Porn Basket HC – Johnny Ryan

3 out of 5

Johnny Ryan has given us sketchbook collections before, in the form of his older Shouldn’t You Be Working issues. Obviously depending on the artist, I’m more or less a fan of such collections, but I do think they can be interesting for tracking day-to-day obsessions and experiments, watching an artist’s style evolve (or not). Porn Basket – a 350+ paged undersized hardcover book from Fantagraphics of 1-image per page drawings by Ryan – has this same potential interest, and is probably the best way to “read” the collection. You’ll run into a stream of pages where Ryan obsesses over particular imagery, or you’ll see a set of celebrity images indicative of a movie he just watched, or run into the question of what encourages the use of color on particular pages (splashes of blood red, of course). On the other hand, this isn’t exactly a sketchbook, as this stuff was already featured on Ryan’s Instagram, meaning, on some level, there’s an audience in mind. That’s the more eye-rolling read: do you judge Johnny for his one-track obsessions with ejaculating / peeing penises and trails of poop, or is it that he feels like that’s what’s expected and so that’s what he drifts toward? In a sketchbook – one made purely as outlet of brain dribblings – repeated concepts like this can be fascinating, despite their juvenilia or scatology, and certainly that’s still part of this, but social media accounts due change the interaction to a degree, leading to button-pushing imagery that’s sometimes worth a chuckle (transposing the World Trade Center as a character’s penis made me laugh), and sometimes just a mash-up of inflammatory stuff. As a side note: I have been interested to see how Johnny has navigated changing tastes for what was once called “transgressive” humor of a particular variety – rape jokes, jokes about sexual or gender identity – and while he doesn’t avoid it completely, it is much less of a focus than one might’ve seen back in, say, Angry Youth Comix. I’d say the focus here is more on gross-out gags, and drawing wieners on everything, in every which way.

The quality of the book (actually by Fanta imprint “F.U. Press”) is wonderful, a cute lil’ hardcover in a darling light blue binding that belies its in-your-face title, cover art of some G.G. Allin type, and, y’know, contents featuring plenty of vaginas and dicks and assholes, although I do think one page giving the contents some context would’ve been nice. It’s surely a targeted item, though – meaning this is really for Johnny fans (or fans of art / humor of this style), and not a way to necessarily be introduced to the artist.