John Gerald Christopher Ryan was born in Edinburgh on 4 March 1921, the youngest son of the diplomat Sir Andrew Ryan KBE CMG. His father was based in Constantinople until 1924, when he became Consul-General in Rabat, and Ryan spent his early years in Turkey and Morocco before returning to Britain, where he was educated at Ampleforth College, a Catholic boarding school. At Ampleforth he was encouraged to draw by Father Sylvester, a former newspaper cartoonist. During the Second World War Ryan served in the Lincolnshire Regiment in Burma and India.
After demobilisation Ryan studied art at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London, from 1946 to 1948. On leaving he became an assistant art master at Harrow School, where he remained until 1955. While at Harrow he began contributing strips to children's comics such as the Eagle, Girl, and Swift. His best-known creation was Captain Horatio Pugwash, who appeared in early issues of the Eagle from April 1950, but who was dropped by its founder, Rev Marcus Morris, as "too childish". Pugwash afterwards appeared as an animated character on BBC television from 1957 to 1966, and also in the BBC's Radio Times from 1960 to 1968. Ryan admitted to having a fascination with pirates from his childhood in Rabat.
Ryan remained was a devout and traditional Catholic, and in 1964 he also began drawing for the Catholic Herald. His weekly topical cartoons followed the adventures of his own Vatican insider, the scheming but inept Cardinal Grotti. Ryan joked that this work “kept him in gin”. In 1972 Ryan created a BBC series called “Sir Prancelot”, a knight whose sworn enemy - Count Otto the Blot - was supposedly modelled on Otto Hershan, the Catholic Herald’s managing director. After the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990, Ryan drew a cartoon for the Catholic Herald of the Cenotaph doubling as a petrol pump.
In 1991 Ryan successfully sued The Guardian and the Sunday Correspondent over allegations that Captain Pugwash had featured characters whose names were sexually suggestive, such as Master Bates and Seaman Staines. Ryan gave the proceeds to a lifeboat charity, and was glad to have the matter settled. "No matter how many other characters I create," he admitted, "I always seem to come back to the Captain. Pugwash has two qualities which I believe are present in all of us to some degree: Cowardice and Greed. It is the conﬂict between these opposing emotions which make the stories work."
John Ryan died in Rye, Sussex on 22 July 2009.
- Artist's biography at www.gregoryandcompany.co.uk/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=13
- Peter Stanford "John Ryan: Artist and animator", The Guardian, 25 July 2009, p.39.
- Cate Devine "John Ryan, the artist behind Captain Pugwash", The Herald (Glasgow), 25 July 2009, p.13.
- The Times, 25 July 2009, p.86, "John Ryan - Gently satirical cartoonist and animator".
- The Sunday Times, 26 July 2009, p.12, "Obituaries: John Ryan."
- Mark Bryant “John Ryan - Cartoonist and animator who created Captain Pugwash”, The Independent, 30 July 2009, p.32.
8 unaccessioned originals (illustrations for 'Pugwash and the Buried Treasure')
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