Comics Are for Idiots!: Blecky Yuckerella Vol. 3
Johnny Ryan, writer/artist
Prison Pit Vol. 1
Johnny Ryan, writer/artist
One of these comics features a giant monster made of semen, a guy who shoots acidic puss out of his body acne, and a slug who sucks cock. The other is a Johnny Ryan gag-strip collection.
Yes, both of these books are like kryptonite to good taste. But there are a couple of big differences between what Johnny Ryan is doing in Comics Are for Idiots!, his latest Blecky Yuckerella strip collection, and what he’s doing in Prison Pit, his ultraviolent action-comic debut. The most obvious is he switched from brush in the former to pen in the latter, stripping himself of his secret weapon: one of the lushest lines in comics. Turns out it was a smart move. With Blecky, the buoyancy of his slick black swooshes and swoops is reflected in his figurework: everyone’s googly-eyed, grinning and chortling like, well, idiots, and if they’re not doing that then they’re gasping or being knocked out of the panel, feet flying in the air, their shock or disgust just as joyous as their glee. That’s how gags about curing brain tumors by exposing them to dogshit or throwing babies in the trash (and to be fair, this is nowhere near as bad as things have been getting in Angry Youth Comix lately) still manage to get you to laugh along with them–they’re just so exuberant! Prison Pit, on the other hand, is all business. Yes, tongue’s in cheek to a certain extent–in addition to the gross-out bits I mentioned above, all the characters look like rejected He-Man concepts, there’s gratuitous swearing and swastikas, the portentous opening chapter heading reads “FUCKED” while the second chapter is called “MEGA-FUCKED,” and Ryan has said he’s swiping liberally from ridonkulous action manga like Berserk. And yet the tone feels as serious as a heart attack, thanks in no small part to a line that’s gone wiry and vicious, able to evoke the doom-laden skies of Gilbert Hernandez’s Chance in Hell, the nightmarish stone wastelands of Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights, the seedy body-horror of Josh Simmons, the painstaking monumentalism of Tom Gauld. At times when the visuals are at their most abstract, you’d be hard pressed to recognize Ryan in them at all.
The second big difference is one of pacing. The four-panel Blecky strips often feel like a breakneck race to the punchline through some kind of bizarre obstacle course requiring the basic premise of the gag to get more ridiculous with each panel. It’s not enough for Blecky to get a pair of x-ray spex–she has to use them to spy on Wedgie’s kidney, and the kidney has to be anthropomorphized, and it has to be going through the personals column, and it has to be circling ads for both men and women, so that the ultimate joke is that Wedgie has a bicurious vital organ. Maybe the best distillation of this kind of set-up features Blecky’s Aunt Jiggles getting her ass caught in a jelly jar, her boobs caught in a coffin lid, and her head caught in a bird’s vagina one panel at a time, for a payoff panel of Blecky saying “You’re the coolest person I’ve ever met.” Rapid-fire ridiculousness is the height of virtue here. Compare that to Prison Pit, which opens with an abstracted, dialogue-free spaceship landing that lasts for four pages. Similar space is given to the protagonist getting wrapped up in someone’s prehensile intestines, or cutting someone’s head off, or falling through the sky, or tumbling down a mountain, or simply losing consciousness. This meticulous rolling-out of physical business is occasionally contrasted with dramatic splash pages–from an x-ray view of the hero’s circulatory system to a disembodied portrait of his penis–but for the most part, this giant fight scene feels disconcertingly quiet, lonely, and loveless, right down to its skin-crawling coda. Ryan’s rep as altcomix’s premier overgrown juvenile delinquent is well deserved–and don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely enjoy Prison Pit on that level–but the poetic savagery he depicts here is the work of a grown-ass man.