Yorkshire based writer, Ryan O’Sullivan new book Void Trip, from Image Comics, hits the racks later this month. Here at Comic Crusaders, we put on our thermals (it’s cold in Yorkshire – I should know; I live in the North of the county), and discussed all things Ana and Gabe, whilst also chatting about influences, sci-fi versus road movies and hoe society has a part to play in telling stories that perhaps challenges perceptions:
Comic Crusaders: Hi Ryan, great to meet you. Let’s kick it off with a biggie – how did you break into comics?
Ryan O’Sullivan: With Plaid Klaus, the illustrator on Void Trip, actually. We worked on a web comic called TURNCOAT together back in 2015. It was a fun superhero story, played with the tropes of superheroes a bunch. That got us loads of attention online. So much so in fact that we ran a Kickstarter to collect the web comic as a graphic novel and it did gangbusters. Pretty much everything I’ve done in comics has been off the back of that.
CC: How difficult is it to break into the U.S. comic market if you live outside of the U.S and how do you overcome those difficulties?
RO’S: I’m assuming you mean breaking into US direct market publishers? I’d say it’s very hard. A large part of getting hired by publishers is putting in face-time. You can’t really do that with an ocean in between you. I try to get over to as many cons as I can, though. Sometimes the Americans come over here. In fact that was how Void Trip got picked up. Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image Comics, was over at a show in the UK called Thoughtbubble. We showed him what we were working on. He dug it. Now they’re publishing it.
It has to be face to face. Some of these publishers get hundreds of submissions every day.
CC: Who are your writing inspirations and influences?
RO’S: I admire Alan Moore, but I don’t have any direct writing influences. Void Trip, however, does pull from a lot of different authors, nearly all of them American. It pulls from counter-culture authors like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson. And on the other hand, it pulls from culture-enforcing authors like Melville, Hawthorne, and McCarthy. As it went on, and the pessimistic nature of the story became more and more apparent, a fair amount of Ligotti ended up in there as well. I can’t speak on Klaus’s behalf, but when thinking of the art direction, I definitely had artists like Sean Gordon Murphy, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, and Geoff Darrow in mind.
CC: From a visual point of view, I think I see a little bit of Star Wars in there as well as maybe a Sandman from Logan’s run. Have you always been a sci-fi fan and if so what are you favourite movies?
RO’s: I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi, but I’ve never been a fanatic about it. I used to love reading the expanded universe Star Wars novels as a kid. That soon turned into sci-fi films, TV shows, and video-games. Star Trek, Mass Effect, XCom. Not to mention the years I lost playing Warhammer 40,000. Sci-fi has had a huge part of my life, but it’s always been synonymous with pop culture. I suppose you could say all sci-fi is, it’s either a reflection or a subversion or a commentary on what’s popular, for the most part.
I’ve never really jumped into contemporary sci-fi though. Your Asimov’s or your Philip K Dicks or your Arthur C Clarke’s. So much of that has bled into pop culture I think I’d find it hard to, now. It’s sad in a way. I remember reading Moebius’s work for the first time in my 20s and feeling it was derivative. It wasn’t, of course, I’d just grown up inundated by all of the things he’d inspired. I think the same would hold true of contemporary sci-fi authors.
Void Trip is sci-fi second and a road-trip story first, though. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.
CC: What’s the story between Ana and Gabe? Will we get to see how they met?
RO’S: They’re two froot-filled hippies travelling the intergalactic highway to the promised land. And while we do go into how they met, briefly, it’s not the focus of our story. It’s a road trip story. It starts in one place. It ends in another. That’s the story. That’s what we’re focused on. And I worried if we strayed too far from that, then we’d be too self indulgent.
CC: I have read that the pair are the last two humans in the universe. What happened to the rest?
RO’S: We never get into this. And it’s by design. This is Ana and Gabe’s story. It’s about them. The rest of the human race doesn’t matter. If anything, them not mattering is one of the key parts of the story. Ana and Gabe want to do their own thing. The human race is no more. So are they able to do what they want? Not really.
CC: The book seems to be about freedom against a conforming society. How does recent events (the NFL players kneeling for example) relate and how does real life events impact your writing?
RO’S: Not society, life. Life makes you conform. You have to. It’s called survival. Society existing is one of the ways we survive. But there are plenty of others, and they’re always built upon the idea of sacrificing your own individual freedoms. And I think this is something everyone can relate to. It’s the human condition. Life not being this gift, but being full of suffering. That’s something everyone can understand.
This is why I ignore current events when writing. They date the work. They make it topical. They make it didactic or polemical. I’m not writing hot takes. I’m writing stories. And I’d much rather appeal to readers of all political/religious/sexual persuasions by writing something that gets to the core of the human condition.
Also. I believe that to exist is to suffer. If I’m going to write about this, then I can’t “blame society” because then I have a boogieman behind the suffering. I have a bad guy that my heroes can overcome. The entire point of Void Trip is that there is no reason for suffering or for not being able to live freely. That’s just how life is.
And you don’t have to accept that.
CC: Froot is a metaphor for drug use. Is the book trying to say that drugs should be legalized?
RO’S: Void Trip isn’t advocating for anything. This is because I believe the best books give you questions, not answers. I don’t do drugs myself, they’ve never appealed to me, but I don’t understand why they’re illegal. It’s a weird prohibition, especially when cigarettes and alcohol are legal and are so much more dangerous.
Froot was a narrative device. I’m not advocating for it. Although our heroes definitely are. And to be real, drugs can ruin lives. I’ve seen it happen. I didn’t want to advocate for something like that, and I didn’t want to write about the serious side of it. That’s why it’s called Froot. That’s why our heroes have “sugar highs”.
CC: Ana is smart ass character, with a certainty in her own opinion and no-one else’s. Is she based on anyone in particular?
RO’S: If she is, then I’m not consciously aware of it. She popped into my head fully formed. She’s this person who is too good for the world she finds herself in, and feels equally held back by both the oppressed and the oppressors around her.
CC: Image are a company that seems to have moved away from their superhero origins. What was it that made them the publisher of choice for your book?
RO’S: They’re the biggest publisher of creator-owned books. They’re the most prestigious publisher of creator-owned books. They allow absolute creative freedom.
Those are the main three reasons. Plus, Klaus and I aren’t interested in turning Void Trip into a transmedia property. It’s a comic through and through. And it’s a comic we wanted to own ourselves. Image Central is the best place for this sort of thing.
CC: What’s next for the vagabond pair and for yourself?
RO’S: Void Trip is a self-contained mini-series. So, I don’t think we’ll be seeing more of Ana or Gabe outside of it. As for more stuff from Klaus and me? Watch this space is all I’m able to say right now.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule Ryan, I really appreciate it.
Void Trip hits your local comic book shop 22nd November. For an advance review click the following link: