What the fuck did I just read? What the fuck was this heavy metal thunder, ridiculously over-the-top, scatological action epic full of shaky art, insane lead characters, random plot threads that popped up out of nowhere, dick jokes that left me giggling and chortling like a 15-year-old boy drunk on cheap scotch whiskey, and a plot that wanders and meanders all other the place?
Is Prison Pit genius or insanity? Is it high art of the most ironic, absurdist, trope-melting, primitive-slash-innovative kind or the terrifying thoughts of a profoundly disturbed adult who’s never quite outgrown his teenage notebooks filled with terrifying monsters?
Whatever. I mean, calm the hell down, Sacks. I need to come off my self-flagellating critical high tower and glory in the world that Johnny Ryan creates in Prison Pit. This is just a damn comic book, not too different from the kind that I created when I was a kid, and the absolute sheer love and joy that Ryan takes in every line he draws, every insane bloody battle and every dick joke, takes me back to those not-so-happy days and makes me chortle uproariously.
Even coming into this storyline with chapter five, without knowing any of the backgrounds of any of these characters or events, and without the slightest knowledge of anything that Ryan is doing with this book, I had an awesome time reading it. My lack of background gave everything a loose, arbitrary, surreal feel that honestly was a wonderful change from the world of more plot-driven super-hero comics. All I really needed with this book was to follow along as Johnny Ryan told his story – which he does in some very clever ways.
Ryan’s primitive feeling art – which does look like the work that some kid would create while sitting in the back of his boring algebra class – is perfect for the story that he’s telling. He doesn’t vary his lines much, the characters often stare straight at the reader from the center of the panel like an untrained storyteller might do, and the character designs are deliberately loopy and unsophisticated, if that matters to you.
But the more you look at it, the more Ryan’s storytelling is surprisingly sophisticated, with some clever use of negative space, wonderful use of silence, and a brilliant take on the use of wordless panels. Ryan’s flat art style – which usually only has the most rudimentary backgrounds – works to emphasize those moments when there are no words (though I imagine that the monsters and creatures are grumbling and grunting as they engage in their fights), and the final few pages are legitimately inventive and frightening.
Fourteen year old me would tell adult me to just shut up and enjoy the fights and the dick jokes. And I do enjoy that stuff, very much. Prison Pit rocks hard, hits hard and thrills hard. This is an awesome comic, in every sense of that word.