Kid's Art of the Month
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John F. Ryan IV was born in Boston, November 30, 1970. As a child, he had a Prince Valiant hairdo, orthopedic shoes, and was occasionally chased with BB guns by neighborhood bullies. His teen years were spent doing homework and watching "Night Flight". He studied English Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he had no girlfriends to distract him from making the Dean's List every year. The disgruntled, post-collegiate Johnny began drawing comics and sending them to his friends, who encouraged him to go legit with his badly scrawled (yet hilarious) artwork.
Over the next few years, he honed his craft in his self-published title Angry Youth Comix, which was picked up by Fantagraphics Books in 2000. There have been nine issues of AYC since, as well as two book collections (Portajohnny and What're You Lookin' At?!). AYC has earned multiple Ignatz, Harvey, and Eisner nominations in the years since. Johnny was also a guest of the Festival International des Bande Dessinee in Angouleme, France in 2002, where he presented Will Eisner with an award during opening night festivities and had artwork featured in the festival's accompanying gallery show. His comics are published in Spain by La Cupula, and have been reprinted in Brazil as well.
Johnny is also the creator of a weekly comic strip, "Blecky Yuckerella", which appears monthly in VICE magazine and weekly Portland Mercury (as well as online). A book collection by the same name was published in 2005.
Johnny's unmistakable and hilarious drawings have appeared in MAD, LA Weekly, National Geographic Kids, Hustler, Cool & Strange Music, The Stranger, and elsewhere. His artwork appears in nearly every issue of Nickelodeon magazine, wherein he has also collaborated with acclaimed artist Dave Cooper under the pen name "Hector Mumbly". The two also collaborated on a "Wonder Woman vs. Super Girl" story for the DC Comics anthology Bizarro. He also collaborated with Peter Bagge in both AYC and Bagge's Hate Annual, in addition to penciling and inking two stories for his DC series Sweatshop. Johnny has also done work for clients such as Nobleworks greetings cards, Rhino Records, and FOX television. Johnny currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jenny and their two cats, Kang and Kodos. In September 2005, he will be featured in Rolling Stone's annual HOT LIST issue, to the bemused delight of all who know him.
JOHNNY RYAN INTERVIEW
Gary Cifra: Can you tell me the first time comic books or comic strips inspired you?
Johnny Ryan: Um, let's see….Mad Magazine, of course, was the biggest influence as a kid growing up…probably a lot of the comic strips in the newspapers. I pretty much would read anything funny in the newspaper, except for Doonesbury, which for some reason I didn't like. Those were probably my two primary influences. Then I moved on to Marvel superhero comics after that.
G: How much did the first comic book you ever bought cost?
J: Oh gosh, um, this was like the '70's….
G: Ok, so you weren't actually born in 1990, were you?
J: Ha, ha, no. If you go to my website and click the bio link at the bottom of the page, you'll see I was born in 1970.
G: I was born in 1949 and my first comic book cost 10 cents.
J: In the late '70's and '80's they were around 25 or 35 cents.
G: Maybe, yeah. Was it like a strong attraction from the very beginning?
J: I would say so. I remember as a young kid wanting to do this as a career in some form… I mean initially when I was influence by comic strips in the paper I wanted to do that. Then when I getting into reading superhero stuff I wanted to do that.
J: I don't really know or can't explain exactly why I was attracted to it, I just was and I don't know why.
G: I guess you were attracted to it, like me, and thought, hey I want to express myself.
J: Yeah, when I was reading the superhero stuff, I thought, I want to be a part of this somehow, and I was drawing superhero characters and whatnot…but there came a point where I pretty much knew that I was never going to be that good as a superhero comic artist. It wasn't until later on that I sort of discovered underground things that happened that I realized that I didn't have to be able to draw like Al ??? or Jack Kirby to be able to express myself through comics.
G: And when did you first start thinking that this would actually be a career? How old were you?
J: Um, probably 23 or 24, around that period of time…it wasn't until that point that I thought that this is something that I really enjoy doing and I should really make an effort to make it into a career.
G: Did you go to school for art?
J: Yes and no. I went to the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst and I graduated with a degree in English. There was a short period of time where I was a double major, I was taking English and art and I eventually dropped the art and just took English so I could graduate on time and not have to spend another 2 or 3 years in school.
G: My friend recently graduate from Amherst, Jocelyn Heany. Do you remember her?
G: I guess it's a big school.
G: When did you start drawing comics? Did you draw comics when you were a kid?
J: When I was a kid, I created a character who was a parody of Sherlock Holmes, and the character's name was "I. M. Horny". At the time, I didn't know what horny meant, I just thought it meant crazy or something. I showed my parents "here's my comic, I. M. Horny", and they would kind of snicker. Then later on I was doing stupid kind of superheroes. It wasn't until after I got out of college, or probably while I was in college, that I would write letters to friends, and instead of writing the normal way, I would write comics to people and the way I do comics now kind of grew out of that. I would write comics to entertain my friends, and they would tell me, "hey these are really good, you should do something with this, this is funny stuff".
G: Uh huh. Did you ever submit any stuff to Mad Magazine, or do you have any interest in the current Mad Magazine?
J: I actually have been in Mad Magazine.
G: Oh, congratulations!
J: I think it was in the July/August 2005 issue, I did a piece called "The Fantastic Four Has A Bad Couple of Weeks". It was a bit of a parody of the movie that came out at the time. There was a new editor there, he contacted me and asked if I'd like to submit some things, so that was one of the things I submitted that they liked. That was my first Mad Magazine piece. Hopefully there will be more.
G: Do they pay well?
J: They pay pretty well, I mean for comics and all. It's a decent paycheck.
G: Is doing comics your full-time job, or do you have a day job?
J: At the moment it is. You know, it's kind of a minimum wage existence. Most of my money comes more from freelance gigs and whatnot. My comic is kind of like a business card that gets me freelance gigs that pay money, like Mad Magazine. Nickelodeon Magazine is probably my primary source of income.
G: The television show?
J: Nickelodeon Magazine is sort of an off-shoot of the network, it's a magazine for kids.
G: I'll have to look for it.
J: There's a lot of people that put together the magazine who are very knowledgeable about the comic scene today, who know who the artists are. The editor over there likes to incorporate a lot of the talent that are big on the comic scene today.
G: Well, certainly he'll want to hear about Kids On Paper.
J: Yeah, he probably will. Sam Henderson has been in there.
G: I love his Sponge Bob shows!
J: Yeah….he pretty much has an ongoing thing in there. Pat Moriarity has been in there, Peter Bagge, Steven Weissman, Ivan Brunetti….
G: All of those artists are "alumni" of Lines On Paper, a sequential arts appreciation society I operate.
J: Yeah, so it's all these great contemporary cartoonists that are doing work for that magazine, so it's definitely worth a look.
G: I certainly will take a look. Kids On Paper is trying to open up sequential arts for kids. Have you ever heard anyone ever say "Movies? Yeah…but I've never actually seen one".
J: Uh huh…
G: That sounds insane….but there are many people out there who have never actually read a comic book or know about sequential art. So we're trying to open up that world to them and let them know that they could have a career doing that. Would you, for example, trade your minimum-wage cartoonist existence for a living as an executive at Wal-mart?
J: An executive at Wal-mart, huh? Well, probably not.
G: I thought not. So you might want to let kids know, hey, hang in there, give it a shot….cause Wal-mart, sheesh…
J: The reason I do it is because I enjoy doing it and I do still hold onto the belief that it will lead to things that are paying jobs, but yeah, I mean I do enjoy doing it, and I can't think of many things that I would prefer doing.
G: You would hope that we could help move this whole comics movement to the next level so that you could make some more money!
J: Oh yeah. That's the thing, comics aren't really that popular at the moment.
G: I think they can never really be big money type things.
J: And I've said this before, it's kind of a good thing and a bad thing. I know for example, with my work, because it's underground and has a limited audience, I can get away with a lot more. I'm under the radar, they're not really scrutinizing what I'm doing so I can go nuts. Whereas if this was movies or radio or tv, they would be a lot more critical.
G: Can you imagine S. Clay Wilson in animation?
J: Oh, yeah, sure, that will never happen!
G: Well, not in your lifetime, but maybe in your children's lifetime!
J: If they could be so lucky.
G: By the way, do you have any stuff that you did when you were under the age of 18?
J: No, but a couple of years ago, a friend of mine, Kurt Wolfgang, put together a little comic called "Lo-Jinks", an issue of comics done by cartoonists when they were kids and he asked me if I wanted to participate, but I wasn't able to because I don't have any of my comics from when I was growing up.
G: You're not alone. Many cartoonists don't have them, cause I've been asking a lot of people. The stuff that's on the Kids On Paper website I actually borrowed without permission from R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson.
J: Yeah, I know S. Clay Wilson had a huge binder of all these comics he had done when he was a kid.
G: I used to own one.
J: I remember he was selling them a few years ago. And they were really hilarious.
G: I'd like to do a Kids On Paper t-shirt with that one pirate thing that he did when he was a kid. He'd be great in one of our after-school programs.
J: I wish someone would collect some of that work and compile it into a book.
G: Well, maybe Kids On Paper will do it.
J: I don't know if you'd want to do it…some of them are like "kill a Jap"…they're sort of World War II inspired, with that sort of racism from that era.
G: I don't know….Weirdo Magazine used to publish things like that…you know things that were like "why'd you publish this???" and that's why they did it, cause nobody else would. Well, this was a great interview. Is there anything else you would tell kids?
J: I'm not sure…
G: What about, just sit down in front of a piece of paper and let'er rip.
J: Yeah, if they enjoy doing it, and if they feel some sense of fun out of it, then more power to them. If they find it boring and tedious, then maybe they should play soccer!
G: Yes, just give it a shot! Thanks Johnny.