a comic convention. He was the guest of honor. They were going to give him some award. He came back and said they did this real wild awards ceremony where everyone was dressed up as terrorists and carrying around fake guns. There were women in burkas. And then I guess they ripped off their Islamic clothes and had a live sex show on stage. [laughs] It sounded insane. I’m not sure about all my facts on this, but…

When is it ok to start making jokes about something atrocious like 9-11?

Well if it didn’t happen to me, then we can do it right away. [laughs]

I think I agree.

Mel Brooks has that line: “Me falling down is tragedy. You falling down is hilarious.”

Did the Portland Mercury get letters from offended readers because of you?

Not that I know of. In fact, the art director who eventually canned me made a public statement about letting me go and he said that one of his reasons was that no one ever talked about the strip. No one ever said it was good or bad. They replaced it with one of those clip-art dinosaur things with typed text. Every week they can just take their little folder of dinosaurs and arrange them in little squares.

Was it like a Tom Tomorrow or a Get Your War On kind of thing?

Kind of like that, but it looked like it took even less effort.

Did you ever do long story arcs in Blecky?

I never did the narrative arc shit. If you’re doing a daily strip, like Peanuts or Bloom County, I think it’s easier to get away with stuff like that because people are reading the paper every day and so they can follow it. Doing it on a weekly basis seems kind of… you know, people forget.

Did you ever have a notebook where you had a bank of gags written down that you knew you had coming up for Blecky?

Sometimes. When I first started, I would get four done in a week and then I’d be set for a month. As time went on, I’d get two done, and then it got to a point where I would get one done a week. It gets harder to come up with new ideas in the same format over and over again. Out of everything I’ve done, that strip was probably the hardest.

So a four-panel gag strip is harder to do than a long story?

Definitely. But I always wanted to stick to that Nancy aesthetic: set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline. You don’t have to read the first Blecky strip to find out what happens in the fiftieth Blecky strip.

Is a four-panel strip harder to do than a one-panel gag?

Yes.

It seems to me that those four-panel pieces might be easier because there’s that rhythm. You could internalize it after so many strips. But a one-panel gag is nothing but the joke. It’s just you and one joke, so you have to be really good.

Yeah. But it’s hard to get that four-panel rhythm. There would be times when I’d have a funny idea for a gag panel, but what I needed was a Blecky strip and so I’d have to take that initial gag idea and stretch it out over the course of four panels.

Do you make yourself laugh while you’re working?

I laugh. I mean, you know, if it’s good. But I also laugh if I think it’s going to annoy or irritate someone. For some reason, I find that amusing as well.

I’ve seen you draw a lot in person, and you’ve used a pen and it’s been really fast. It’s like you have it planned in your head before you even start. But it can’t be like that for everything, can it?

No. When I’m doing an actual strip or a comic page I definitely start in pencil. If I’m drawing at a convention or something like that, I have a couple of go-to characters that I can just whip off. I know I can do them with a Sharpie without fucking them up. Drawing Boobs Pooter with a Sharpie is really easy to do. If someone asks for something special, then I have to be super careful.

Are you happy with your drawing style or do you want to evolve?

If something comes out right, or if I’m able to execute a certain image and it looks good, then I’ll think, “Oh, this is good.” I never think that I’m great. There are some people—like Gary Panter—who can just draw like a little face or something and they have the ability to make a line that’s really fascinating.

That’s a style thing, though. It’s not a better or worse talent than yours.

That’s the thing. I wish I had style. [laughs]

You wish you were as cool as Gary Panter.

I do.

Here’s another way to put the question: Do you ever find yourself hitting a ceiling in terms of your skills? Is what’s in your brain sometimes not possible for you to execute with your hand?

Sometimes. I’ve mentioned elsewhere before that I don’t like drawing crowd scenes. It isn’t a lot of fun. So if I have an idea and it involves a crowd, I’ll try to think my way out of it. Like, “How can I do this without having to draw a crowd?” That was one of the reasons that the Prison Pit books take place in this desert zone. I wanted to do something that would be fun, and in that setting I don’t have to worry about perspective on buildings and cars, or drawing all the boring shit. That’s torture for me.

So rather than stretching yourself, you’re playing to your handicaps.

Right. But I just don’t want to draw a sink. I don’t want to draw a lamp or a phone or any of that shit. It doesn’t interest me.

How much do you visualize a comic before you start to make it?

With Prison Pit, I have all of the major plot points in my head. But as I’m drawing it I’m still sort of finding my way. Like, “How do I get from A to B?” And if I think of something better as I’m going from B to C, I’ll change the plan. I also like to pretty much jump into it and start working on something. If I have an idea and it sits for too long, it gets old and I don’t want to do it anymore. I lose interest fast, so I have to start executing immediately.

How much revision and erasing and drafting does a typical piece go through? A lot of fiction writers often have to throw out an entire day’s work. How much of your work ends up on the cutting room floor?

Probably 99.9 percent of what I’m drawing will end up in the finished book. [laughs]

And is that because you have a plan before you start?

Pretty much. Also, throughout the day I’m thinking about what I’m going to do and where it’s going to go. But yeah, so far there have only been a couple times that I’ve had to throw something away because I didn’t execute it properly. It didn’t look good, so I had to redo it. But there hasn’t been a lot of my stuff where I was going in a particular direction and it wasn’t working and so I had to backtrack and start over again. I’m usually pretty good at writing myself out of things.

With fiction, maybe you have to go further along before you realize you’re fucking up. A bad drawing might be easier to identify earlier on.

I think that with fiction, it’s easier to kind of trash what you do.

I wouldn’t say that. Work is work. If you spend all day writing it’s very hard to throw it away at the end of the day.

I guess.

What about writer’s block? Have you had an extended bout?

All the time. [laughs]

But you learned to crank out Blecky on a weekly basis.

Because that’s what I trained myself to do. Same thing with those Comic Book Holocaust strips. That whole process was about training myself to come up with funny ideas as fast as I possibly could. I figured, “If this is my job then I have to be able to think of funny things fast.”

A lot of artists wouldn’t be doing that kind of learning in a public forum like you did.

Well, that’s why they suck.

Is it? [laughs] We’ve touched on this before, and you might be right. It seems that a lot of indie-ish comics artists are very precious about their work. They put out stuff way less frequently than a comics artist should, and they seem to be afraid to put anything out that might be imperfect or a mistake of any sort. Of course I say this from the position of not being a comics artist, so…

If anybody even bothers to ask for my advice about this shit—getting into comics and cartooning—I always recommend doing a weekly strip. It trains you. It not only trains your cartooning skills, but it trains you to be able to deal with preciousness. You learn to be able to put your work out there even though it’s not your best. Sometimes you’re going to flop, sometimes you’re going to do a great one, and sometimes you’re going to be mediocre. That’s part of the business. You look at a lot of the earlier artists in comics, MAD magazine, all those guys, and not everything they fucking did was amazing. But they’re considered to be amazing because they were putting their shit out there all the time.

Now we’re back on MAD. More than most cartoonists and comics artists, I think, you’re in that MAD tradition. Everyone talks about how they’re influenced by MAD, but with a lot of people you don’t really see it. And if you do see it, sometimes they’re not taking it any further. Because by “influence” in this context, I mean that you take something as a starting point and then you try to move it forward in your own work. I think that you’re taking that MAD ethos and going further with it rather than just saying, “Duh, MAD influenced me” for some easy cred.

MAD was my comic schooling. It taught me to make fun of everything. And that sort of aesthetic is put up on this pedestal, you know? “MAD is this amazing achievement, it’s such a great magazine.” But these people think that MAD only told them, “It’s ok to make fun of the president, it’s funny to make fun of Hollywood actors,” and that’s it.

Which is like, no shit. Of course you can make fun of all that.

But what I took away from it was I can make fun of that shit, and I can make fun of you and I can make fun of me and whatever else. Everyone and everything is ripe for satire.

In that regard, that “everything should be satirized” attitude, are there any people who you would consider your peers in the comics industry?

Nobody has this rage. Nobody’s as angry as me. At least not through their comics. Sometimes I’ll meet someone in person and they’re fucking hilarious but for some reason their work—though it might be good—is totally serious. They’re trying to go for the more literate tone in their comics, but in person they’re hysterical.

Do you see any younger kids who you think might be influenced by you?

I’m a big fan of what Matt Furie does. I think he’s pretty hilarious. But I don’t know if he’s been influenced by me.

That’s not very angry stuff.

Yeah. He’s got a great style and a sense of humor, but it seems to be coming from a completely different place. I guess I don’t see him as influenced by me.

So are there any angry kids?

Are there any angry cartoonists coming up? Not that I know about.

I wish there were. So Blecky was obviously a Nancy riff, but are there other things that inspired it?

There was some Popeye shit in there. The way her aunt dresses, I made her sort of Olive Oyl with a gigantic ass and tits.

And her name was a twist on the hot aunt from Nancy.

I was combining those elements. Oh, and then her rich friend Rich Bucksley was like a nasty Richie Rich type with the big bow and the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit.

There are a couple of things I think of as being ancestors to Sinus and Loady from Angry Youth. One is Eggs Ackley, the Crumb character, and then also Randy from Pee-wee’s Playhouse, who had that Panter look.

There was some of both of them in there. But those characters were also based on kids I went to high school with. There was this one kid at my school and when he first showed up, he was totally fucking punk. He had Loady McGee’s bright red hair, a Misfits jacket, chains, piercings, and horrible acne. So a lot of Loady came from that aesthetic, and also from Vyvyan on The Young Ones. That show had a big influence on me. It was so great.

I also loved it when I was younger. But I went back and watched it recently and it didn’t really hold up for me, which was sad.

I guess it’s not as powerful now. There are some moments that drag. But the moments with Vyvyan and Rick are amazing.

They were the best. Although I used to have Neil’s cassette and I was pretty into that.

I remember when the record came out and I coveted it, but I never got it.

Don’t bother now.

It’s too late.

Yep.

Also, Butch from the Lil’ Rascals, with his big fisherman’s sweater, was an influence on Loady. I sort of think of that as being the uniform of a bully.

That makes sense. I also really see Loady in that tradition of the fifties juvenile delinquent jerk-off kid.

Definitely. I was probably taking all the stuff we just talked about and putting it together. And then with Sinus it was this sort of nerdy kid I went to high school with who used to wear Rec-Specs.

What are those?

Prescription glasses that are also huge goggles that you could wear when you were, like, playing sports. [laughs]

And he wore them when he wasn’t playing sports?

He seemed to. Maybe he was coming into class after gym and he’d still be wearing them. But I just thought they were a nerdy accoutrement.

Loady and Sinus are sort of how you built your reputation. Would you say that’s true?

I built the Angryverse off of those two.

The empire. When did you know that those two characters were going to become your pillars for a long time?

Back when I was still trying to be a fiction writer. Those comics I would write on notebook paper and mail to my friends? The main character was sort of like Loady McGee. And the whole strip was about ridiculing this friend of mine, who at first was the only person I mailed them to. [laughs] He really liked it, so I kept doing it. He was very encouraging. And then another friend would find out about it and they’d be like, “Oh, I want to see that. Send one to me.” It snowballed from there until finally these friends were sort of like, “You know, that fiction shit you do? Fuck that.”

Yeah, yeah, you’ve already told me this story. This is one of the old workhorses you bring out.

But anyway, that’s where I first started to build those characters. It seemed like these two—yin and yang, nerd and wimp—just worked together.

Again, I’m surprised that there was no shared tone or outlook between this early comic stuff and the fiction you were writing then. It’s kind of schizophrenic.

Yeah, my fiction was pretty heavy. Toward the end, I think I tried to inject a little more humor into it because I had started reading Thomas Pynchon and I was digging the way he did that. Like in his novel V. I was really into how it seemed like this guy fucking knew everything from quantum mechanics, to wrestling, to the anatomy of an alligator. You know, pop culture and science. So I tried to include pop-culture-y things and more funny stuff in my writing, but it still had that serious tone.

Blecky, Sinus & Loady, and Boobs Pooter all have references tied up with them that are, for the most part, throwbacks. Before I met you, I imagined you were going to be one of those goofs who dresses like a fifties guy, you know what I mean? And I guess you kind of are.

[laughs] I’ve got the glasses…

And the hair, sort of. You probably have some bowling shirts, too. Or you did at one point.

Probably I did when I was 20 pounds heavier …

Why all the older cultural references? I know Prison Pit is not like that, and we’re going to get to that. But the larger body of your work—so far—has been filled with a weird kind of nostalgia.

Yeah, that’s a good question. I guess I have sort of a fascination with that stuff. I mentioned that when I was growing up I was interested in listening to classic rock radio. I wasn’t really paying attention to a lot of the newer stuff. I’d be listening to classic rock and watching old shows on Nick at Nite. [laughs] In the evening, that was my life. I don’t know if that was some sort of result of my parents’ divorce and me wanting to stay frozen in time.

But we’re talking about pop culture from a long time back. From when you hadn’t even been born.

That’s true. Maybe there’s something safe about going back into the past and just staying there. I remember when all those records of TV themes came out, I was totally into it. I’d be listening to the fucking Mr. Ed theme song all day. [laughs]

That’s a great one. Did you prefer older comedy, too? Would you rather hear something like Don Rickles or even Groucho Marx? I know they’re from totally different eras but there are similarities there.

I like that stuff, but also as a kid I was a huge fan of that one Steve Martin record. I loved it. And that Eddie Murphy record. I know it didn’t really hold up well, but at the time it was hilarious. I think I was probably jiving those two things—my interest in nostalgia and my interest in more advanced forms of comedy.

Why did you end it with Sinus and Loady? Did you start to resent having to deal with them all the time?

I never resented them, but I felt like I wasn’t coming up with anything good to do with them anymore. I guess Angry Youth #13 might be the last one they’re in. I felt like I took it about as far as it could go.

Same with Blecky?

I did that strip for eight years. Toward the end, I was dreading every week. I would just be like, “Fuck.” It was kind of a relief to put it to rest. And I feel like eight years on a strip is a good solid amount of time. I can’t really think of any strips—other than Peanuts—that have lasted longer than ten years and remained great.

What about The Lockhorns?

Other than that and Mary Worth.

And The Born Loser. You know, my favorite character of yours is Boobs Pooter. I think Boobs is more like you in real life than Loady is.

Yeah, probably. Every time I was using Boobs Pooter, the jokes were more violent, more horrible, more vicious, and more bizarre. It built up to that issue where he does that stupid joke and it winds up in a horrible nightmare. He throws the banana peel on the ground and the guy slips on it and he has to go the hospital and he’s paralyzed. [laughs] His whole life is ruined.

What were the stylistic inspirations when you were drawing Boobs?

That traditional old vaudeville character. He was just somebody that popped into my head when I was doodling while I was at work, just fucking around. I actually remember that I thought of the name first and then I came up with the character. His nose was a little smaller at first, and it just kind of blossomed from there. It seemed like a great idea—this comedian who’s funny because he destroys people’s lives. He’s a murderer, he’s a rapist, he’s the most horrible human being in the world but he always has a smile on his face and he’s hilarious.

He’s your best creation so far, I think.

Thank you. Previous to Angry Youth #14, he did dark shit but it was always with a wink. I thought it would be even funnier if I took this guy and basically played him as a real psychopath. Like in Friday the 13th or something. An omnipotent killer.

(Continued)

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30 Responses to The Johnny Ryan Interview

  1. patrick ford says:

    GREAT MOMENTS IN COMICS HISTORY

    Al Jaffe (TCJ #301): “I get a big bang out of it. I think Johnny Ryan is very talented; I think his stuff is very funny.”

  2. patrick ford says:

    Brilliant.

    Johnny Ryan: “My initial thinking was that the more opaque your writing is, the more important it is and the more profound it is.”

    Of course you see this in comics as well where some people think things which are either so opaque or so wispy that they could mean almost anything are examples of intellectual profundity. Greatest comics page of all time:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_h4TQjdq9GPE/TJL4sRtsCgI

  3. Swampcrotch says:

    i googled ‘tit’ singular and all i got was birds and boobs, i was hoping for some sorta cyclops nipple situation.

  4. Swampcrotch says:

    great interview, by the way. i’ve never read a JR comic, what’s a good one to start with?

  5. Eric Reynolds says:

    I think I’ve read every interview with Johnny ever conducted, and this was hands down the best ever. Great stuff.

  6. My copy of Prison Pit #3 finally showed up. Surprising shift in style. Can’t wait for #4!

  7. Totally awesome, groovy interview, homies. Solid.

  8. COOP says:

    Best Johnny Ryan interview ever! I was laughing out loud! (… if only they were a quicker way to express that.)

  9. Nicholas Gazin says:

    This is the interview I always wanted to do and couldnt get. Incredible stuff.

  10. danieljmata says:

    Am I the only one who thinks Prison Pit is the only good comic he has ever done? I’ve read a TON of his stuff, and it sure seems that way….

  11. Robert Lamb says:

    This was fantastic. You BOTH had me laughing out loud. Great job.

  12. CM says:

    far out, that dan clowes comic looks hilarious

  13. CM says:

    can’t wait to see Johnny giving an anthropomorphized adult swim television a rimjob

  14. Ali Almezal says:

    Is that first picture satire? If so, who is it directed at? It looks like a bit of shock art using an easy target. I mean, I did find it funny, but I don’t see it as satire.

  15. eat my coffinmouth!

  16. kim deitch says:

    I like Johnny Ryan. He has a winning way about him.

  17. Sean T. Collins says:

    I hear that, man.

  18. I think you’re the only one.

  19. steven samuels says:

    “There’s never been anything I’ve done that they were like, “We can’t do this.” Oh, except there was one thing. The original title of my book Triple X Scumbag Party was Let’s Be Assholes. Fantagraphics sort of passed the buck and said, “Well, Norton’s not going to let us do that.” ”

    “Let’s Be Assholes?” Aw, Gary & Kim thought Johnny was talking about them!

    BOOM!

  20. steven samuels says:

    That Spanish comics festival that Ryan mentioned on pg. 5 was covered by TCJ in issue #243 (VERY NSFW):

    http://archives.tcj.com/index.php?option=com_cont

    …….proving without a doubt that Ryan isn’t the only one with a sick sense of humor.

  21. jeffmaxweed says:

    Start with Angry Youth #6. (My personal fave – it includes the first Boobs Pooter cartoons, as well as the autobiographical comic mentioned in the interview)

  22. jeffmaxweed says:

    Fantagraphics: Please consider publishing a complete volume of his self-published works. Portajohnny is great, but leaves me craving more…

  23. rake says:

    please return as soon as possible to angry youth comix and do please forget about prison pit. thank you.

  24. Coco says:

    Wimp. There, I said it.

  25. Henry says:

    Great interview! Thanks!

  26. Tony Solomun says:

    fantastic interview,I’ve only recently come across Johhny’s work,though it is hilarious,and a I like the fact that Mr Ryan is open to doing commissions and prints on his website,here’s to more terrific books from him,best,

  27. stef says:

    “And this has become a cliché, but you generally have to be an actual good draftsperson to make comics. You work harder than a lot of fine artists do, but art snobs kind of see comics as a ghetto. ”

    honestly i hate seeing that shit it pisses me off.

  28. Ted Rall says:

    He stole my style.

  29. Glands says:

    Stop doing the same shit over and over again, Millionaire!

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