Comics

Johnny on the Spot

When it comes to scat, Ryan is a whiz.
A few weeks ago, Guelph cartoonist Seth was giving a scripted talk on the
art of comics to a worshipful crowd at the Rivoli. He accompanied himself with
slides projected onto a screen behind him, ringing a bell between each slide
like a performance-art concierge. Once, he rang the bell and up slid the apple-red
cover of Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix — a profoundly crass (and profoundly
hilarious) series by one of comicdom’s greatest slingers of smut. Beside Ryan’s
typical excretions — a detective story called “Sherlock McRape,” another about
aliens whose words for ice cream and its toppings are heinous epithets — this
particular issue (No. 6) included a scalding parody of Seth and fellow anachronist
Jason Little, trying to “out old-timey” each other in increasingly bizarre acts
of desperation. Seth admitted that his publisher, which also publishes Ryan,
had sent him a copy, but that he’d been too afraid to read it.

As usual, Ryan’s cut had hit its mark. “I’m always glad to hear I’m annoying the uptight liberal prigs that are out there,” says Ryan, his snark-rimed monotone bristling over the phone from LA. He fondly recalls a review of one of his books at www.sequentialtart.com, a website for women in comics. The critic had warned her readers to avoid Ryan’s work at any cost, writing solemnly, “A bully can only be a bully if you allow him to intimidate you.” Ryan responded in his next issue with a story about a female cartoonist who’s peed on by her all-male classmates and thrown out the window. “Whenever I see people who really get irate about what I’m doing, I make a small effort to continue insulting them in my work.”

He blames his working-class Irish roots for teasing the aggression out of him, the insult comedy he now gleefully inflicts on his subjects. “Growing up, I was mostly on the receiving end,” he says. “My aunts and uncles were a lot sharper than I was. It was just our way of communicating, lobbing insults at each other.” Ryan spent his teens absorbing B-movies by gutter auteurs like John Waters, finding his vocation in their rabid obscenity. “They didn’t have stars to push movies. The only thing they had was rape or murder or lurid sex scenes. Get a fat transvestite to eat dog shit, and reel them in. That’s my school of entertainment.”

When it comes to scat, Ryan is a whiz.Like most cartooning careers, his began with a stapled zine swapped among friends. From the first, Angry Youth Comix was redolent of Ryan’s obsessions: “Violence, stabbing, sex, shit, throw-up,” he recounts. “The wonderfully horrible things that go on in your mind. In my mind, anyway.” Starring the fulsome pair of Loady McGee (scheming, acne-encrusted tyrant) and goggle-wearing rube Sinus O’Gynus, AYC transcends taste and decorum with each hysterical discharge. In “Survey Sez,” a story from Ryan’s early days (collected in the priceless AYC anthology, Portajohnny, published by Fantagraphics, $22.95), Loady goes door to door with a clipboard, firing questions like “Why is your fat mother a flea-ridden whore that’ll suck your dick for a red apple?” (To which one unwitting participant replies, “Well… mom’s been kinda going thru some tuff times….”) Ryan is a master of the low, a humorist with an astonishing imagination for depravity, and fangs for satire that can gnaw etiquette to a pulp. “There’s a lot of effort in writing shit jokes,” the 33-year-old says. “More than you think. It’s like chess. You have to out-think the audience.” He plumbs the depths without fear, probing crevices that would give most artists the runs. “If I think maybe I shouldn’t do this, that’s the cue for me to do it.”

For all his flagrancy, though, his jokes wouldn’t be half as funny without the art: a pneumatic cartoonscape of plasticine limbs and marshmallowy teeth. It’s all so guileless, it could almost be for kids — an audience Ryan caters to in his ongoing series for Nickelodeon magazine. “I’m doing the same job,” he says, comparing that book to AYC, “just taking out the diarrhea, rape and murder.” His art recalls another famous Nick property — John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy — and the work of some of Ryan’s biggest influences, cartoonists such as Kaz and Peter Bagge. With so innocent a vessel delivering his gags, every crude quip stings like a sucker punch. “People write my humour off as, ‘Oh, he’s just trying to shock,’” Ryan says. “As if ‘shock’ were pejorative.”

The next issue of AYC, due this summer, will give audiences the chance
to blanch anew at Ryan’s ribald brilliance. In the meantime, www.johnnyr.com
is a tasty appetizer that includes his weekly strip for the Portland Mercury,
Blecky Yuckerella. “My comic is very polarizing. Some people hate it.
And the fact that they hate it so much is cool.”

Categories: Comics

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