First off, this was my first email interview so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was pretty clear to me that Johnny could just stop responding at any point or that I wouldn't have anything interesting to ask and the whole thing would fall apart. Luckily despite my nerves Johnny was really cool and we covered tons of ground. From Chick Tracts to Angry Youth Comix, Prison Pit to Mad Max and much more. Thanks again to Johnny for putting up with my constant interrogations and keep an eye on NonCanonical.com for more interviews with the most exciting comic book makers!
NC - I wanted to know what makes Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior such a classic? I heard its one of your favourites, it's in my top 5 too for sure.
Johnny - It just has everything going for it. Amazing cast, badass chases in crazy cars, brutal violence. And the story is basically a Western, and I'm always a sucker for that, especially Euro-Westerns. I just watched it the other night and it still holds up.
NC - What I love about it are the small details that make the environment so amazing. Max eating dog food, the cripple riding around in a sling on an engine hoist, and then there’s the Humongous. There's that great scene where his head starts to pulse under his mask with no explanation at all, it's gross & brilliant. Did movies like The Road Warrior play a big part in bringing out Prison Pit?
Johnny - And Humongous' gun that he keeps in a box lined with red velvet with a B&W photo of some Nazi in it. Yeah, all those types of action/horror/exploitation movies I grew up with play an important part in Prison Pit.
NC - There's so much cult appeal to Prison Pit. I remember being pretty surprised that you'd begun a science fiction epic when volume 1 came out. I had read a lot of the Angry Youth Comix and the Klassic Komix Klub collection and despite Prison Pit being funny it totally wasn't what I'd expected. Did you get a lot of these reactions from AYC fans?
Johnny - Every once in a while I'll hear from a disappointed AYC fan asking if I'll ever do AYC again. But the popularity of Prison Pit surpasses AYC, so mostly the reaction to the change in direction has been positive. But it's not like I've completely abandoned humor comics. I still do comics for VICE on a somewhat monthly basis. And I've got other funny stuff that shows up here and there.
NC - You've definitely become more prolific in the last 12 months. There were those hilarious nudes you were doing, those tributes to wrestlers and Jeff Hanneman, a black metal album cover, the Cinefamily posters, not to mention work on Workaholics. Which project has gotten the best response? I'm going to guess the Golden Girls nudes sold out pretty quickly.
Johnny - Haha yeah, the Golden Girls stuff was a highlight, but the Workaholics stuff was pretty popular, too. It's really hard to say...
NC - Is Prison Pit a custom made violent video game that never has to end? I feel like as far as action goes it's never stopped even for a second. It's repetitive nature just grows on me more and more. I could watch these horrible fuckers turn into even more disgusting creatures then have the shit beaten out of them forever. Is there an end in sight? And do you plan each volume out or does the action evolve naturally as you’re coming up with scenarios?
Johnny - Yes, book 6 will be the ending. I've come to realize it's important to end stuff, otherwise things just start to get repetitive and dull. There are video game elements to the story. I like those horror/fighting video games. There was a good year or so that I was playing them all the time and I think they definitely had an influence on me. I haven't played any in a few years, though...I kinda miss it. Before I start a book a have the general direction in my head, as well as certain plot points and visuals. But I also enjoy working spontaneously, too. I like figuring stuff out as I'm working. It makes the process more interesting and fun. So, it's kind of a funny combination of the two.
NC - How is the animated version coming along? And how has that development process been?
Johnny - So far with the animation we've only recorded a couple of the voices and they made that little trailer. Based on the trailer alone I'm pretty excited about what they're doing. I think they understand the book and I'm going to be involved in the development all along the way.
NC - I can't wait to see it! When it comes to comics most likely to offend, it's difficult to think of anyone whose work might surpass your own. Maybe only Ivan Brunetti or Sam Henderson match you for extremity. It might seem like a dumb question but what do you think about where people "draw the line" in regards to being offended? For instance, a few years ago Robert Crumb cancelled a scheduled visit to Australia because a feminist group took exception to his art, labeling it offensive and calling for his exhibition to be banned. As someone who, it would appear, has never been censored how do you view censorship?
Johnny - Well, there's a difference between people getting upset or mad about your art and people prohibiting you from making art. In the case of Robert Crumb, I think he was probably looking for a way out of going to Australia and that feminist controversy just gave him a reason.
NC - Hah! It would be amazing if he had constructed the whole thing just to avoid the long flight. Moral outrage and panic can be a royal pain when it comes to appreciating the art we like though, I felt bad that everyone who bought tickets got gypped. I hated that the people wanting the exhibition banned might feel like they had won some sort of moral victory over me, the degenerate comic fan. I guess that was the worst part.
Do you take criticism of your work personally? Have you ever ended up in the sights of a special interest group?
Johnny - Well, that's on Crumb, too. Personally, I would have gone if I had been invited and I was getting that kind of reaction. It's exciting to think that your art can have that kind of impact on people. As far as criticism goes I've been getting bad criticism since I started. People really fucking despise my work. They wish cancer on me and hope I die, just because I draw a fucking comic book. I usually never bother to read what people are writing about my work; I always just assume it's all negative. And it's always basically the same criticisms. How many times do I have to read about how unfunny I am, how boring I am, or how awful I draw, etc? I get it already.
NC - Well, for the record, fuck those people. It sucks you have to put up with those kind of personal responses. I feel context is the long forgotten part of comedy, both the "left" and "right" parts of society don't seem to care to take anything the way it was intended, or even give it a shred of thought, before firing off some idiotic response. And it doesn't qualify as valid criticism most of the time. Though it must give you some pleasure to know that they can't make you stop putting out new work, they're completely powerless in this situation. You hold all the cards.
Johnny - Well, let's not completely discount the importance of bad criticism. Doing any kind of art is tough and you have to be able to get knocked down. But then you have to decide whether or not you want to get back up and keep working or roll over and die. So, bad criticism does a good job of weeding out the wimps.
NC - You've directly responded to criticism recently in a strip aimed at Simon Hanselmann's Truth Zone. The whole thing seems fairly steeped in irony despite it being referred to as a feud by some corners of the internet. Does it warrant any further discussion or was it a case of professional tit for tat?
Johnny – Haha, yeah. I wasn't really aware of Simon's comics until he did a comic about me masturbating like a pig in front of people. I thought it was funny and I told him so. I'm always honored whenever someone takes the time to draw a comic about me. And I was inspired to return the favor by doing a comic about him. I like Simon's comics and think he's a funny cartoonist. I was only busting his chops. Although, we should probably pretend to despise each other and keep fighting in comic form. People love that shit haha.
NC - That's amazing. I hope you keep it up, the back and forth seems to be making people spin themselves into early graves by choosing "Team Johnny" or "Team Simon" which is pretty hilarious. The funniest part was that Nick Gazin seems to get targeted in both strips, poor guy! Haha!
Johnny - Haha. Yeah, Nick's a good guy. He's got a pretty good sense of humor. And like me he loves when people draw him in comics.
NC - How did the chick tract exhibit go? We have a guy over here called Matt Emery who was buying up heaps of the original chick tracts and selling them at cons, that was my first exposure to them. They're truly bizarre. When did you start defacing them? They look so legit at first glance, it's hysterical.
Johnny - The exhibit was great. Actual Christian protestors showed up outside with signs and everything. It was pretty cool. When I started defacing the tracts I was only doing for a cheap online laugh. After about 3 months or so I had accumulated about 80. My friend Greg has a store in LA called Mishka and he was opening a gallery in the back and wanted to know if I would do a show. I told him I didn't have time to do anything new, but I did have all these defaced chick tracts. He was into the idea, so we did it. I thought it was gonna be kinda stupid, but it turned out better than I thought.
NC - So, Prison Pit volume 5 is out really soon. What other projects have you got coming up? What's the next celebrity nudes series? Surely you've gotta bring those back.
Johnny - Haha that nude shit was just a burst of inspiration, which I think has passed. But, I'm still helping put together the animated Prison Pit, as well as helping develop a cartoon for Nickelodeon with Dave Cooper.
NC - Holy shit! Is that PigGoat Banana Mantis?
Johnny - Yeah, but Mantis has been changed to Cricket.
NC - Sounds great, when it airs we'll have to get you and Dave on to talk more about it. Hopefully it will be the catalyst to restart a gross-out cartoon revival at Nickelodeon. They used to put some amazing cartoons out, Rocko's Modern Life, Cat Dog etc. I feel like we've covered a lot of ground, I'll finish on a curveball -
NASA are sending a deep space probe to make contact with alien life on distant galaxies. They come to you to engrave a message on behalf of the human race on a plaque on the probe's hull. What do you write/draw?
Johnny - Follow me on twitter @mrjohnnyryan
All images copyright to Johnny Ryan.