Captain Pugwash & Friends exhibition open in Southport, John Ryan’s characters continue to inspire

Captain Pugwash and Tom the Cabin Boy discovering treasure © The Estate of John Ryan
Captain Pugwash and Tom the Cabin Boy discovering treasure © The Estate of John Ryan

The Atkinson gallery in Southport is currently hosting Captain Pugwash & Friends, an exhibition of the TV and book creations of John Ryan, who first created the Pugwash for Eagle comic in 1950.

Captain Pugwash’s ship The Black Pig first set sail in the Lancashire seaside town. The bumbling pirate captain and his arch-enemy Cut-Throat Jake first crossed swords in the earliest editions of the Eagle when much of it was being written and illustrated in a small studio in Churchtown, although his Scottish creator John Ryan, came up with the character while teaching at Harrow.

Captain Pugwash went on to feature in Radio Times, and become a popular children’s TV animation in the 1950s and early ‘60s as well as being revived in colour in the 1970s and 1990s.

Oh, and all the claims of rude character names are an absolute myth, so please, spare us any reference to them in the comments!

John Ryan, who created Pugwash, and got very angry about those that perpetuated that myth, also created other Eagle favourites, including Harris Tweed, Special Agent, as well as Lettice Leefe for Eagle’s companion paper Girl, and Sir Boldasbrass for Swift.

The exhibition includes examples of John Ryan’s artwork for the Eagle, as well as graphics for other successful TV animations including The Adventures of Sir Prancelot and Mary, Mungo and Midge, created through John Ryan Studios.

“Sink or Swim”

The exhibition is curated by John’s daughter Isabel Ryan, who provided the voice for Mary in Mary, Mungo and Midge and is now responsible for the Estate of John Ryan. She’s also the co-author of Sink or Swim: Catholicism in Sixties Britain through John Ryan’s Cartoons, published last year by Sacristy Press.

Sink or Swim: Catholicism in Sixties Britain through John Ryan's Cartoons

John provided weekly illustrations for the Catholic Herald in the 1960s, offering a topical interrogation of the British Catholic Church’s sometimes adaptive, though often inflexible responses to the changes and challenges of the period.

Sink or Swim is a collection of Ryan’s cartoons providing a personal portrait of the extraordinary ups and downs of religion in the Sixties – encompassing the machinations of popes and cardinals, the testimony of expert witnesses, runaway priests, radical reformists and lay protest movements.

Isabel Ryan left school at 16, lived briefly on her wits in Paris, ran the information desk at the V&A Museum at weekends and dabbled with design at Chelsea School of Art.

Isabel Ryan
Isabel Ryan

At 20, she did a stint as a dogsbody in a Soho design company, then worked in New York City running the office of a French architect rebuilding the Statue of Liberty’s flame. Advised by her father never to attempt to earn a living in the Arts world, she has been self-employed for 30 years doing exhibition display graphics for museums and galleries.

As well as spending time with her family and her mother (“Mrs Pugwash”), she manages the John Ryan Estate archive, loaning out Captain Pugwash artworks to pirate-themed exhibitions.

She curates displays of her father’s work and delights in demonstrating his vintage cardboard TV film animations to a live audience. Brought up a Catholic, with a staunch Anglican mother, she lapsed between the ages of 13 to 47 when, inspired by her family, she returned to the church.

Pugwash Still Has Many Fans

John’s character’s remain much-loved and are often the subject of fan homage. The popular water colour artist using the handle ItsNotAboutWork recently posted a smashing study of Captain Pugwash to his Twitter.

Back in 2018, illustrator and pro-active paper meddler Trystan Mitchell, whose many credits include the logo and character artwork for the Hexagonal Phase of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for BBC Radio Four, gave Harris Tweed a Blake & Mortimer-style makeover.

Based in Cornwall, Trystan creates illustrations for numerous European and international publishers, including Pearson, Ballon, Oxford University Press, Macmillan, McGraw Hill and De Agostini.

Captain Pugwash was the first character to have a crossover with Doctor Who! (With thanks to Stuart Vandal, cartoon from the Radio Times, from the issue bearing the cover date 27th March to 2nd April 1965, which devoted significant coverage to the then-ongoing Doctor Who serial The Crusade

Captain Pugwash & Friends runs until Thursday 23rd December 2021 | Details here

Captain Pugwash and Friend by John Ryan

• Pirate Day! As part of the exhibition, The Atkinson is also hosting a free “Pirate Day” on Saturday 23rd October 2021 from 11.00am – 3.00pm, offering a range of fun activities for scallywags of all ages! More information here

Captain Pugwash to Cardinal Grotti: the life and cartoons of John Ryan

Alana Harris and Isabel Ryan will be giving a talk about their book, Sink or Swim, featuring the cartoons of John Ryan, on Saturday 16th October 2021 at 7pm in Prior’s Hall, Durham Cathedral

A Durham Book Festival Fringe author event, tickets are £7 each, or £15 with a hardback copy of the book. Student discount available. | Full details here

With thanks to Tony Foster for the heads up about the exhibition

Categories: Animation, Art and Illustration, British Comics, Comic Art, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Events, Exhibitions, Other Worlds

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