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The Maim Event - Johnny Ryan On The Prison Pit Animation
Mat Colegate , December 19th, 2014 08:44

Mat Colegate talks to Johnny Ryan about the animated adaptation of his ultra-violent comic book Prison Pit

It's the simple things, innit? That's what they tell us. Those simple pleasures that satisfy on some deep primal level, as if said joy is one that has pleased mankind since the dawn of creation: reading on the loo, eating tortilla chips in bed, drinking beer while under the shower, swearing; all undeniable warmth spreaders and all united by their elegant simplicity. Another thing that can be added to this great list of the uncomplicated and fabulous is cartoonist Johnny Ryan's continuing series of comic books, Prison Pit, in which an angry fellow called Cannibal Fuckface punches the seven shades of sputum (those seven shades being blood, pus, vomit, bile, jizz, snot and piss) out of an ever escalating series of horrifyingly icky and beautifully rendered monsters. It's a brazenly simplistic concept that ends up packing real clout due to Ryan's commitment to his subject matter and brilliant penmanship, and has proved to be one of the most acclaimed comics of recent years.

And, as often happens when these things start snowballing, out of this simple idea another perfect little acorn has grown. When I first heard that Prison Pit was being turned into a cartoon by animation studio 6 Point Harness, I slapped my forehead in dumb satisfaction. “Of fucking course! Of fucking course fucking Prison Pit is being made into a fucking cartoon! That's such a fucking great idea that I fucking wish I'd had it!”

The results, as evidenced on the recently released DVD, are magnificent. Prison Pit lurches into life in as full blooded and fantastically offensive a manner as you'd hoped. It's all here, all the action from the first book in the series: The Slorge! Rottweiler Herpes! Assrat! And of course Cannibal Fuckface himself, in all his smack-down-talking, blood-caked glory. It's violent, sensationalist muck of the highest order, and it's impossible to get enough of.

The Quietus spoke to Johnny Ryan about the adaptation recently

When were you first approached about Prison Pit becoming an animation?

About 2 or 3 years ago Brendan (Burch, company founder) from 6 Point Harness approached me about doing something. At the time it was just the first book he was talking about doing. I guess I was a little wary, but I was okay with it - a little bit surprised.

Were you familiar with anything that 6PH had done before?

They did a kids show called El Tigre, some kind of Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network type show. I'd seen a little bit, but that was about it.

Were you surprised that they wanted to adapt Prison Pit?

I would have been surprised if anybody had wanted to do it! The book kind of defies you to make it into cartoon. When I drew it I never though “this is going to be a great movie,” I always just thought “this is what it is, and I'm going to make it in a way that will defy people to turn it into something other than what it is.” When they told me I was like “where are they going to show this? Are they going to show it on TV? Who's going to see this…? No one.”

It really feels like a perfect match

The end result is great. I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out. They really captured the spirit of the book. When they were storyboarding it they took the comics that I drew and just pasted them into the story boards. That's how literally they wanted to transcribe what was going on (in the comic). There were moments when I was like “this might work for the comics but it's not working for animation so we should probably punch it up a bit,” but more or less they just took what was in the book and put it up on the screen.

How does it feel watching your work move?

It's great. Like I said, they really nailed it. The other thing I was concerned about – because the book is in black and white – was how was it going to translate into colour. The character is covered in black blood in the book, how was that going to work when we put it on the screen and it's red? The sky in the book is all stipply, crazy line work. I was wondering how that was going to be translated into that moving, drifting sky that they turned it into. All those elements they really took a lot of care over - they gave a shit! They really wanted to make it good. And I was involved along the way - I had the final say. They wanted my opinion of the work.

The finish has this really grainy quality that reminded me of 1980s kid's cartoons. Was that deliberate, to go for a slightly more retro finish?

Yeah, that was 6 Point Harness's idea. They wanted to put this kind of grainy patina on the look of the cartoon to give it that vintage look. When they suggested that I was like “is that going to look gimmicky?” but, no, it worked out really well.

You've worked on cartoons before, doing bits of work for Nickelodeon. Was this a different process?

Oh yeah. With Prison Pit it was totally like “here it is, do it.” With Nickelodeon it was a long arduous process of trying something then getting notes back - It's a back and forth, very collaborative process. With Prison Pit it was like “This is Prison Pit, now make it!”

Your work is fairly renowned for it's adult content. How did it feel to be writing for kids? Is it a very different process?

It's different as regards content, but I think there's an element in my work – in particular my humour work – that lends itself to children's cartoons, in that there's an element of nonsense and weirdness to it. If you just swap out the adult things, like the dicks and the pussies and all that stuff, and just trade it for pizza and boogers and farts it's kind of the same thing.

And a similar reaction that you're going for, you want to make them laugh?

The adult comics that I did – as gross and X rated as they got – they're primarily for laughs, they were never meant to be titillating. I mean, if you're jerking off to my comics then there's a problem! It's bringing that same element of humour – that wild, irreverent, crazy sense of humour - to kid's cartoons. It can be done.

Do you watch a lot of animation yourself?

I try to check out what's going on. I'm not like a hardcore animation dude, but I do try to keep up with what's happening.

What kind of stuff do you enjoy?

I'm a fan of the Uncle Grandpa cartoons on Cartoon Network. Rick and Morty is another one of my favourites, Superjail...

The Prison Pit comic feels quite manga-esque at points; do you watch any Japanese animation?

I kind of like the comics more than I like anime. There's things that I've liked - Speedracer and the classic stuff like Grendizer - but it was more into Looney Tunes, Ren And Stimpy, and Beavis And Butthead.

I was going to mention Ren And Stimpy. In the Prison Pit animation a John Kricfalusi (R&S creator) influence really comes through.

There's an undercurrent of rage in those cartoons, even the ones that were clearly meant for kids. it seemed like you almost shouldn't show them to kids because they were so filled with anger.

There's something genuinely terrifying about Ren when he gets angry and you get those beautiful painted stills of his eyes bulging out of their sockets.

Those are amazing. Those classic shots of those gross out paintings that they used to do. It would stop and you'd get a close up view of their eyes and the veins pulsating. That was amazing.

I also know that you're a fan of horror films, which comes across even more when you see the animation. What kind of films were an influence when you were doing Prison Pit originally?

There's a movie called From Beyond...

That film is incredible...

All those movies from Stuart Gordon are great – Reanimator, From Beyond – he's one of my favourites. Cronenberg style body-horror – videodrome and so on. Also – and this isn't horror but when I was a kid it sort of was – I watched a lot of the Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes as a child, and there's a lot of references to those early 70s Doctor Whos in my comics. Something for you British fans!

We generally presume that nobody in America knew who the Doctor was until the more recent stuff.

When I was a kid, on PBS, they used to show from when Tom Baker starts until Peter Davidson turns into Colin Baker, and then they would start over again. Those early Tom Baker ones were very much entrenched in horror - they were kind of scary. The newer ones that they make now seem to be made for a lighter audience. I think they've lost that element of creepy, weird horror. They're doing more the romance thing of the doctor and his relationship with his companions, as opposed to the weird monster of the week that I watched when I was a kid.

There's a lot of HP Lovecraft influence in something like Pyramids Of Mars which is very very appealing.

Oh yeah, and if you watch The Arc In Space there's a lot that was borrowed for Alien.

So what's the future for the Prison Pit animation? Are there going to be any more?

I know 6 Point Harness want to make more but it comes down to whether they can finance it. I think as long as they stay in business and they're making money then there's a possibility that they can continue. There's going to be six Prison Pit books so hopefully someday they'll animate all of them and well have one big two and-a-half hour animated movie.

To buy the Prison Pit animated film go to