Interview by Chris Auman
Johnny Ryan walks the thin line between clever and stupid like a pro. And that thinner line between funny and just plain absurd? Well, he walks that too. Actually, he sort of drags his foot over it and smears it beyond recognition. Or, I guess you could say, he snorts that line like a five dollar bag of "skrank." But enough with the ridiculous metaphors already. With Angry Youth Comix, Ryan has created a world where the characters, most notably anti-heroes Loady McGee and Sinus O'Gynus, have no redeeming value, no real purpose in their lives, and dare I say, horrible manners and bad hygiene to boot. Absent as well are any social or political undertones that make a statement about the world we live in. Nope, they're just deviant, perhaps despicable, and also really, really funny. In fact, you'll never laugh so hard while being offended (or while thinking you should be offended). But don't believe me, the list of comics creators who have heaped praise upon Ryan's work is impressive enough. Everyone from Peter Bagge, who wrote the introduction to Johnny's recent Fantagraphic's collection Portajohnny: The Best of Angry Youth Comix: The Early Years, to Simpsons' producers Dana Gould and George Meyer, have all heaped praise on Ryan's work.
JR: Yes, that's all true.
RW: . . . And, as is suggested in your bio, were chased with BB guns by neighborhood thugs?
JR: It was just one neighborhood prick. He chased my sister and me through the woods with a BB gun. He later died in an underwater welding accident. That's pretty good karma. Although, thinking back, chasing two little kids through the woods with a BB gun is a very Loady McGee thing to do. I guess I would have found it more funny at the time if he was doing it to somebody else.
RW: When did you first start drawing comics?
JR: I guess when I was a kid. I'm not really sure what age exactly. The first comic I remember drawing was a comic about this character "I.M. Horny." I thought "horny" meant "wacky." The character was a Sherlock Holmes type who was really stupid. His 'Watson' was actually the smart one who solved all the mysteries. I can't remember his name but he looked a lot like Wimpy.
JR: They're all gone, unfortunately. There was a comic that came out a few years back called LOWJINX #4 put out by Kurt Wolfgang. It collected the childhood drawings of a bunch of comic book artists. I don't think it sold that well.
RW: Did you read comic books or comic strips as a kid? Ziggy doesn't count.
JR: Yes. I really loved the Marvel superhero comics. And this was back in the '80s when Marvel was pretty much publishing any piece of shit they possibly could. But I didn't care. I loved it all. But I'd have to say that Spider-Man was probably my favorite. I also loved to read the comic strips in the paper. I'd read everything but Doonesbury. I hate Doonesbury. I hate any of that political bullshit.
RW: How did Angry Youth Comics originate?
JR: In '92 I was working as a telemarketer at Chadwick's of Boston. I hated it. In between calls I started drawing a comic about this character Loady McGee and his shitty job. I showed these comics to some friends who thought they were really funny and they encouraged me to do more. After about a year or two, a friend of mine and I combined our efforts and began printing AYC as a kind of mini-comic/zine combo. I would draw the comics and he would write dumb articles about porno movies and GG Allin and shit like that. That was about '94. We did the first eight issues together before he became burnt out. Issues nine, ten, and eleven I did on my own.
JR: Well, sometimes when I'm submitting gags to my editor over at Nickelodeon Magazine, I may throw in a filthy one just for his amusement.
RW: Have you ever done a strip where you felt that you had crossed the line in terms of content? Does such a line exist, might be a better question.
JR: On those rare instances when I do feel that I might be crossing a line, I just do it anyway. And those "line crossing" comics usually seem to be the most popular. I think it's important for an artist to be a little bit of a troublemaker just to keep things interesting.
RW: Can you name a specific strip where you hesitated but then said fuck it? I'm not trying to psychoanalyze you, I just ask out of curiosity.
JR: Probably the most recent one was the "Alien Encounter" story.
RW: What does your family think of your work? Do they feel you ever cross the line?
JR: I don't think it's exactly their cup of tea, but that's not something that concerns me. I'm trying to draw a funny comic here and the last thing on my mind is "Gee, I hope my mommy likes this!"
RW: Do you ever get flak for your comics? Religious do-gooders or other assorted nuts?
JR: Not as much as I would like. A few wacky gays online got a little upset about the "Gay-triot" comic I did for The Comics Journal, saying that they were going to call GLAAD, and boycott Fantagraphics, and write letters to me and my editor. But nothing ever came of it, as usual.
RW: What kind of reaction do you want people to have after they read your comics? I ask this question because, after I read something, like say, "Little Orphan Asshole," which lampoons everybody's favorite redheaded orphan and beloved comic treasure—you have her taking a dump on Sandy, which is the least offensive thing in the strip by the was—my first reaction is "Oh my god," and then I laughed.
RW: Has there ever been, or will there ever be, in your opinion, a time when I fart jokes won't be funny?
JR: If they played farting sounds twenty-four hours a day on every radio and TV station for all eternity it would still be funny.
RW: Does AYC anti-hero, Loady McGee, have any redeeming qualities?
JR: Sure. He's funny. Or at least he's supposed to be. Like Moe in the Three Stooges. Moe's a real fucking asshole. But he's one funny fuck.
RW: Do you have a day job now that allows you to come up with gags and sketches ala "Shouldn't You Be Working" which were done while you should have been working?
JR: At the moment I don't have a day job. Hopefully, I don't need a day job to be able to come up with funny material.
RW: What role does monotony and boredom play in your work?
JR: Well, I think I always try and keep the stories fun and exciting and funny. If the characters are bored it isn't going to last long. I have to think of a new and fun way to ruin their lives. I don't want to bore the audience, or myself for that matter.
RW: That question was in reference to my previous question about the day job, I didn't mean to imply that your characters are bored, although they certainly don't have very constructive things to do with their lives. You've changed coasts, east to west. What has been the biggest difference between the two?
RW: Who have you met whose comics you like, or more generally, whose comics do you get a kick out of these days?
JR: Kaz, Tony Millionaire, Hernandez Brothers, Gary Panter, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Chester Brown, Sam Henderson, Ivan Brunetti, Steven Weissman, Dennis Worden, Dave Cooper.
RW: What advice do you have for the angry youths out there?
JR: Buy my comics and any other crap that I sell.
RW: Spoken like a true comic book artist. Thanks, Johnny. One more question though, are you gonna eat that last pot sticker?
JR: That's not a potsticker, it's a dog turd. And it's all yours, buddy!
RW: Pitt or Depp?
RW: Correct. Britney or Christina?
JR: I guess if I had to choose I'd go with Britney, but she's looking pretty bad these days.
RW: Correct. Loady or Sinus?
JR: You can't have one without the other.
RW: Correct. Although Twinkies also would have been acceptable. Last one, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz?
JR: What's a Wolfowitz? Is that some kind of Jewish werewolf?RW: Correct. Five out of five. Not bad. Not bad at all.