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A Rye Look at Captain Pugwash

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Blistering Barnacles! If you’re a fan of Captain Pugwash, then set sail for The Rye Art Gallery in East Sussex and uncover some real hidden treasures.

From now until mid February the gallery is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the life and art of author, illustrator and animator John Ryan, and so I went along to cast my eye over his work.

Ryan created Captain Horatio Pugwash in 1950. The fictional pirate hero began life as a comic strip in the first edition of The Eagle. In 1957 the BBC commissioned a series of cartoons, shot in black and white and filmed live for television.

Ryan used real time techniques of animation in which cardboard characters were manipulated live by a series of pulleys and levers. Early examples of these set-ups are on display at the exhibition. Years later Ryan said: “I have certainly never considered myself as part of the mainstream of cartoon animation… I have always been concerned simply with telling my stories on the TV screen by any means open to me.”

Copyright: Rye Art Gallery

The exhibition guides visitors chronologically through Ryan’s career and it was interesting to see how the character of Captain Pugwash was reborn in many guises during his lifetime. From comic strips to illustrated books, simplistic animation to a more sophisticated cartoons series.

It is so obvious that John Ryan had a true affection for his pirate characters and it is no wonder why he was saddened in 1990 when The Sunday Correspondent published a defamatory article which implied that his stories contained sexual innuendo. These claims were completely unfounded and Ryan successfully sued the newspaper and gave the money to charity. Sadly the damage was done and some still believe the urban myth.

As if creating one internationally acclaimed television series was not enough, the exhibition also guides visitors through Ryan’s other successful bodies of work such as Mary, Mungo & Midge (1969) and The Adventures of Sir Prancelot (1971-72). Produced

Copyright: Rye Art Gallery

using the same techniques of cut-out manipulation these tales proved extremely popular with young audiences.

Sadly John Ryan passed away in Rye in 2009. In the later years of his life he returned to book illustrations of Captain Pugwash and a Noah’s Ark series. These beautiful and colourful pieces of artwork make up the final section of the exhibition loving pieced together by his daughter Isabel Ryan.

It was a very rewarding experience to attend this show. Visitors can learn a great deal about this very influential artist whose pirate tales live on more than half a century later. It is interesting to note in this age of hi-tec CGI graphics and big budget animations, how Ryan was able to create a world adored by millions using just paint, cardboard & paper fasteners.  If your story is worth telling, your audience will be on board with you for the whole journey no matter what medium you use.

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