The universe is a vast and wondrous place. With millions of planets and galaxies, there is no better place than Planet Euphoria. Or, at least, that’s what space hobos Ana and Gabe believe. Traveling the galaxy in order to find Euphoria, the pair are chased by an unknown assailant in white. Why he’s chasing them, well, that’s a bit of a mystery. VOID TRIP tackles their story and the vast universe both outside ourselves and within.

Creative team Ryan O’Sullivan and Plaid Klaus took a moment to talk with us about their galactic tale. We chat about where their idea came from, is humanity truly free, and what’s next on their plate.

ComicsVerse (CV): To start off, can you tell us a little about VOID TRIP?

Ryan O’Sullivan (RO): VOID TRIP is the story of the last two humans left alive, Ana and Gabe, on a road trip through the intergalactic highway of space to the promised land of Planet Euphoria. Chasing them on this journey is an all-white, nameless gunslinger, who might just be the long-abandoned god of the human race. VOID TRIP aims to answer that old question of “How can we be free in a universe that limits us?” and is equal parts comedy and tragedy.

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CV: I know you two have an extensive history together, having previously worked on TURNCOAT together. You seem to work well together. What is it about the other collaborator that makes that possible?

RO: Similar beliefs: A shared valuing of narrative in story as superior to aesthetic beauty in words/art in the medium of comics; an equal desire to create characters that transcend the stories they are born into, to become fully-realised on the page with their own inner-life; collaborative acceptance of the suffering inherent behind all art created to be different for a marketplace that wants more of the same. We began as individuals, and now continue as a single collaborative entity.

Plaid Klaus (PK): It’s definitely chemistry. You put two elements together and you get a newly formed compound that is unique to its original components. This symbiotic structure is unique to comics due to the small scale of the team size. There is a formula to the creation process that is driven by a combined sparking of inspiration, like cross-pollination.  At times the writing becomes a catalyst for the art and in other cases, the art becomes a catalyst for the writing. The two elements are uniquely intertwined and if you separate either element from one another you’re going to get a different book.

Void Trip
Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: The story starts off pretty playful and fun, watching these two characters (almost) aimlessly fly around the universe. By the end, there’s a turn towards the existential, but it never feels like it is bogging down the fun, playful parts. How did you manage to shift tones so effortlessly?

RO: By obsessively analyzing the ebb and flow of the tone of the entire story outline before sitting down to write it. A comic series will always have a certain rhythm to it. If you can plug into that, then you can switch emotion throughout without it seeming forced.

It also helped that VOID TRIP was built around the two polar opposites of the American Soul. We tied the humor to the American Dream side of the soul – America as the old western frontier of opportunity, where you can achieve your individualistic dreams if you dream hard enough. We tied the existential to the Calvinist side of the soul – that side of the USA that believed in American Excellence expressed through Manifest Destiny at the expense of personal freedoms. The idea of living free, in a country built upon principles of control, gave us two powerful poles to pull from. We were able to switch between these two sides to the coin of the American Soul (and, by extension, the humor and existentialism linked to each) as much as we wanted without it feeling forced, overly sentimental or, worst of all, unAmerican.

PK: I really enjoy the flexibility in Ryan’s writing. It’s an authentic reflection of everyday life. Some days are comedic, some are dramatic, and others are mundane. It’s hard to fit a book into a category when the story is aiming for an authentic reflection of life. While it may seem like a stretch to call a story about the last two humans aimlessly tripping in space “authentic,” that is the goal. What would two living, breathing people feel in this scenario and how would they respond to these circumstances? Again, I think by not limiting the book to a category (drama, sci-fi, comedy, etc.) we leave many doors open to unexplored narrative directions that aren’t stifled by formulaic pitfalls. The one consistency to our work is a desire to evoke real waves of emotions and let them crash unexpectedly on the reader. So, like life, you never get too comfortable in the moment, because the tides are always shifting. Sometimes you’re riding a wave and sometimes you’re crashing onto the rocks.

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CV: Throughout the story, there are so many different types of aliens and worlds that I started to wonder if you’d ever run out of ideas. Did you ever find yourself stressing over creating new creatures and worlds?

RO: It was the opposite problem. I had more ideas than space to realize them. Fortunately, VOID TRIP is a road-trip story that deals in psychedelia, so the cut-up nature of our story allowed us to squeeze a lot in there.

PK: Nah, I don’t worry about running out of ideas. That’s the power of the imaginary realm; it’s an infinite space out there, somewhere, in the vast expanse of the mind.  I don’t know if these incorporeal entities are merely an amorphous collage of past experience germinating in the inner world of my subconscious mind, or if there is some platonic world where they’re out living and breathing; either way, the realm of the imaginative world isn’t just vast, it’s infinite and I feel like I’m just out there casting nets and trying to bring things back to our dimension. My stress is more concerned with not having the time to bring back all the disparate creatures and concepts that lie within that imaginative realm. I wish I could clone myself and start a comic book sweatshop.

Void Trip
Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: VOID TRIP has so many different fun, serious, and beautiful scenes. One of my favorites was the first time we see Hitch taking froot. I love the distinct change in art style and lettering. What were your favorite scenes to work on, and why?

RO: The ending remains my favorite scene. I’ve always thought the entire point of a story is its conclusion.

PK: Hard to say.  I love designing the worlds, characters and unique elements to each book, but the reason I got into comics as an art form was my love of storytelling. For me, the scenes that fulfill me the most aren’t always the big provocative images, but rather the more soft-spoken key emotional moments.

My favorite moment to draw in the series was the silent 7-page opener for issue 04.  It had some wonderful opportunities to create an emotional landscape, there was that fun comedic reveal on the second double page spread. Also, there were some key acting choices as she gave her friend a send-off. When a writer hands you a script where they’ve pulled out the dialogue and gives you the responsibility to carry the scene in images alone, it’s always a challenge. It’s the best kind of challenge and a rare opportunity to really show off knowing the reader is going to be really focusing in on the visuals.

CV: When a tragedy occurs, Anna is left alone with the ship’s AI program, which is extremely human-like. Perhaps this is a personal question on my part, but what is the symbolism of the AI becoming a pirate at the end and playing with the Moby Dick reference?

RO: In Moby Dick, Ahab chased the Great White Whale. In VOID TRIP, Ana is chased by the Great White Hunter. This is why AI, upon outing himself as the storyteller of VOID TRIP, says to his audience: “Call me Leamhsi” – a reverse of the first line of the novel because our story is a reversal of Moby Dick in a lot of ways.

You don’t need to have read Moby Dick to enjoy VOID TRIP. It was just something that influenced me in putting together the story. Our comic’s not a Moby Dick burlesque, it just plays with the ideas behind Moby Dick, which are universal, and can probably be traced all the way back to the Book of Job. (The section of the Old Testament that, in my opinion, reflects the soul of America greater than any other piece of literature.)

Cormac McCarthy, the successor to Melville, was also a big influence. There’s a lot of Judge Holden or Anton Chigurh in The Great White. There needed to be – with our heroes inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski, and the Beats – our villain had to pull from the other side of American Literature. (So that our characters could match the two aforementioned poles of the American Soul.)

But to return to your question. The AI is a pirate at the end because he’s revealing himself, much like Ishmael before him, as the narrator of our tale.

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CV: The character in white seems to think he is a God, while the AI calls him “a creator-slave collared to providence even more than the humans [he’s] chasing.”. What’s the difference between a creator and a God?

RO: He is Yahweh, Lucifer, and the Archon; and yet he is also none of them. The Great White is a fictional character in the vein of the three characters I just mentioned. Is he inspired by them? Perhaps. But the real question is what are they inspired by? That element at the core of human existence that makes us worship these ancient literary characters, that makes us rise them up from the page and turn them into, not our equals, but our masters. The inspiration behind Great White was us tuning into that essence. AI, Ana, and the other characters in VOID TRIP all had a different read on The Great White’s identity. So do Klaus and I. Truthfully? None of us know. We can’t. His very nature forbids it.

PK: My understanding mythologically is that the capital “G” is reserved for the ‘everything’ God which encompasses all things (the Mason’s represent this level of God with the G in the square and compass referring to the ‘Grand Architect’, but not specifically the Jehova god). There are smaller gods who make dimensional worlds and creatures who inhabit those dimensions, they are granted the mere lower-case ‘g’.

Take Gnosticism as an example. It is a religion which appropriates the stories around it using the symbolic structures of the zeitgeist to explore complex concepts. For one, they appropriated Jehovah from the Old Testament and relabeled him as the Demiurge. The concept being that the Demiurge is a god who created the domain we now inhabit and is, in fact, trapping us into human form. This Demiurge god has somehow entangled the light of “God” into shards of souls which are trapped in bodies of material matter. The mythology goes deeper to explain that Daemons known as Archons are disembodied entities that use humans to manifest their own will in this material world, feeding off human emotional states including suffering. Anyway, in this case, the Demiurge is a creator but not God.

Anyway, all that is to say, the book eludes to the fact that the ‘Great White’ is a god who has gone crazy (similar to the Demiurge) and is chasing after his creation to keep them imprisoned. Ultimately, like the ending itself, it is left for the reader to decide what they believe the Great White to be: a god or a maniac, or perhaps both.  A lot of the book touches on illusions and delusion. Our actions, whether chasing dreams or being chased by fears, can only be misinformed, because we are limited by the awareness of our vessel. The Universe is bigger than you and you can’t help but be a mere cog in its machine. Charles Horton Cooley points out that even choice itself is a fallacy. There isn’t free-will, there is merely the response to societal suggestion and environmental circumstance, but we don’t control any of the initial conditions. That seems to be the root of Ana’s predicament. She is unable to be free in a Universe that she has no authority over.

VOID TRIP
Courtesy of Image Comics

CV: By the end of the story, I felt that I had more questions than answers. Is there something you were trying to get readers to realize or recognize with such an ambiguous ending?

RO: Comics require less imagination from the reader than most other mediums. This is because, unlike poetry or prose, comics directly shows the reader what everything looks like. Sadly, many creators have taken this to indicate the inherent nature of comics as one of clarity. I fundamentally disagree. I appreciate that we are living in an age where readership is low, and that literacy levels are low, and that attention spans are rapidly shrinking. None of this means we should abandon the opportunity to allow for deeper readings. VOID TRIP is a very straightforward story; the ambiguity at the end was to encourage readers to think, whilst reading a medium that has trained them not to. I believe that for the comic medium to continue to evolve, it must embrace ambiguity much more than it currently is. This would be the first of many required steps to increase the role of the reader in the experience of reading comics.

Does Void Trip have a deeper meaning? Yes; the sort of reader you are will determine what that is.

PK: I think the story works on multiple levels. There are allusions of Gnostic and alchemical visual metaphors, but I didn’t want to drench the story in it. I do feel when creating art it’s important to embed subliminal intention into the work and let those elements seep into the reader’s subconscious. When you start to spell things out for the reader, or if you force metaphors in where they don’t belong, you start to oversaturate meaning to the work and it becomes less meaningful. Life is full of meaning, but its the meaning we give to it through our own intellect. Meaning is uncovered by every reader differently because we have brought different levels of awareness to the table. It’s important to let the reader bring their own awareness to the story and find the message within it. The experience of the outer world is reflected into the mind, and art is an attempt to reflect the inner experience back outwardly to the world. We all have different perspectives, but if you reflect your own experience authentically into a work, it will reflect meaning.

As for the ending, I would ask, what does it mean to you?

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CV: Now that VOID TRIP has wrapped up, what’s next?

RO: The VOID TRIP trade paperback is out May 30th in comic stores and June 5th in bookstores. DARK SOULS #1 is also coming from me in May. I’ve got an unannounced creator-owned book due to start serializing in August later this year. And, as Klaus mentioned, we’ve started putting together our third book together. We can’t say much about it right now, but after the break-neck pacing of VOID TRIP, our next comic series will slow down the pace a tad. We’re thinking either a 12-issue miniseries or an ongoing.

PK: We’re already starting to excavate our next creation from the imaginary ether. It’s definitely in the foetal stages, but I can already tell it’s going to be an even more evocative and emotional story.

You STILL haven’t read VOID TRIP?! Well, stop missing out on this space hobo goodness! Check out the first issue here! But if you’re patient, the trade paperback drops May 30th, which you can get here!

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