Interview: Johnny Ryan Pt. 1 (of 2)

Categories:  Interviews

Blecky YuckerellaJohnny Ryan is the resident retard-genius of comics. His art is some of the most consistently offensive, amoral, vomit-inducing work ever committed to the printed page—if you’re the kind of comic connoisseur not afraid to wallow in the murkiest depths of juvenile depravity, it just happens to been some of the honest-to-god funniest, as well. Since 2002, Ryan has been able to make art his full-time career. His illustrations and gag panels can be found, in far toned-downed versions in the pages of such kid-friendly publications as Mad and Nickelodeon magazines.

His decidedly more adult-oriented comic output, which takes the offensively hilarious work of forefathers like Crumb to new levels, appears largely in three forms. His flagship title, Angry Youth Comics, is nearing its thirteenth issue. The multiple page storylines primarily follows the exploits of perpetual fuckups, Loady McGee and Sinus O’Gynus. Shouldn’t You Be Working/Klassic Komix Club collect Ryan’s unpolished doodle strips. Blecky Yuckerella is Ryan’s weekly strips, following the exploits of the eponymous malodorous grade school girl with the mouth of a sailor and a six o’clock shadow.

In honor of the release of Blecky’s second collection, we sat down with Ryan to get the straight dope of on the high art of shit and piss comics.

How long have you been putting out Blecky Yuckarella Strips?

I’m going on my fifth year.

Did you imagine that you’d still be writing her, five years later?

I guess I don’t think of it in those terms. When I started it, The Portland Mercury asked me if I had any ideas for a strip—they were looking for one. The pay was shitty, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my stuff in a paper somewhere. I sent them some samples, and they’ve been in there, ever since. I mean that’s the only paper right now that carries it. It’s not a widely ciculated strip.

You run it on your web page too, though right?

Yeah. So if there’s a week where there’s a strip that they’re not keen on, I stick it on my website.

What sorts of things have come up in the strip that they wouldn’t publish?

There was only one instance where they wouldn’t publish. There are other instances like Valentine’s Day week, where they use the comic space to put more—sex ads or something. There was one strip that’s in the new Blecky book, where the punchline is Blecky wiping her ass with a guy’s turban—it’s an arab guy—and he’s still wearing it. This was around the time that people were having riots in Europe about the Mohammed cartoon. They got cold feet about it, and didn’t want to run it. That was the only time that they did that to me for content reasons.

Do you ever censor yourself?

Well, it depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing work for Nickelodeon, then I have to gear it to what the client is looking for. In Angry Youth Comics, or the Comical Holocaust stuff, I try not to.

So there’s no subject matter that’s off-limits?

I don’t think I’ve come across it yet. If there was some kind of personal thing going on between me and my wife, I don’t think I’d make a comic about that. But I’ve never really been one for auto-bio stuff, anyway.

That’s something that you’ve never tried?

I have done a couple of auto-bio things. There was a story that I did, called 1976, that was about my father. When I say, ‘auto-bio,’ I use the term loosely. There was another story called Ed Ex-Husband, which was somewhat based on him.

How long have you been doing Angry Youth for?

It started off first as a comic that I would give to my friends. It was three-pages long, on notebook paper, and I would photocopy it for a couple of friends. That was probably ’93 or ’94.

At what point did it turn into a real comic?

At the time that I was drawing those strips, I think I was still trying to make a go of it as an actual author—as a writer of fiction. Drawing comics was just something that I just naturally did, but I never thought of it as what I would do with my life. I think it took some of my friends to tell me to tell me, ‘this fiction stuff isn’t really our cup of tea, but these comics are really funny.’ One of my friends wanted to go in with me, and make a comic/zine, which is what my comic was for the first eight issues. Half was comics by me, and half was zine articles by this other guy. And then he quit.

It’s a bit astonishing to see the progress that you’ve made with your drawing ability, since those old photocopied strips.

That’s one of the few things that I’m actually proud of. I had to improve on my own, just by drawing all of the time, and trying to really get something to happen with my art, in a short amount of time.

Was the fiction that you were writing similar at all in tone to your comics?

No. It wasn’t at all. It was very Faulkner, modern-type fiction. I had this idea that the more difficult and opaque your writing is, the more intelligent you are. So I was writing these really opaque pieces of fiction that were just a mess. I thought I was doing some really heavy shit. Now I’m just like the exact opposite. Even in what I like to read. I pick up a book, and if the person can’t draw me in, within the first five pages, I’m out of there, whereas back then I would struggle through a lot of heavy stuff, just because I thought it would make me smarter.

Have you ever considered doing a graphic novel that reads a bit more like your early fiction?

No, I haven’t. I try to let ideas come naturally. So who knows. If the idea comes a couple of years down the road, then maybe. But at this stage, I don’t see that happening.

I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but do you show your parents your work?

Sure. I only show it to my mother—I don’t really have any contact with my father, but she…at least pretends to like it…I used to get a lot of letters from people that said, ‘I wish I could do really crazy stuff like you, but my mother would be upset with me.’ I thought that was sort of weird. If you’re an artist, you shouldn’t be concerned with what your mommy has to say about your work.

[Continued in Part Two.]
–Brian Heater