Fight to the Death!
Six Point Harness goes all-indie to adapt Johnny Ryan’s ultraviolent underground comic to animation. By Tom McLean.
It takes a certain kind of reader to tackle the comics of Johnny Ryan, and it takes a certain type of animator to want to bring it to life.
Ryan has long been a modern underground comics icon, producing such crude, violent, gross and, of course, hilarious comics as Angry Youth Comix, Yucky Bleckarella and Comic Book Holocaust. But Ryan takes the crazy to a new level with Prison Pit, a five-book series published by Fantagraphics in which monsters and men beat the crap out of each other with extreme ultraviolence in a barren negative zone.
It’s the last thing you’d expect to be adapted into animation, but Greg Franklin and the folks at Six Point Harness decided to do it anyway.
“This is the kind of thing that, as animation fans, we want to see, and this kind of stuff just really isn’t out there,” says Franklin, supervising director on the project.
The result is an animated adaptation of the first book in the series, available with a documentary on its making as a digital download at www. prisonpit.com for $6.99 or on DVD for $9.99. Proceeds from the sale of those items, plus additional goodies like T-shirts, will fund more Prison Pit animation.
The project began years ago when Ryan and Aaron Lee, an executive story editor working on Seth MacFarlane’s animated Fox shows, wrote a script for an Angry Youth Comix cartoon that Franklin says they didn’t think at the time was viable. But as the Internet evolved, Franklin says they eventually thought they could do something based on Ryan’s work. He says they were drawn to Prison Pit, which has an action quotient that is quite different from Ryan’s more prominent humor work.
But figuring out how to get it out there was not easy. “This was one of those things were you can’t do a Kickstarter,” he says. “You’ve got to make it, show what this thing is going to be and what it’s about.”
An animatic of a few scenes was shown at Comic-Con in 2013, with work proceeding from there on a largely part-time basis until near the end of production. With about Combatants prepare to fight in Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit. 40 people working on the project, Prison Pit features the voices of comedians James Adomian ( Comedy Bang Bang), Blake Anderson ( Workaholics) as Jizzra, Kyle Kinane ( Comedy Central Presents) as Rabies Bloodbath and Rottweiler Herpes, and Rick Shapiro (FX’s Louie) as the Prison Guards.
Taking this material into animation took it into a new level of crazy, which Franklin describes as akin to an Italian horror film. Six Point Harness started off converting the actual panels from the comic, adding atmosphere and a sense of place, as well as artifacts like film grain and vintage dirty sound.
“We started off wanting to just very safely recreate the comic,” says Franklin. “It became obvious that once we started adding color and converting to widescreen, this is a medium that can go further than a comic book.”
Ryan himself encouraged them to go for it, Franklin says. “He wanted more gore, more chunks, more pain in general,” he says. “I was really excited he saw the possibilities of the medium and wanted to take advantage of them.”
Censored installments of Prison Pit have been available for free on YouTube to help promote the paid, uncensored version. With the first book complete, Franklin says Six Point is waiting to see how well it does before proceeding to make more Prison Pit.
“It’s a polarizing work, it’s not exactly for everyone,” Franklin says. “But the fans have really responded well to it.”