John Ryan (1931–1979) was born at Cowra, New South Wales, but spent most of his life in Sydney. He worked for a large industrial rubber company and from 1970 until his death he was its sales manager in Brisbane. As a boy he had an interest in comics, but he did not become a serious collector until the 1960s. He was particularly interested in collecting comics published in Australia from the 1940s to 1958, when import restrictions were lifted. 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 Poll Awards in 1964 and 1967 for his writings on Australian comics.
Ryan was the author of Panel by Panel: A History of Australian Comics (Cassell Australia, Sydney, 1979).
In 1971 Ryan stated that he would like his comic collection to go to the Library. It was purchased from his widow, Jan Ryan, in 1981 and an addition was bought in 1986.
The collection is organised into four groups:
- Commercially produced comics and science fiction books (515 titles)
- Monographs (24 titles)
- Serials (50 titles)
- Fanzines and publications of science fiction societies (617 titles).
The bulk of the comics were published in Australia, including overseas titles reprinted in Australia, but there are also publications from the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hong Kong, China and Japan. Among the Australian artists represented are Syd Nicholls, Stan Cross, Emile Mercier, John Dixon, Will Donald, Syd Miller, Stanley Pitt, Alex Gurney, Eric Jolliffe, Jim Bancks and Jim Russell. The cartoons are seldom dated, but mostly appeared between the 1940s and 1970s. A few titles illustrate the range of the collection:
With many titles only a few issues are held in the Ryan collection, but in many cases the Library also holds additional issues in other collections.
The majority of the fanzines were published in the United States, but there are many Australian titles such as:
Manuscripts and Personal Papers
The collection includes a substantial correspondence, dating from 1948 to 1979. Most of the letters were written by comic collectors in Australia, the United States, South Africa and elsewhere. In the latter years much of the correspondence concerns Ryan’s book Panel by Panel, and includes letters from artists, collectors and his publisher. The collection also contains a large quantity of photographs and photocopies of cartoons, notes, artwork, newspaper cuttings and drafts of the book.
The entire John Ryan Comic Collection, both printed and manuscript material, is kept together within the Manuscripts Collection at MS 6514. It occupies 68 boxes. They are listed in a finding aid, which is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-234439920/findingaid.
Bentley, Philip, A life in comics: a personal history of comics in Australia, 1960-1990, Melbourne, Second Shore, 2013.
Carriage, Alison, Challenges cataloguing the John Ryan comic collection, National Library of Australia blog post, 20 January 2016.
Ryan, John, Panel by panel: a history of Australian comics, Sydney, Cassell Australia, 1979.
Stone, Richard, Achieving Fandom: John Ryan and Australian Comics in the National Library of Australia, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Serials Librarianship, vol. 4 (3), 1994, pp. 71–85.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)