Interview: Johnny Ryan Jumps Back Into The 'Prison Pit'

Johnny Ryan's "Prison Pit" is nasty, weird, gory, violent, disturbing, and lots of other words that are typically used negatively. But when you're talking about this series -- which has just seen its 4th book released -- it's a stunning compliment. Ryan's work on "Prison Pit" is bravely adolescent and immaturely brilliant. It plumbs the depths of good taste, but serves as an illuminating peek into the subconscious of a man raised on manga, superheroes, cartoons and craziness. "Prison Pit" is consistently one of my favorite series and Book 4 keeps it going in bloody, mutilated, shape-shifting spades. I had the chance to chat with creator Johnny Ryan about the future of main character Cannibal F#@kface, the inspiration for the comic and whther or not it's okay to be totally grossed out by "Prison Pit."

MTV Geek: Where are we with Cannibal F#@kface when we pick up in Book 4?

Johnny Ryan: It picks up right where 3 ended. Cannibal F#@kface is imprisoned inside the mind of the Caligulon.

Geek: What was the original inspiration for this series?

JR: There were a bunch of inspirations. I was reading a lot of manga, like "Berserk", "Drifting Classroom", "Tokyo Zombie". I thought those books were really exciting horror/adventure stories. I wanted to do something similar. Also, at that time, there was a wave of new alternative cartoonists that were doing genre type stuff, like Ben Marra's "Night Business" or "Powr Mastrs" by CF. I liked how they were taking this genre stuff seriously. Also, a few mainstream books, like "The Walking Dead" and "BPRD".

Geek: I've always kind of considered "Prison Pit" to be an exploration of the subconscious of the wrestling/comic/cartoon fan, do you think that's fair?

JR: I guess so. It's definitely an exploration of my subconscious.

Geek: Can you talk about the style of "Prison Pit"? It's constantly changing, morphing, dripping, oozing...Yet backgrounds are very stark...what made you settle on this look?

JR: I wanted to approach the book differently than my previous work. "Angry Youth Comix" is all thick, clean lines, with pretty dense backgrounds at times. I wanted "Prison Pit" to look rougher, scratchier. I also wanted to put the main focus on the guys fighting and not really worry so much about the backgrounds, so I decided to put them in a kind of negative zone.

Geek: There's a real feeling that a reader could get from "Prison Pit" that screams "Where does he come up with this stuff?" Are you okay with reactions like that? Is that your intention?

JR: Yeah, I actively try to come up with the most f#@ked up stuff I can imagine. It's exciting to have that kind of effect on people.

Geek: I think it's okay for me to say that "Prison Pit" gets gets pretty freaking gross, what draws you to the gross?

JR: Haha. I'm not sure. Maybe it's some kind of delayed adolescence?

Geek: Is there a plan before you sit down to work on each volume or do you work on the fly?

JR: It's kind of a combination of both. Sometimes I have a plan. Sometimes I just work spontaneously. Then there's times I have a plan and then the plan changes as I'm drawing.

Geek: How many more books do you have planned?

JR: I plan on 6. I'll see how I'm feeling at that point, if I think the story should continue.

Geek: This series has inspired a lot of cosplay and custom toys, etc. What is it about Prison Pit that connects with fans?

JR: Well, I think it connects to comic fans because it's the stripped down essence of what popular superhero comics are, which is men beating the living s*$t out of each other. People love it.

Geek: Can you speak about underground comix in general and how "Prison Pit" fits into the tradition of work by Crumb or Kitchen Sink Press cartoonists? If at all?

JR: Haha, I'm pretty sure Crumb would have zero interest in something like Prison Pit. I think most of those underground guys have little patience for this kind of stuff. When I was coming up in the alternative comic scene there was a lot of distaste for superhero action genre type comics. So maybe "Prison Pit" is a reaction against that? I dunno. I mean, it's not like sit around thinking about my place in comic book history when I write this s*$t. I'm just trying to come up with exciting stories to entertain and hopefully shock people.

Geek: What's next?

JR: Prison Pit 5.

Geek: Thanks, Johnny!

"Prison Pit: Book Four" is available now from Fantagraphics.