XXX Scumbag Party by Johnny Ryan

Categories:  Reviews

XXX Scumbag Party
By Johnny Ryan
Fantagraphics

Johnny RyanSomewhere, in some suburban home—one of those fabled “good Christian houses,” perhaps—a mother, “cleaning” her son’s room, finds a copy of Angry Youth Comix, hidden under his mattress, beneath an a few copies of Playboy, which had been borrowed from schoolmates with more forgiving parents, or perhaps pilfered from a pile, beneath his father’s workbench. Turning to one page in the Fantagraphics book at random in the book, every broad and largely unfounded fear she had ever harbored, regarding the sick and evil world of comics books is immediately reinforced.

In short, nearly every page that Johnny Ryan has produced for his flagship series, soon to be celebrating its 13th issue, represents everything sick, twisted, impure, and generally wrong with our society. To suggest that Ryan’s work represents everything that is wrong with the world is less of a knee-jerk, over-conservative reaction, than a fairly accurate depiction of the artist’s ouevre. On any given page, there’s likely to be a joke revolving around the holocaust, child molestation, racism, homophobia, and rape—and unfortunately for those readers sure that they had left such school yard humor behind, for the pages the New Yorker and NPR broadcasts, two-thirds of all of them are laugh out loud hilarious, which is to say that, as long as deep inside you, beneath the business suit and bi-focals, there exists an adolescent, weaned on issues of Mad Magazine, Mel Brooks movies, and worn out Richard Pryor LPs, your first issue of Angry Youth Comix will almost certainly not be your last.

Lowbrow comedy is easy, which is precisely why so many comedians and writers have devoted their craft to the form. Good lowbrow, on the other hand, is nearly impossible. Were the Pulitzer Price committee ever to make the incredibly misguided decision to introduce a lowest common denominator category into the proceedings, Ryan would be a shoo-in for the award, year after year. When it comes to trawling the depths of the human experience for comedic fodder, Ryan is one of history’s great geniuses.

None of this is to suggest, of course, that Angry Youth Comix meets its mark all of the time, of course—Ryan hits hard with comedic punches, and when he falls flat, he does so with a bang. Some stories have the tendency to meander, and in the last 20-odd pages of this second AYC anthology, the belly laughs grow far fewer and further between.

On a whole, however, XXX Scumbag Party presents an artist that has improved significantly in the few years since his last anthology, from his line-style—which has matured from stagnant to effortlessly cartoony—to his gags and story-lines. Industry potshots at D&Q artist, Seth, Charles Burns’s epic Black Hole, and an absurdist indictment of the Comics Code Authority are hilarious, if lacking in anything remotely resembling subtlety. Ryan doesn’t make any efforts to equal the relatively sprawling storytelling of the previous collection’s “The Whorehouse of Dr. Moreau,” aside from “Dry Gulch Follies 2005,” which weaves together storylines involving all of AYC’s leads, Pulp Fiction style, outwearing its welcome a few pages too early.

For the most part, however, Ryan hits his targets with a remarkable constancy, crafting hilarious punchlines about topics that probably shouldn’t be joked about. Anyone willing to forsake the rules that govern decent society for 175 pages, will get more than their money’s worth—just, you know, don’t let your mom catch you, or anything.

–Brian Heater

3 Comments to “XXX Scumbag Party by Johnny Ryan”

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