Prison Pit Book One (Fantagraphics)

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Gross-out king Johnny Ryan offers up his first "graphic novel," and the results are less than stellar.



120 pgs. B&W; $12.99
(W / A: Johnny Ryan)
Hello, Johnny Ryan fans. We got your blood, we got your semen, we got your beheadings and eviscerations and cannibalism and four-letter words.
We don’t got quite as much fun as usual, though. No Boobs Pooter, no Blecky Yuckarella, no Loady McGee. In fact, not so much humor, really, in this one, for me.
But Johnny Ryan is prolific. Stack up all his efforts for Fantagraphics and Buenaventura Press, his one-offs for various compilations and magazines (head to, and you’re talking about a nice chunk of work, year in and year out. So maybe we can call Prison Pit an experiment, and leave it at that.
Except it’s Ryan’s first “graphic novel.” Oh, man. Total letdown.
You see, Ryan’s mix of nihilism, dark humor, bodily fluids, equal-opportunity racism, and gleeful ugliness is usually such a fun, original place to be. This is the guy who makes airplanes out of dead Klansmen and turns cancer into a sentient talking creature as cute as it is horrid. In the hands of Johnny Ryan, asses and vaginas are pockets that were created to consume and disgorge disgusting things (and, well, they kinda are, actually), and thus serve as his grand punchlines. Ryan is like a seven-year-old boy whose parents have failed to notice he’s not just fucked-up, but probably needs a little institutionalization, too.
And some of his wonderful derangement is here, fer sure. Characters are named “Rottweiler Herpes,” “Rabies Bloodbath,” and “Assrat.” The book’s first chapter is called “Fucked” and the second is called “Mega-Fucked.”
But compared to what we’re used to with Ryan, the sick magic just ain’t here. This tale of a prisoner dropped onto a planet of anarchist violence at the hands of sickening-looking mutants has dismemberment (cool), auto-fellatio (cool), and other delights, but it reads as if it were written on the fly. It looks like an endless wrestling match between the main character and various fiends he wanders up to. I’m sorry, but it just feels aimless and lazy compared to his usual standard.
If you just like it gross, a la Mike Diana, you’ll get what you came for. But Prison Pit’s single note, an extended fight scene, made me long for one of Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix, wherein the boogers and blood come with a big helping of funny, too. | Byron Kerman
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