“Prison Pit” Book Two begins with a panel of black, slowly moving away to reveal a black line that is made clearer as the perspective continues to pull back, showing that it’s actually a monstrous humanoid creature defecating and, once done, demanding that another creature use its mouth to clean him. It’s a crudely funny way to start the book and lets you know if this is the sort of work you’re interested in reading. If you continue, you’ll see horrific violence, obscene language, savagely absurd situations, and something called “Operation: Rape Ladydactyl,” and damned if it isn’t one of the most entertaining, hilarious, and addictively fun comics I’ve read all year.
This book picks up where last year’s first installment left off, delivering chapters four and five of the story as the protagonist, C.F., confronts the creature that ripped his arm off, causing him to use a tapeworm in its place. From there, it’s page after page of violent confrontations that seem to never end, but only mutate into something more violent and extreme. Just when you think there’s a break, a character regenerates as something larger and more horrific, or another character enters the fray and the whole thing starts all over again. This method of storytelling drives the book forward effectively and makes the 113 pages a breezy read, though one that you want to reread again immediately.
Johnny Ryan maintains a steady, booming pace using a four-panel grid broken up by splash pages and the odd different layout used for effect. That consistent pace creates a groove, similar to Warren Ellis’ conception of layouts as the backbeat of a comic, that makes the violence more palatable because of its regular use. Not quite an act of desensitization but not far off. With each act increasing and building upon what came before until reaching a breaking point, the flow has a consistent rise and build that does end only to begin a new rise and build immediately.
The violence itself is both brutish and ugly, but is direct and unapologetic, and drawn with such passion and beauty by Ryan. Obviously, if you’re the squeamish type, you won’t dig it, but for the rest of us, there’s a strong comedic element in the art and storytelling. The timing and use of violence is done with precision, like a scene where Ladydactyl, a female pterodactyl of sorts, carries C.F. and slams him into giant rocks is fantastic because of the immediacy of the violence. There’s no in-between moments, just panel after panel of the two characters facing opposite ways as C.F. is slammed into the rocks. Ryan even follows the comedy rule of three, not overdoing it too much.
His line work is crude, simplistic, and subtle, making for an interesting mix. His figures are simple and direct, their most obvious features brought to the foreground, often visually just a collection of weapons or monstrous characteristics. C.F. is a man bathed in what looks like blood with a tapeworm for an arm. It’s very basic and simple, but places an emphasis on what he does, and makes any changes that occur throughout the story stand out. While C.F. is simple, the line work on his tapeworm arm is much finer and intricate, making sure that we understand that the two are not meant to be together necessarily.
Because of the pacing, he often draws events in a step-by-step process, giving his figures a sometime static look that works in contrast to the driving pace. The other strong visual contrast is between characters and their setting. Ryan puts of a lot of detail and effort into the post-apocalyptic setting of the pit, giving detailed, nuanced shading to the rocks and sky above.
The writing of “Prison Pit” takes a backseat somewhat, because so much of the story is told through the visual action with dialogue kept to a minimum. Even when there is dialogue, it’s often insulting threats being hurled, but the jovial, friendly tone of B.A.S.T.Y.R.D. when he gives instructions to the brainwashed/mentally controlled C.F. is quite different and funny from the rest. At the same time, it’s so different that it suits the world.
Thuggish, brutal violence for 113 pages may not be for everyone and that’s what “Prison Pit” Book Two. It’s over-the-top, extreme, uncompromising, and very, very funny. It’s the sort of book you can’t put down even after you’re done; you just keep jumping around and admiring the stark viciousness that jumps off the page.