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Strange Tales

Strange Tales Spotlight: Johnny Ryan

The bad boy of humor comics entertains his inner child with Marvel heroes' most humiliating moments.

To celebrate the upcoming release of Marvel's groundbreaking series STRANGE TALES, in which some of the brightest stars of alternative and indie comics present their takes on the Marvel Universe, Marvel.com will be showcasing the contributors in an expansive series of exclusive interviews. And don't forget to pick up STRANGE TALES #1, on sale September 2!

By Sean T. Collins

A page from Johnny Ryans contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
Johnny Ryan's humor comics have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, we can't show you them without getting ourselves on a government watch list. In his ongoing series Angry Youth Comics, his gag strip Blecky Yuckerella and his parody collections The Comic Book Holocaust and The Klassic Komics Klub, this ink-slinging wild man leaves no taboo un-annihilated in his quest to create the dirtiest, grossest, most offensive, most hilarious comics known to man. But he's also got the chops to keep it clean for kid-targeted jokes in magazines such as Mad and Nickelodeon. And he's shown an equal talent for no-holds-barred gladiator combat in his upcoming sci-fi slugfest Prison Pit from Fantagraphics.

Needless to say, we were dying to find out where his contributions to STRANGE TALES would fall on that scale. And regardless of the answer, we're pretty sure they'll be frickin' hysterical.

Marvel.com: What character are you working with for the book?

Johnny Ryan: I did a series of characters. I did a two-page thing about Marvel's most embarrassing moments, and it's various Marvel characters caught in embarrassing, humiliating situations. It's not just one—it must be like nine or 10 or something.

Marvel.com: Can you drop some names?

Johnny Ryan: Submariner, Nightcrawler, Dr. Strange, Wolverine, Dr. Doom...a whole bunch.

Marvel.com: That's quite a plethora. Did you just pick out the characters that appealed to you?

Johnny Ryan: I pitched the idea to Aubrey Sitterson, who was editing the books, and he was into it. Then I just started trying to write gags. I would try to think of a different character and try to write some kind of funny gag that would sort of suit that particular character. I think I did 15 different situations and they said, "Okay we like these eight or nine of them," so I just went with that.

A page from Johnny Ryans contribution to STRANGE TALES #1
Marvel.com: Now, you've got plenty of experience working with Marvel characters on a parody level, but your usual brand of humor is a little more—how should I put this—risqué. I suppose you had to tone things down somewhat?

Johnny Ryan: Well, there was one joke, now that I think of it, with Galactus that had to be altered a little bit. I don't know if I should reveal the joke—it might ruin the experience. But it was this little detail for that joke that I initially put there, and they were like, "Eh, can you change that a bit?" When I submitted all the gags to them, they were picking ones they liked, but I also think they were picking ones that were tolerable. [Laughs] But I think they were a little bit...they gave me a little more leeway then I initially thought they would.

Marvel.com: What are your Marvel reading habits like these days?

Johnny Ryan: I sometimes pick up some of the reprints, some of the Essentials books of the old stuff that I read as a kid. I go back to it out of nostalgia. As far as new stuff, it's when some friend or somebody whose taste I trust says, "Hey, you should read this particular Marvel book." I just read the Brubaker CAPTAIN AMERICA and some DAREDEVIL, too, which I thought were pretty enjoyable. And I really liked "Planet Hulk."

Marvel.com: From what I've heard about your book Prison Pit, coming out this fall, that makes a lot of sense. Do you have a favorite Marvel book from back in the day?

Johnny Ryan: Oh, sure. The first one that really hit home to me was a SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP with the Red Skull and the Hate Monger. [We think he's referring to #17-Ed.] It kinda blew my mind. The opening page was a drawing of the Red Skull and the Hate Monger sitting at one of those long tables. They were laughing and toasting each other on top of a glass floor, and underneath the floor were all these prisoners of the Red Skull. As a kid I thought they were concentration camp victims imprisoned under the floor. They were all ripped, though, by the way. They all had big muscles. And the women prisoners had large breasts and were totally hot, wearing their little ripped Planet of the Apes caveman prison outfits. They're all banging on the glass floor, raging against the Red Skull. I always remember this. It's burned into my brain-like "Whoa, what's going on here? This is insane!"

Marvel.com: That's kinda awesomely messed up.

Johnny Ryan: Yeah! Those are the types of things I like about those comics around that period of time. They would do stuff that was just off-the-wall weird.

Marvel.com: Are there any Marvel characters that you wanted to take a crack at that you haven't been able to so far but would like to some day?

Johnny Ryan: Um, gosh, I don't know. I mean, I sorta feel like because I did that book Comic Book Holocaust and parodied as many of my favorite Marvel characters as I could, I kinda covered it. I got to screw around with all of them. As far as doing a legitimate story, that's a really good question. I guess I'd always go back to the Hulk or Spider-Man, 'cause those were my two favorite characters as a kid. Or maybe one of those weird '70s monster ones like Morbius the Living Vampire—one of those oddball things.

Marvel.com: If someone comes across your strips in STRANGE TALES and wants to see more of your stuff, what do you recommend?

Johnny Ryan: I would say The Comic Book Holocaust is probably a good place to start, because it's all parodies—of Marvel, of the traditional Sunday newspaper comics. So usually Marvel fans or comic book fans like those as well. I would say start with that and work your way to the other stuff.

Marvel.com: I'm reasonably sure it's on my bookshelf next to an Ed Brubaker CAPTAIN AMERICA collection.

Johnny Ryan: Well, that's good company.

Marvel.com: What else are you working on?

Johnny Ryan: I'm working on Angry Youth Comics-that's my continuing series. And I still do weekly strips on my website, JohnnyR.com. I've also done a collection of comic parodies of literature like Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn and stuff like that called The Klassic Komics Klub.

Marvel.com: I have to say that as a guy who's followed your stuff for a while now, it's pretty hilarious to see you writing a Sub-Mariner strip for Marvel.

Johnny Ryan: Well, I'm sure that there's plenty of alternative comic artists who would be glad to participate in this. Aside from the fact that we're all looking for work [laughs], I think there's this misconception that alternative comic artists hate super hero comics and vice versa. I don't know about the other side, but I know on my side of the industry, I grew up reading this stuff. So I still have a liking for that material. I don't hate it at all—I actually enjoy a lot of this stuff, so it's fun to return to it again and work with it.


Check out Johnny Ryan's story in STRANGE TALES #1, on sale September 2!

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When I was in the 3rd grade, we used to call that doodling.