This interview with cartoonist Johnny Ryan was conducted over two sessions in January of 2006. A shortened version first appeared in The Comics Journal #279. It was transcribed by Raymond Fleischmann , Sam Robards, and Stephen Hirsch. This longer text was edited by the participants.
Thanks to Dirk Deppey and Gary Groth at the Journal for okaying this project. Also, my thanks to Johnny, who was unfailingly helpful and understanding even when I screwed up the recording, forcing us to do the second half of the interview twice.
I’ll post a longish review of Johnny’s Angry Youth Comics #10 in the next day or so.
I’ll Just Throw It Away
NOAH BERLATSKY: I know you’ve said you’re not particularly enthusiastic about autobiographical comics; I thought I’d start by asking you if you had similar objections to lengthy autobiographical Comics Journal interviews.
RYAN: You know, I have to admit when I get the Comics Journal, I’ll get it in the mail or something, I’ll see if there’s any mention of me in it and if not I’ll just throw it away [Berlatsky laughs]. Or if there’s somebody that I know is being interviewed in there or if there’s some kind of comic that somebody I know has done and there’s a little review of it or something … I guess what I’m saying is I usually —
BERLATSKY: Have no objection because you don’t read them.
RYAN: I’ve probably read just like a handful of stuff from the Journal without me being one of that group, even if I do start reading something, I usually just kind of glaze over [Berlatsky laughs].
BERLATSKY: So is that the case with interviews in general or …
RYAN: It depends on who the person is and what they’re talking about, that kind of thing. It can vary. More often than not, I haven’t seen too much in the Comics Journal recently that’s really caused me to stop and read it. They have been putting in those comics, old comics and stuff, recently and sometimes I’ll clip a couple of those things out and store ‘em away somewhere but, more often than not, I just chuck it in the garbage [Berlatsky laughs]. Or recycle. I don’t want to sound wasteful.
BERLATSKY: You say “recently,” was there a time when you read it more often or …
RYAN: You know what? No.
BERLATSKY: Comics criticism just doesn’t interest you particularly?
RYAN: Well like I said, it has to do with the subject. If it’s going to be some big interview with the guy that does that comic Bone; you know, I haven’t read Bone, I don’t know anything about it and I don’t really have a desire to, for whatever reason. I’m sure it’s fantastic, but I don’t know anything about it and probably won’t read it [Berlatsky laughs].
BERLATSKY: That’s fair enough.
RYAN: I probably find myself not reading too many comics in general, though; I’ve always kind of felt a little bit outside of the scene.
BERLATSKY: Really, because I’ve seen you say that, but it just seems like, in reading the Shouldn’t You Be Working? stuff, it just seems like you read an enormous number of comics. More than I do.
RYAN: I guess I’d have to say as far as the new stuff … the things that I’ve been buying recently have consisted of those Little Lulu reprint books that Dark Horse is doing. I just started reading those Tezuka Buddha books that I think Vertical or whatever is putting out. Yeah, so I’m kind of more into looking at the old stuff, a lot of the new stuff, I guess I just don’t really know too much about it.
BERLATSKY: Again, I’m kind of curious to hear that because … I mean especially the “Comic Book Holocaust,” the one about alternative cartoonists, I mean …
RYAN: Well, I was kind of running out of steam at the end [Berlatsky laughs]. I couldn’t really think of anybody else. I have thought of a couple more people since then but doing the newspaper one has seemed to be a little bit easier because there’s so many and I’m familiar with most of the ones, at least the ones I grew up with, but yeah the alternative one was a little bit more difficult.
BERLATSKY: It seems like other comics, even if you’re not keeping up at the moment, like other comics seem really important; you do a lot of stuff with other comics. Not just the Shouldn’t You Be Working?, but in Angry Youth Comix, there’s a lot of parodies. I mean you did the Seth parody and, you know, Art Spiegelman parodies show up with some frequency. You do a lot of parodies with other comics. Is that just cause —
RYAN: I guess Seth is a good example, because I wouldn’t consider myself well versed in Seth’s work.
BERLATSKY: I fear I’m not either.
RYAN: I’ve read like one or two of his comics or stories. I guess maybe what I mean is that I’m kind of vaguely familiar with some of these guys but I haven’t been reading everything that they’ve done.
BERLATSKY: Well it seems like that’s at least in part because you have a strong negative reaction, is that right?
RYAN: Yeah. [Berlatsky laughs]. I feel I get the idea and, in turn I’m sure there’s people that read my stuff and they get two panels in and they get the general idea and sometimes….
BERLATSKY: …they want to take a walk.
RYAN: And that’s fine, it’s just the way it is with any kind of art form.
BERLATSKY: The person I can think of who does a similar number of parodies to you is R. Sikoryak.
BERLATSKY: But his approach is really different, I mean he actually tries to imitate the style.
RYAN: Yeah, his seem to be leaning a little on the serious side. I mean he did kind of a Garfield-De Kooning thing for Raw, I think a while back. He did like Good ‘Ole Gregor Samsa-Brown or something.
BERLATSKY: Oh, right. I saw that one.
RYAN: So, you know, he’s sort of incorporating comics and fine art and literature —
BERLATSKY: That’s not where you’re coming from.
RYAN: Yeah, I’m kind of just going the goofy route [Berlatsky laughs].
BERLATSKY: It doesn’t seem like it’s just goofy, necessarily…. I mean, sometimes it does. Like the Marvel pages; you don’t have any particular beef with Dr. Strange.
RYAN: Well, no. Just because I do a parody of something doesn’t necessarily mean I have a beef with them. I was just talking to Tony Millionaire a few hours ago and I was saying to him that I’ve probably made fun of him just about as much as I have Art Spiegelman or anybody else for that matter. In Shouldn’t You Be Working? and in my Blecky strip. I mean, I’m a huge fan of his stuff. And he’s a great guy for that matter.
BERLATSKY: It just seems like sometimes you’re taking issue with them and sometimes maybe less so.
RYAN: On the other hand there are instances when I’m not a fan of the particular work in question. The Art Spiegelman one is a good example of that, In the Shadow of No Towers . It was one of those moments where, early in the morning, for some reason I was thinking about it and it was kind of making me irritated [Berlatsky laughs] And I had one of these Shouldn’t You Be Working? strips that I had to do that day, and I was thinking, “Well maybe it would be funny if I teamed him up with the Red Skull and did this thing that just kind of showed my dislike for that particular work.” It’s not just across the board “I hate this person’s stuff” or “I love this person’s stuff” or whatever. It varies.
BERLATSKY: It seems like you’re particularly … something you said when you were interviewed by Peter Bagge about artsy comics making the comics scene kind of boring, I mean, that seems like something that you’re trying to parody, is that also part of the reason that you don’t read a ton of stuff that comes out now you feel?
RYAN: There is kind of a real conservative thing going on with the comics scene now. For the most part, that type of stuff doesn’t really interest me. I do notice that there are a lot of great artists that are doing these comics, they look fantastic, but they’re not very exciting to read, they’re not compelling or interesting. They’re just kind of visual. I don’t know, I usually feel that these people should maybe do graphic design or illustration; they’re not good storytellers.
BERLATSKY: Do you feel that about … because I mean that’s true of certainly the alt comics scene, do you feel that way about manga? Do you read manga? Are you interested in manga?
RYAN: Yeah, I mentioned that Buddha. That’s something else that it’s not across the board “I love manga”. There is a bunch of it that I do like; I’m trying to think of some names here …
BERLATSKY: I was reading Parasyte recently.
RYAN: I have one of those Parasyte books, which I liked. There’s that guy, I think his name is Junji Ito, who did those Uzumaki books. I don’t even know if I’m going to pronounce this right, but “Gyo?” It’s spelled G-Y-O, about this weird gas that causes cyborg sharks to come on land and attack people. That was really good. Those Akira books I like, Lone Wolf and Cub is another; you know, there is a lot of good manga out there.
BERLATSKY: It just seems like if there’s a huge audience for manga … I mean, a lot of that stuff is comedy.
RYAN: Yeah, I don’t have anything at all against manga. It’s just like American comics: there’s good shit and there’s bad shit. And then there’s some really bad shit [Berlatsky laughs]. Another good one is The Genius Bakabon, I can’t remember the name of the author [Fujio Akatsuka] but it’s a really funny kids comic about a really stupid father and his really stupid son getting in all sorts of wacky adventures. That’s another one of my favorites. There’s definitely some good storytelling going on in a lot of those books.
BERLATSKY: You also don’t seem … I was reading one of the recent Sam Henderson comics, the Magic Whistle, and he had a little sort of rant in there about how superhero comics are for kids and they’re OK for kids but, you know. And I think that’s the feeling that a lot of alt-comics people have.
RYAN: You mean am I some kind of anti-superhero snob?
BERLATSKY: Or do you feel oppressed by the extent to which they have control of the market?
RYAN: I don’t think I feel oppressed. I think that when I do read superhero things, I find myself picking up a lot of those Marvel Essential books, I think it’s just some kind of way to get back my childhood….
BERLATSKY: Right, there’s nostalgia.
RYAN: …all these horrible comics I used to read when I was a kid [Berlatsky laughs]. I mean, they’re pretty bad but there’s also, in a lot of it, there’s just some kind of wackiness to it.
BERLATSKY: The art is better I think, in general.
RYAN: Like I was looking at this, I have the Essential Ghost Rider, and there’s this big splash panel of Ghost Rider saving this Jesus Christ-looking dude. Well, this Jesus Christ guy is hanging on the cross in the background and Ghost Rider is riding his bike, coming in to save him against a bunch of 5th rate Marvel villains, like “The Trapster” and “Aquarius” and others. It’s those kinds of scenes that I buy those types of books for.
BERLATSKY: Have you seen the old Dr. Strange?
RYAN: Yeah, I have the Essential Dr. Strange and then I have the Werewolf by Night.
BERLATSKY: What sort of stuff did you read when you were a kid?
RYAN: Marvel. I was a loyal Marvel fan. I didn’t really have any interest in reading anything DC at all until, I think, Frank Miller started doing his Batman. People were saying, “Oh, you got to read this story,” so I checked it out.
BERLATSKY: Did you just get started on Marvel? Was there a difference in the —
RYAN: Well, no. I can’t even remember when I first got into it. I guess those were some of the first superhero comics that I saw. I don’t know, I guess I was swept up as a kid in the whole comics brand loyalty type thing. And something about the DC characters seemed sort of stiff to me. The Marvel characters seemed to have a lot more personality to them. There seemed to be something corny about Superman and Batman and Robin whereas Spider-Man and the Thing and all those characters seemed kind of cool.
BERLATSKY: When you got into the Frank Miller stuff, were you reading Alan Moore?
RYAN: Yeah, well that was sort of that early … what was that, early 80s, mid-80s time, when all that stuff was coming out. So, the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, I really liked that too, both kind of made me delve a little bit more into the DC stuff, but it was maybe a couple years after that that I got kind of burnt out on superhero comics altogether and I never really got completely swept up in the whole DC universe. There was some DC comic called A Death in the Family, where Robin gets killed….
BERLATSKY: Oh, right, that’s a famous one….
RYAN: That book was fucking horrible. [Berlatsky laughs]. It felt like, after Dark Knight Returns, they were trying to put out all these books and kind of recapture that same thing. Same with Watchmen; they were trying to recapture that same kind of dark atmosphere but it always just sort of felt like they weren’t getting it. It was kind of around that particular point that I pretty much got burnt out on it.
BERLATSKY: When was that around?
RYAN: I was probably just starting college, so that was probably like ’89, ’90 or something.
BERLATSKY: Did you read newspaper strips when you were a kid too?
RYAN: Oh yeah. I would read everything except for Doonesbury. I fucking hated that. I don’t know if you saw that I did a Doonesbury parody.
BERLATSKY: Yes, I saw the Doonesbury parody.
RYAN: Even drawing that was just such torture. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Is it the drawing style in particular that you…?
RYAN: Everything. The drawing…like I was sitting looking at some Doonesbury strips to get the drawing style in my head. I’ve always just hated the way it looks.
BERLATSKY: It’s a particularly ugly strip.
RYAN: Yeah, and the things he’s talking about, it’s just another instance where my brain just glazes over. I get three words into it and I can’t take it.
BERLATSKY: Was that the case for Bloom County too?
RYAN: No, I actually thought Bloom County was funny.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, I love Bloom County.
RYAN: It could be a little bit … it was goofier. Like he was trying to go for the laughs as opposed to trying to make you think or something.
BERLATSKY: I’m kind of surprised at what low esteem he’s held in.
RYAN: Oh, do people really hate it?
BERLATSKY: The comics community seems to.
RYAN: I remember at the time he was huge.
BERLATSKY: No, no. He’s hugely popular. So he’s actually doing the strip again, I think.
RYAN: And I know that … I mean, I haven’t read that stuff in years. I don’t know if it holds up.
BERLATSKY: I’ve read it recently. I still think it’s pretty great..
RYAN: Yeah. You know, I used to get all the books. I really enjoyed it.
BERLATSKY: I mean, the old stuff is really great. The stuff he’s doing now is…
RYAN: Yeah, the…Outland? Is that what it’s called?
BERLATSKY: I think it’s now called Opus, but it’s…
RYAN: That just kind of seems like he’s running on fumes. And the children’s books he does, they’re just really ghastly things. [Berlatsky laughs] Because it’s drawn in his particular style, but it’s really overdone. It’s all painted or whatever.
BERLATSKY: Right. He shouldn’t necessarily be relying on the art.
RYAN: Yeah, it looks really hideous. If I was a kid, I wouldn’t read those. [Berlatsky laughs] But I still liked his strip quite a bit. It was a big deal before…what came after that? Calvin & Hobbes?
BERLATSKY: Calvin & Hobbes, yeah. I like it better than Calvin & Hobbes. That’s just me. Did you like the Far Side too?
RYAN: Oh yeah. The Far Side was also a great – I guess I’d call it a strip. I guess it was a gag, but…
BERLATSKY: Some of the stuff, especially some of the children’s stuff you do, seems like it could almost be Far Side stuff.
BERLATSKY: Which is … I think that’s great. I really like the Far Side, too.
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, I used to really love it when I was a teenager. That was a real good one. I used to love the Peanuts. That was a great strip. As a kid, I used to really like Garfield, but I don’t really think that holds up.
RYAN: …I haven’t read it in a while
BERLATSKY: There’s some gags that I still remember fondly, but yeah, once you’ve gotten the tenth book, I think it’s…
RYAN: Calvin & Hobbes is a great one.
BERLATSKY: Were you a fan of Nancy at that point, or was that…?
RYAN: I don’t think I was a real huge fan of Nancy until later. I mean, at that point it was just kind of something that was there and I would read it just like everything else, like Beetle Bailey. But I don’t think I truly appreciated it until I got a little bit older. Same thing with Andy Capp. I probably didn’t get it as a child. All those sort of weird accents he put into the strip. The way the people were talking. But I think I appreciate it a lot more now.
Catholic Without the Confession
BERLATSKY: You’ve said that you’d grown up working class.
RYAN: Yeah, pretty much.
BERLATSKY: Pretty much. So where did you grow up, and what were your parents doing? And what was your background like?
RYAN: For the most part, I grew up in Manomet, Mass., which is a small little town inside Plymouth county. It was around ten, 15 minutes away from the Cape Cod canal. My parents … my mother was a math teacher.
BERLATSKY: In high school?
RYAN: Yeah, Plymouth High School, and my father was … he had various jobs, mostly in retail. And not a whole lot of cash.
BERLATSKY: How many of you were there?
RYAN: There was me and my sister. And of course my parents. They were both there for some of the time.
BERLATSKY: Did your parents divorce?
RYAN: Yeah, when I was 14.
BERLATSKY: You grew up Catholic as well, is that right?
RYAN: That’s right.
BERLATSKY: I saw in one interview you said that you’d thought about being a priest.
RYAN: Yeah, as a kid. It did seem like an ideal job. I was really into the whole church thing anyway as a kid. It’s a time before any significant interest in girls appeared. You know, you get to live like a bachelor and you get your own little house behind the church. They pay for it all. It seemed like a good deal.
BERLATSKY: Did you read the Bible a lot? Were you…?
RYAN: There was a point when, I can’t remember how old I was, but it was after I saw that movie the Howling on TV. That one scared the shit out of me so much that I wanted to read the Bible every night.
RYAN: I think that was last year, actually. [Berlatsky laughs] What year did the Howling come out ? I’m sure people can figure that out.
BERLATSKY: When did your interest cease?
RYAN: Well, it kind of ceased…. it was kind of a gradual thing where my father stopped going to church, my mother stopped going and then my sister stopped going.
BERLATSKY: So you were going for a while by yourself?
RYAN: I was going well after my family all left.
BERLATSKY: My goodness. I guess I saw somewhere that you said that you didn’t get confirmed?
RYAN: No, I didn’t. It was around that time that my parents split up and my father was not around at all and I think my mother was kind of in a weird, post-divorce daze or something. She didn’t know what to do or anything and she kind of wasn’t really paying too much attention. Or maybe she just didn’t want to pay any attention to what I was doing. When you go to confirm– …I don’t know if you’re Catholic or not.
BERLATSKY: I’m not. I’m Jewish.
RYAN: When you’re trying to get confirmed, they make you go to all these stupid fucking classes. And then they have these things called retreats where you go, you spend, like, all fucking day at the church and they wheel in all these drug addict losers who talk about how they used to be on drugs and alcohol and now they’re changing their lives. And you have to go to, like, three or four of those, and I missed one, so they kicked me out of the whole confirmation thing. So I just never went back.
BERLATSKY: Wow, that’s harsh.
RYAN: Yeah. I haven’t gotten over it. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: In reform Judaism they have a similar confirmation thing, but, y’know, you can miss a class. [laughs]
RYAN: I should become Jewish then.
BERLATSKY: Well, reformed. Reformed, maybe. [laughs] I don’t know. One of the things I was thinking about is that there’s a lot of … I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I was reading the Ivan Brunetti interview. Because he links a lot of his sort of disgusting imagery, sexual imagery, to being Catholic.
RYAN: I don’t know if I can say that I went to Catholic church and they had a lot of big erections at the church. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: But, I think Crumb sort of … there’s this idea about Crumb.
RYAN: Yeah, Crumb was Catholic.
BERLATSKY: He was, yeah.
RYAN: I don’t know. I think maybe it’s just the way they make you feel horrible all the time. Everything is your fault. All the guilt and, of course, you’re going to hell. So, you know, it’s very mean-spirited. So I think it just comes from that.
BERLATSKY: Both Crumb and Brunetti talk about … there’s this sense of compulsion. I mean, not necessarily from the art itself, but they talk about it. They talk about this compulsion to confess. I’ve seen them both say, “well, I need to … I don’t know why I just drew that horrible thing” or something along those lines. That doesn’t seem to be where you’re coming from exactly.
RYAN: Yeah, I guess the whole confession aspect of the church experience didn’t have that powerful an effect on me. Or at least, I guess as much as those guys. They’re puking out everything that they ever do all the time. But I mean, I actually feel the exact opposite where I sort of either, I don’t want to talk about myself that much, I think mostly because I don’t really ever think what’s going on in my life is interesting enough for other people to read about. Sometimes maybe that’s true in Ivan Brunetti’s case too. Crumb is a great artist, even his Harvey Pekar strips are a good example — the art sells it. Crumb can just do a story about picking his nose and it’d look fantastic.
BERLATSKY: When you say he’s a great artist, you’re referring to his drawing ability, is that…?
RYAN: Right. Well, also his ability to write a comic strip or just present it. Make it all come together, but yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that anything that happened to me, at least for the most part….
BERLATSKY: You mean, The Guy Who Draws Blecky Yuckerella, those strips aren’t true?
RYAN: Yeah, well, you know, as far as fiction goes, there’s truth to all that stuff to some degree.
BERLATSKY: Well, there are autobiographical bits in some of your work.
RYAN: Right. Well, you know, I have done a couple of strips like The Guy Who Draws Blecky Yuckerella,, but I wouldn’t call them confessions.
BERLATSKY: Right. No no, but there is a … well, I’m thinking in particular the strip about, “The Agony of Da Feet,” where it starts off with…
RYAN: Working in the liquor store.
BERLATSKY: Right, it starts off working in the liquor store and then it’s revealed that he’s been stealing scratch tickets, which you did, right?
RYAN: Yeah, that’s true. Well, like I said, you want to borrow from reality and intermingle it with fiction. Imagination, creativity and all that bullshit.
BERLATSKY: You didn’t actually pee in the beer cooler, right?
RYAN: I’m gonna say no. [laughter]
BERLATSKY: You did pee in the beer cooler. Oh my goodness. [laughs]
RYAN: I don’t know what the statute of limitations is….
BERLATSKY: I’m sure you’re good. That is, if it’s even a crime, peeing in the beer cooler.
RYAN: The pee police are gonna read this and come and get me.
BERLATSKY: That’s really funny. Wow.
RYAN: You remember when I think I, I don’t know which interview I revealed that in, but at that point, I was kind of squirming. [Berlatsky laughs] I’m like, I don’t know if I can actually talk about this stuff. But yeah, it’s more fun, at least for me, to incorporate these events in with fictional characters. It kind of frees me to be able to go in whatever direction, I don’t feel beholden to reality. “I have to make sure that this is exactly what happened” and all that. That’s something else that’s always just kind of made me not want to do the autobio stuff is because a lot of times you will portray yourself as the victim and I didn’t want to do that at all. Blankets is a real good example of that. I just didn’t want to involve myself in any of these things. I felt like doing a fictional account of it gave me a little bit of distance from it and I was able to have a little bit more fun with it.
BERLATSKY: You were saying that in Blankets….
RYAN: Yeah, I sort of felt that all the characters in that book are sort of defined by their victim-hood or victimness or whatever term. You know, within the first couple pages, the main character is beat up. Not necessarily physically beaten up but beaten up by parents, teachers at school, kids at school, so you know he’s immediately the outsider because no one likes him. That just seems kind of lame to me.
RYAN: Well, it’s just sort of like, why should I like somebody who’s … I probably would be with the bullies picking on this kid.
BERLATSKY: Did you get some bullying in as a young Catholic child?
RYAN: Well, I think I was sort of both. I was on both sides of the street. I probably got bullied more, but there were always the even smaller kids….
BERLATSKY: I think that’s the case for most people actually. There’s always somebody you can beat up.
RYAN: Yeah. And so, you know, I would be bullied and then in turn, I would find someone smaller to bully. And that was the circle of life. [Berlatsky laughs.]
BERLATSKY: I’ve seen you say that, as characters, you’re sort of drawn to bullies.
RYAN: Well, you know, they’re more interesting. Bad people are always more interesting than kind people.
BERLATSKY: Were you a fan of Lucy?
RYAN: Yeah, even now, Lucy is, I think, my favorite character in the Peanuts comic strip. She’s the one who has the funniest lines, you know, the whole psychiatric booth…. Yeah, she’s definitely one of the top ten bullies
BERLATSKY: Yeah. She’s hard not to like. I think Charles Schulz liked her.
RYAN: I think people are always sort of focused on Charlie Brown and they always see Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz as kind of the same person. People take note of the similarities between the two— they were both dissed by some red-headed girl, or whatever — but they never really think that Lucy’s also a big part of Charles Schulz, sort of the bully character. Not to say that Charles Schulz was a bullying jerk, but there was some part of himself, some jerky part of himself that he was letting out in that character.
The Secret Origin of Blecky Yuckerella
BERLATSKY: Blecky seems kind of Lucy-like.
RYAN: Yeah, with Blecky I wanted to make someone who was a little bit more fun and not a fussbudget type like Lucy. I didn’t want to have her just be kind of a smaller version of Loady McGee.
BERLATSKY: But she started out a little more like that, right? Because wasn’t she first in Angry Youth Comix?
BERLATSKY: In AYC #3, she was meaner.
RYAN: Yeah, she was a little bit meaner. But I tried to make her a little bit more fun-loving in the comic strip.
BERLATSKY: That first Angry Youth Comix story, the number three with Blecky and the cockroach eating the pigeon, that’s like one of the most disturbing things of yours I’ve seen.
RYAN: With that particular story, I was trying to do a comic that would seem like it would be meant for kids, because there wouldn’t be any kind of sex, nudity or foul language in it. But at the same time, I wanted to make it disturbing without using any of those elements. Some of the comics or children’s books I remember growing up as a child were the ones that had really disturbing kind of imagery—
BERLATSKY: Like what were you thinking of?
RYAN: Well one of the books that I had, besides some of the religious books that I had growing up that showed pictures of hell…
BERLATSKY: [laughing] which is disturbing.
RYAN: Besides that there was a book called, Who Needs Doughnuts?, right off the top of my head.
BERLATSKY: So is this a children’s picture book?
RYAN: Yeah, it was a children’s picture book and just really bizarre, wacky drawings. It was one of those deals where almost every inch of the paper was just filled up all these little, tiny characters. Actually I have the book right here. It’s called Who Needs Doughnuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty. It’s just really strange, with flying horses and elephants, guys smoking pipes with big trees and bananas coming out of them, like 90 people inside a car, really bizarre.
BERLATSKY: That sounds pretty great.
RYAN: I think the book is out of print but definitely, if you can, it’s worth checking out. It’s very strange. I think it’s kind of good to give your kids books that are a little bit off, you don’t want to hand them a copy of Hustler magazine or something, but some kind of kids book that seems a little weird that might freak them out a little bit. I think that’s always kind of good. I know I enjoyed it as a kid, those are the books that I would kind of always go back to.
BERLATSKY: And you said the Blecky came from a … you sent me that picture of … was that a comic from your childhood or was that something you picked up?
RYAN: That’s something I picked up in Seattle. “The Little Monsters”. It was probably some time in like 2001 or something. I was just at some comic show, some little comic show near the Space Needle, and just flipping through a box and I found it. On the cover, like I showed you, it had that kind of Blecky-like character on the front, it looked like this real ugly little girl with stubble and kind of the same hair as the Blecky Yuckerella hair and dress and all. I thought, “Oh, wow, that’s a great idea for some kind of weird monster character, some kind of six-year-old transsexual” [laughs]. And I bought it and I read it and I was disappointed to find that it was just some gangster hiding out at the local elementary school dressed as a little girl so he wouldn’t get caught by the cops. So I thought, “Well, I should actually do this character, where it’s a little girl but she looks like some kind of disturbing tranny. So yeah, that’s kind of where the character came from.
BERLATSKY: Are you still trying to do that with the Blecky Yuckerella strips to some extent? I mean the idea to have sort of disturbing material but without necessarily nudity or …
RYAN: As far as the strip goes, I try not to put so many restraints on myself because the whole point is I have to come up with a good gag every week. There was a point, at the beginning, where I was thinking, “Well, you know, I want to try to veer away from using a lot of foul language cause they’re kids.” For the most part, I think I do, but every once in a while, I’ll think of something and I’ll think, “Oh, this is a good idea; I really shouldn’t fuck myself over here just because there’s a rule that I can’t have the kids say ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’.” So I’m a little bit more lax about that kind of thing. I just try to come up with … the only rule now is “Come up with a good gag.” And it’s in the paper so it can’t get crazy like the Shouldn’t You Be Working? stuff does. The Blecky strip is probably the most difficult out of all the things I do. To be able to, every week, come up with a gag, a set up and punch line and four panels every week, is difficult. It’s more difficult than actually writing a comic book.
BERLATSKY: Is it more difficult than the single panel gags?
RYAN: I think so.
BERLATSKY: Having the slightly more space makes it harder?
RYAN: Yeah, with the single panel stuff you just got to come up with a funny image and punchline. With the strip, you have to do a whole set-up and a punchline. With this particular strip that I’m doing, I have to work within the four panels. It’s hard to get that all in there. I’ll sketch things out sometimes if I don’t have an idea right off the bat, and sometimes it will be six or seven panels and I’ll have the set-up and the punchline all in there and I’ll think, “How am I supposed to squeeze this in?”
BERLATSKY: Well there’s some stuff, in one of the sketchbooks, there’s sort of longer —
RYAN: Those were examples, definite examples, of me trying to work out strips and they just kind of go a little bit too long. Like I said, that’s kind of what I do; when I don’t immediately have an idea for a strip during a particular week, I’ll just go to my sketchbook and I’ll start trying to work things out. I’ll start at a particular point and I’ll just keep drawing until I’m just winding up at a dead end or I don’t really feel that it’s going anywhere or maybe I might, along the way, find some interesting idea to do something with.
BERLATSKY: So you kind of think up your ideas by sketching is what you’re saying?
RYAN: Yeah, and in particular with the Blecky strip, if I just have nothing, I’ll sit at my sketchbook and try to figure something out. If I’m lucky, it’ll just come to me and there’s no sketching involved, I can just go right to drawing the strip.
Early Influences, From Art to Insult
BERLATSKY: Well let’s make some vague effort to get back to some sort of chronological record of your existence. You mentioned that there wasn’t a lot of money growing up and that you were in a working-class environment. You’ve said that that inspired or affected your humor, could you talk a little about that? Or is that not the case?
RYAN: Well, yeah, I mean definitely. I guess I should start by saying that, as far as affecting my humor as a child, my father’s side of the family was the Irish side of the family and they were really brutal as far as making fun of people. They were a lot of fun. But sometimes it was like being on the Howard Stern Show or something. Verbally they would brutalize me. I’m not saying that they —
BERLATSKY: You’re not saying that you were emotionally traumatized, you were saying —
RYAN: No, I don’t think I was emotionally traumatized, They were just really good at insults. You know, growing up, I knew that it was part of the fun. There were times I remember as a kid that they kind of took it a little too far, but that’s definitely where I get my sense of humor from.
BERLATSKY: You had to learn to defend yourself.
RYAN: Yeah, you have to learn to make the witty comebacks and sometimes if I would say something that went a little bit over the edge and the laughter stopped, I got a kick in the ass and sent to my room for being a wise-guy.
BERLATSKY: Are you still in touch with your dad or your dad’s family?
RYAN: No, I haven’t talked to him in years. And actually, I think that I had a better relationship with his side of the family than I did with my mother’s side of the family because they were just a lot of fun.
BERLATSKY: Are you in touch with any of them?
RYAN: No, when the divorce happened they completely distanced themselves from us. That’s probably what bothered me more than my father leaving.
BERLATSKY: That’s kind of more unusual almost. I mean, often the grandparents are interested no matter what, more or less.
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what normally goes on in divorces, but…
BERLATSKY: It sounds very painful.
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, this particular case, they all pretty much just kind of left us.
BERLATSKY: And that was when you were 14 or something.
RYAN: Yeah, I was 14. And then also, the kids that I was hanging out with at the time, people that I was hanging out with growing up, we also had that same kind of aggressive, angry sense of humor.
BERLATSKY: So, were you growing up in an area that was predominantly … I mean, were most of the kids you knew Irish Catholic or was it a mix?
RYAN: Yeah, it was predominately Irish Catholic, lower middle-class area.
BERLATSKY: Were your parents first generation? Were your…
RYAN: You mean first generation Americans?
RYAN: No. I think it was…
BERLATSKY: You’ve been here for a while.
RYAN: Either grandparents or great-grandparents. Early part of the century, I guess.
BERLATSKY: Was there a lot of support in your family for art and reading?
BERLATSKY: There wasn’t.
RYAN: No, not really. I mean, my father would read stuff, but it wasn’t very interesting. Like, he had a lot of books about Indians and stuff. Like he would just get on these little tears of different thing, and even now, as I think back, none of it was very interesting to me.
BERLATSKY: I mean, did they…
RYAN: It was like books about the Scottish army during the turn of the 19th century or something esoteric like that…
BERLATSKY: It sounds like there were books around though.
RYAN: Yeah, but like I said, they weren’t very compelling to me.
BERLATSKY: Did you read a lot when you were a kid?
RYAN: I wouldn’t say I was a big reader. Comics, mostly.
BERLATSKY: Was there … did either of your parents draw? Were they interested in that?
RYAN: No. There was no interest in “the arts” in my family. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: You said your sister got a BFA, is that right?
RYAN: Yeah, she did.
BERLATSKY: Was she encouraging or was that something you did together?
RYAN: No. [laughs]
BERLATSKY: Not so much.
RYAN: We’re total opposites. I probably haven’t spoken to her in years either. But she was a real tomboy-type toughguy. She was sort of the bully in my family. I was the one that was being bullied by her. Yeah, I said that growing up as a teenager, she was sort of the one that was kind of weird and artsy and she got the BFA and all. But now…I think she went on to do computer stuff, so it didn’t really last
BERLATSKY: So she didn’t introduce you to alternative comics or anything like that?
RYAN: No. I mean, it was kind of all on my own.
RYAN: So when were you finding alternative comics?
BERLATSKY: Well, it was kind of sporadic. I think the first time, if I can remember correctly, it might be Raw. I think I might have found a copy of Read Yourself Raw somewhere. And I thought it was pretty amazing. And I was really obsessed with Mark Beyer’s work for a while. They came out with that special edition little book that he did, Agony. I thought that was so great.
BERLATSKY: Your Mark Beyer parody, you seemed to be having fun with the cross-hatching stuff.
RYAN: Yeah, he’s definitely … the strips that he did that they recently put out. Yeah, those are all fantastic. Gary Panter was another guy in there that I really liked. There was a lot of good stuff in there…
BERLATSKY: Were you into those Kaz strips?
RYAN: I did like the Kaz stuff, but I’m glad that he’s since moved away from that, from the experimental thing. I pretty much enjoyed the whole thing when I found it. So yeah, that was sort of a…
BERLATSKY: Was that in high school?
RYAN: That was in high school. That was like in 1988.
BERLATSKY: Were there other people who you knew who were into that stuff?
RYAN: No. I’ve had friends, growing up, who’d buy comics here and there, but nobody was as interested in them as I was. Whether reading them, drawing them, collecting them, whatever.
BERLATSKY: Was there Marvel humor stuff that you liked?
RYAN: Marvel humor stuff?
BERLATSKY: I mean, there was Howard the Duck around sometime in there.
RYAN: Howard the Duck was kind of in the late ‘70s. I think I had, like, one of those magazines, which, at the time was very exciting because it had scantily-clad women in it. But I think that was the only thing I remember. Mad Magazine was probably my humor source at the time.
BERLATSKY: And that was, like, that was like Don Martin and Al Jaffee and people like that.
RYAN: I was pretty much reading those throughout the ‘80s.
BERLATSKY: Yeah. So it was that stuff, rather than like, the earlier. Because they were doing some reprints, I think, then.
RYAN: Well, one of the things that they would occasionally do is put the EC Mads in there, which was always really exciting. And then there was that Mad Super Special that they came out with in the ‘80s that was the comic parody super special, which just was … that was pretty much my introduction to a lot of these comic strips that I had really never seen. That was kind of — a lot of people point to that Smithsonian book as being the book that introduced them to a lot of the older comic strips, but for me it was this issue of MAD….
BERLATSKY: You know, I haven’t seen this. So what comic strips did they have? Like have parodies of?
RYAN: Well, they would do Mandrake the Magician.
BERLATSKY: Oh, right!
RYAN: Lil’ Abner.
BERLATSKY: Ok, ok. Right. I did see those.
RYAN: It was all those strips that…
BERLATSKY: And in fact, you do the same thing with the Mandrake strip that they did in those parodies.
RYAN: Oh, did I?
BERLATSKY: I think you do, right, because there was a Mad parody where Mandrake’s trick is that he saws his helper in half, essentially.
RYAN: Can’t remember his name, is it Lothar?
BERLATSKY: Or something like that, yeah.
RYAN: But yeah, there were all these strips that, pretty much, they, for the most part, stopped running when I was a kid. And I was really fascinated with but as far as I knew, there wasn’t any access to that stuff. So it was a great introduction to a lot of these comic strips that I had never seen before. Or heard of.
BERLATSKY: Were you also interested in art qua art?
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, when I was at UMass, for a few years I was a double major, English and Art. So I was taking figure drawing classes and art history classes.
BERLATSKY: Were there artists you were particularly excited by?
RYAN: I guess, looking back, I would have to say, the German expressionist stuff. George Grosz Otto Dix. People who were really doing wild, violent stuff. That I found very interesting.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, that makes sense. Did you get useful techniques from your art classes?
RYAN: No, I mean, when I think about it, I guess if I got any kind of techniques, maybe I saved them subconsciously in my mind. I couldn’t tell you any technique they taught me that I continue to use.
BERLATSKY: Was it because they weren’t focused on drawing or…?
RYAN: Well, it was just basic drawing. Like figure drawing in class. Just basic drawing classes and when I, after college, when I actually started doing comics on my own, and even now when I look back, it almost feels like I was starting from scratch. Everything that I got in that class, whether I knew it or didn’t know it, it didn’t matter at all.
BERLATSKY: You were starting over.
RYAN: Starting anew. I don’t really know if anything that I took from those classes has gone on to help me. I did have an art teacher in high school that was very aware of my interest in comics. He encouraged it. He was having me draw comic pages and was teaching me about doing ink washes and he would actually come into class and he would have clipped out panels from Mary Worth and some of the more sophisticated type of comics.
BERLATSKY: This was in college or…?
RYAN: This was in high school. And he’d give them to me and say, “Here, copy this.” So I would have a couple of panels of Mary Worth that I would copy. So he probably had more of an influence on me than any of the art classes or art teachers…..
BERLATSKY: Are you in touch with him at all?
RYAN: Yeah, I talk to him very once in a while.
BERLATSKY: He must be pretty thrilled.
RYAN: I don’t know. I think he … he still talks to me, so he still likes me on some level. I did have another art teacher that was also aware of my interest in comics and stuff and I remember I think I saw her, I had a job at a Borders on Cape Cod and I saw her and I said, “Hey, remember me? You used to be my art teacher.” And she said, “Oh yeah.” And I told her I was doing a comic, and she said, “Oh yeah, send it to me.” So I sent it to her and never heard from her again. She was probably horrified.
BERLATSKY: That’s the breaks, I guess.
RYAN: And this other teacher seemed to appreciate it. He seemed to be more hip. [Berlatsky laughs.]
BERLATSKY: Or less easily horrified.
BERLATSKY: You were also taking writing, right? Or were you just taking English classes?
RYAN: Creative writing classes. You know, like I said, I was an English major. I did have aspirations to do some kind of fiction writing when I got out of college. I took a couple of creative writing classes.
BERLATSKY: Were they useful at all or…?
RYAN: They were useful in the sense that they got you to write and I think that … I can’t remember any specific feedback that I got. But I do remember, at the time, that I was attempting to write, I was doing stuff that was just really, really opaque and it was basically designed to kind of show how smart I was. To kind of show how much smarter I was than the reader because it was very opaque and it was a challenge to decipher what the fuck I was talking about.
BERLATSKY: Were you reading Thomas Pynchon?
RYAN: At that point, I wasn’t. I was reading Joyce and I was reading Faulkner. I did my college thesis on James Joyce.
RYAN: No, it was on … I did incorporate that into it. The actual report was a Nietzschean interpretation of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist.
BERLATSKY: Oh my God. [laughs]
RYAN: But yeah, I was very heavily into the whole modernist thing and I think I took it way too far.
BERLATSKY: Is that sort of what you would say Joyce was doing, now? Are you just completely disenchanted with modernist fiction?
RYAN: Well, I don’t know if I would say disenchanted, but I do find that when I was younger, I used to be a lot more adventurous with my reading, where I would read stuff that was definitely a lot more weird and difficult. And now …
BERLATSKY: You’re all about the money shot.
RYAN: Yeah, if I’m reading a book and it’s in any way opaque to me or they’re just not getting to the point or whatever, I’m just outta there. I think as I get older I’ve lost my patience. I don’t know if I can sit down and read Gravity’s Rainbow or Ulysses again.
BERLATSKY: You made it all the way through Gravity’s Rainbow?
BERLATSKY: See, I’ve read neither of those books. But I have ambitions.
RYAN: Well, like I said, at the time, it was one of those things where I was just “I’m gonna read this and get through it.” I can’t really say if it was worthwhile.
BERLATSKY: [laughs] I mean, one of the things about both … not having read them, I can speak with authority. Both Gravity’s Rainbow and Ulysses and a lot of modernist stuff is pretty scatological, right?
RYAN: I do remember Gravity’s Rainbow having a big diarrhea scene. And some other weird stuff. Somebody getting their balls chopped off. You know, those things did stick with me. Then, of course, in Ulysses, I think there’s some big, long chapter of Bloom taking a shit or something. And all of what he’s thinking about and stuff. But yeah, Faulkner was also something that I was really into at the time and I think of, in particular, that Sound and the Fury. I don’t know if you’ve ever read that.
BERLATSKY: I’ve read the Sound and the Fury.
RYAN: The character Jason…
BERLATSKY: Yeah, that’s a great … I really like that chapter.
RYAN: He’s a real asshole.
BERLATSKY: He is. Yeah.
RYAN: I think that had kind of a big impact on me in my storytelling. You know, going back to what we were talking about, hearing the asshole’s side of the story or reading about an asshole is a lot more interesting than reading about the victim.
BERLATSKY: He’s pretty … I don’t know. I found him sympathetic as well. I mean, it’s also like there’s this huge relief, right, because that’s the first chapter that’s comprehensible.
BERLATSKY: Because before that there’s Benji…
RYAN: And that Quentin Compson chapter…
B; Right, which is more comprehensible than the Benji chapter, but still, more or less….
RYAN: Right, Benji’s a retard. And the Quentin Compson character keeps sort of drifting off in this weird way.
BERLATSKY: And then there’s…
RYAN: I really liked the Jason thing because it went straight-ahead. He was a fuckin’ prick. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: That’s what it was all about.
RYAN: And it was entertaining. It was a lot of fun what Faulkner was writing, and he was probably having fun writing it. And I think that was kind of an influence on my work and it kind of changed my writing from being this opaque stuff that nobody was supposed to understand to going to the exact opposite end of the spectrum, which is now I try to make things as clear as possible. And also trying to … it’s just more fun to play that asshole character. Playing that asshole character than a victim character or whatever.
BERLATSKY: So when did you read the Sound and the Fury? Was that in college?
RYAN: That was when I did most of my…
BERLATSKY: Because you were working on a novel after you got out of college. Is that right?
RYAN: I was working on different things. Writing-type things. I think for like a year or so after I got out of college, but, you know, it was horrible.
BERLATSKY: Was it the great modernist novel? Or were you trying to do something less…?
RYAN: I think I was trying to veer … at that point, I was just starting to veer away from doing the modernist thing and trying to be more clear that way.
BERLATSKY: I mean, did you finish stories? Did you send them off or was it just like everything…?
RYAN: Yeah, I wrote some short stories. I probably sent them off to a couple places but nothing ever happened.
Shouldn’t You Be…Oh, You Are Working
BERLATSKY: What were you doing at this time? Were you working? Were you…?
RYAN: When I got out of college?
BERLATSKY: When you got out of college, yeah. Were you working in college too?
RYAN: Yeah, I had kind of a part-time job in the cafeteria. Cleaning plates. After I got out of college, I mean, yeah, I had a bunch of jobs. I think as soon as I got out…
BERLATSKY: Were you living in Amherst? Were you living…?
RYAN: When I got out of college, I just moved back home. And I was living at home…let’s see, I got out of college when I was twenty-two. And I was living at home until I was probably 27.
BERLATSKY: Was that horrible?
RYAN: Yeah, it was bad. It was bad for a lot of reasons. Not just because I couldn’t take my mother or something … I mean, it was an uncomfortable situation to be in.
BERLATSKY: Was your sister living at home too or…?
RYAN: For about a year or two. But I think it was just a year or a couple months, and then she moved.
BERLATSKY: Were you living at home because you couldn’t get a job or…?
RYAN: It was a lot of things. My sister also had … she was a lot better at making friends, and so she had a lot of friends that she could room with. She had better social skills, so she was also able to get a job and all of that kind of thing. Yeah, as soon as I got out of college, I think my first job might have been bussing tables. And then I went on to telemarketing at Chadwick’s of Boston. Then I was working at Chadwick’s of Boston’s warehouse.
BERLATSKY: Those all sound bad.
RYAN: Yeah. Then I was stuffing envelopes at some flyer/envelope stuffing factory. Then I was working at the liquor store and then it might have been at that particular time that I got in trouble with the…
BERLATSKY: With the scratch tickers and the inappropriate urination.
RYAN: [laughs] And then … and then I worked at Bradlee’s, which is like a department store in Massachusetts. You know, it just goes on … my jobs wouldn’t last. I think it was a pretty big deal when a job would last more than a year.
BERLATSKY: Were you working on your novel in the evening or…?
RYAN: Yeah, evenings or days off. When I had the job at the Chadwick’s of Boston warehouse, I would write all day and then do, like, a three o’clock to midnight shift.
BERLATSKY: Oh my God.
RYAN: …bringing in women’s clothes.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, that’s no good. So is the factory stuff in AYC from there?
RYAN: Oh, you mean the warehouse stuff?
RYAN: Well, while I was on the job at the Chadwick’s of Boston telemarketing division, that’s where I actually drew the first Angry Youth Comix. It was like an incoming thing where the calls would come in. They would have rules, like “you can’t read on the job” and all that. But they didn’t really think about…
BERLATSKY: They didn’t really think about telling you that you couldn’t draw.
RYAN: I was drawing and stuff like that on the job, so they didn’t know what to do with me, so I would sit there and draw comics. I drew the first one there. Then, when my job switched over to actually working in the warehouse on the docks there, that kind of had a really big influence on my stuff because the guys that I was working with were really funny. They were really funny, and they were really filthy.
BERLATSKY: Were they all black?
RYAN: No, they weren’t all black, but there was one funny moment while I was working there. It was the end of the shift and everybody was punching out and one of the wise-guys was walking up to the punch clock and he was saying, “I’m the best packer they got in this place.” There was a couple of big black guys behind him that said, “Yeah, packin’ peanut butter.” [Berlatsky laughs] I thought that was fuckin’ hilarious.
BERLATSKY: That line’s in there [the early AYC comic.] That’s like your first one, right?
RYAN: It’s one of the first ones. One of the very first ones. So, you know, there was a lot of fun razzing going back and forth. Those people are very funny. ”Those people.” That’s kind of a weird thing for me to say.
BERLATSKY: [laughs] You’ve said worse. So, you said the first AYC you drew was for a particular friend, or about a particular friend, right?
RYAN: We had this sort of argument about … he was saying that these types of horrible jobs are actually really great.
BERLATSKY: Was he working one?
RYAN: He had a horrible job, but a different type of horrible job. Working at some kind of … he was like a counselor at some kind of school for disturbed young boys. So that sounded pretty horrible in itself, in a different way.
BERLATSKY: It was a more white-collar horrible.
RYAN: Yeah. So I kind of disagreed with him because…you know, granted, in the grand scheme of things somebody has to unload the trucks…
BERLATSKY: Right, it’s better than starving to death in the street.
RYAN: But I’m not going to be happy to have to be the one to do it. So we had an argument about that. And that first strip was kind of my reaction to what he was saying and I mailed it to him and subsequently, I started to do more.
BERLATSKY: Was he amused?
RYAN: Oh yeah, he was very amused. [Berlatsky laughs] Well, he initially had all the originals of these particular comics.
BERLATSKY: Who was this?
RYAN: This was a friend of mine, Chris Sokolowski. He was the brother of my college roommate. And so, I would just send him these comics and he really liked them a lot. He was one of the people…
BERLATSKY: He’s the sort of prototype for Loady is that right?
RYAN: There’s a certain element in the brow. But there’s other people that I’ve known who’re more direct influences on Loady’s appearance than him. But he was also one of the people that went on to say, “You know, this writing thing that you’re doing. It’s nice and all, but the comics are actually a lot more entertaining. You should probably focus on that.”
BERLATSKY: Were you sending these letters to Matt Sanborn too?
RYAN: Well, he wasn’t aware of it until a little bit later. And when he became aware of it, he would say, “Oh, you should send me one.” So then I started Xeroxing them. And I would send them to him and maybe a couple people that might be interested. And he was also another one who would say, “You know, you should do something with this. The writing is nice and all but….”
BERLATSKY: I mean, that must have been pretty exciting, right? To have people tell you that …
RYAN: Well, the reason I was doing it was to get some kind of reaction out of people, to entertain them. So it was nice to hear that they had a positive reaction about it. But I mean it was … at the time, it was just kind of a fun little thing I was doing. It never really occurred to me that I should actually pursue this avenue.
BERLATSKY: So were you still doing the writing at the same time?
RYAN: Yeah, I was doing them simultaneously.
BERLATSKY: And you were doing the letters with … were the letters mostly on the job? Were they…?
RYAN: At first they were. When I was doing the telemarketing I could do it, but when I was working at the warehouse I had to wait and do it when I got home, but I really didn’t have any other social commitments, so sitting around and writing and drawing comics didn’t really cut into a lot of my social activity.
BERLATSKY: So were all of your friends pretty much … it sounds like they were…
RYAN: My friends? Uh.… [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Well it sounds like there was more than one person you were sending these letters to.
RYAN: Well, let’s see. I was sending them to Chris Sokolowski and Matt Sanborn and I think at the point I started sending them to my high school art teacher, Richard Neal. And maybe somebody else, but I can’t really remember. But none of these people lived nearby. I did see them maybe on the weekends or something like that. You know, I didn’t really see people during the week.
BERLATSKY: That sounds really unpleasant.
BERLATSKY: That’s how you remember it as well.
RYAN: I got work done.
BERLATSKY: So how did you decide that you could actually make a go of this as a comic strip or as a ‘zine or something like that?
RYAN: Well, you know, the encouragement of these guys, and Matt Sanborn in particular, but he wanted to do it together. So that kind of made it sound fun. Instead of having to do it all by myself, I’d be able to do it with a friend of mine and have fun with it.
BERLATSKY: So when you decided to do it together, you weren’t living near each other?
RYAN: No, he lived in Haverhill, which is north of Boston … I was about 45 minutes south of Boston, and he was about 45 minutes to an hour north of Boston.
BERLATSKY: So you were a good trek apart.
RYAN: Yeah. It was about a 2 hour drive away.
This Is The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Read
BERLATSKY: When you started doing it [AYC] were you also looking at other cartoonists’ stuff?
RYAN: Nothing in particular. I guess I should … we were talking more about alternative stuff before, and we were talking about RAW and Mark Beyer. You know, after those guys, or after those particular books, I didn’t really delve too much into anything else. And then at that point I was still reading Marvel superhero things, and it wasn’t until I think when I got to college, that I lost interest in a lot of that. And when I would go to the comic store, I remember this particular incident when I went to the comic store at the mall and I was looking around for … because I still liked comics, I wanted to find something different or new. And I saw a copy of Drawn & Quarterly, it was one of their anthology ones. So I bought it and I think I took it to some restaurant and was reading it, reading in particular a Joe Matt comic. And I thought it was so fucking horrible. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: I’m sorry. He does autobio strips, right?
RYAN: Right. Well, I hated it so much that I crumpled it up and I threw it in the garbage. I thought, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever read. I can’t believe I was duped into buying this thing.” I was mad and I didn’t really go back to comics for a long while after that. I think it was a couple years later that I started getting into R. Crumb, the sketchbooks and anthologies that Fantagraphics was putting out. There was sort of a big gap in time there after I read that. I mean, since then, I’ve read Joe Matt things that I’ve enjoyed, so it’s not like I’ve completely written him off. But that particular time and that particular comic…
BERLATSKY: That one, it was no good. [laughs]
RYAN: It just really bugged me. And it was so kind of …I don’t really remember too much of the masturbating thing because I was gonna say that it was masturbatory , and with Joe Matt that’s usually literal. But you know, this was like, now I brush my teeth, now I’m turning on a lamp. You know, just sort of basic…
BERLATSKY: You might have liked it more if there had been actual masturbation.
RYAN: Well, maybe. It might have been hotter. I don’t know. It was just a whole lot of nothing. And it just irritated me to the point where I stopped reading stuff for a long time. I never even went back to the comic store for a long time.
BERLATSKY: That seems … I don’t know. I guess we talked about this. I mean, it seems to me particularly bizarre to have a comic about nothing. Comics are so visual… Superheroes make more sense to me. You know, you can do all these special effects. Like it’s even easier than doing them in movies? It’s a lot easier than in movies. I think part of the reason that there are all these superhero movies now is that they finally reached the point where they can do all these special effects. Because … you know, laser beams and stuff like that. I mean, just something like the X-Men, where there’s all these preposterous things happening. It’s easy to do in comics. I mean, if you can draw.
RYAN: Yeah, but that’s a lot of what’s going on in comics now. A lot of the comics that people are doing now. A lot of them are just about nothing. They’re about walking around, looking at things, buying records at the store, going to the shopping market, calling your girlfriend, breaking up with your girlfriend. You know, it’s just kind of blah.
It’s like a sort of comics as art scene has completely taken over and everything has to be highbrow and literary and intelligent and it’s difficult to do stuff that’s just supposed to be for fun. At least not many people seem to be doing stuff that’s just for fun. Sometimes I read comments about my comics and people are asking, “What’s the point?” You know, I think the point for me is, when I’m drawing it, it’s fun to draw. It’s fun to draw people farting out of their cock or whatever. It’s just weird, strange and interesting to me.
BERLATSKY: Is that sort of what you got from Crumb’s…?
RYAN: Oh definitely. The influence that he had on my stuff is pretty big, especially the sketchbook stuff that he was doing in the late 60s, early 70s. It’s really amazing stuff. Hilarious, exciting , interesting.
BERLATSKY: Has that changed do you think for him? Because there’s something in, I think it’s in the AYC sketchbook, where you have somebody reading a Crumb sketchbook from the ‘90s and the sketchbook says something like “Fat Ass, Fat Ass, Fat Ass, boring….”
RYAN: There definitely is a tone in the sketchbooks, sometime in the middle of the 70s, the tone just takes a total left turn, where he used to be trying to be weird and funny and just trying to arouse himself. And that kind of turned into him becoming more self-critical. It just became … there was still a lot stuff that was obviously meant to be arousing but it just seemed like he was becoming more focused on himself. You know, he was really trying to figure out what was going on in his brain and, you know, that’s all fine and good, too.
BERLATSKY: But you’re somewhat less interested in it.
RYAN: Yeah. I still think it’s … like I said, I still think everything he does it pretty interesting. But, definitely the wacky, funny stuff was, of course, the major influence on my work.
BERLATSKY: I mean, do you feel the same way about … I mean two other people that you’ve mentioned liking around this time are Dan Clowes and Chester Brown. I was looking at the early Chester Brown, the Man who Couldn’t Stop. You know that one? The guy who can’t stop shitting.
RYAN: Yeah, part of that Ed the Happy Clown.
BERLATSKY: Right, Ed the Happy Clown. And he’s doing stuff that’s less like that, now.
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, I would have to agree that in both of those instances … Dan is somebody else who used to do funny stuff and went on to do something a little bit more mature. I like everything Dan does. and I like pretty much everything Chester Brown has done, except for that weird Underwater thing That didn’t do much for me. But, you know, I loved those Louis Riel comics. But I think it’s interesting that both of those guys started out with a foundation of doing wacky, weird, funny things and have gone on to do serious stuff, whereas there are people who just started out doing serious stuff who aren’t interesting at all.
BERLATSKY: So, there’s that conversation you had with Danny Hellman in Legal Action Comics. Where he predicts that you are doomed to eventually write huge, boring tomes. Do you see that happening?
RYAN: As of this point, I’d have to say no, but you never know. If I get a bug up my ass and want to write some huge, boring tome a few years from now, maybe I will.
BERLATSKY: You wouldn’t rule it out.
RYAN: Maybe once everything turns around and everybody is doing shit and piss comics [Berlatsky laughs]…
BERLATSKY: You’ll have to change direction.
RYAN: Yeah. I’ll have to start doing Adrian Tomine comics.
BERLATSKY: Did you … I mean, Crumb wrote you about … you dedicated the first issue to him, right?
RYAN: Well, the first issue of the…
BERLATSKY: Yeah, of the self-published thing.
RYAN: Yeah, that kind of came out of nowhere because Matt Sanborn was in charge of that whole end of the production. So when I saw that I was, like, this is totally embarrassing. Because he spelled it “Crum” or something.
BERLATSKY: It was spelled right in the thing I saw.
RYAN: I remember it being a big deal about it being spelled incorrectly and yelling at him about it. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: So you fixed it.
RYAN: As far as those early, early comics, Sanborn was the one that was involved with all the production end as far as like doing the writing and he would take everything to the copier and get it all copied and stuff. I was just doing the comics.
BERLATSKY: Initially, I thought that he was doing a lot of writing but when I actually saw them, there’s not a whole lot in there that he’s … seems like he was more important for the production.
RYAN: Yeah, I think that’s why he kind of got burnt out on it. I was sort of always encouraging him to do more stuff. He got burnt out on it and just decided to step down.
BERLATSKY: Are you still in touch with him?
RYAN: Oh yeah.
BERLATSKY: I saw online he was doing Call of Cthulhu stuff.
RYAN: Yeah, he recently told me that he’s doing … you know he’s telling me he’s doing some kind of … he’s written some kind of module for some kind of Call of Cthulhu thing. Some kind of role-playing thing.
BERLATSKY: Did you meet Edward Gorey around this time?
RYAN: Yeah. We did an interview with him for AYC number eight. Which I used to have a copy of, but I lent it to somebody and they fucking lost it. As far as I know, that might have been the only copy left. Yeah, that just sort of happened on a Saturday afternoon, we were driving around, nothing to do, and I had read in a paper an interview with Gorey and he said that some guys who drove up from New Jersey had just stopped at his house and they took him to lunch and so I suggested to Sanborn, “Hey, we should try that?” So, I had a vague idea where he lived. So we kind of drove around Yarmouthport, just looked around for his house.
BERLATSKY: Was he somebody whose comics you liked a lot or…?
RYAN: Yeah. We were both big fans.
BERLATSKY: Do you feel like he influenced your stuff or…?
RYAN: I don’t know if it’s a direct influence. You know, I would read his stuff quite a bit. And probably just meeting him and talking to him had an even bigger influence because he was such a consummate individual. You always just sort of felt that he was doing exactly what he wanted to do. Living the way he wanted to live. He would watch the fuckin’ stupidest TV shows. He didn’t give a shit what people thought about him. He would go to retarded movies [laughter]
BERLATSKY: What was he watching?
RYAN: Well, like I mentioned on my website, he watched Nash Bridges. He actually got me into watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer . He was a big X-Files fan. The La Femme Nikita show. He loved that. He would record a lot of these things. One time he came into Borders Books, he was really lamenting the loss of a show called Due South.
BERLATSKY: Which I haven’t heard of.
RYAN: It was this show about a Canadian Mountie in New York City. He was a big TV fan.
B; That’s not exactly what you think of with Edward Gorey.
RYAN: Well, that’s the thing, When people think about him they expect him to be walking around in a big cape or something.
BERLATSKY: Reading Victorian novels.
RYAN: Yeah, well the thing is, he’s probably read them all when he was 15, so you know, now he moved on to reading Dr. Who novels.
BERLATSKY: Dr. Who novels?
RYAN: Well, he was a big Dr. Who fan, and…
BERLATSKY: You were too, right?
RYAN: Yeah, and I totally wowed him when I was able to name every single actor that played Dr. Who up to that point. He was just floored and amazed. And yeah, so we were talking about Dr. Who novels, and he was saying that “Oh, yeah, I would read like, 15 in a week.”
BERLATSKY: Wow. There aren’t that many, are they? I mean, they’re not writing them that fast.
RYAN: And he would read like … I remember I was asking about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels. He would read those.
BERLATSKY: I’ve seen all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes myself.
RYAN: Yeah, he was such a voracious reader…
BERLATSKY: You can see him being really into plot; just wanting lots and lots and lots of plot.
RYAN: Other than Mary Tyler Moore, I can’t think of any sit-comy type shows that he was into. Like now, whenever I watch a show like Battlestar Gallactica, I think, yeah, Edward Gorey would really like this show. But yeah, we did an interview with him for … well, actually, first we just stopped in and we went to lunch with him, and after that particular meeting, we asked him if we could come back and do an actual interview. So we met him a second time and it just became whenever we were kind of driving around on Cape Cod, we would say, “Oh, let’s go stop in and see him.” Yeah, if he was there, he would let us in and we would sit in the kitchen for a few hours and shoot the shit. It was fun. But I guess, you know, as far as influence, like I said, he was just such a consummate individual. He did exactly what he wanted to do. He knew what he wanted; he knew what he wanted to do. I aspire to be that able to produce a type of work that is about me, that’s indicative of me and what I like and what I find funny and fun. So I guess, I mean, in that sense…
BERLATSKY: …more by example than by art style or something.
RYAN: Yeah. He did have some sort of weirdness to his books, this intense sense of violence that it’s always fun to put into a comic.
Angry Youth’s Infancy
BERLATSKY: I thought we might talk about some of the early AYC series. I mean, it’s kind of amazing how much your drawing has changed, right? From those first ones.
RYAN: Out of everything, out of all my accomplishments, it’s sort of that, the fact that my … in a pretty short span of time, my drawing has improved, and it’s all just because I try to draw as much as possible.
BERLATSKY: You were drawing just with ballpoint pen at first, is that right?
RYAN: Yeah. At first, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I was just using a ballpoint pen I would get at the drugstore and I was trying to, even though I had this ballpoint pen, I was trying to mimic some kind of brush effect. Trying to make a thicker line. So I’d go over the line. So that’s what I was trying to do at first. It wasn’t really until I moved to Seattle and started actually talking to some other cartoonists that I learned about brush, and rapidograph…
BERLATSKY: I mean, you must have been doing something where you could do … I mean, those first issues, there’s something … like, you not just using ballpoint pen on all those early issues, are you?
BERLATSKY: Because it looks like you’ve managed to get solid blacks.
RYAN: Yeah, I’m trying to think if it was some kind of Pilot ballpoint pen or something.
BERLATSKY: Was it like a Sharpie or something? Was it like a marker?
RYAN: No, it wasn’t a Sharpie. It was just kind of a…gosh, I don’t know.
BERLATSKY: Like I was looking at the AYC Raps. You know, and there are blacks. There are dark blacks.
RYAN: You know, it was probably some kind of Pilot or a Uniball. Fine point. I mean, it wasn’t like a felt tip.
BERLATSKY: And that’s what you were using all through the…
BERLATSKY: You also started off with, like, you don’t have panel divisions, right? In the letters and in the first ones.
RYAN: No no no. Those were totally done, I guess, in a way kind of like the Shouldn’t You Be Working? stuff. If you can believe that there was no pre-planning
BERLATSKY: [laughs] Hard to believe indeed.
RYAN: In addition, there wasn’t any…with the Shouldn’t You Be Working? strips I do a little bit of pencil just to make sure everything fits in the panel. With those early comics that I was doing they were done without any pencil at all, which is pretty obvious too. And I think, in a way, I was trying to be a little bit experimental….
BERLATSKY: …by not having the panel borders.
RYAN: Well, yeah, by getting rid of panel borders and by having it all over the place.. Which just makes it look like a fucking mess. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: I mean, one of the things about it, also is it’s … I mean, this is kind of all the way up until you did a Fantagraphics series, and even then into the Fantagraphics series, you kind of get more and more cartoony as you go along, right?
BERLATSKY: It seemed like it to me. I mean because Loady’s nose actually starts out…
RYAN: Yeah, he looks a little bit more human to start with and then he becomes more cartoony, rat-like as time goes on.
BERLATSKY: And Sinus does too. I mean, everything kind of…
RYAN: Yeah, I think there definitely was … every once in a while, there was an attempt to try to go for a little bit of a realistic…or try to be leaning a little bit more on the realistic end of things. But yeah, I’ve definitely been going more for the cartoony look lately.
BERLATSKY: Also in your sketchbook it looks like there’s some figure drawing early on.
RYAN: Yeah there is. At night, when I would be at my girlfiends’, she would have all these magazines, and I would sit there and copy out of them. I guess I felt like I was teaching myself something about drawing.
BERLATSKY: Was that like a good thing to do or did it … do you feel like that was a largely misguided direction?
RYAN: If you’re trying to become any kind of artist, drawing as much as possible, whatever it is, is always going to be good for you.
BERLATSKY: So you were at your parents’ house at this point. Out of your mom’s house.
RYAN: At which point?
BERLATSKY: I guess by the point you were doing those drawings. Sometime in the ‘90s.
RYAN: Chances are I wasn’t. I was still at home. So yeah, like I said, I was there until I was probably like 27 or something. So … I probably… it wasn’t until issue number 10 when I got out of there. But everything before that, I was still living at home.
BERLATSKY: Did you move in with your girlfriend at that point?
RYAN: Well, that was like a really wacky situation because my girlfriend at the time was a divorced mother so it was a situation where I was living at home and she had her own place and all her kids lived with her. And so I couldn’t really move in with her with all those kids there, so it was a situation where I was living at my mother’s home and she had her home and I would just visit her.
BERLATSKY: Was that situation the inspiration for the Ed Ex-Husband stuff?
RYAN: That was the inspiration for the Ed Ex-Husband story and the Loady McGee Goes to the Town Whore story.
BERLATSKY: There’s sort of a similar thing where they’re all calling him Daddy and then they all turn on him.
RYAN: Those are as autobio as I get, I guess. Those two and then the 1976 story.
BERLATSKY: The 1976 story was autobiographical?
RYAN: Yeah. Autobiographical or biographical. I mean, it’s about my father but I make a special appearance in it. [laughter]
BERLATSKY: Ooooh. Are you the kid who’s being forced to eat the burned…
RYAN: Yeah, exactly.
BERLATSKY: That’s also an interesting story because it’s one of the most sort of … you know, the art’s really different.
RYAN: Well, I had initially drawn that story for my self-published comic. It was going to be AYC number nine. And I kind of got cold feet about it because it was that same thing we were talking about with the autobio stuff. You know, I just felt weird about revealing this stuff to people, that it wasn’t really interesting. But what I initially drew, I drew it the normal way that I was drawing at the time. And it wasn’t until years later that my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and my pal Coop, read that story in my sketchbook and they were both saying, “This is a really great story. You should do something with it.” So I decided to, on their recommendation, I decided to redo it and this time around, I thought it would be kind of interesting to try to draw it with a 1970’s underground-type art style. Crumb-like. It actually ended up looking a little bit more Kliban-like … I was trying to draw like Crumb.
BERLATSKY: You know, I looked at it and and I said “Crumb”. So, you know.
RYAN: But it doesn’t really come off looking like Crumb.
BERLATSKY: No, right.
RYAN: I was just trying to go for that ‘70s look. I thought that would add to the 1970s-like atmosphere.
BERLATSKY: It’s less over-the-top than they usually are, too.
RYAN: Yeah, like I said, it was an attempt at a true story, you know. It’s definitely more fun to be able to be wacky and weird. But, you know, sometimes it’s fun…
BERLATSKY: …to do other things too. I was also wondering, to what extent were the Ed Ex-Husband strip and the 1976 strips autobiographical? I mean, is your dad’s “whacked out shopoholism” in 1976 or his stealing your college money…did those things really happen?
RYAN: Yeah. Well, I mean, we were talking earlier in the interview about autobio stuff. Confessional. I was getting the rap that I don’t like autobio stuff across the board. I don’t think that necessarily true. When it comes to autobio stuff, you have to have an interesting story …There’s just a lot of autobio stuff out there, going on now, that is just kind of brushing my teeth, boning my girlfriend, scratching my feet…When you’re writing autobio stuff you still have to be able to tell a story, you have to have an interesting story and a compelling story to tell. And also, when I did those two stories, in particular, the one I did about my father, I was very wary of portraying myself as the pathetic victim.
BERLATSKY: Well, the interesting thing about both of those stories you did is that the focus is on …
RYAN: The focus is on the bad guy.
BERLATSKY: The focus is on the bully, right.
RYAN: And that also was interesting. That also was something that I thought would make it fun for me to do it from that perspective and that also goes back to what we were talking about that Faulkner story with…
BERLATSKY: Yeah, right, the Jason story.
RYAN: And how much fun that particular chapter was, and I think I’ve always had an affinity to those types of characters. You know, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with Darth Vader, I wanted to be a member of the Empire. You know, everybody else wanted to be a member of the Rebel Alliance, and I….
BERLATSKY: I mean, it’s Darth Vader versus Luke, there’s certainly … Darth Vader’s much more fun.
RYAN: I was more interested in the villains. The bad guys. They were just more compelling to me.
BERLATSKY: At the same time, I mean Ed Ex-Husband is particularly … I mean, you take a lot of shots at him.
RYAN: Well, yeah. There’s that too. I’m definitely … I’m not giving a fair and balanced view of what’s going on…
BERLATSKY: Was he actually sexually obsessed with Cagney of Cagney and Lacey?
RYAN: Well, I took a lot of liberties [Berlatsky laughs]; moreso than with the one about my father. Though I did, there were some…that’s another thing too; when I did do these two quote-unquote “autobiographical stories” I think it was important to me that I kind of make a cohesive story, I didn’t want to just stick to the facts…there was a bunch of different things that my father did that I wanted to combine into one story and it didn’t actually all happen in one day…like in that particular comic, it looks like it all happened in the course of a day or so. And the things with the Ed Ex-Husband story, he didn’t actually bust into the house and stomp on me. I definitely took some liberties, a lot more liberties with that, but it was based on truth.
BERLATSKY: I’m just curious because you talked about how you want people to have a good story in autobio strips. Have you read Ariel Schrag’s stuff?
BERLATSKY: She’s my favorite autobio person.
RYAN: You know, when I think of a good autobio comic, I think one of my favorites is probably Chester Brown’s.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, you said that you liked his stuff.
RYAN: The Playboy.
BERLATSKY: I haven’t read that. I did read I Never Loved You Anyway.
RYAN: I Never Liked You
BERLATSKY: I Never Liked You.
RYAN: That was a really great comic. Because it’s so brutally revealing. If you compare the masturbation scene in The Playboy to the masturbation scene in Blankets. It’s just like two totally different worlds. In Playboy, the Chester Brown story, it’s so pathetic and weird and creepy. And … in Blankets, it was so romanticized; he’s drawing himself with this total swimmer’s body, lovely ink fluttering from his abs; it’s just totally idealized and stupid. I don’t know. The Playboy one, is definitely the more realistic masturbation scene. Sad and gross.
BERLATSKY: Well, I guess you like Crumb’s autobio stuff too.
RYAN: Oh yeah, that’s great stuff.
BERLATSKY: I guess the ur-autobio thing is Maus, right? And there’s a good story there.
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, it’s a perfectly fine autobio. kind of a story. Is it the greatest comic in the last 50 years?
RYAN: No. Is it the second greatest? No…[Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Would it be on your list of … I think The Comics Journal had it as four.
RYAN: Yeah, I really wouldn’t put it up that high.
BERLATSKY: I mean, obviously, me neither.
Manly Men Doing Manly Things…With Insults \
BERLATSKY: The other thing that I thought of while I was listening to the earlier discussion was that you mentioned that you have a lot of regressive sort of relationships, in terms of sort of humor, with your friends when you were a kid. In terms of insults.
RYAN: I still do.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, that’s kind of what I was wondering because I saw one interview and then Matt Sanborn’s response, which seemed very much that way. And then the e-mail exchange you had with Danny Hellman. I don’t know how close a friend he is, but…
BERLATSKY: Is that the way you interact with people still?
RYAN: It depends, you know. Sometimes you get a vibe off of somebody and….you know, I’m not the type of person just to go up to somebody and start, “Hey, what the fuck’s up, shithead?” [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Right. Your interactions with COOP on the TCJ message board, too….
RYAN: Yeah. I would say that I probably have that type of interaction with him. And Tony Millionaire. You know, you catch a vibe off somebody. You know, they throw an insult at you and you give it right back to them. Not everybody is ready for that sort of interaction.
BERLATSKY: Is it with men?
RYAN: What’s that?
BERLATSKY: Is it with men that you have these kinds of relationships?
RYAN: Probably, for the most part. I’ve probably had more relationships or friendships with men than I’ve had with women. But you know, every once in a while my wife and I do get into it. [laughter]
The Whorehouse of Dr. Moreau, and Other Classics
BERLATSKY: I wanted to talk to you about the Dr. Moreau strip, the first Fantagraphics strip you did. Or comic you did. I thought the art in that seemed more experimental. Or drew more attention to itself than … because you had a big splash panel.
RYAN: I had shit flying out of the panels….
BERLATSKY: Yeah, that it just seemed more adventurous than some of the stuff you did before, but also than the stuff you did afterwards you seemed to back away from that and I was wondering if that had been an experiment that you did that you felt didn’t work or…
RYAN: Yeah, it was kind of that way. I think that I was just experimenting and trying to use splash panels because I’d never really done that in any previous books, as far as I know. So, you know, I guess I just thought it would be fun to experiment with that kind of stuff. I think after that or a little after that, I started reading a lot more Dell comics, like Little Lulu and Peanuts. And I saw that they really weren’t doing any of that kind of wacky experimental stuff, you know. They were just telling their stories and there’d be eight panels on the page. And just very simple. Everything very clear. And I think I just sort of …
BERLATSKY: Decided that was the way to go.
RYAN: …decided that this worked more with the aesthetic I was trying to go for.
BERLATSKY: That’s your longest story too. I think it’s still your longest story. Unless you count number nine, which is…there’s a gag and then it sort of goes into another gag and it’s…
RYAN: Well, it’s still … the first issue is a little oversized. I think it must have been like 32 pages. It wasn’t the standard comic length, which is 24.
BERLATSKY: So it was still a bit longer.
RYAN: Yeah, and it was, as you said, just a direct story, whereas number nine was going in and out of all these different stories.
BERLATSKY: Were you thinking about Slacker when you did that? Because that’s what I thought of but I don’t know if that’s…
RYAN: No, I really wasn’t. I’ve seen that movie years ago, but not until you mentioned it just now do I see the…
BERLATSKY: The connection, necessarily?
RYAN: That issue pretty much came out of … I had just finished number eight and … which was a bunch of two-page stories and … I did get feedback from some people, all of these people were suddenly coming out and saying, “I think your longer stories are better.” It’s funny because when I did come out with AYC #1 that particular long story, everybody was saying….
BERLATSKY: “Why aren’t you doing shorter stuff?”
RYAN: “You know, that issue, the issue you did before, AYC #11 [of the first series], with the short stuff, I like that, why don’t you do that?” So you can’t win but … I thought I would just kind of play with that criticism by giving people a big long story but also including shorter stories and putting them all together.
BERLATSKY: I think #8 is my favorite, thus far. Just because that seems to be the apotheosis of what you were talking about with trying to make it very story-oriented and how all the panels are the same size and they’re just … they’re all like freight trains, right? I mean, they’re just….whooosh!
RYAN: Well, I guess I don’t want to let any of my audience down [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Well, that’s an admirable desire.
RYAN: Here’s some short stuff for the people who want that; here’s a longer story for people that like longer stories, here’s some weekly comic strips for people that like that stuff. Sketchbook stuff for people who like that stuff. I guess I’m trying to appeal to as many of my fans as possible. I’m still trying to do what I want to do, but at the same time, I do think of the audience and what they seem to like.
BERLATSKY: You just want to be loved.
RYAN: Exactly. Don’t we all? [laughter] I just want people to like me.
BERLATSKY: That’s the artist’s way.
RYAN: “Please like me. Here’s some racist comics.” [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Well, we’ll get to that. We were talking about how you’re changing the art. One of the things I noticed is that, Loady and Sinus, their personalities kind of alter. At least somewhat because Loady starts off as a straight-forward jerk. He’s more like Ed Ex-Husband. Sort of wandering around hitting people. He has a quote about how beating the weak makes it all worthwhile. Later on, he’s much less threatening in part because he’s just completely goofy, right? This goofy inventor figure who’s always making this stuff.
RYAN: It’s got to be interesting for me to keep using a character over and over again. And to have him just be this angry, bullying, ranting type of character, it gets boring…
BERLATSKY: It gets boring, right. Whereas making inventions is almost endlessly entertaining.
RYAN: Well, it’s also … it’s important to keep the audience guessing a little bit. When people are reading the comic and automatically know exactly what Loady McGee is going to do — you know, he obviously is going to punch someone in the face, he’s obviously going to make a homophobic comment here. I kind of want to mix it up every once in a while. Have him like things that you wouldn’t expect somebody like that to like. I think it was in that Halloween comic I drew, where, at the end of the comic, he gets really excited about learning that secret gossip about Britney Spears….
BERLATSKY: Oh, yeah, that was bizarre.
RYAN: …and he’s all like, “Oh boy.” [Berlatsky laughs] You know, most music-loving, cool people don’t really like Britney Spears. So I thought it’d be fun to have this really angry, horrible person be really enamored with her and what she does in her spare time.
BERLATSKY: I think one of the reasons I like #8, is that, the pieces are short but they cover a lot of ground. Especially the …well there’s two. There’s the hot witch shit one. And I think it’s an earlier one with the piss Hulk.
RYAN: Oh, that was … that actually wasn’t in that issue, that was in the “What’re You Lookin’ At?” book. That was when I was just starting to do number eight, and that was one of the first 2 pagers I did, and I thought I would put that into “What’re You Lookin’ At?” just as an extra incentive for people to pick it up.
BERLATSKY: Ok, well great. I’m glad I got it. It starts out almost the same as … like they start out very similarly. I mean, Loady is walking down the street bearing this bizarre thing, which is hot soup in the one case and in the other is this sort of pile of….
RYAN: …is the fish cart.
BERLATSKY: It’s the fish cart. That’s right! And then they’re both just completely bizarre, right? Because you know, he’s using the fish so that he can pick up hot witch shit and…
R; And sculpt it into…
BERLATSKY: And sculpt it into Drabble. Right, and then in the other one, it turns out it’s not actually hot soup but instead it’s penguin piss, and then he throws it on Sinus, who turns into the piss Hulk. I mean, that’s only the first page and then things get even weirder in the second page. That’s just a lot of fun.
RYAN: Over the last week, I was thinking about when you were asking me about Edward Gorey and his influence on me, and I think that there are some influences. I think one of the big ones is his use of surrealism and nonsense in his work. I use a lot of that especially in the last couple of issues of my comic.
BERLATSKY: I love that stuff.
RYAN: The other thing is , he has a lot of horrible things happening in his comics; the presentation is a little different than mine, but definitely the surreal and fantastic aspects of his work had an influence on what I do.
BERLATSKY: Were you also influenced because… when I think of surreal humor, I kind of think of Monty Python.
RYAN: Well, as a kid, my father had … I mean, he would watch that show a lot but he also had pretty much all those Monty Python records. And I would listen to them over and over again.
B; Right because they’re very much that sort of … there’s a logic to it, but it isn’t the sort of logic that makes any sense. Things follow from each other.
RYAN: Yeah, I used to love that show as a kid.
BERLATSKY: I saw you say that “Angry Youth Comics”, the title came from “The Young Ones,” right?
RYAN: It did. And Loady McGee is basically a kind of a variation of the Vyvyan character.
BERLATSKY: I haven’t actually seen “The Young Ones”, so…
RYAN: Oh you haven’t? It’s a great show.
BERLATSKY: It sounds wonderful. People have been telling me to see it for ten years, so…
RYAN: It’s terrific. I think the title of my comic was, I was trying to be ironic on some level; I don’t know what I was doing. But it sort of fell flat. [Berlatsky laughs] You know, I was also kind of ripping off the Young Ones. I watched that show and there was a lot there that I think I borrowed from them. Because they live in just utter squalor, with shit all over the floor, and it’s just completely like the Loady McGee shack. And like I said the Loady McGee character is based on the angry punk character Vyvyan, and he also has the spiky red hair and acne.
BERLATSKY: Have you read Flaming Carrot?
RYAN: No I haven’t.
BERLATSKY: Oh my God. See, that’s what you need to read.
RYAN: I have read Reid Fleming. And I know those comics are connected in some way, but…
BERLATSKY: Well, I think … they came out at the same time and I think they’re somewhat similar. I saw Reid Fleming a long time ago, and I like that. Like, Flaming Carrot, is… … maybe I haven’t seen enough Reid Fleming, but Reid Fleming seemed a little less bizarre. I mean the Flaming Carrot is goofy stuff. Like midget Abraham Lincolns and … a mayor with the head of a baby…
RYAN: That’s what I’m talking about when I say I don’t really read as much as you probably think. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: I love Flaming Carrot. I think Bob Burden’s writing it again now. I saw one that was called something like … I can’t remember what the title was; something like Crouching Chicken Wing, Hidden Cow or something. That’s pretty great stuff. Very surreal.
Obvious Vulgar Humor
BERLATSKY: I wanted to talk about this thing that Gary Groth said, since we’re talking about changes in your comic. He said that earlier on, he thought maybe your stuff seemed kind of “obvious vulgar humor that the underground lived through” and that he could see with the last issue, which is number six, that you “transcended that”. So I have two things I’m wondering what you think about that. First of all, do you feel that you were doing obvious vulgar humor to begin with?
RYAN: I still think I am.
BERLATSKY: [laughs] I guess that’s the second question; do you feel you transcended it? The title “obvious vulgar humor” does not make you say. “No, no, no!”
RYAN: No, not really. I don’t know, “obvious”. I guess maybe not “obvious.” I mean, sometimes I go obvious, but sometimes I think I go in a direction that the audience didn’t expect. But sometimes, the obvious works.
BERLATSKY: I didn’t necessarily feel there was a real breakthrough with number six. But Gary did, and Kaz did as well it sounded like, so….
RYAN: Well, I actually got a lot of feedback from that particular issue. A lot of people felt that way, and I remember when I handed it in to my editor Eric Reynolds, and he called me and he said, “Are you ok?” [laughs] You see, I guess he saw a little bit more … anger . I guess something in that issue was pushed a little farther than the previous issues. I think there was definitely something about it. I think the surreal factor was amped up a bit. The art, at that point, was really getting a lot better and, of course, all the different characters. People seem to really enjoy when I employ lots of different characters. I mean, I don’t know if it’s just one thing that I can put my finger on, but…
BERLATSKY: You mentioned I think that you’d gotten wisdom from Robert Williams….
RYAN: Yeah, the reason for that issue was I was sitting next to Robert Williams at a time when I don’t think he really knew who I was, and he was just talking at me, and he said something to the effect of, “You know, you don’t get paid for any of this shit, so you might as well do whatever the fuck you want.” And, I just really took those words to heart. And I remember when I told that to Gary Groth, he said, “You mean you weren’t doing really what you wanted before?”
BERLATSKY: You were censoring yourself. [laughs]
RYAN: I think on some level, all artists are censoring themselves to some degree. And I think that on some level I was kind of censoring myself.
BERLATSKY: I think there’s always a balance between what you want to do and what you expect … I mean, we were talking about you want people to like your stuff or else you wouldn’t put it out there.
RYAN: That’s that kind of “of course, all artists want people to like their stuff.” But at the same time, the artists have to like it and you have to feel like you’re really…. … I mean, I know that with my comics, I’m pretty good at causing trouble and I certainly feel that in a lot of ways, it’s sort of fun for me to do that. And it makes drawing these comics fun. And it’s sort of understood that there’s going to be people that aren’t going to like it. I don’t want to do a comic or do art that everybody loves across the board. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who would like to do that. But I want to have that balance where I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I do want an audience for the comic, but I’m not expecting everybody to like it.
BERLATSKY: But I can see where it would be pretty exciting to hear somebody who’s well-respected in the field and whose work presumably you admire. Sort of say … the thing I would like to see from you is more extreme. As extreme as you can make it.
RYAN: I’ve gotten those requests before. For like commissioned things.
RYAN: Yeah. And I try to oblige. Yeah, but in a way, that’s sort of one of the reasons why I started doing those comics on my website, the “Shouldn’t You Be Working?” comics. I wanted to draw a comic where I’m not really going to concern myself with the art or if it makes any sense at all. I’m just going to totally vomit it out, whatever comes to mind as quickly as possible. And I basically started this exercise to loosen me up creatively. And I still sort of feel like I’m trying to break through different mental walls that I’ve set for myself somehow. I still feel like I’m trying to loosen myself up. To really get stuff out there onto the page. There is that kind of balance. I’m trying to do a comic that’s funny, surreal, weird, nihilistic, and destructive, and you can’t do something like that and expect everybody to love it.
BERLATSKY: I think you talked a bit in other interviews about Loady and Sinus being different parts of your personality, but to me, the thing that really sort of struck me when I was reading through it was that Boobs Pooter really seems like … I just think of that moment where he’s like, I don’t even know what horrible thing he’s done to that poor woman, but she looks up and tells her kids, “Run! It’s a comedian!” I mean, that sort of seems like how you’d like to see yourself as a comedian, or something you aspire to almost.
RYAN: Well, I don’t really have a desire to stand on a stage in front of a brick wall and humiliate myself in that way. I prefer doing it from a distance, I guess.
BERLATSKY: But in terms of doing violence unto your audience.
RYAN: So you’re asking if I want to commit violence unto my audience? [laughter]
BERLATSKY: That seem like part of what you’re doing, isn’t it?
RYAN: I guess … well, I think you’re getting specific; I think in my comic there’s that overall misanthropy and nihilism which comes with the territory of destroying everything. You know, this’ll probably lead into the racism question, but I don’t think in terms of specifics, where it’s “I hate black people” or “I want to destroy my audience”, or “I hate gays”, or “women are stupid”, y’know, it’s just an overall misanthropy. And I try to have fun with it. When I first started doing the comic with Matt Sanborn. He was really into Queen, and he was really obsessed with Freddy Mercury dying of AIDS, and with safe sex, and that whole fucking thing. And so he would keep slipping that shit into his little writings that he would put in my comic.
BERLATSKY: Right, because it always said at the end, “Wear a condom.”
RYAN: Yeah, and I would get so humiliated by that. “Why are you fucking doing this? We have a comic here where, like a guy is raping a gorilla [Berlatsky laughs] You know, flushing himself down a toilet, stabbing a vagina and then at the end of it, you’re saying, ‘Wear a condom.,’” And I guess that sounds funny saying it now, but he was really sincere about it, and there wasn’t any kind of irony to it. But he would do that a lot. And a lot of my humor came from that because he was a bit more … he was a lot more of a bleeding heart liberal than I was when it came to that kind of thing. And so just to kind of push his buttons I would throw in an AIDS joke here or there, or a racist joke just to kind of get his goat.
NOAH BERLATSKY: So it’s not so much racism or homophobia as it is misanthropy.
And it’s particularly in reaction to your liberal friends.
RYAN: Well, you know, I think it’s just an overall super-liberal education. Growing up, we had to read all these types of books like “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry,” and “Black Like Me” and a lot of gay stuff too, like “Annie on my Mind.”
BERLATSKY: Was that the class where the …
RYAN: That was the one where the … you know, after we read it the teacher said. “Ok, now, after you’ve read this, who will ever call anyone a fag again?” And I raised my hand. [Berlatsky laughs] Of course, you know, we’re in eighth grade, nobody’s going to raise their hand and say, “I will!” But we were kind of being trained to be strict liberal thinkers. And I’m kind of just very anti-authority. When people are telling me what to do… my first reaction…
BERLATSKY: Are you particularly put off by PC stuff?
RYAN: It depends, I mean, if it’s keeping me from enjoying a radio show or a TV show or something then definitely. It can get very stifling
BERLATSKY: If it keeps you from enjoying it by taking it off the air or by interfering with your…?
RYAN: In a lot of ways, it can be kind of useless. And it can kind of water stuff down.
BERLATSKY: I mean, the point of a lot of that PC stuff, I guess, is … which I have mixed feelings about. A lot of it is really sort of stupid and therapeutic, right? And I actually saw … I muck around on Wikipedia because clearly I have too much time on my hands. I mean, on there, PC stuff is often used against black contributors, you know somebody will say … like somebody called Andrew Johnson an “old cracker.” You know who Andrew Johnson is? He’s the president after Lincoln who was kind of a disaster for black people in a lot of ways. She was taken to task for…the person who said this Andrew Johnson “old cracker.” It’s kind of like, if not him, who? But she was immediately taken to task for hate speech.
RYAN: Right, well see, that’s kind of like, at this point, who cares? [Berlatsky laughs] About Andrew Johnson, whether he was a cracker. But, you know, even if they were talking about George Bush being an old cracker or a middle-aged cracker or whatever. I mean, in the long run, who gives a shit?
BERLATSKY: I think the argument for the PC stuff that says there shouldn’t be racist portrayals of black people, and there shouldn’t be an association of gays with AIDS, etc., etc., is the idea that when you have these sort of images in works of art, people take them to heart. And these people who are sort of getting the short end of the stick, in many ways, it just makes things harder for them. Do you have an opinion? Do you feel that works of art just don’t do that? That it just doesn’t matter, or do you feel…?
RYAN: Well, see, that’s where you’re sort of walking the fine line of saying, “Well, you can’t do that because it might hurt these people’s feelings.”
BERLATSKY: Well, I think it’s more than their feelings. There’s this worry that it will actually contribute to the climate where they might get beaten up or killed or all this stuff.
RYAN: Well, I mean, that’s something else. If I wanted to make a movie and it was called “Kill the Faggots…”
BERLATSKY: Or “Birth of a Nation.”
RYAN: And it was a how-to movie. That…
BERLATSKY: You can’t support that, necessarily.
RYAN: You’re going to have a lot of problems with that. So you know, there is that line, which I’ll probably cross later this year. [Berlatsky laughs] I’m kidding. But at the same time, like when I did the Gaytriot story, and everybody was mad about that and the AIDS breath…
BERLATSKY: I mean, not everybody was mad. There were specific groups that were upset.
RYAN: In particular, there was the Gays in Comics Forum.
BERLATSKY: I know Dirk Deppey thought it was a big load of nothing. The controversy, I mean.
RYAN: In those instances, you can usually tell when something’s a joke and I think there are people who are very PC, who are just looking for an excuse to get upset about something. They’re not seeing it as a joke and they’re seeing it as an actual attack. Basically, they just need to lighten the fuck up, you know. I don’t see myself as being a political cartoonist at all and I’m not trying to choose sides and tell people what to do and how to live their lives and how to think or whatever. I just see myself as somebody who’s trying to make particularly warped people laugh.
BERLATSKY: You do pretty consistently make fun of white supremacists.
RYAN: Oh yeah, they’re fun. [Berlatsky laughs] I don’t think I go out of my way to offend each and every single race on the planet. I sort of try to do … I don’t try to force myself to do that kind of thing. I just kind of do what comes naturally and what I think is funny. You know, and if there’s a good joke at the expense of Methodists or something, then I’ll probably use it.
BERLATSKY: Or Belgians.
RYAN: Or Belgians.
BERLATSKY: I mean, there are a couple points where it seems like there is at least, tangentially interesting political stuff happening in your strip. I think that probably the best example is the Crazy Man from Afghanistan, the Islamic terrorists on spring break. Where there’s the Muslim women in the burqua with the bikini on the outside. [Ryan laughs] Which is, that’s really funny. But it’s… everybody’s upset about the treatment of Islamic women, right? It’s an amusing and I think telling juxtaposition to put them sort of in this Western…
RYAN: When I was doing it, I don’t think I was … I wasn’t thinking too deeply about that.
BERLATSKY: [laughing] Fair enough
RYAN: I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, this’ll teach those Islamic jerks to treat women badly.”
BERLATSKY: Well, my point is that it sort of makes a comparison between the way Islamic women are treated and the way women are treated here. I mean, it sort of melds them together.
RYAN: Well, yeah. I was trying to bring those two worlds together. The evil terrorist world and the evil spring break world. When you’re doing some form of comedy, you really can’t spend a lot of time thinking about … you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about, “This is going to hurt somebody’s feelings. Somebody is going to get upset about this.” Most of it … when that thought does cross my mind, it’s one of the things that makes me do it. When you get down to it, okay, well, you can’t make fun of black people, but the turn is though that you can’t make fun of fat people or you can’t make fun of hillbillies or … because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And you know, the tone of my comic, like I said, is very nihilistic.
BERLATSKY: You were saying that that reflects where you’re coming from. You tend to be misanthropic and … because there’s that early … I don’t know, maybe it’s your second one or something, where I think Sinus drinks too many bran shakes and ends up sort of shitting enough to sort of cover the entire earth in shit.
RYAN: That’s an old one. Yeah, I sort of used that apocalyptic type of theme in a lot of my early comics.
BERLATSKY: Do you feel less like that now, you think?
RYAN: No, I think I still have that sort of urge to destroy everything. And that doesn’t mean that I actually want to go do it. But…
BERLATSKY: You’re not a security risk.
RYAN: Artistically, that’s something that I enjoy doing.
Fantagraphics, Despite This Whole Chris Ware Thing
BERLATSKY: I thought maybe we could talk about how you got your comic into Fantagraphics. You sent something to Peter Bagge, right?
RYAN: Yeah, sure. I was living in Washington D.C. and I had never really read Hate up to that point. So when I went to the comic store and I…
BERLATSKY: Did Peter think you’d ripped off his title?
RYAN: No, I don’t think so, but I remember him commenting on thinking that my title was pretty lame. But anyway, so I saw his comic at that comic store and up until that point, that was 1999, and I had never read Hate before and when I picked it up, I noticed that in the back he would do reviews of various comics and mini-comics and ‘zines and I thought, “Oh, I’ll send him one of my comics and maybe he’ll do a little write-up.” I mailed it to him, and he wrote me back almost immediately saying how much he loved it. He was saying, “Oh, you should be published by Fantagraphics, but they probably won’t publish you because they’re into this whole Chris Ware thing now.”
BERLATSKY: You know, Chris Ware’s stuff, like his early stuff, it’s not…
RYAN: It doesn’t look like a machine did it?
BERLATSKY: It does look like a machine did it. But, I’m thinking of your God character, I mean, have you read Chris Ware’s God stuff?
RYAN: Some of it.
BERLATSKY: I mean, it’s kind of a similar idea.
RYAN: Yeah, I do remember seeing that I don’t know….
BERLATSKY: Who did it first?
RYAN: Who did it first? Like, mine was definitely sort of … when I did it, it was like a comic that a hundred people probably saw, right?
BERLATSKY: So you’re pretty sure he didn’t pick it up from you.
RYAN: I kind of didn’t really do anything again with that. And then his God seems to be a little bit more … I guess I should say mine is a lot more of a jerk.
BERLATSKY: His God is … pretty jerky. I mean, there’s an early Jerry Corrigan thing where it’s much more pulpy. You had Superman, like … Jimmy Corrigan’s like his sidekick and he takes him to this remote island and just sort of leaves him there and then kind of comes back and beats him up or something. I mean, he’s kind of a prick.
RYAN: Oh, I guess he did rip me off then. [laughter] Or the other way around. [laughter]
BERLATSKY: I don’t remember like kids suddenly finding a cow and deciding to worship it or anything like that. But there are similarities. Anyway, I’m sorry, I interrupted you. You were talking about Peter Bagge saying that they wouldn’t pick your strip up because they were doing the Chris Ware thing.
RYAN: And then he showed it to Eric Reynolds and Eric liked it, and I don’t think Gary was too keen on it at first. I think it took Peter and Eric, and I think Gilbert Hernandez and even…
BERLATSKY: Did Peter show it to Gilbert Hernandez?
RYAN: Yes, I think so. I can’t remember for sure. I think he might have turned Gilbert on to the book.
BERLATSKY: Did he show it to Dan Clowes?
RYAN: No, I had mailed my stuff to Dan before I had mailed my stuff to Peter. But yeah because I think after that point, that’s when Gilbert starting putting me in things like Goody Good Comics and Measles, and it really wasn’t until all those guys, especially Peter and Eric, championed my work, but it was also … I gave a couple of my sketchbooks to Eric to show to Gary and I think he saw that I had a really good work ethic and that I wasn’t just going to be somebody who would do an issue or two and then bail out and want to do something else, which I think was kind of important to them. They didn’t want some fly-by-night guy.
BERLATSKY: Right. They wanted to know that you were serious. Was Kim Thompson … because I thought that he did an anthology with your stuff in it too.
RYAN: Yeah. Well, you know, I think even to this day, I have no idea what he thinks about my stuff. [laughs] You know, I think he likes my stuff to some point, but…
BERLATSKY: I saw an interview with him recently where he was … I’m trying to remember exactly what he said.
RYAN: Maybe if I used more anthropomorphic animal characters…. [Berlatsky laughs].
BERLATSKY: I think perhaps that’s what he said. Or French, I think…
RYAN: Like, put a little bit more French in my work.
BERLATSKY: Like on that cover of your … that one cover.
RYAN: That might be his favorite cover. [laughter]
BERLATSKY: Do you know French?
BERLATSKY: Did you have somebody write that cover for you?
RYAN: Well, yeah. That cover … a friend of mine who works at Merriam-Webster for the French dictionary, translated it. I gave him the phrase and I told him, I said, “Translate this into French,” and he did. But Kim is also … I think I have some other little panel in “Comic-Book Skool”, that was in French, when Sinus is showing off one of his comics called “Oui Oui, Monsieur”… and one of the panels is in French, and Kim helped me translate that.
BERLATSKY: What does the panel say?
RYAN: I’m not sure I remember.
BERLATSKY: The cover says, “If you can read this, you are gay,” right?
RYAN: It’s actually a lot cruder than that. It says, “If you can read this, you’re a faggot.” That’s probably the direct translation.
BERLATSKY: You got shit for that too, right?
RYAN: Well that, from what I hear, a few years ago at San Diego when the Gays in Comics had some sort of panel discussion and that comic was actually held up at one of the … I don’t know if it was just that particular comic or just me in general. 1 was sort of held up as the number one, I guess, homophobe or something in comics today.
BERLATSKY: That sort of happened to you with … you said there was a women’s group who felt that way.
RYAN: I don’t know if they said I was the number one homophobe. They said I was the number one jerk and they said if they ever saw me, they would kick me in the balls or do … they wanted to actually do physical harm to me [laughter].
BERLATSKY: And to this day, you have avoided women.
RYAN: Yes, I’ve never been with a woman since. [Berlatsky laughs] Yeah, I think it was after I read those reviews that I wrote the “Comic Book Skool” story. And I included that funny little bit where they, the whole Yentl thing, where the girl was disguised as a guy.
BERLATSKY: It’s Omletta, right?
RYAN: Yes, it’s Omletta, she’s disguised as a boy so she can go to comic book school and she gets summarily chucked out a window.
BERLATSKY: Well, they pee on her and then they throw her out the window.
RYAN: Right. They humiliate her and they throw her out the window.[laughs] So yeah, that was my little tribute to those people.
BERLATSKY: Also, you did … as long as we’re talking about your relationships with women, You know in the intro to the Portajohnny Collection, Peter Bagge says that you wooed and won your wife [Jenny Nixon] because she saw your work at his house, and….
RYAN: Well, it was just good timing in that when I had sent my comics to Peter, she had just moved from New York to Seattle to be an art director for the Journal. And when she had just moved out there, she was staying in Peter’s basement for a couple days and asked for something to read. And Peter gave her some of my comics, and she was initially repelled by the title as I think a lot of people are. But then she read it and she really liked it and she immediately e-mailed me, and we developed a kind of e-mail relationship. Internet romance.
BERLATSKY: Then you moved out to Seattle, right?
BERLATSKY: A lot of the cartoonists you know, you must have met through her, at least in part, right?
RYAN: Yeah, there were a bunch of them. And their names include: [Berlatsky laughs] Tony Millionaire, Sam Henderson, Kaz and Dame Darcy.
BERLATSKY: And Danny Hellman you said, right?
RYAN: And Danny Hellman. There’s probably some others that I’m not thinking of right now.
BERLATSKY: You’re very good friends with Tony Millionaire, right?
RYAN: Yeah, we’re pretty good pals. The place that we’re living in today was his old apartment. He was living here, and when we moved down here, he moved to Pasadena and gave us his old place.
BERLATSKY: Why did you move to LA?
RYAN: A combination of different things. I think we were looking for a change and when I was in Seattle, I had a day-job and I kind of thought, “Well, you know, if I have to have a day job, maybe I can try to get something that’s more in an art-related field.” Like animation or something like that. And I thought I’d come down here and try to get involved in that.
BERLATSKY: Did that work out at all or…?
RYAN: I think I was trying a little bit more when I first got down here and I think I got a little burned on that.
BERLATSKY: Getting into animation is really, really difficult, I understand.
RYAN: Tell me about it. But I mean, there’s still little things that I’m involved in now that are animation-involved. I’ve done character designs for different projects that have never really gone anywhere.
BERLATSKY: Like on those Adult Swim-type things?
RYAN: Well, both were just … usually at the stage where I’m doing the character design they’re just putting the show together to pitch to different networks. So the first one I did was for a show that was going to be pitched to Fox. And I think the actual production company was Touchstone or something, and that never went anywhere. And then the most recent one was something that was just recently pitched to Fox, and they liked it and now they’re in the process of writing scripts and such for it. I guess they’ll take it from there.
BERLATSKY: So if it goes through, you’ll be involved in doing more art.
RYAN: Yeah, if they’re really into it, and they’re going to take it, I guess I’m assuming I’ll be onboard to do more character designs.
BERLATSKY: So was this a show that you came up with the concept for or…
RYAN: No. Both were shows that were for other people. They had their own characters and they had seen my work and they liked the style and they just wanted me because they saw these characters in my particular style.
BERLATSKY: Well, going back for a second… Jenny is involved or has been involved in a lot of the coloring for some of your books and comics, right?
RYAN: Yeah, I mean she still does a lot as far as … especially with the website computer stuff. She started out doing a lot of the coloring and then she taught me how to do it. Now I do that on my own. But yeah, she still does stuff like posting my strips online and…
BERLATSKY: Yeah, does she deal with most of the website stuff?
RYAN: Yeah. I’m pretty computer retarded. She knows a lot more about that stuff than I do.
Sketching at Work and at Home
BERLATSKY: I guess maybe we can talk about … you said you quit your job. Was that because you wanted to get away from your job at…
RYAN: Which job? [laughs]
BERLATSKY: You wanted to get away from job after job, right?
BERLATSKY: You were at Borders, right? When you were in D.C.
RYAN: Well, first I was at Borders in Massachusetts, then I transferred to the one in D.C.
BERLATSKY: Was that a move you made with your girlfriend or…?
RYAN: Yeah. Well, we were looking to move someplace and…
BERLATSKY: Was that the girlfriend with all the kids or this…?
RYAN: No, the one after that. And so initially, we were looking for places that were a little bit more cosmopolitan. You know, something like San Francisco or New York or something and in the end, I think her mother had just got a job in D.C. and was moving to somewhere outside of the D.C. area. So she decided that she wanted to move there. So I tagged along.
BERLATSKY: Was Borders the first place where you were doing the Shouldn’t You Be Working? books?
RYAN: Yeah, it was. It just kind of…
BERLATSKY: I’m kind of curious. Did anybody buy those early books? Like those first couple Shouldn’t You Be Working? things?
RYAN: Let me think here … I think I did sell a few because I think that might have been the first year that I attended APE and…I think a brought a bunch of those. I can’t be positive, but I must have sold them to somebody because I don’t have them anymore. And I’m sure I gave a bunch away too, but…
BERLATSKY: Because they’re, especially compared to the stuff in the Fantagraphics ones…
RYAN: Well, when I first started doing those, there really wasn’t any kind of idea that I should put this together into a book. It wasn’t until later that I thought, “Oh, I should make this into a book. It’ll be a fun thing to have.” And only after those first two was I really cognizant of “Ok, these are going to become little books that I can sell.”
BERLATSKY: Did you have less time at Borders to do drawing than you did when you moved to Seattle?
RYAN: Oh yeah, because customers are always bugging you [Berlatsky laughs.]
BERLATSKY: Right, retail.
RYAN: Yeah, so usually I would draw them while I was standing at the register on a slow day or the information booth or something. When I started getting jobs that were more of sit down behind a computer and nobody’s bugging you at all, you have a lot more time to fuck around.
BERLATSKY: Right because there’s that one … it was probably in one of those sketchbooks where you’re sort of mapping out your day and it’s like…
RYAN: That was the urological clinic.
BERLATSKY: It’s like you were working for half an hour, an hour.
RYAN: That would be a good day. If you narrowed it down to about half an hour of actual working.
BERLATSKY: So you’re not still doing sketchbook stuff like that.
RYAN: No, not the … I mean, occasionally I’ll do little random things in my sketchbook, but ninety percent of the time, I think I’d be either sketching out the [online] Shouldn’t You Be Working? strips or trying to sketch out a Blecky strip. A lot of the time it’ll just be pages and pages of me drawing these long Blecky stories and trying to find some kind of four panel strip in there. They actually turned out to be kind of entertaining stories, but they didn’t make … they didn’t really make good strips.
BERLATSKY: How did you get started with the [online] Shouldn’t You be Working? Doing the comics parodies, in particular?
RYAN: That was sort of a combination of things. When I moved to LA, there was a pretty good, there still is a pretty good cartoonist scene here, and a bunch of them would get together and they would do these little jam comics, which I think you can actually buy. Tim Maloney, he puts out the Naked Cosmos DVD, and he also did the God Hates Cartoons DVD, which has little animations by Tony Millionaire and Kaz and a bunch of other folks. And he also sells a lot of these jam comics that we’ve done. But yeah, him and Sam Henderson and me and sometimes Coop and sometimes other folks would get together and we would do these jam comics and they were just pretty much … somebody would start and then the next person would just try to top that one, trying to make it as funny as possible. I remember Joe Matt was in on it once, and he was kind of getting irritated with us because, I mean, he’s put out little booklets of the jam comics he’s done with other folks. Those jam comics seem to be very focused on narrative. They really wanted to get an actual story going. And we didn’t really focus on that. [Berlatsky laughs] We were just trying to draw something more fucked up than the last guy that just did it and we weren’t really concerned about trying to make it…
BERLATSKY: A story.
RYAN: A story.
BERLATSKY: That’s really funny.
RYAN: So I actually kind of had a lot of fun with that, so I thought that would be kind of fun to try to employ that spontaneity into some of my work. So then, also, a friend of mine in Athens, GA, Robert Newsome, who puts together the Fluke comics show, he was fucking bugging me and bugging me to do some … He puts a little anthology book together to coincide with every Fluke show. He was bugging me to do something for his book, and so I just whipped off this quick Beetle Bailey parody. Like in five minutes, just as quickly as possible, which was basically something to get him to leave me alone. I’m like, “Here it is. Shut up.” And…
BERLATSKY: What happens in that strip?
RYAN: That’s the one where Beetle Bailey and the Sergeant fuck an Afro and they throw … they throw raisins at a sky-pussy. In the end, it was actually fun to do and people seemed to think that it was pretty funny. So I then thought that it would be fun to do these kinds of strips on a regular basis for the Shouldn’t You Be Working? page on my website, do these little parodies and, as I said before, I thought it would help me creatively to just not be concerned about the artwork or if it makes any sense. Just fucking throw out whatever idea that pops in my mind, no matter how weird or terrible or strange or gay or whatever. Put it on the page. And that’s the…
BERLATSKY: That’s how they got started.
RYAN: That’s how that got started.
BERLATSKY: It sounds like it’s been an impetus to sort of look to a lot of comics and try to fiddle with different styles too.
RYAN: Yeah, it can vary. There are some cases where I won’t even try to imitate the style because there’s no way that I can keep the objective of what this whole thing is, which is to do it as quickly as possible and not be concerned about the art so much …
BERLATSKY: The McSwieners one doesn’t look like Chris Ware.
RYAN: Yeah. Well, the McSwieners one was sort of a weirder one because it wasn’t really parodying a particular thing that Chris Ware has done as far as … it wasn’t parodying one of his comics it was the whole … I thought it was a funny part of that book that they just have crumpled up pieces of Charles Schultz’s garbage.lovingly displayed.
BERLATSKY: [laughs] I didn’t realize that that was the case.
RYAN: I thought it would be funny to … what about other cartoonists and their garbage? What do they got going on? This whole idea popped in my head of Chris Ware rooting through famous cartoonists’ garbage trying to get their shit so he could put it in the next McSweiners.
BERLATSKY: Did you … like I saw this around discussion of the Harvey Pekar thing. Were you basing that on a particular strip or…?
RYAN: Yeah, sometimes, you know, I’ll pull out some kind of … just to get these started, I’ll pull out some comics just to give me an idea. And I think with that particular one, I have the Crumb … there was a particular Crumb Anthology of his Harvey Pekar strips and I think there was one where he pretty much started out with Harvey Pekar pushing a record cart around. I guess it’s a mail cart, but it has records in it he’s selling them to people at his job. Sometimes I just need a starting point and I’ll just take it from there.
BERLATSKY: When you started it, you hadn’t necessarily been thinking about sentient ball cancer.
RYAN: No, when I started the thing, I … I had no idea where it was gonna go, so by the time I got to the end there, I didn’t really know that ball cancer was gonna pop out of his pants. One of the things that doing these strips has done and I think it’s carried over into my regular comic, … it’s very important for my work to be spontaneous. It just makes it more fun for me to sit down in front of the page and not have a real grasp of where exactly this is going to go. I sometimes find that when I … a lot of those earlier issues, I totally planned out.
BERLATSKY: Really? Did you write out scripts? Did you have…?
RYAN: Well, in some cases, I would totally draw out the entire comic in my sketchbook and then redraw it onto bigger bristol board, trying to clean it up a bit more. So you know, I would draw a comic two, sometimes three times.
BERLATSKY: So that would … did you do that with “Big, Fat Load.” How long were you doing this? Did you do that with the Dr. Moreau thing?
RYAN: The Dr. Moreau thing I think I drew about 50 percent of it or more in my sketchbook before I drew the final comic, and if I didn’t have the whole thing drawn out, I would have either sketches or notes or stuff like that. You know, I think it’s only within … it might be issues four or five when I stopped using notes and all that stuff altogether. Just diving right in. And I was going to say that I think for me it just makes it more interesting to not really know where I’m going to go. If I have everything planned out beforehand, it just kind of becomes a little bit more tedious. “Well, I know what’s going to happen and I know where it’s going to go.” And I know that this isn’t something that everybody across the board should do. There are a lot of great comics out there that it’s obvious that there’s a lot of pre-planning and note-taking. I don’t know, I just sort of feel that it’s something that works for me.
BERLATSKY: In the past you have kind of recycled stuff from your first series. Like I was thinking of the Big, Fat Load story, particularly, where it’s … I mean, it’s almost word for word. The same story…
RYAN: Well, there was even stuff before, with the earlier ones that I had on the notebook paper. I don’t know if I showed you the one with the … it basically was the Blind Date story.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, I saw that.
RYAN: And then there was one with the Halloween story. And the thing is … my thinking is that nobody saw any of these stories. The jokes are … there’s some really good jokes here. I should reuse it. Simply redraw it and make it look a little up-to-date, better.
BERLATSKY: Because the cover of AYC number nine is also…
RYAN: Right. It just … to me, it kind of seems like … to waste a good joke like that, it’s not right. [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Do you find yourself … since you’re trying not to plan things out now, do you find that when you go back and use that stuff that the process is very different or is it…?
RYAN: To go back and use that material?
BERLATSKY: Yeah, to go back and use material that’s … I mean, obviously, it’s all planned out, right? You have all the jokes and stuff. When you use stuff you’ve already done, do you try to loosen it up, or….?
RYAN: There’ll be instances where I add things here and there and I do some editing. The Big, Fat Load story, you know, I added a couple things to it where you actually…
BERLATSKY: You see him in Vietnam.
RYAN: Yeah, you see his journey to Vietnam.
BERLATSKY: And I think you switched “plankton pussies” for “maggots” or something like that.
RYAN: Yeah, I try to update it a little bit. For the most part, in that particular story, I kind of liked it, so I didn’t really feel like it needed to be changed all that much, but the story about … the 1976 story, when it originally appeared, it was done in my usual style. And it was only when I redrew it that I decided to use the crosshatches instead of a brush. Like pen work, and there were also little things that I added here and there to that.
Working Well With Others
BERLATSKY: One of the things creators always seem to get asked about in Comics Journal interviews is whether they think writing and art are separable. Obviously, you usually do both the writing and the art, but you’ve also worked with Peter Bagge where he’s done the writing and you’ve done the art or some combination of that and you work pretty regularly with Dave Cooper, right? Where he draws for you?
RYAN: I’ve done a couple different things for Nickelodeon with Dave Cooper and for DC. The Supergirl-Wonder Woman story. And I only got that job because of Dave. I don’t know who they initially hooked him up with, but he didn’t really like the scripts that he got and he suggested me. And I don’t think that they were really keen on me. He was pretty adamant.
BERLATSKY: Were they afraid that you would be unable to write something that would get past their censors?
RYAN: Yeah, I do think that I probably don’t get a lot of jobs because people are under the impression that I can only do…that I’m a fucking maniac. But I’ve also done a Spongebob story with Dave Cooper and we’ve worked on two separate little stories, two-page stories for Nickelodeon in addition to the Spongebob thing.
BERLATSKY: So is that more difficult for you as a writer? Because it sounds like you often do your stories, at least at this point, by actually drawing them, so is it weird to just do the writing and send them off or is that…?
RYAN: Yeah, it definitely is more fun for me to do it simultaneously. I don’t know…
BERLATSKY: Do you send him thumbnails or do you just send him the script?
RYAN: Oh no, he does all the art. When it comes to these types of jobs as far as Nickelodeon and DC, it was all just script. Dave is the one who does the breakdowns and whatever. He’s a pretty competent artist, so he doesn’t need any direction from me. I’m often surprised by how I can send him all this writing and he can somehow work it in and make it look good.
BERLATSKY: Is there back and forth where he asked you to rewrite or…?
RYAN: Not really. He’s basically just says, “Here’s three characters: pigeon, alien, apple. Now write a story.” And I’ll write a story and he’ll just say, “Good” and he’ll just send it to the editor Chris Duffy, and Chris Duffy’s usually the guy who says, “Do this, change this. Like this, don’t like this.” But Dave’s pretty … we just seem to kind of get one another. At least he seems to get my stuff. My writing. We’ve just worked well together for all these projects.
BERLATSKY: How did you meet him?
RYAN: Well, Angouleme was really when I got to know him. I probably met him at some San Diego convention or something just briefly, but it wasn’t until I was invited to some Angouleme comic book convention, I was the American artist and he was the Canadian artist. I don’t know how it works, but I think they were just inviting somebody from each country or something.
BERLATSKY: Was this after you…?
RYAN: This was 2002.
BERLATSKY: Ok, this was after a couple issues of your Fantagraphics stuff.
RYAN: Right. Initially, they just wanted some art for some art shows they were putting together for the Angouleme show, and then a few weeks later they asked me if I wanted to go. So I went. And so that’s when I was really hanging out with Dave Cooper and we kind of hit it off there. Platonically. [Berlatsky laughs] I just want to make that clear.
BERLATSKY: You’re doing art on the West Coast, so you must have gay friends, right?
BERLATSKY: Do they tend to be offended, or are they just amused?
RYAN: No they’re actually more … they’re fucking more disgusting than I am. At least the ones that I talk to seem to enjoy that kind of humor. I don’t think that it’s … that goes the same for blacks too. I have black fans. Sometimes, when I’m signing stuff or I’m at a show, I’m actually very surprised at the types of people that show up to get me to sign stuff. And not just a bunch of drooling … I mean, there are a lot of drooling morons, which I’m sure is the stereotypical idea of the type of people that would like my stuff. Like a drooling guy with a mullet and a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt of something. And he’s cool too, but I think that I … I think my humor transcends all races. Something magical like that.
BERLATSKY: Have you had any black fans comment on Long Dong Silver?
RYAN: I don’t think so.
BERLATSKY: Ok, I was just curious.
RYAN: I probably told you this before, but I’ve only really received very minimal hate mail. Right off of the top of my head, I can only think of one legitimate piece of hate mail. I mean, I get lots of jokey hate mail. You can kind of see that, but I only think I’ve gotten one legitimate piece of hate mail, which I think was printed in either number nine or number eight. It was about … it was some French guy. He was very mad at the amount of gay jokes that … I did like three…
BERLATSKY: I think I did see that, and I wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t a joke.
RYAN: He seemed pretty mad because we actually had a dialogue going on … I didn’t wanna print the entire conversation that we had, but he seemed definitely….
BERLATSKY: He was definitely upset. I was thinking about Long Dong Silver. I can see an African-American audience, liking that a lot.
RYAN: Yeah, I usually find that at least the people that read my comics, they seem to know what they’re getting into when … they usually have a good sense of humor about that kind of thing and … being insulted and made fun of isn’t a big deal to them. They just think it’s funny. It’s great. Like going on Don Rickles’s show.
BERLATSKY: I mean, we’re talking about your audience a little. I wanted to … well, you met Will Eisner, right?
RYAN: Yeah, briefly. Well, during my trip to Angouleme, the convention organizers hustled me into this room when I got there, and everybody had really thick French accents and they said, “We want you to give an award to” and they said this name, which at first sounded like William Steig. And I was like, “Oh, William Steig, I like William Steig, this is gonna be kind of cool.” But then they cleared it up and it was revealed to me that it was Will Eisner, and I was like, “Oh.” [Berlatsky laughs] Mostly because I have never read a Will Eisner comic. I know who he is, everybody loves him, but I just never read a Will Eisner comic. And so yeah, they made me get up there, and I guess they thought it would be cute to have the young American guy give an award to the old American guy. So I had to get up on stage and introduce myself to a bunch of people that probably didn’t understand a word I was saying. Pretty humiliating. And yeah, I had to hand an award that had a picture of Tin-tin on it to Will Eisner.
BERLATSKY: Did he seem appreciative?
RYAN: Oh yeah. He seemed like a nice guy.
BERLATSKY: But not necessarily a member of your audience.
RYAN: Yeah, I’m sure he had no idea who I was then, or ever.
BERLATSKY: Well I also wanted to … I have another quote to react to. You were talking about who your audience is and drooling morons or somebody else. Dan Raeburn actually mentioned your comics and sort of your audience. This is in the context of saying he liked your stuff. And he said, “The thing is, he’s trying to be trashy…” He liked your stuff, but and then the but is…
RYAN: Oh, “but”. Let’s hear it.
BERLATSKY: “the thing is, he’s trying to be trashy in such a self-conscious way. It’s like he’s trying so hard to be unpretentious that he’s actually more pretentious than the so-called serious art he’s making fun of, so I don’t really buy it.”
RYAN: Oh, ok.
BERLATSKY: And there’s the discussion on how you know, Mexican comics are the things that are truly trashy and exciting.
RYAN: Well, first of all, comparing me to the Mexican comics, we’re both coming from two different places. The Mexican comics are intended to be titillating and erotic and violent.
BERLATSKY: Have you read any of them?
RYAN: Yeah. They sell them right down the street from me. Definitely, they’re pretty wild. You know, I don’t feel like I’m coming from the same place and…
BERLATSKY: I guess the question is do you feel like you’re trying to pretend to be dumber than you are in some way, or that you’re really trying to be low-brow.
RYAN: Well, I mean that’s … if somebody reads that into it, that’s fine, but is my comic all just phoney-baloney and I’m just putting everybody on? I don’t think so. This is the stuff that really makes me laugh and entertains me.
BERLATSKY: I mean, it seems like there’s a lot of … like the vocabulary level of the comic, for example. There are lots of references to literary stuff, right? I was just thinking of when Loady calls Sinus’s little girlfriend. That tiny girlfriend in the … I can’t remember…
RYAN: I think her name was Itsy-Bitsy.
BERLATSKY: Her name’s Itsy-Bitsy, but he refers to her as a “weird homunculus.”
RYAN: Yeah, people like that panel. People always comment to me about that particular panel.
BERLATSKY: The panel where he … which panel?
RYAN: The one where he calls her a “weird homunculus.” [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: It’s just a bizarre thing for Loady to say, right?
RYAN: Well, the weird thing is that I didn’t even get that word out of a book. As a kid, it was a word I got out of Dr. Who.
BERLATSKY: [laughing] Of course, you did.
RYAN: There was a tiny villain in an episode of Dr. Who called the Homunculus. I always thought that was such a great word.
BERLATSKY: I think I first heard it in Dungeons & Dragons, actually.
RYAN: Yeah, see. You don’t need to read. You just need Sci-Fi shows and other bullshit. Yeah, the comment that … what was it again? That something is so…
BERLATSKY: It’s so … what does he say? He says it’s…
RYAN: It’s so unpretentious that it’s actually pretentious?
RYAN: “He makes fun of the pretentiousness of the unpretentiousness.” I don’t want to say that he’s just making shit up, but… [Berlatsky laughs]
BERLATSKY: Well, he was being interviewed, so…
RYAN: That doesn’t even make sense. That’s like saying somebody’s so fat that they’re actually thin. It sounds to me like he’s just getting defensive because I make fun of his friends.
BERLATSKY: That’s harsh. I mean, possibly. All right. Well, we’ll…I kind of know Dan so, but that comment is interesting to talk about.
RYAN: I remember I … nevermind.
BERLATSKY: No, go ahead.
RYAN: No, it’s all right.
BERLATSKY: You won’t be pushed. All right. Fair enough.
RYAN: I don’t want to turn this into the Dan Raeburn interview.
BERLATSKY: [laughs] Fair enough. He should have his own Comics Journal interview.
RYAN: That’ll be another issue I won’t read.
BERLATSKY: All right. Well, we’ll… I wanted to go back because you were talking about your process with Dave Cooper, and I was wondering if you can talk about how you worked with Peter Bagge when he was writing for you and you were doing some art for him.
RYAN: Well, with Peter Bagge he actually … I’m trying to think … because first we did the Dildobert story for his Hate comic and…
BERLATSKY: He wrote that, right? That was him.
RYAN: He wrote it and he wanted me to draw it. And then he sent me thumbnails of everything, every panel, the way he wanted it to look. It was actually kind of a chore because he was drawing Dilbert in the Peter Bagge style and I would have to de-Baggeify the perspectives and the drawings to make it look more like Scott Adams’s drawing. And drawing in that Scott Adams style for … I can’t remember how long that story was … eight or so pages? That was my worst nightmare. I did a Dilbert parody previous to that and that was kind of annoying too, but…
BERLATSKY: You just don’t like drawing in the style.
RYAN: I’m not a big fan of the comic in general, and, in particular, of the way it looks. But it’s just not a fun way to draw. Not a fun character to draw over and over again.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, I can see that being a little boring. I was surprised to find out that he had written it. Perhaps I just haven’t seen the right stuff of his. I’ve seen mostly Hate, I guess. But it read a lot more like one of your comics.
RYAN: Oh, you think so?
BERLATSKY: Not like one of his. I thought so. It was very … like if you asked me to pick the thing that he wrote in there, that would not be on the list.
RYAN: Yeah, I personally don’t think that it was like my comic. There was something too political about it that didn’t seem like me.
BERLATSKY: Really? The sort of power-relation thing. You would have been tempted to make it more surreal?
RYAN: Yeah, it was so straight-forward and there wasn’t anything really goofy about it. That kind of made it seem not like something that was mine. But yeah, I’m not really sure. You’d have to talk to Peter, I guess, to see exactly what his intentions were.
BERLATSKY: That’s interesting because the Hipler thing felt a little more like his.
RYAN: See, that’s kind of the opposite. With the Hipler thing, we kind of bounced ideas back and forth here and there and I think in the end, it kind of turned out to be mostly me.
BERLATSKY: I mean, the public relations thing came from him, yes?
RYAN: Yeah, it was a little bit of that and it was also … he was somebody who was always railing against how much he just did not like the Chip Kidd Peanuts book.
BERLATSKY: Oh, Peter Bagge was?
RYAN: Yeah, and so I thought it would be…?
BERLATSKY: How come?
RYAN: I don’t know. Just the whole design style.
BERLATSKY: I mean, I kind of hate it myself.
RYAN: The close-ups of the dots thing. I mean, I enjoyed it.
BERLATSKY: I like reading the strips.
RYAN: Right. I don’t know, I just thought it was kind of a fun little book for Peanuts fans. Bagge hated it, and so I thought it would be funny to have this character that would take Hitler’s career and sort of make it hip for the kids [Berlatsky laughs]. Kind of, what Peter’s argument was, that what Chipp Kidd was doing for the Peanuts book was making it all hip and cool, so the younger generation would be into it.
BERLATSKY: I just kind of thought it was ugly but…
RYAN: So I thought it would be funny to have this character that was trying to make Hitler hip for the kids, like what Chip Kidd did with the Peanuts books. So that’s kind of where the idea sort of came form. And so we kind of bounced a couple ideas back and forth, but I think in the end, it was mostly me. And I think he was a little disappointed with the ending. I don’t think he liked it very much.
BERLATSKY: Why didn’t he like it?
RYAN: I can’t remember specifically. But I just seem to remember him being a little bit disappointed and saying that he wouldn’t … I guess he would not have been as disappointed if his name wasn’t on it. But the Dilbert thing…
BERLATSKY: Was it a political thing he was upset about?
RYAN: I’m not really sure because I can’t really remember, but it might have been the sort of … the randomness of the way it ended. I think he was trying to go for more of a moralistic-type ending. “You can’t trust Hitler….”
BERLATSKY: You don’t do moralistic.
RYAN: Yeah, I don’t know. He was trying to go for something more moralistic. And I was just trying to do something wacky. And that’s where we kind of differed. With the Dilbert thing, it was all him. He had the whole thing scripted out, thumbnailed out. And so I didn’t vary from it at all or give anything … initially when we were talking about collaborating, I had a bunch of different ideas.
BERLATSKY: But that didn’t happen.
RYAN: I had this kind of like Son of Sam type of idea where Dogbert was telling Dilbert to kill and stuff. So you know, kind of varying things like that. But he pretty much was just all about doing it, and in the end he just wanted to write it all, so…
BERLATSKY: And the other thing you did with him was Sweatshop.
RYAN: That was pretty much all his too.
BERLATSKY: You were even drawing like him.
RYAN: I was making an attempt to. So he would send me the thumbnails and a script of some sort, and I would kind of just have to work off that. And it was a good experience … I mean, that was a better experience for me than the Dilbert thing because I actually felt like I was learning how Peter Bagge set up an actual Peter Bagge page. So it was a tiny apprenticeship that I had going there for a few months. I was mad when they cancelled it because I felt that the book was starting to pick up a little speed and starting to get interesting. But I don’t really think DC had any plans of keeping the book at all. Even from the beginning.
BERLATSKY: You were starting to get interested in it and they canned it.
RYAN: Well, I was definitely getting interested in the money that I was making. It’s really nice in this kind of business to get any kind of regular paycheck, and so that was something that I was also disappointed about, but yeah, I do think that it was getting better towards the end and I think it could’ve … it probably could have been something pretty good.
The Joys of Freelancing
BERLATSKY: So you don’t have a day job now, right?
RYAN: No, not at the moment. I always sort of feel like I’m a paycheck away from going back to the temp agency or something.
BERLATSKY: So how long have you not been working or…?
RYAN: Pretty much since I’ve been down here. 2002. I did have a couple little temp things here and there. But for the most part, I’ve been able to sustain myself by doing freelance stuff, mostly from Nickelodeon Magazine. And Vice Magazine, now.
BERLATSKY: Are you getting more than you were before or…?
RYAN: It fluctuates, you know. Sometimes, it’s…it’s feast or famine.
BERLATSKY: And you said you hadn’t had a whole lot of luck getting Blecky in other places?
RYAN: No, I’ve only gotten in on a weekly basis at the Portland Mercury, because they asked me to do the strip for them. You know, other than that, I did Arthur for a little bit. But that’s like a monthly, bi-monthly magazine and that was just for a couple months. And Vice is just a monthly thing and in that case, it was something that was reprinted and then colorized for the magazine. It wasn’t new material. So right now, it’s officially only appearing in the Portland Mercury. And online, of course.
BERLATSKY: And you said that Vice has commissioned some sort of full-page thing from you.
RYAN: Yeah, Vice switched gears on me and asked if I would just do some kind of full-page thing every month that goes along with whatever theme they’ve got going on that particular month. So I have … they’ll give me a theme like food or something. In two of the cases, I used Blecky as a character for that, for the particular full-page comic. But yeah, they’re not running the strips anymore.
BERLATSKY: Let’s talk about Nickelodeon a little. I kind of was wondering when I saw you’d done stuff with them, did somebody look at Angry Youth Comix and decide “this man should write for children” or…?
RYAN: Well, this is pretty early on in my career and also it’s a testament to Chris Duffy that he was able to … he’s just been able to realize that comic artists are able to do work that’s for adult and for kids and be able to separate the two. But I think I was in D.C. when I first noticed Nickelodeon magazine and I noticed the artists they would have in there, like Sam Henderson and I would think, “Oh, this magazine actually seems like it employs a lot of alternative comics artists, and maybe I should send them some stuff.” The first thing I sent them was the Greaseball story, and they really weren’t big fans of that because I think they were skeeved out by the idea of some greasy guy; little kids chasing this greasy guy around and trying to catch him. Who doesn’t have any clothes on and just wears a pair of boots. So yeah, they passed on that, and the next thing I tried was the Take Out the Trash story, and they decided that they wanted me to shrink that story down into a gag panel, which is what I did. Which is the gag panel of the mother holding the trash bag to the son. And…
BERLATSKY: The whole thing Gilbert Hernandez used, right?
RYAN: Yeah, but I tried to encapsulate the entire thing into one gag. The mother says, “I told you to take out the trash,” then instead of showing all the different things that the guy did with the trash, he has to describe it. Yeah, so they made me put that into a gag panel and then I just gave the actual full-page thing over to Gilbert for Measles. But yeah, that gag started the whole gag career I’ve had at Nickelodeon.
BERLATSKY: And you appear there pretty regularly, right?
RYAN: Yeah, it’s only like just the last issue that I noticed that … I just picked up an issue a couple weeks ago and I was like, “Hey, I’m not in here. What the fuck?” But yeah, I seem to have been there in some capacity, either a gag or an illustration or something, for the past couple years.
BERLATSKY: Do you enjoy writing for kids?
RYAN: Yeah, it’s fun. In Nickelodeon magazine, Chris Duffy has the … they just have a really good grasp of what kids find funny. I’ve also done stuff for National Geographic Kids and they don’t seem to have as good a grasp as Nickelodeon does. Nickelodeon seems to understand that kids like disgusting humor, not like disgusting as in fucking and shitting and stuff, but boogers and farting and slime and bugs.
BERLATSKY: There was a comic called the Boogieman which I read when I was in third grade, and all it was, was 30 pages of jokes about boogers.
RYAN: Well I don’t know if Nickelodeon will ever have a booger-themed issue [Berlatsky laughs]. They never really go overboard with that stuff, but they do touch upon it and have fun with it. And they are pretty fun to write for because they let you do gag jokes about those types of things. Of course, National Geographic Kids seemed a little bit more hesitant about being gross or mean. I think I gave you the example before of the chef…a gag that eventually appeared in Nickelodeon. It was this Thanksgiving issue when the chef was opening the oven and he sees the turkey in there. Then the turkey’s all mad and he says, “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?” And he’s reading a magazine or something. Kind of like a bathroom joke where it’s like opening the door and catching him in there. And when I initially submitted that to National Geographic, they didn’t like it because they thought that it was mean. And I thought that was funny considering that that’s what everybody does on Thanksgiving. We all put turkeys in the oven and cook them. Maybe they weren’t mad about the fact that he was being cooked. Maybe they were just mad about the fact that he was just angry in general about the guy peeking in on him or something. They didn’t like that aura of anger around the strip. Chris Duffy seems to be aware of the alt comics scene and stuff. He likes to incorporate that in the Nickelodeon comic. Whereas I kind of got the feeling that National Geographic Kids is just looking at Nickelodeon saying, “Oh, I like these guys in here. Let’s use them.”
BERLATSKY: You’ve done freelance work for Mad and … that’s just recent, right?
RYAN: Mad’s pretty recent.
BERLATSKY: And some for Hustler. Are you still doing that?
RYAN: Yeah, a little bit for Hustler. I probably did stuff for Hustler when I first moved to LA and I haven’t gone back.
BERLATSKY: Oh. Was it…?
RYAN: It wasn’t a very fun experience because … I submitted stuff to them because I heard a lot of good things about them as far as doing illustrations for them and getting paid. I heard they paid a lot for illustrations. When I sent them my stuff, I was immediately shuffled over into the gag ghetto. And the whole gag thing that they have over there is they have a gag editor and you as the artist would have to submit ideas to the gag editor. I think that’s just if you’re a freelancer because they have their regular roster gag artists too who get precedence over the freelancers and I’m not really sure what the gauntlet is for them, but I’m sure it’s a lot easier. But I have no idea. Maybe it’s harder. But for me, as a freelancer, in this situation, I have to submit my ideas to the gag editor. And then he says, “Ok, I like these gags. Now draw them up completely and color them…”
BERLATSKY: “And maybe we’ll use them.”
RYAN: “And then send them to me.” So I did that. I think I did like four and I sent them to him. He then takes those gags and brings them to Larry Flynt, and he holds each one of the gags up in front of Larry and he either gives the thumbs up or the thumbs down on the gag. And in my instance he liked one of the gags. And I guess I should also say that, when I initially started getting into gags it was more gags that were along the line of gags that are going to be, you know, in issue #10, a little more like stuff that I find funny, weird, goofy, stuff like that. Larry’s more interested in pop culture and political stuff. So all the gags that were…the first stuff they didn’t like, and then I started sending stuff more like pop culture things, like Ronald McDonald.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] Right that’s the one that ended up in…
RYAN: The Ronald McDonald one ended up in Hustler Humor.
BERLATSKY: Oh it did?
RYAN: And it was a full page.
BERLATSKY: Because that was also in Legal Action. Or is this a different Ronald McDonald one?
RYAN: Oh yeah. Yeah, I forgot about that.
BERLATSKY: Was it the same one?
RYAN: Probably. It just wasn’t colorized. And then I did one…but the one that he ended up buying for Hustler was a gag for…it was a gag about American Idol. But the thing is that when I drew all these gags, they were all done full-page, as requested. So I drew them all the size of a full page. But when he bought it he said, “Okay I’m gonna buy this one but I want it a quarter-page gag.” So they then just like, cropped off the top and the bottom of the page.
BERLATSKY: So you did all this work and then you only got paid for a quarter page.
RYAN: Yeah, and then I think it was like a hundred and fifty dollars or something. And after all that I was just like, fuck this. I don’t need this. I can keep sending stuff to…I don’t know, I could just starve, and…[Laughter.]
BERLATSKY: “I could be miserable without this.”
RYAN: Yeah, this just isn’t worth it. It was just kind of a miserable experience. I never really went back. I know that the gag editor at the time, was sort of encouraging, “Yeah, we do love your stuff, and we really encourage you to submit some more stuff.” Well there comes a point where, in a lot of these cases where I just give up. The “reward” does not make it worth it.
BERLATSKY: So the other thing that you talked about doing a bit for money was doing some painting.
RYAN: Yeah, I put a little commission thing on my website. It was kind of a fun thing that I thought would help me to try out working with watercolors. And make some money too.
BERLATSKY: Was it mostly commissioned stuff you did for that Meltdown show or was that…?
RYAN: Well, no, those paintings I did were specifically for the show. Usually the commissioned stuff I do is a little bit bigger than that.
BERLATSKY: Uh-huh. And that stuff’ is mostly pop culture.
RYAN: Well you know, in those instances, you know, the customer’s the boss, just as if I was doing work for Nickelodeon or National Geographic or something. They tell me what they want and I’m employed by them and I want to get paid, so I do what they tell me to do.
BERLATSKY: I was thinking about the Meltdown stuff, actually. Did they ask for that sort of work there?
RYAN: Oh no, they just approached me and said, “Hey, you want to do a show here?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” And I had done a couple little paintings in those one-dollar Ikea frames of different Marvel villains, characters and stuff. And they sold pretty well. I brought them to San Diego with me. They sold pretty well and I thought, “Oh I should try to do a couple more of these”, but you know, branch out into different things other than Marvel characters.
BERLATSKY: How long do they take you?
RYAN: I was doing, I guess, three a day. Three or four a day. It would vary.
BERLATSKY: So it was you who decided to do drawings of Morton Downey Jr., for example, and…
RYAN: Well I was trying to do a series of influential people, and Morton Downey Jr. was definitely up there.
BERLATSKY: People who influenced you?
RYAN: Yeah. And the world, excuse me. [Laughter.]
BERLATSKY: I didn’t know that anybody else even remembered Morton Downey Jr.
RYAN: Well, that’s what makes him great. That’s why I love that painting. It’s at home sitting in my closet.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] He’s like three or four right-wing asshole radio personalities, ago. More than that.
RYAN: Well, I don’t think he was on the radio. He was TV…
BERLATSKY: Was he TV?
RYAN: He was doing that kind of Jerry Springer shit. But it wasn’t tongue in cheek, like Jerry Springer. He was doing that stuff well before Jerry Springer.
BERLATSKY: You watched?
RYAN: Oh yeah.
BERLATSKY: You were a fan?
RYAN: Well I thought it was a lot of fun. [Laughter.] People fighting…
BERLATSKY: He came to speak at our high school.
RYAN: [Laughs.] Really?
BERLATSKY; Bizarrely enough.
RYAN: Did you get into, like, a big brawl?
BERLATSKY: No, actually it was bad. He clearly was in no position to do…He was out of his element, and it showed.
RYAN: Was this before or after he had the backwards swastika on his head?
BERLATSKY: The what?!
RYAN: That was his big disgrace. He beat himself up and carved a swastika into his head or something. He blamed it on white supremacists, but it was soon revealed that they didn’t do it to him, that he did it to himself. They knew that because it was backwards and he’d done it in the mirror.
BERLATSKY: That’s just pitiful.
RYAN: I think that was one of the clues.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] No, I didn’t remember that at all. I knew that there was some scandal where he fell into disfavor.
RYAN: That was it.
BERLATSKY: And there was also a painting of Ilsa the She…
RYAN: Ilsa the She-Wolf of the SS.
BERLATSKY: What’s that from?
RYAN: There’s a series of movies from the seventies, one called Ilsa the She-Wolf of the SS, one called Ilsa the Harem-keeper of the Oil Sheiks. There’s one called Ilsa the Wicked Warden, there’s one where she’s like…the “Aryan Tigress” or something, I can’t remember. But they’re all just kind of T&A torture movies, like exploitation movies from the seventies.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] So you’ve watched a lot of bad TV.
RYAN: Oh yeah.
BERLATSKY: Is that still the case, are you still a TV enthusiast?
RYAN: Oh, yeah. With my work, I’m kind of a nine-to-five guy. I get up early and I’m usually at my most productive in the morning, early afternoon and when five, six o’clock rolls around I just wanna sit around and watch TV.
BERLATSKY: Do you pretty much draw from nine to five?
RYAN: Well, there’s a lunch break, internet break, snack break…
BERLATSKY: I presume you have to do marketing of yourself too, so…
RYAN: Yeah, you know, I mean I guess on a good day I’ll be sitting there from early morning until afternoon, have lunch, go back there and then be sitting there until five or six…but you have to roll with whatever comes up. Sometimes I gotta vacuum the rug.
BERLATSKY: Or engage in lengthy interviews. [Laughter.]
RYAN: Yeah, or go to the bathroom.
BERLATSKY: Are you interested in fine art at all, still?
RYAN: Sure. Yeah, I think we were talking about like, George Grosz…
BERLATSKY: Yeah you talked about that stuff when you were in college…
RYAN: Well yeah I was an art major for sure, had to take art history classes and such…
BERLATSKY: Like, I’m wondering do you still go to galleries? Do you follow stuff that’s going on now?
RYAN: I’ve never been too much of a gallery person. I would go to museums. I haven’t been to too many museums since I’ve been out in Los Angeles. I think I would go to them a lot more frequently when I was living in Massachusetts, into Boston. And also, in D. C., there’s some real terrific museums there that I would go to quite often because they’re free.
BERLATSKY: Are there contemporary artists you particularly like who are working now? I mean, I’m not incredibly up on the art scene myself.
RYAN: Yeah, I think my art tastes are sort of like my reading taste, which is, you know, just give me the old guys.
BERLATSKY: I mean there are some contemporary artists who…like, do you know who Cindy Sherman is?
RYAN: The photographer?
RYAN: Yeah, I mean, I’ve never been a big photography-nut…yeah, I’m famliar with her work.
BERLATSKY: Okay, it just seemed like she might be somebody who you’d think…who you might be interested in. Because she has a lot of sort of, weird images, sort of surreal.
RYAN: She’s definitely an artist out there who I’d see at a museum and say, “Oh that’s nice.” But I won’t pursue it any further than that.
BERLATSKY: Well fair enough.
BERLATSKY: I guess I was interested in asking you to talk about upcoming projects. I know that you’re almost done with, or that, AYC 10 is supposed to come out…
RYAN: I’m standing by the door waiting for it to come out. It should be here very shortly, I’m hoping.
BERLATSKY: So that’s all gag cartoons again, right?
BERLATSKY: So why did you decide to do that?
RYAN; It was something that I was thinking about when I was completing AYC number eight, I was like, oh you know, what am I gonna do next to do something even smaller. After the two-page thing I’ll go even smaller than that and I’ll do gag panels. So I was thinking about it then and I think I was kind of intimidated by the idea. I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off. It seemed like I would drive myself nuts.
BERLATSKY: Trying to generate all these gag cartoons?
BERLATSKY: Was it fun?
RYAN: Well, it was a really different experience for me because I’m so used to going to the drawing table and drawing the comic immediately and working on the story. With the gag cartoons, it was more me sitting in a chair trying to think up gag cartoons. Like having a little book with me and trying to brainstorm. So it was a lot more sitting around and thinking than what I usually do with the comic, which is jumping right in and working on it. So it was kind of a strange experience for me for those months that I was doing it. I was kind of getting fidgety.
BERLATSKY: I mean, they’re black and white gags. Most of the other gags of yours I’ve seen are colored, right?
RYAN: Right. Well that’s…Nickelodeon is a color magazine. With the Fantagraphics thing, you know, I’m sure the color option is there if I decided to have it. I’m not sure I ever really approached them about that.
BERLATSKY: I think they’re actually nice in black and white.
RYAN: Well, you know, a lot of the gags that I was looking at for inspiration, like Virgil Partch, and Sam Gross, I mean a lot of these gags were black and white gags.
BERLATSKY: Where did they have stuff?
RYAN: Virgil Partch was a gag cartoonist in the forties and fifties. And he did a lot of stuff for men’s magazines. I don’t think he was a New Yorker guy. If he was, he wasn’t in there very much. Generally, just a lot men’s magazines. A lot of his gags had to do with being drunk. You know, sort of Lockhorns type of man-woman relationships. Sam Gross… He has been in the New Yorker, but I prefer his National Lampoon stuff a lot more.
BERLATSKY: Because they look not…un-New Yorker-like, some of them.
RYAN: Yeah, there are some tame ones there that people have said, “Hey, this could be a New Yorker gag.”
BERLATSKY: I think I said that, at least about…
RYAN: Yeah, you’re not the only one.
BERLATSKY: About the “you could be keeping it real.” “When is the first time that you kept it real.” That and the nerds kissing.
RYAN: Yeah, there’s that one, and then there’s like four or five that could probably make it. But the New Yorker gags have a certain tone that I’ve never really…there’s just something kind of snooty about the gags that kind of kept me from really enjoying them.
BERLATSKY: It’s like the NPR of gag cartooning?
RYAN: Yeah. I have lots of other books, collections of non-New Yorker gags, that I think are a lot more fun. But for some weird reason the New Yorker is considered to be the pinnacle of gag cartooning. But, yeah, they all have a certain tone of snootiness that sometimes rubs me the wrong way and sometimes just wearies me. So I tried to kind of keep away from that…
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] From doing that. You sent me copies, right?
RYAN: Of which?
BERLATSKY: Of all the cartoons you were using, for AYC 10.
RYAN: Oh yeah, yeah.
BERLATSKY: Did you send me your only copies?
RYAN: Yeah, I think I did. But at that time I didn’t think…I guess I didn’t think that Fantagraphics could fuck it up at any point after that. When I wrote you that email, I was like, “Ahhh, how many gags did I do?” They were sending me files of how they were laying out the book and I was looking at it and I was thinking, wait a minute, there are gags that are missing here. But I wasn’t sure. Because there was one that I had remembered that I was sure wasn’t in there. But then I wasn’t sure that there were any others that they had missed…. I was going nuts.
BERLATSKY: So then they had the originals and I had your only copies.
RYAN: Right. And then I was going through this panic of trying to figure out, you know, if there were any more missing or what’s going on. I think in the end there’s five gags that were probably in that bunch that I mailed to you that didn’t actually make it into the book, because of space reasons…
BERLATSKY: Space reasons, yeah…
RYAN: Because I wanted to have…I thought two gags per page was enough. There were instances where they were putting three on a page, and I was just like, that’s too much.
BERLATSKY: Right, because usually there wouldn’t be a need to lay-out stuff necessarily, right?
RYAN: Right. That was another thing that was also concerning to me because usually with the comic I do the whole thing and then I send it to them, and they just scan it. But the gags, I wasn’t really sure how to lay it out. There were people saying, “Are you going to do it like Ivan Brunetti or the Dennis the Menace book, and just put one gag per page?”
BERLATSKY: And you have too many gags for that.
RYAN: Well yeah, I had too many for that. And I was really hesitant about changing the format of the comic. Because I’ve found that if you tweak the look of the book or anything like that in any way it will confuse the readers. I mean I had that problem with the Cyborg Asskickers cover. People just weren’t believing that this was…
BERLATSKY: That this was Angry Youth Comix.
RYAN: And I think after I did that Eric Reynolds said, “Don’t ever do that again.” And I think it’s funny, it was a funny idea, but as far as for selling books, it wasn’t a very funny idea.
BERLATSKY: You must make some compromises to the marketing.
RYAN: Yeah. And so with the gag book I wanted to maintain the look of Angry Youth Comix, the regular look of the book.
BERLATSKY: Are Sinus and Loady on the cover?
RYAN: Well not necessarily put Sinus and Loady on the cover, but just keep it the same size. I mean, it has in huge letters on it, Angry Youth Comix But because Sinus and Loady aren’t in it, I thought it would be ripping people off if I put them on the cover.
BERLATSKY: It’s going to be double-sized though, right?
RYAN: Yeah, it’s about fifty pages.
BERLATSKY: Does it cost more?
RYAN: I think it costs a dollar more. That’s another thing. I didn’t just want to do twenty-four pages worth of gags and then…. I think I’m always sort of cognizant of not wanting to rip off the audience. I think that also just kind of shows in my comics. I’m always trying to put as much stuff, jokes, ideas, into my comics as I can. To give people their money’s worth. I felt like I should give people at least a hundred gags to make them feel like they got a good deal.
BERLATSKY: Right. [Laughs.] So the other thing you mentioned that’s coming out at some point, you said that Buenaventura Press is going to put out a volume…
RYAN: They’re collecting those four “Shouldn’t You be Working?” strip books — Funny Pages, Marvel Super Pages, and the two Comic Holocaust books into one collection. And it’ll also be including, I’m working on twenty-four more strips now, and it will include those.
BERLATSKY: Are you thinking that you should…because the Blecky strip goes on forever, or until your hand falls off or whatever. Well is the Shouldn’t You Be Working? thing in this format, something that you’re thinking you’ll just keep doing it until you drop, or…?
RYAN: At this point I don’t have any plans on dropping it. What I’m thinking of doing is after I do the twenty-four more comics, I was going to stop doing comic parodies and I was going to start doing classic literature.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] Oh that sounds great.
RYAN: Because I was thinking it would be sort of, you know, like the Classic Illustrated tribute thing.
BERLATSKY: You’ve done a couple, right, because there’s the Moby Dick gag in the AYC #10, so you’ve done other stuff like that.
RYAN: Yeah. I was going to call it the Klassic Komic Klub—KKK. And I don’t know, I guess I would have to see how many themes I could come up with later in life…Twenty-five years from now I’ll be doing a series satirizing celebrity trials or car commercials or something. [Laughter.] Yeah, that should be coming out…probably this summer.
BERLATSKY: Now is there any plan to collect the Angry Youth Comix again for Fantagraphics?
RYAN: I don’t have any definite plans. But I mean, that’s always something that will happen I think as long as they’re willing to publish me. I feel that by getting my stuff in book form and getting it into bookstores it’s going to get people’s attention more than in a comic book store. So that’s good. I don’t know if it really sells any better at a bookstore than just a regular comic store.
BERLATSKY: Have you had good sales with them, or who knows?
RYAN: Yeah, who knows? I’m not in it for the money, man. [Laughter.] I just wanna make a lot of friends. [Laughter.] I know they just started publishing AYC in Spain and I got some copies…I should have sent you one of these…they’ve combined issues one to two in one whole book. It’s just kind of funny to see my characters…
BERLATSKY: Spouting Spanish.
RYAN: In Spanish. And some of the jokes that they’ve removed, not because they were obscene or something but because they wouldn’t really translate. I mean, it seems strange to me. I don’t think my stuff would really translate well, I guess, to other countries. It seems like something that you definitely have to be from an English speaking country in order to enjoy. Especially America.
BERLATSKY: It does seem like that to you?
RYAN: Yeah, it does seem like that.
BERLATSKY: Really? Aren’t dick jokes universal?
RYAN: I guess so, but it seems to me that there’s certain pop culture references, and…
BERLATSKY: There is some word play too.
RYAN: And even some slang that only somebody from an English-speaking country would grasp and appreciate.
BERLATSKY: And I saw you were interviewed on that Spanish website.
RYAN: Yeah, I’m not really sure how well the comics is doing over there, but…
BERLATSKY: But you do get checks occasionally…
RYAN: And I do get emails from there. From people that enjoy it.
BERLATSKY: Now is there anything else coming up?
RYAN: Well, I mean, besides AYC 11, and…
BERLATSKY: Have you started thinking about that yet?
RYAN: Yeah, I’ve started working on it.
BERLATSKY: What’s that going to be?
RYAN: I have no idea. I’m just fucking around.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] Fair enough.
RYAN: And then I have a Blecky Yuckerella strip collection that should be coming out at the end of this year. And there’ll be a hundred more…
BERLATSKY: Blecky strips.
RYAN: Yeah. And I’m in the process of working with Gary Groth, trying to get this book about Norman Pettingill together. I don’t know if you’re…
BERLATSKY: I don’t know who Norman Pettingill is…
RYAN: Do you know that magazine Comic Art. I think it was issue two or three, there’s a big article about him. Norman Pettingill drew all these crazy hillbilly postcards.
BERLATSKY: Oh right, I know who he is! Yeah, that stuff’’s great.
RYAN: So there’s this place in, I think Wisconsin or Michigan or something, it has over a hundred pieces of original Pettingill art, and we’re trying to work something out with them to get a book together for Fantagraphics.
BERLATSKY: Is this something you’ll be editing with Gary?
RYAN: Initially, I was just trying to get the ball rolling. But now it seems like I’m the one who’s going to actually write it.
BERLATSKY: Wow. Had you been a fan of his for a long time?
RYAN: Not a long time. It was only a couple, what was it, two years ago I think that Coop told me about this guy Glenn Bray who has this art collection, he has all this old EC stuff, Kurtzman and Wolverton. “You gotta check this place out”. And so we went over there and Glenn starts bringing out all these pieces of art. He brings out this Norman Pettingill stuff, and it really blew me away how crazy, and weird, and cool it was. And then a little while after that the Comic Art story came out. And I initially approached the guy that wrote that article about doing something, but he seems to have some kind of beef with Fantagraphics, so I said, I guess I’ll have to do it myself.
BERLATSKY: So are you going to write it?
RYAN: I’m thinking I’m probably going to. I’m going to try to keep it sort of biographical and not critical. I don’t really have any interest in that. Even when I read it in other books, I don’t really care. So I’m just going to try to keep it strictly biographical.
BERLATSKY: You haven’t written a bunch of prose stuff in awhile, right?
RYAN: No, I’m really sort of anxious about this. I don’t have a fucking clue. [Laughter.] I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m just jumping in on this.
Racial Profiling and Dracula Farts
BERLATSKY: All right. I have a couple more things that I haven’t gotten to. We managed to miss the crime blotter flap.
RYAN: Oh yeah.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] I was wondering if you could talk about that a little. I thought it was kind of interesting, because I think you were saying that you really weren’t trying to offend anybody with that.
RYAN: No, and that was kind of weird.
BERLATSKY: Who was it for?
RYAN: It was Beacon Hill News, or…I can’t remember the name of the paper. But it was a small local paper for a very small subsection of Seattle. I’m not really sure. I had never seen it before when I was living there. And I can’t even remember the name of the people involved. But the guy who was organizing this, he approached me about doing a crime blotter thing. I had drawn two or three at first. And they were all just goofy crimes for the most part. I mean non-racial crimes. There was one about some fat lady spitting on a bus driver. Another one about another fat lady shooting a gun up in the air and the cop had to explain to the woman that you can’t shoot a gun into the air because the bullet’s going to come down and hurt somebody and she just wasn’t really getting it. Another one of this guy, he’s being held up and so he throws a garbage can at the guys who are holding him up. So you know, they were very kind of blah crimes. And so when he asked me to do the black guys on white guy crime, I did think it was kind of weird that he was asking me to do it.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] “Have you seen my stuff?” you thought.
RYAN: I was like, “oh…okay.” You know, and the illustrations I had done before that, they all had that kind of goofy tone, you know, that cartoony style that I have. So I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything different. I do kind of think that if you had Norman Rockwell draw this same image of two black people robbing a white person with butcher knives it’s still probably going to be a problem. I mean it would probably look terrific, but I don’t think people would be too happy about the message that it would be sending. So I think it was already a set-up for disaster. And I think that the week previous to that they used a Rick Altergott illustration. He did a similar…not a similar, but he also did a crime blotter image that was of a black perpetrator.
BERLATSKY: His stuff isn’t…well at least my memory about it…it’s not as cartoony. So it doesn’t come off as being as close to blackface stuff.
RYAN: He has a more realistic style. But there’s still that kind of wackiness to it. So I drew it, and I think that I sent it to them and the next day the guy called me and he was very concerned. And he said that his boss didn’t really like it and can I redraw it and make it not racial.
BERLATSKY: So he was asking you to make everybody whiter?
RYAN: Yeah, to make them white. Well first of all I said no because they weren’t going to pay me to do it again. I’m not going to draw and color this thing all over again for nothing.
BERLATSKY: Right, they paid you fifty dollars once. That was enough for one cartoon, but not necessarily for two.
RYAN: And I thought it was kind of silly too—because it’s going to say in the crime blotter “two black perpetrators blah blah blah”—and if on the drawing I have two white perpetrators…
BERLATSKY: They’ll think that you’re very confused.
RYAN: And I guess, there also seemed to be something cowardly in it. I was thinking, if we’re going to do this, then we should do it. But what it comes down to is they had the final call. They’re the boss. If they wanted to run it, they could run it. If they don’t want to run it, they could just not put anything or they could get somebody else. Or they could put a photograph or something, I don’t know. But I was wrong when I was talking to the guy and I was saying, “You know what, this is a small cartoon on the back page of this small paper, who cares. No one pays attention to this.” I was way off in my prediction there. [Laughs.]
BERLATSKY: Did you get lots of letters, is that what…?
RYAN: No, I didn’t. I mean, the only letter I got was from that guy’s boss.
BERLATSKY: Did the paper get letters?
RYAN: Yeah, well apparently the phone was ringing, according to them, they were saying the phone was ringing off the hook. And all these advertisers were threatening to pull out and from what they were saying they got into a lot of trouble.
BERLATSKY: So they killed the feature?
RYAN: Yeah, they completely killed it.
BERLATSKY: Did they apologize?
RYAN: Yeah, I think they gave some front-page apology.
BERLATSKY: In which they explained that the problem was that you and Rick Altergott were racist, is that it?
RYAN: I can’t remember the exact apology, but it kind of felt like they were putting most of the blame on us. But, you know, when you’re editing a paper the buck stops there. You make the decisions, you should know what’s going in your paper. But yeah, after it happened then the guy who was doing the crime blotter stuff wrote to me and said, “My boss wants to talk to you, can I give him your phone number?” And I said “No.” Why do I want this guy to, why do I need this guy to lecture me about how I’m some racist jerk who’s ruined his paper? I think I’ll pass. So he sent me some angry letter, telling me that I’m…
BERLATSKY: …some racist jerk who’s ruining his paper.
RYAN: Yes. And karma’s going to get me, or something like that. I think he sent a similar letter to Rick, which was, I don’t think it was very professional, especially considering that I said I didn’t want to talk to him. He was putting the blame on me for what had happened even though all I did was draw a dumb cartoon, as I was asked to do.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] Right.
RYAN: If they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to buy it.
BERLATSKY: Was the criticism focused on the images in particular? Like, the way you represented black people, or was it….?
RYAN: I don’t know. There was a lot of different, you know, people were picking things apart. The lips were too big. There seemed to be a lot of focus on the lips.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, I mean I think…you know, you did draw black people in a sort of stereotypical way.
RYAN: Ah, yeah, well that’s true. I mean, that’s kind of, I don’t know, for me it’s just kind of like a fun, cartoony way that harkens back to days of yore.
BERLATSKY: Winsor McCay did it too.
RYAN: Yeah, so it’s okay. He did it.
BERLATSKY: And everybody likes him. I don’t know. I always find it kind of funny…I guess I was reading Kim Deitch, a thing about Winsor McCay, I think in RAW. There was a Winsor McCay-type character. He was this sort of wise father figure of animation, you know. I love Little Nemo. I adore Little Nemo. It’s, you know, an absolutely gorgeous strip, but, I mean, I never really…
RYAN: Do you have that big giant book?
BERLATSKY: I do have a big giant…yeah, yeah, I think I, I’m not sure when I got it. I’m not sure it’s the newest one, but, anyway, you know, it’s lovely stuff but I was kind of, it kind of been born in upon me that people kind of think that he wasn’t dumb as a brick, I mean, I don’t buy it.
RYAN: So you think he was as dumb as a brick?
BERLATSKY: I kind of think he was as dumb as a brick. I mean, I’ve never read anything by him that suggests that he, you know…
RYAN: I don’t know anything about him either.
BERLATSKY: Have you ever seen Little Nemo?
RYAN: I’ve seen Little Nemo. But, I don’t think I could really grasp his intelligence by it.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] Fair enough.
RYAN: I mean, if he wasn’t intelligent he was definitely some kind of idiot savant.
BERLATSKY: I mean, he’s a super artist, you know, and draws super interesting things, but…
RYAN: He writes like a doofus?
BERLATSKY: I mean, he kind of writes like a doofus. It’s not unentertaining, you know, I can get enjoyment from reading Little Nemo. But I certainly wouldn’t, you know, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily think that he had wise things to say about anything in particular.
RYAN: Right. Well, you know, I think when people are often criticizing my stuff that they’re saying, you know, what’s the point. Well, you know, the point is…. I mean, what is the point of something like Little Nemo other than just to…
BERLATSKY: Well it’s ravishing, right?
RYAN: …create just some kind of fantasy, crazy fantasy world with amazing images. But there’s no like…
BERLATSKY: Well, that’s like what Art Spiegelman did in In the Shadow of No Towers. You know, where he has all these old strips and then he puts them in this political context.
RYAN: Oh, yeah, he tries to make them more than what they are?
BERLATSKY: Well, something different from what they are, you know? You know, I don’t know that they gain anything by pretending that they have political content. I don’t know.
RYAN: Well I mean, I guess it depends on the reader, you know. If you’re really into fucking 9/11 all day like he is….
RYAN: Suddenly they’re validated in some way for him.
BERLATSKY: Right because they have this sort of…
RYAN: I guess I should say more validated.
BERLATSKY: Art Spiegelman also makes excuses for the racist depictions of that stuff. He says, “the exuberant racism of an earlier day.”
RYAN: How about the exuberant racism of today? Isn’t that fun?
BERLATSKY: The 20s was…I guess when those guys were doing that stuff it was not a good time to be black. It was a bad, bad time to be black.
RYAN: Or Irish probably, for that matter.
BERLATSKY: I don’t think Irish was necessarily…I think Jewish people actually, it was not a good time for them…I think Irish people got to be white earlier. I think they were solidly white at that point.
RYAN: When were we let into the club? [Laughs.] What year?
BERLATSKY: I’m not sure, but I think it was before the 1890s, which is when things really kind of went to shit for black people. and Jews to some extent too. I mean, obviously things had been bad before but, then they got better, then they got worse. I don’t know. This is a fairly uninteresting thing to be discussing. All right, well that was one of the things I wanted to talk about. The other thing which I sort of keep…see, one of the things I did for this interview, you know I knew that you were really into Dan Clowes so I went back and read some Dan Clowes. And like, I just don’t get the appeal.
RYAN: Ooooh. Ouch.
BERLATSKY: [Laughs.] I never have, you know, like I keep going back and trying to like…because everybody likes him, right?
RYAN: I don’t know if everybody likes him.
BERLATSKY: Well I’m sure everybody doesn’t like him. But he’s one of the big shots in alternative comics. And I just don’t get it. So I’m kind of wondering, what is there about his stuff that you…because earlier you said that you pretty much like everything he’s done…so what is it about his stuff that excites you?
RYAN: Well, I mean I think that his stuff can be really funny. I love the Harvey parody that he did, I love the Happy Fisherman story that he did…
BERLATSKY: See, maybe the problem is I haven’t seen that stuff.
RYAN: I think those are both in Lout Rampage or I guess now inTwentieth Century Eightball.
BERLATSKY: Because really those were some strips that you were looking at when you were getting back into comics, right?
RYAN: Right. I really liked the Velvet Glove story that he did.
BERLATSKY: Do you like the surrealism of it?
RYAN: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I really liked about it. The weirdness of it. What else has that guy done? Ghost World I enjoyed. I don’t know, I think because he was doing—I don’t know if I already mentioned this before—but because he was doing a lot of this humorous stuff I think that was kind of a good foundation for him so then he could go on to do a little bit more serious things like Ghost World and still have that sense of humor in the work.
BERLATSKY: So you feel like there’s a sense of humor in his stuff, that goes all the way through, that you enjoy?
RYAN: Right. And then the last two books he did I really enjoyed. The Death Ray and the Ice Haven story.
BERLATSKY: I haven’t seen that. I have seen David Boring.
RYAN: Well see I think that’s a really bad place to start. That’s something that I think if you, you know, if you’re a fan of Clowes’s work, and then you move onto David Boring I think that then you’ll be able to enjoy it. And, you know, David Boring isn’t my favorite thing that he’s done, but I still did enjoy it.
BERLATSKY: I guess I’ve seen that and Ghost World.
RYAN: Yeah, I think, you know, if you start…because I started with the I Hate You Deeply strips that he used to do. Like I mentioned, the Harvey parody he did, the Happy Fisherman story that he did. He was doing kind of like straight, funny shit back then. And the Needle Dick story of course, which everyone loves. And then he started to delve into stuff that was a little bit more serious. So I don’t know, maybe you just approached it the wrong way.
BERLATSKY: From the wrong end. Well fair enough.
RYAN: And I’ve just always liked the way he draws. And the crazy characters.
BERLATSKY: Yeah, I’ve never been into the art either. That’s also part of the problem. But you like the style as well?
BERLATSKY: Do you think you got something from him, sort of, drawing-wise?
RYAN: Gosh, I don’t know.
BERLATSKY: Not necessarily?
RYAN: I mean, looking at my stuff now…maybe if I looked back a couple issues maybe there’s something there that I ripped off, but nothing comes to mind at the moment. I probably ripped off more general ideas, nothing that I could really put my finger on right now…
BERLATSKY: Well, and the last thing I wanted to ask you is about this recurring theme in your work, which is what is the deal with the obsession with Dracula’s farts?
RYAN: How many Dracula fart comics have I done.
BERLATSKY: There’s the Blecky strip, there’s a strip in Shouldn’t You be Working?
RYAN: And I just did a Tomb of Dracula parody….
BERLATSKY: Yes. And there’s something in the sketchbook too.
RYAN: Yeah, I think it started off as just an image in the sketchbook. I think I then decided I wanted to flesh it out a little bit more in the Tomb of Dracula comic, to actually do something with it. Gosh, I don’t know. I guess only years of therapy will figure out why I love Dracula’s farts. [Laughter.] I guess it’s like a combination of horror and toilet humor. You know, two things that I love put together. [Laughter.]