Lick My Prison Pit
An Interview That Johnny Ryan Demanded We Do With Him
Aug 1 2009
Johnny Ryan is that guy whose drawings are festooned all over Vice. In addition to being Vice’s drawing mongrel, he’s also a free man with his own hobbies and projects. He started out drawing comics in a minicomic/zine before graduating to his full-size deal, Angry Youth Comix for Fantagraphics. After many, many years of being a wiseacre, he has amassed quite a few collections of his work, including Portajohnny, What’re You Looking At?!, The Comic Book Holocaust, and a host of other notable tomes. They’re all hilarious.
'); Johnny’s got a new book that’s about to be published by Fantagraphics and it’s called Prison Pit. This is his first bona fide graphic novel. It’s about a guy who gets shoved into an alternate world called Prison Pit where there are long, drawn-out fight scenes and beautiful strange things. It’s not a nonstop yukfest like his previous work and he’s taken the interplay between black-and-white shapes to a new level of sophistication. Everybody who gives a fuck: Go buy Prison Pit when it comes out. It’s funny, pretty, gross, and upsetting. It’s a big new step for Johnny Ryan and it deserves a big cash reward direct from your wallet.
Vice: Prison Pit is great. There’s some of your trademark humor (“Why does everything smell like burnt jizz?”), but the pacing is different and your graphic sense is really strong.
Johnny Ryan: Well, there are moments of humor, but in the same way that there are moments of humor in something like Oz. Or when you watch wrestling. These aren’t considered comedies, but they can still have really hilarious moments. Overall, I tried to approach this seriously, or as seriously as someone like me can. I slowed the pace down. In Angry Youth Comix I always tried to cram as much stuff into every panel as I could. With Prison Pit I slowed things down dramatically. I also changed from my usual thick-brush style to a pen. I wanted this book to be something really different from what I’ve done before.
Were you influenced by the cinematic style of storytelling that you see in those corny mangas you claim to love?
Yes, especially Berserk. The violence is so over-the-top and the monsters are so disgusting. I wanted to try and do something like that. I was also influenced by some of the new alternative comic artists like CF or Benjamin Marra or Kazimir Strzepek, who are doing these weird fantasy/adventure stories, but without any kind of irony.
I never heard of Benjamin Marra until last week and now I’ve heard his name like five times. Who is Ben Marra?
OK. This is the first time you’ve done a proper graphic novel. Did you just wake up one morning and realize you were a homosexual sellout or was it something that came to you gradually?
Interview not over. This is your first for-real graphic novel. Why did you finally decide to do one?
I felt like doing something different. I think I get bored pretty easily.
I have that same problem of getting bored too easily. People will say to me, “I bet you’re never bored,” when really I am always on the verge of killing myself out of boredom.
Why would you get bored? You have that crazy circus mustache you can stroke all night.
My circus mustache is outdone by my crazy circus penis. Speaking of kooky dongs, there’s a page in Prison Pit where it’s just a shot of the main character’s dick, all spiked and looking like a cudgel. Did you ever see that book of Pettibon drawings where it’s just penis shadows? Were you thinking about Pettibon at all while you worked on this?
I’ve never seen that drawing. I think I was more influenced by Powr Mastrs.
Are you going to release a lot of volumes of Prison Pit? Was Angry Youth Comix just a warm-up for your massive magnum opus?
My whole shitty life has been a warm-up for this shitty interview.
Whaddya want?! I’ve interviewed you twice already and I knew everything I needed to know before I asked the first question.
You didn’t know about Marra, dope.
I still don’t know about Marra because you won’t tell me about him. I’m not going to run a URL as an answer!
Well, if you want to know about his work you can just go to his website and look at it. And a page of his stuff ran in Vice’s illustration issue last year.
How much of a Superjail! knockoff would you say this book is?
Almost none. There’s no Willy Wonka warden or transgender prison guards. I tried to make this comic straightforward—no irony. It’s pretty removed from what I’ve done before.
How are you feeling these days?
Remember when I was talking about getting bored easily?
No. What were you talking about?
We were talking about your Big Top Penis.
What crime did the main character commit to get tossed in the Prison Pit?
He reminds me of Lobo and Snake Plissken mixed together with a healthy dose of swiping from Superjail! Does he have a name?
First I just called him Fuckface. Then halfway through drawing the story I found this shitty Garth Ennis comic called Fury that had a character called Fuckface, so I changed his name to Cannibal Fuckface.
You don’t like Garth Ennis? Did you read Preacher? It’s right up your alley!
I read a Preacher book. It wasn’t up my alley. My alley is far away from his alley.
You gonna get raped in Garth Ennis’s alley.
You’re blowing my mind with your alley knowledge.
I majored in alley-knowledge theory. I can talk endlessly about alleys, the video game Alleyway, and Gasoline Alley.
Jesus Christ. I feel like I’m back in alley school. If you don’t have any questions for me, let’s talk about you. How much time do you spend on your mustache every day?
Eighty thousand mustache credits. Do you ever get your mustache caught in the closing subway doors?
Do you ever come home at night after a long day and look in your vanity mirror and find bugs and shit stuck in your mustache?
No, but food and drink stirrers sometimes get lodged in that business.
Does your mustache attract lots of children because they think you’re a ringmaster?
It does attract kids, but they say I remind them of the guy in that children’s book who sells hats and then monkeys steal his hats.
What do you remind the illiterate children of?
Borat. When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen a bunch of black middle school kids saw me and enthusiastically started yelling, “Borack! Yo, Borack!” and one of them looked at me and earnestly asked, “Yo... ARE you Borack?” I had a similar experience after I moved to Brooklyn with some Polish kids who were a little younger.
Are you ever riding on your Segway and the wind blows your mustache tentacles into your eyes and you get in a horrible accident?
No. But one time a drunk English guy paid me a dollar to pull it and he almost tore it out of my face.
Having such a big crazy mustache, do you ever feel like you’re in mustache prison?
Yes, I hold on to the tendrils like they’re prison bars and there are hatch marks on my cheeks counting the days I’ve been in the joint.
Who likes kissing your mustache more? Your male lovers or your female lovers or your child lovers?
The stink it produces usually keeps all three at a safe distance.
When you went to Craig Yoe’s house, did you piss in his refrigerator? He likes his food cold and pissy.
I didn’t. Tell me what else you know about Craig Yoe.
When Craig Yoe was a kid he lived next to John Stanley. This inspired Stanley to do the short-lived comic Bowl Cut Boy Brides in the 70s.
Hey, you and I don’t just have a fan-cartoonist relationship or an interviewer-interviewee relationship. We’re also Flickr and LiveJournal friends. Have you ever gotten ideas for your comics from anything I’ve posted?
Yes, you gave me the idea to rip off Superjail!
That’s a good note to end this interview with, I think.
WRONG! INTERVIEW NOT OVER! What do you think are the top ten mustache movies?
Number one: The Love Guru. When this movie came out, the local deli put up the newspaper ad with “Nick?” written over the title. If that movie hadn’t flopped I’d probably still have the comparisons being made. But you’re going to have to finish this list for me. I don’t watch that many movies.
What are the top ten mustache poems?
I do not normally read poetry because I am not a faggot.
Do you have handlebar pubes?
I got asked that once by a cross-dresser in the West Village. Are you a cross-dresser?
Take it easy, bro, I’m just trying to learn about mustache lifestyles. When you buy a comic book and there are no mustaches in it, do you understand it?
I don’t buy comic books because I do not like them.
Do you only like free stuff or are there things you really like that you’re willing to pay money for? Like designer mustache wax? Mustache snoods? Did you ever get a pair of glasses and paint mustaches on the lenses so it looks like everything in the world has a mustache and then you don’t feel so alone?
I used to pay for comics but haven’t in the past two or three years.
A-HA!! SO YOU ADMIT IT! Do you ever feel like you can never shave off your mustache because you’ll lose 90 percent of your personality? This is like the Frost/Nixon of mustache interviews.
I am afraid that if I shave it off, people will see how ugly I got in between the time I grew it and now. Also, they will not remember who I am.
Buy Prison Pit from fantagraphics.com whenever it comes out. October, I think.
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