Ryan O’Sullivan and I Shamelessly Plug Void Trip & Do An Interview
After sitting down with both creators of Void Trip, you may want to pick it up. Sprinkled with a bit of wisdom and just enough sass to make it interesting, Ryan O’Sullivan has a lot to say about his upcoming work and influences. Void Trip hits shelves November 22 and if you’re a fan of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you’ll most definitely want to pick it up.I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
First of all Ryan, can you tell the readers a bit about your background and what you’ve worked on?
Sure! My name is Ryan O’Sullivan, and I’m a comic book writer from the UK. I’m part of a writer studio known as White Noise, and write comic books primarily for the US/UK comic book market. My previous work includes Warhammer 40,000 and The Evil Within for Titan Comics, Eisenhorn for Games Workshop, and the kick-started graphic novel Turncoat. Turncoat was the last book that Plaid Klaus, the illustrator on Void Trip, and I worked on together. It was how we met!
Can you give us what Void Trip is all about for those that have not read it yet?
Void Trip is the story of Ana and Gabe, the last two humans left alive in the universe. Now I know what you might be thinking: what are they going to do to save humanity? The answer? Absolutely nothing. They’re a pair of absolute space hippies. More interested in getting high off space froot and partying than they are saving the universe/thwarting bad guys/whatever else it is you’re supposed to put in a sci-fi comic. Our heroes aren’t directionless vagabonds, however. Oh no. They’re travelling with a purpose – to one day arrive at the hippy mecca of the universe, Planet Euphoria. And without spoiling too much, the focus of Void Trip is more about what they do to get there, and their dreams and hopes along the way, than it is about them arriving there. Journey over the destination and all that.
Void Trip is very much a road-trip story, but with the visual trappings of science fiction. Klaus and I wanted to tell a story about getting lost in America, but realised we had to take the story into space to be able to do it. What with us living in the age of Big Brother, sat nav, and phones that talk to us.
Oh, and there’s a villain too. An all-white, nameless, gun-toting, force of nature who talks like something out of the Old Testament and behaves like a Cormac McCarthy villain. He’s hunting our heroes. Why? Who knows. He could be the dying god of the human race, desperate to save humanity despite itself so that he can continue existing. But then again, he might just be a crazy space person. The road, even an intergalactic one, is full of the weirdos.
Can you tell me how exactly Void Trip came about?
Klaus and I worked on a webcomic-come-graphic-novel-come-kickstarter last year Called Turncoat. Turncoat was a superhero book about the world’s worst superhero assassin. It turned out to be a bit of a beast of a first book, clocking in at something like 164 pages. When you work with someone on something that long, you really start to click with them creatively. And, sure enough, as we were nearing the end of Turncoat, ideas started forming about the next book we wanted to do together.
Originally, I pitched Klaus the concept of Void Trip (back then known as “Space Hobos”) and he loved it. I had a feeling he might. It involved a lot of things he was into. Space hippies, juvenile humour, existential dread, but also thematic links beneath the surface such as Gnosticism and counter-culture beat generation stuff. It was the culmination of about five years of ingesting different American influences. From oldschool Calvinist writers like Melville or Hawthorne, to beat generation dudes like Kerouc, Ginsberg, and Bukowski, all the way to more modern authors such as Thompson and McCarthy.
I’ve gotten this vibe of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Can you tell me if either of these are favorites of yours?
Absolutely! As I mentioned above, Hunter S. Thompson is a big influence on Void Trip, with his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas informing one of the leads, Ana, especially. Thompson is an interesting dude, his Gonzo approach to journalism gave him direct access to what he was writing about, and, by extension, gave his work a degree of raw honesty that his contemporaries lacked. (“Raw honesty” being the single element, other than pessimism, that links all of the aforementioned influences on Void Trip. Klaus and I might be telling a funny story about two drug-fueled space-hippies, but it’s no comedy. We’re going real.)
There’s this big divide in epistemology about the analytic versus the synthetic. The idea being that there’s two different ways to know things: by experiencing them (synthetic) or by rationalising them (analytic). Synthetic knowledge has always felt more real to me, and to most people. Which is why Hunter S. Thompson and the beat generation writers appealed to me so much. They’re writing about experience, and their stories exist in this quasi-real realm: half fiction and half non-fiction. They can hit you hard, but do it in a way you don’t expect because you think you’re being entertained/protected by story.
In fact, the bits of stories that hit me hardest are those truths that cut through the illusion of reality – the one created by our senses or our ideas of morality – and cut to the core of what is. They don’t give us any sort of moral or direction. They don’t say “Reality is X, now go do Y”. They just show us the truth of existence, and let us make our own mind up about it. I like stories that show things as they really are, irrespective of whether it is considered polite within wider society to do so.
The entire premise of Void Trip is “where can we find Freedom in a universe that conspires to stop us being free?”. I don’t want to spoil anything before the book is out, but Hunter S. Thompson figured out where to find such freedom. And I hope our readers do too.
What was your process to get into the mindset while creating Void Trip?
I don’t really have a process. I sit down to write at the same time each day, and the words tend to happen. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, but they’re always there, falling out onto the page. Usually I need silence to write. Background noise kills me, and music influences me too much. But for some reason, Steppenwolf’s “Pusher” is a song I can have on repeat when writing Void Trip. It’s very much Ana & Gabe’s song.
How did you decide you were interested in working with Klaus on the project?
As I mentioned above, the chief narrative function of Void Trip is the juxtaposition of humour with existential dread. (The sort of thing you find in Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty, or the movies/dramas of Martin McDonagh). As the story had to allow for both humorous scenes and serious ones, I wanted to work with an artist who had a cartoony style, but a lot of heavy blacks. Klaus was an obvious choice.
I say “obvious choice”. But there wasn’t really any choosing involved. We came up with this together. I suppose what I mean is that this concept seemed right for Klaus. Our stories always seem to mix the macabre with the funny. We like to take one big look at the pessimistic, hopeless, nature of existence, and laugh at it. I think a lot of people do. I think that’s essentially what meme culture is.
The alternative would be to take life seriously. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be?
There feels like a little bit of social commentary here, could you elaborate on that for readers?
I think all stories have social commentary in. Nothing is created in a vacuum. And yes, when telling a story about the nature of human existence, you have to talk about society and how it operates. But one thing I wanted to avoid with Void Trip was talking about anything current. This isn’t a story bashing left wing or right wing ideas. While it is a look at American culture, it refuses to play into the “us vs them” narrative that is so deeply entrenched within it. And that was by design.
I wanted to tell a story that talked about the human condition in general. All of us live, all of us suffer. There’s empathy there. There’s understanding. We forget this sometimes when we focus too much on fighting. When talking about society we need to talk about everyone. I didn’t want Void Trip to be just another didactic polemic with characters repeating the talking points of whatever novel/blog post/groupthink-approved philosophy is current. I wanted it to be timeless.
Plus, you don’t open an argument with your conclusion. You ease people into it. Who’s to say I don’t take a side in latter issues? Only way to find out is to keep buying the comic. (I know. I’m shameless.)
I’m not sure if the intent was there or not but I’m very curious as to understanding whether Ana and Gabe are in fact representative of people you’ve met or if their personalities were created to be complementary for the story?
They’re archetypes, mainly. Gabe is the wise-old hippy who’s seen it all and knows how to play along with the system just enough to find freedom in the gaps it gives you. Ana, on the other hand, is the wide-eyes idealist, refusing the live her life by anyone’s rules except her own, demanding freedom from a universe inherently determined not to give it to her. I think most people tend to fall into one or two of these camps, so I’m sure plenty of people have influenced their characters. Although I couldn’t give you any names.
Are you looking to end after the 5 issues or make Void Trip into an ongoing series possibly?
Void Trip is planned for five issues. I’ve said in other interviews that I’d be happy to continue it beyond that if sales are decent. But, having thought about it, I always hate it when stories continue beyond where they should. We’ll probably just end it with Issue #5.
But then again, never say never. If a great idea for a sequel/spin off bursts into our minds then we’ll probably try and continue beyond.
Finally, you can be one fictional character from any universe for a day, who are you and why?
I’m already a fictional character. A complicated backwards-rationalised physical reaction to external stimulus that calls itself consciousness in order to allow a physical body with higher functions to operate without going insane.
But with that said, I’d probably have to go with Goofy from Disney. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, to figure out how Goofy, a dog, is able to have a dog of his own (Pluto). Is this slavery? Is Pluto mentally ill? Is it a fetish thing? I want to know. Secondly, I would be able to ask Donald/Mickey why one of them wears a top with no bottom and a bottom with no top. Also, it seems safer to be a cartoon character. Originally, I was going to answer with someone from Game of Thrones or Star Wars or one of the superhero universes, but then I realized that those places, while conducive to great stories, would be terrifying to live in. They are filled with beautiful people though. Hmm. I think i’ll stick with Goofy. He exists in the same shared universe as Jessica Rabbit, right?