VOID TRIP is a sci-fi road trip of epic proportions. A pair of space drifters, Ana and Gabe, are hellbent on getting to their final stop, Euphoria. Not only do you have a great female protagonist at the helm, but the world is full of humor, amazing scenery, complex antagonists, and relationships that will suck you in over merely five issues. However, I’d like to look deeper into metafiction and its role in this story.

VOID TRIP is amazing because Ryan O’Sullivan and Plaid Klaus have created a world so rich in metafictional elements without overshadowing everything else. Sometimes using metafiction can be cheesy or over-the-top, but I believe O’Sullivan and Klaus have found the perfect balance. They use intertextuality and critical views on certain sci-fi tropes to make the story more nuanced. But before diving in, let’s lay down our groundwork.

WARNING: If you haven’t read VOID TRIP yet, there are many spoilers ahead!

What the Hell is Metafiction?

The basic definition of metafiction, according to Merriam-Webster, is “fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions.” In other words, the story is actively working to make you aware that the story is a story. Metafiction is interested in the actual act of writing, as well as portraying authors or storytellers as characters.

Ryan O’Sullivan and Plaid Klaus Talk VOID TRIP and Space Hobos!

Authors can employ metafiction in stories by using literature and writing as a plot device or”breaking the fourth wall” to directly address readers. And the only way to “break the wall” is to separate the fictional world from the “real world.” Intertextuality (a story within a story) and exaggerating or critiquing certain fictional tropes are also common within metafiction. Some famous examples of metafiction are Slaughterhouse-Five, House of Leaves, and The New York Trilogy. These are all vastly different pieces of literature, which shows how flexible metafiction can be.

And though metafiction seems to be based on text alone, it can be applied to any form of media, including comics. Some scholars claim that metafiction is too experimental. The experiment can get in the way of the actual story. Comics like DEADPOOL, for example, are well-known for breaking the fourth wall. And while it can add to the humor, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But while metafictional elements can definitely overwhelm or devalue a narrative, I think they can be helpful if you use them correctly. VOID TRIP does an excellent job balancing plot with metafiction.

Intertextuality

One of the defining characteristics of VOID TRIP is its “story within a story” concept. What I love most about the execution of intertextuality in VOID TRIP is that you don’t realize it until around the fourth issue. The AI (Artificial Intelligence) from Ana and Gabe’s ship is actually the one crafting this story, keeping it alive through generations. But after so much time has passed, Ana’s story begins to fade, even in AI’s mind. He can only recall vague details, which leads us to believe that the story throughout the five issues may not even be “real.” AI might have been telling similar stories over years, but each story changes over time. This form of storytelling seems a lot like how we create stories in general. All art is influenced by something, no matter how subconscious.

metafiction in void trip
Image courtesy of Image Comics
AI even states that he doesn’t “think the details matter much, anyway. All that matters in a story is the moral.” The robot kids listening to the story also claim that they “hate humans stories” because “they’re always so vague.”
I think this says a lot about storytelling, especially postmodern and metafictional. The details really don’t matter that much. This is why Ana and Gabe’s story can be so warped but still have the same outcome. In any case, no matter their relationship or the circumstances, Gabe and Ana’s story will always end the same. And yet, we still connect to the story AI tells us throughout the five issues. It may be one of the hundreds of versions of the tale, but it feels authentic. The details may not technically matter, but we still want to see characters and specific scenarios instead of meandering blobs.

Pop Culture References

Now don’t worry, we’re not talking Ready Player One amounts of superficial name-dropping. VOID TRIP references other works sparingly, but the examples that O’Sullivan and Klaus use makes sense to the overall story. For example, I caught a lot of STAR WARS references. But it’s much more than a character saying “I am your father.” It’s difficult for sci-fi stories to escape the influence of the classic franchise, and VOID TRIP is no exception. However, these references actually contribute to the narrative.

Creation and Existentialism in PERMANENT PRESS

In issue #2, as a consequence of eating too much “froot,” Ana dreams of a mentor. A mentor seems to be somebody or something who relays a message, usually on the vague side. Ana’s mentor calls her the “chosen one,” but she refuses to listen, believing she doesn’t deserve the title. After waking up, she stands between two huts and looks up at a pair of celestial bodies, much like Luke Skywalker looking at the binary sunset in A NEW HOPE. Ana also points out that the cannibals have “really shitty aim,” which is, of course, the joke surrounding Storm Troopers’ marksmanship skills. Metafiction works because we’re already familiar with these references, therefore we can associate VOID TRIP with fiction.
metafiction in void trip
STARS WARS IV: A NEW HOPE. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

And aside from fictional references, issue #4 also brings Carl Sagan into the mix. AI changes into Sagan while explaining that organic life either lives to become fully robotic or dies off. From what we see at the end of the series, one of these possibilities is certainly true. I also think it’s interesting to use an actual real-life figure instead of a fictional one. Using Sagan implies that this fictional world is an extension of our current reality rather than a separate entity.

Deconstructing Tropes

You can’t talk about Luke Skywalker and “chosen ones” without exploring the “Hero’s Journey.” Metafiction often calls attention to certain literary tropes and characters. The hero’s journey has been around for as long as people have been able to tell stories. It follows an individual who is “chosen” by the universe or some greater being for a certain, life-changing purpose. This hero must face the journey alone at one point or another. We see this in VOID TRIP after the all-white hunter kills Gabe, leaving Ana to defeat the hunter by herself. This also brings up the trope of the martyr mentor.

metafiction in void trip
Image courtesy of TV Tropes

VOID TRIP calls attention to this concept directly in issue #2. Ana calls out her mentor as well as the trope of the wise martyr (like Obi-Wan Kenobi). She tells her mentor that she hates talking to mentors due to their “beards and morals and [their] habit of dying-so-the-hero-can-learn-a-valuable-lesson.” While the mentor she’s talking to in this case doesn’t die, Gabe could be considered an alternative mentor.

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But instead of doing anything especially universe-changing, Ana gets her revenge on the hunter and drives her ship directly into a star. I believe this is a more honest take on the hero’s journey. Relying on one person to change the world or universe is pretty unreasonable. In some ways, Ana’s ending is a great critique of the hero’s journey. It shows us how different and nuanced it can be. There have been loads of great hero stories, but change is always good.

The Final Product

VOID TRIP uses all of these elements to create a story with questions and few answers. We don’t know who the real Ana is, but we do know her ultimate fate. The overall story questions what it means to be human by exploring the fatal flaws of humanity. Euphoria couldn’t last because they defined their “progress” by their robot servants rather than their own actions. The hero’s journey ends much differently, with no epilogue filled with second generations and sitting in fields of flowers. Ana’s choice may have been selfish in some ways, but in others, it was the most honest choice to make.

AI questions whether or not death is truly a freeing state of being, but we see that Ana is truly happy wherever she is. She’s free from any “chosen one” rhetoric or relentless assassins. Her free will is no longer a question. Other stories may have tried to keep Ana alive and pair her off with a random new character. But in this instance, the metafictional elements reject that tidy ending.

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