The Johnny Ryan Interview

Interview by Logan Kaufman, Adventures Underground

Johnny Ryan began a career in cartooning after the encouragement of friends. For a number of years, Angry Youth Comix was a self-published gem that both offended and amused its followers.

Fantagraphics Books picked up Angry Youth Comix in 2000, and the comic has since been nominated for a number of prestigious awards. This can raise a few eyebrows from those who don't see eye-to-eye with the always absurdist, and typically low-brow, humor.

His work has appeared in MAD, Hustler, National Geographic Kids, Nickelodeon Magazine, and The Stranger.


Johnny Ryan as crafted by Tony Millionaire

Logan Kaufman: Do people ever confuse you with your comics and characters?

Johnny Ryan: I think people do expect me to be some kind of out-of-control serial killer dirtball, like Loady McGee. Then when they finally meet me they're very disappointed to find that I'm not.

Logan: Are you shocked that people would expect that or want you to be that kind of person?

Johnny Ryan: No, I don't think so. If I ever met Robocop I would be pretty disappointed if he wasn't acting like the way he does in the movie.

Logan: But he'd likely kill you if you got in his way...he'd definitely kill Loady.

Johnny Ryan: That sounds like fun.

Logan: How did Loady McGee come about? Was he an early creation of yours or did he evolve after doing comics for some time?

Johnny Ryan: He turned up around 1993, I think, and has evolved over time. He didn't look so rat-like at first. In the beginning he was just kind of a cartoony version of a friend of mine, then I began to add characteristics of other people, including Vyvyan from The Young Ones.

Logan: What does your friend think of Loady?

Johnny Ryan: The friend that I originally based Loady on? He was actually the first person who encouraged me to pursue the career in comics.

Logan: How did you go about first publishing? Were you basically just xeroxing comics?

Johnny Ryan: Yeah, we took our stuff to a copy place and had them copy our stuff, then we took them around to local stores and conventions, etc...

Logan: You were collaborating with someone?

Johnny Ryan: Yes, I was collaborating with my friend Matt Sanborn. I drew comics and he wrote stuff, like porn reviews and other bullshit. The collaboration lasted until issue 9. At that point it was pretty clear that he just didn't want to do it anymore.

Logan: What were you doing to make ends meet at the time?

Johnny Ryan: Let's see...I had a bunch of jobs during that time. I don't think any of them lasted more than a year. Bussing tables, telemarketing, working in a warehouse, cashier at a liquor store, mowing lawns, stuffing envelopes, etc... I think between the time I graduated from college in '92 and 2000 I had approximately 20 different shitty jobs...

Logan: You've said that you were fired from the liquor store for stealing scratch tickets. Liquor stores sell scratch tickets?

Johnny Ryan: Of course they do. Where have you been living? On the moon?

Logan: I guess. Any big winners?

Johnny Ryan: I think I got one that was 100 bucks.

Logan: And freedom from a cruddy job. Was that the job you enjoyed the least?

Johnny Ryan: Probably substitute teaching at a middle school.

Logan: Don't get along with kids?

Johnny Ryan: It's like babysitting 100 assholes. As a substitute teacher the kids don't care what you say. And the other teachers care even less.

Logan: Was subbing something you thought you were going to enjoy, or just a job that fell in your lap?

Johnny Ryan: My mother was a math teacher, so she had connections...

Logan: What have you been doing for rent money since then?

Johnny Ryan: Mostly freelance jobs, like Nickelodeon Magazine, Vice magazine, MAD, various other things like that.

Logan: Did you start getting freelance jobs after Fantagraphics picked you up, or did you have to sell yourself to those places?

Johnny Ryan: No, I did some freelance stuff before Fantagraphics. I was in Screw and The Brutarian and stuff. I think having a published comic definitely helps get me jobs, but I still have to sell and pitch my stuff around.

Logan: Some people familiar with Angry Youth Comix are probably surprised to know you also work for Nickelodeon and MAD. How did you get into doing work for younger readers?

Johnny Ryan: I picked up a copy of Nick Mag back in '98 or so. I really liked what they had going on their comics section. So, I kept submitting stuff until they bought something from me. It's fun doing comics for kids. I'm still using that same kind of surreal nonsense humor that I use in my regular comic. It just doesn't have the graphic sex and violence in it. MAD called me last year and asked me to submit stuff, so I did.

Logan: What do the folks at MAD and Nickelodeon think of your Angry Youth work?

Johnny Ryan: Well, what first appealed to me about Nickelodeon Magazine was how they were employing lots of alternative comic artists. Chris Duffy is the art director over there and he's a big comic fan. He understands that people who make comics for adults can also make them for kids. They've used lot of other alt artists who normally do adult comics, like Kaz, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, etc. If he didn't like my stuff I don't think he would want me in his magazine. I've also done work for National Geographic Kids and the new MAD Kids. So, a good deal of my freelance work has come from doing kid stuff.

MAD Magazine contacted me about submitting stuff, so I can only assume that they were aware of my work and liked it on some level.

Logan: Was MAD magazine something you read as a kid?

Johnny Ryan: Yeah. So, it was a big deal for me when they finally printed something I did in the magazine.

Logan: The Portland Mercury recently refused a Blecky Yuckerella strip from you...

Johnny Ryan: In the strip, Blecky finds what she thinks is a piece of toilet paper on the sidewalk. She then starts wiping her ass with it. It turns out to be a piece of some Arab guy's turban. I think the PM just thought it was a little too mean to people who wear turbans, so they didn't want to run it.

Logan: Did anything come of that Blecky strip or was The Portland Mercury the only one that ended up caring?

Johnny Ryan: No, nothing really. It only showed up on my website, so I'm sure not that many people noticed.

Logan: So, if you are suddenly murdered, it will probably be at the hands of Robocop and not because of that strip?

Johnny Ryan: Yeah, I think there's a better chance of that happening.



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Interview Conducted by E-Mail, April of 2006
Copyright © 2006 Adventures Underground