I was rereading this filthy, horribly addictive comic the other day when the truth fired itself out of the page and splattered me right in the eye: Prison Pit is Birdland for kids!
The Mindless Ones have already discussed the idea that this would make a great comic for children, and while some folk might blanch at the idea of comic this full of scatological violence being FOR KIDS, I still remember what being a wee guy was like and let me tell you: I would have loved this!
Like the commenter known as It Burns said:
There's definitely a heavy WWE component here, but there's also a strain of weird, abitrary cruelty running through the comic that's somehow too stupid to be truly upsetting. In the world of Prison Pit you can rip a guy's guts out only to have those same guts used as a smothering tentacle weapon against you; in the world of Prison Pit, burst zits are deadly weapons and you can make a battlesuit out of your own semen.
It is playful. I mean, yeah there’s lots, LOTS of weird gore, but it reads like a WWE-wrestling-fan getting in a knife/chair/cannibalistic fight over whether the shit’s real or not. . . I couldn’t help but giggle.
And so while Birdland artist Gilbert Hernandez overloads his pages with Kirby-esque money shots, Ryan sticks his crew of grotesque miscreants in a tight space and lets them take each other to pieces. Weirdly enough, the scratchy backdrops that Ryan conjures up here remind me of another Gilbert Hernandez comic, 2007's trauma-addled Chance in Hell:
Prison Pit is every bit as raw and hopeless as Chance in Hell, but I'll maintain that it's got more in common with Birdland. Why? Well, for one thing, it opens with a shot of a whole planet being fucked:
That chapter title there? That's some subtle shit. Again, it's a childish gesture, and it fits with Ryan's aesthetic. Birdland is the perverted fantasy of a freshly minted adult who's just trying to get used to the ins and outs of love; Prison Pit is the perverted fantasy of an angry kid to whom sex is just another gross joke. The prison planet that Bloodhead/Fuckface is spurted into at the start of the story is like a grotesque parody of an ovum -- it's obviously been bombarded with spermy little gametes, but there's no reproduction going on here, only brute division.
So: is it all just a load of ick and goo signifying nothing? Well maybe, but honestly, there are very few artists who can make ick and goo seem so thoroughly alien and unclean as they do here!
Which raises the question: is Prison Pit actually Birdland as re-imagined by kids? Whatever the case, it's too idiosyncratic to be tarnished banal crudeness of some of its supporters, as I'll now try to explain by way of this Angela Carter quote:
Pornography involves an abstraction of human intercourse in which the self is reduced to its formal elements. In its most basic form, these elements are represented by the probe and the fringed hole, the twin signs of male and female in graffiti, the biological symbols scrawled on the subway poster and the urinal wall, the simplest expression of stark and ineradicable sexual differentation, a universal pictoral language of lust -- or rather, a language we accept as universal because, since it has always been so, we conclude that it must always remain so.
(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)
This pulsing chunk of meat is Prison Pit in miniature: it's immature and it's not really acceptable in polite society, but it also provides a jolt of WHAT THE FUCK! that's distinctly lacking from your average comic. Or from your average bit of hyped up and cum-sodden pornography, as Angela Carter would probably have noted.