John Ryan first introduced me to the wonderful history of Australian comics, while I was still a teenager at school, when he sent me copies of his Boomerang writings from 1973 (which I still proudly have in my collection). He was nominated for the Platinum Ledger by Amy Louise Maynard, one of the 2015 Ledger Judges. (Amy is a PhD candidate and freelance writer based at the University of Adelaide.) Here is Amy's speech:
He was in regular correspondence with collectors in the United States and elsewhere and contributed to US fanzines. He was an active member of the Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association and became involved in the science fiction fandom network. In 1964 he published the first Australian fanzine, Down Under, produced off a spirit duplicator. He won the American Alley Award in 1964, winning ‘Best Article’ in the Fan Category of that year, and he also won in 1967 for his writings on Australian comics.
Ryan continued writing about Australian comics in the 1970s. In 1976 he was the Australian contributor to Maurice Horn's The World Encyclopaedia of Comics, published by Chelsea House of New York. This was one of the first global overviews of the history of the medium, still referenced today.
Ryan’s magnum opus was the creation of the tome Panel by Panel: A History of Australian Comics published by Cassell Australia in 1979.
It is one of, if not the most, comprehensive study of the Australian comic book industry from its inception in the 1930s to the late 1970s, and also looks at early magazines that featured strips, like the short-lived Vumps. And that's just the second half of the book. The first half of the book, looks at the newspaper strip industry.
Panel by Panel is comprehensive to the letter - dates, authors, titles of publications, publishing companies, production methods, laws and societal changes that impacted comics production and culture, it's all in there, alongside scanned but clear images. Without the work of John Ryan, a whole history of this artistic medium in Australia would have been lost. He laid the groundwork for the academics and autodidacts that came after him: Ian Gordon, John Foster, Kevin Patrick, Adam Possamai, Paul Mason, Ingrid Unger, Annette Shiell, Michael Hill, Stuart Hale, Daniel Best, Matt Emery, Mark Finnane, Mike Stone, John Clements, Graeme Cliffe, Amy Louise Maynard, and Nat Karmichael.
John Ryan is the godfather of Australian comics history. To understand how the medium has changed through the ages there needs to be the knowledge of how it began, and Ryan gave that to us.
He died of a heart attack aged 48 in 1979, not long after Panel by Panel was released. His Australian comics collection, along with much of his correspondence, are now held at the National Library of Australia.
He died far too soon, and never lived to see how his research impacted so many people in Australian comics, whether they're academics, historians, writers, publishers or artists. But before he died, he made sure to preserve the legacies of those that worked in comics in the 'Golden Age', such as Sid Nichols, Jim Bancks, Moira Bertram, Stanley Pitt, K.G Murray, Keith Chatto, John Dixon, Paul Wheelahan, Emile Mercier, Kath O'Brien, and Monty Wedd, to name just a few.
He celebrated their lives and work, and we should celebrate his, tonight, right now.
Over the years, my Dad made friends with many comic creators, illustrators, writers and artists. Much of it was done via correspondence as STD phone calls were expensive and computers and email were unknown (he would have loved the Internet). These friendships were strong and long standing, many well over 20 years, and this helped him greatly when he needed source material for his book.
Panel By Panel was a labour of love. Many, many nights I fell asleep to the sound of him typing on a manual typewriter, creating drafts of chapters. He wasn't a typist, so the entire book was tapped out 'hunt and peck' style. Wasn't everyone's father writing a book in the evenings and in their spare time?
Thank you to everyone here tonight for acknowledging my father, his encyclopaedic knowledge of comics and his dedication to them. I (we) are very happy to accept this Award on his behalf.