Graphic Review: ‘Prison Pit’ Volumes 1 & 2
Prison Pit 1 + 2
Written/ Art by: Johnny Ryan
Published by: Fantagraphics
There were a few years between the late eighties and early nineties that can be looked back on as a golden age for adolescent boys. It was a time when all popular culture conspired to turn us into a generation of bloodthirsty brutes, of warriors immune to the horrors of the battlefield.
TV became a playground for the savage, Gladiators showed us that those with the biggest muscles and the willingness to bludgeon another human in the head would be heralded as champions and applauded by a baying crowd with foam fingers.
WWF Wrestling attained its only period of value. The Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Jake the Snake, The Legion of Doom, that one who was like Elvis; these were not mere men, they raised themselves to be more than men. Today’s wrestling looks like shaved clones hugging in a sauna by comparison. I bet it’s been years since someone took a snake or a tassel into the ring.
Videogames developed from their limited 8-bit visual roots to leave almost nothing to our imaginations. Gone were the futuristic wireframe worlds of Elite or Battlezone, and we could drown in the gore and blood of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Street Fighter Vs. Mortal Kombat was the console war that all the cool kids waged in, a battle of violence Vs. violence, with the only possible winner being violence.
This lengthy preamble leads somewhere, to the ledge teetering over the Prison Pit. This is a comic book that feels like a video nasty. Its characters could well have been discovered from drawings scratched into school desks, its plot may well have been cribbed from the insane diary of a 9 year old.
But that is what makes the 2 volumes of Prison Pit (published to date) so brilliant and unique. Writer/Artist Johnny Ryan has taken all those dreams, that desensitisation to violence, and our eagerness to doodle the grotesque, and turned it into a full ongoing epic. Our anti-hero ‘Cannibal Fuckface’ has been dumped into the Prison Pit possibly for a crime we are unaware of, and now has to survive a grisly barren wasteland filled with total bastards, all out to eat him, rape him, or rape him then eat him. Luckily ‘Cannibal’ (I’m assuming that’s his first name, although that assumption leads to a family of people all with the surname ‘Fuckface’… best not to think about it) is pretty handy himself, and sets about the other inhabitants with abandon. By the end of the second book he’s covered head to toe in the blood of his opponents, vanquished a cum-monster, and been possessed by his parasitic Slorge arm. It’s not an ultra complex, multi-stranded plot, and again this works completely in its favour.
Mainstream comics are increasingly becoming an impenetrable web, with backstories and plot devices that require regular wikipedia visits, and summer events that span dozens of titles in order to fully experience them. Johnny Ryan sets out to swim against this current as strongly as possible.
Prison Pit is so one dimensional and so concentrated in a single thought that it has become pure in its pursuit of raw violent entertainment. It will offend many; some of the grisly bodily functions and destruction of limbs will unquestionably turn a large percentage of the audience off immediately. The same can be said of the artwork; very basic black and white scrawled frames, often soaked in so much blood to fill them black. It’s functional and childlike in places to extenuate the ridiculous nature of the violence on show. But those, like myself, who can see these as positives will be in for a rancid and disgraceful journey to nowhere. Much like Johnny Ryan’s work for Vice Magazine and his Angry Youth Comix, it is proudly not for everyone.
Prison Pit is insane; it is a title that simply shouldn’t exist outside of a teenager’s head. But it does, and it’s brilliant. A forgotten level of comedic violence, an absence of exposition and dialogue that all reduces down into a paste of pure barbaric fun.
Johnny Ryan has a history of producing childish and offensive comics, the idea that he is turning his hand to an ongoing epic doesn’t bear thinking about. 
Reading Prison Pit is a journey into the depths of sludge and grim immature violence often interrupted by grim immature language. 
Prison Pit is proudly not for everyone, but for those of us highly evolved enough to find joy in one-dimensional molten violence, it’s a series that promises to continue delivering the goods.