Sunday, July 26, 2009

The late, great, John Ryan

Steve Holland and Lew Stringer have both posted wonderful obituaries to Edinburgh-born cartoonist John Ryan, on their blogs. They have also both posted marvelous early drawings of Ryan's Captain Pugwash and his later Harris Tweed strip, from The Eagle comic. Please head on over to their blogs and take a look.

Pugwash strip from Steve Holland's Bear Alley Blog, click here to visit

I was invited along to an exhibition of cartoon art which featured one of my Harvard Business Review cartoons a couple of years back, and I was tempted to go because John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash, might put in an appearance. It was enough that some of his drawing were there, to be honest, but meeting the man himself would have been such a thrill. At any rate I didn't manage to get there because something or other popped up; as it often does.

I've been a fan of John Ryan and Captain Pugwash for a long time, you see. It dates back to my lying on the carpet in front of the great-god-telly, eating ham rissoles and watching Gigantor, Belle and Sebastian, White Horses, and Captain Pugwash and the like, and being transported. As I think back, I am transported once more, not back to that time but back to the feeling of that time - it's a feeling of security, of warmth, of unadulterated joy. I can't think of the old cut-ups of Captain Pugwash without associating them with the feel of a warm carpet, the smell of home cooking and overheated TV valves, and the worry-free days of my youth.

I love the anime Gigantor, and the memory of it, but Gigantor never made me think I could become a cartoonist, nor did Wacky Races, or The Impossibles, but Captain Pugwash did. Captain Pugwash was not only fun to watch, but it looked possible to make. It was clunky and awkward and nothing like some of its more polished contemporaries. In today's parlance, it looked doable.

It never looked amateurish, none of his work did, it was obviously high quality and deserved its place on TV. It just looked like it was something it might be possible to replicate, with the sort of tools Blue Peter might use. Not only that, but it was possible, looking at Pugwash, to work out how the magic of animation worked. You could see which parts stayed still, and which parts moved. The backdrops were intricate and looked great, but there was no mistaking the jerky quality of the cut-out limbs.

Of course it has become fashionable over the years to make animation that looks like cut-ups. It costs a lot of money to make The South Park Show look as if it is cheaply made. Somewhat ironically, though, the new Captain Pugwash cartoons are slickly animated, and look as polished as any modern cartoon series. The quirkiness and uniqueness of the old series is lost, but the charming humour remains and one can see something of the old anarchy of the older artwork in the Puffin New Edition books, like Pugwash and the Ghost Ship, highlighted on the Vintage Kids' Books my Kid Loves blog.

All copyright remains with the respective copyright holders.

No comments: