Look, space freaks me out. It’s too vast and mysterious. However, I will admit that space has given us some of the greatest stories committed to film, television, books, and comics. You’ve got DUNE, STAR WARS, STAR TREK, ENDER’S GAME, SAGA, etc. but something has been missing. VOID TRIP fills the…god forgive me…void.

It’s the perfect space adventure story. It’s beautifully illustrated and colored, funny, and badass. Just like one of its main characters, Ana, VOID TRIP is going to do whatever it wants, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think. Speaking of…

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The comic follows Ana, picture Cara Delevingne with a beanie, and Gabe, your slightly more responsible older friend who still does drugs with you, on their quest to Euphoria, a place where they can be truly free. Still, they’re hobos, and they’re being hunted, so it’s not exactly a walk in the intergalactic park.

The duo behind VOID TRIP is Ryan O’Sullivan (TURNCOAT and THE EVIL WITHIN) and Plaid Klaus (TURNCOAT, GLIMMER SOCIETY, AND PSYCHONAUTS) and they’re absolutely killing it. Just in time for the second issue of VOID TRIP, dropping December 27, 2017, we got to pick their brains on the look of VOID TRIP, the characters, and what makes good sci-fi.

VOID TRIP #1 Advanced Review: Sober Ruins Fun

ComicsVerse (CV): There is a little bit of an ODD COUPLE paring between Gabe and Ana. Why are they the perfect pairing for this particular adventure?

Ryan O’Sullivan (RO): Because they’re pretty much the same person at different stages of their life. Ana is the young, optimistic, idealist. She wants to live in the moment and not let anything hold her back. Gabe, on the other hand, is the long-in-the-tooth hippy. He’s been around the block. He knows that sometimes to live freely, you have to play along with the system.

The central premise of VOID TRIP is the question;

How can you be free, if the universe, by its very nature, will always course-correct to limit you?”

Having two characters with the same desire (freedom), but different approaches to getting it, seemed like the best way to explore this central conceit.

We also tried to avoid either character having the moral authority. There’s nothing more tiresome than a comic that tries to make you think a certain way. I much prefer comics or novels that make you ask questions, rather than seek to give you answers.

CV: Regarding the art of VOID TRIP, how much was detailed in the writing and how much of that is freestyle?

Plaid Klaus (PK): Because of the nature of comics, the images must be distilled to the essentials necessary to drive the narrative. When Ryan delivers a script he has plotted out what is needed to drive a scene and lead the reader through the story. He does a great job summarizing environments and situations succinctly to get my creative mind goin’.

Since the essentials are broken down, I have the confidence to go into each page and layer in and add the fun bits that help give each situation a unique sense of life.

CV: One of the best things about working in the sci-fi realm is that you can create whatever comes to mind. I often think of the first time you see a collection of bounty hunters in STAR WARS, they all look so different. How much fun is it to work on stuff like that?

RO: It’s fun because you’re able to go with the flow a lot more than if you were writing, say, a crime story. You’re able to allow your imagination to run just that little bit wilder. Especially in a soft sci-fi story like VOID TRIP, where you can have elements that are both serious and daft co-existing. One thing I’ve noticed is that, when I’m creating stories or characters, I’ll often try and push them to the limit of believability.

You come up with a joke character to make your collaborator laugh, and in doing so, you let your creative subconscious play without the restriction of needing to take itself seriously. Doing this, you accidentally create a lot of great elements. Characters, settings, etc. Sci-fi helps push these self-imposed creative boundaries even further

You have to be careful though. Loose boundaries make it easier to be sloppy.

Void Trip Odd Couple
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: What was the incepting idea of VOID TRIP?

PK: It started off as a story about Space Hobos trying to fumble their way across the galaxy and from there is sprouted wings.

RO: VOID TRIP is a concept that Plaid Klaus (illustrator, colorist, and co-creator) and I came up with together. I came up with the idea, but it was based around one of Klaus’s daily warm-up sketches that he used to post on Facebook. It started off as a discussion, with each of us suggesting to the other about what we’d enjoy doing in a road trip story set in space. From here I went away and plotted it out, using Klaus as a sounding board almost in the way you would a co-writer or editor.

Once the story was plotted out to both our satisfaction, I’d go away and script it, full script, before passing the scripts over to Klaus. Klaus would then illustrate the comic, using me as a sounding board much in the way I had with him at the plotting stages. So yes, we edit each other, we came up with this together, and it’s been collaboration from the get-go.

CV: Did you draw inspiration from any other properties while you were developing VOID TRIP? Any films or books? 

PK: Nothing in particular. There is always a swarm of influences from the unconscious mind, but I didn’t really have any desire to mimic or reference anything in particular. Instead, I just tried to get into the right state of mind to make the book. So I ate a lot of space froot and listened to the best 70s dusty road tunes I could find while drawing the book.

RO: Counter-cultural novels by Hunter S. Thompson, Kerouac, and Bukowski as well as films like EASY RIDER, THELMA & LOUISE. These were the main influences on Ana and Gabe. We were pulling from the 60s, 70s, and 80s a fair amount when putting together our main characters and the story they go on.

The villain of our story, on the other hand, the all-white nameless gunslinger, was more influenced by the “other side” of American literature. Authors like Herman Melville or Cormac McCarthy. We needed him to be the polar opposite of our heroes. Someone Old Testament, fire, and brimstone.

I remember reading some advice by Jason Latour a few years back. He said you could have your characters spout long-winded philosophy if you have them say “y’all” at the end of their sentences. We did this in reverse in VOID TRIP. We added the philosophizing to make our constant use of the word “dude” more palatable.

Void Trip trippy
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: Recalling the horned bear fuel truck driver — a group of words I’d never thought I’d have to say — we’ve seen this kind of thing before in sci properties. What’s so interesting about making animals like people and using them as characters and how is it different in Void Trip?

RO: It’s useful in a comic because it allows you to amplify the cartooning element of the storytelling. The good thing about cartoons is that readers can imprint on them because they are not photo-real. The reader’s mind has to make them real in their mind. Because of this, we can have a talking bear feel more “real” than a human. Precisely because it doesn’t look much like a human and the reader has to fill in the gaps.

By filling in the gaps, you become more invested in the characters. (This is because you’ve partially created them.) Add on top of this us using animal parts to trigger certain responses in the reader (i.e., cute and flurry – just like the dog I had when I was a kid!), and you’re really able to play with the reader’s emotions.

PK: Its always fun to have anthropomorphic animals human hybrid creatures. With the opening scene, the goal was to make the scene feel like a truck stranded in the desert of the Midwest.

So, I wanted the whole scene aesthetic to read as a relatable scenario, but with slightly askew or off-kilter to signal to the reader we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Void Trip Animals
Image courtesy of Image Comics

CV: In our review of VOID TRIP #1, Leijah said, “The art of the story is spectacular. The colors mix a space-age style with a stoner perception. Plaid Klaus’ future sci-fi backgrounds with psychedelic coloring is just absolutely perfect. His style also changes and fluctuates, giving readers a view of what it really feels like to take space froot. The colors and drawings for reality are clear.” 

Was this always the style you were going for with is book? How much was just the instant thought of, “I know exactly what I want to do” and how much was just developing a process?

RO: We always knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know the path to get there until we were on it.

Now I type it out, it seems like our path to creating VOID TRIP isn’t all that much different from Ana and Gabe’s journey within VOID TRIP. Klaus’s art in this is great, isn’t it? He’s really captured the beauty of being on the road and, by extension, the beauty of life. Now, I don’t necessarily think our book promotes the idea that life is beautiful. So this is why the approach Klaus took is so perfect.

On the one hand, he’s showing the beauty of the world, and promoting it, intuitively to the reader’s visual sensibilities, as a good thing. But when you unpack the narrative around it, these beautiful vistas and landscapes and colors suddenly become a mirage. An illusion of beauty in an existence that is pure suffering.

Who is to say which of these perspectives is the right one? We leave that up to the reader. But having the art look this way, beautifully deceptive and deceptively beautiful, was very much by design.

PK: After a certain number of years at the artboard, you learn to shoot from the hip. The style emerges naturally.  There is always a sketching/conceptual stage, but it feels more like excavation than construction.  I’m digging around in the imagination to find what the story wants to be.

CV: What makes VOID TRIP different from anything else you’ve worked on thus far?

RO: I’d say VOID TRIP is a lot more me. I’ve worked on licensed books before, and those are always set in someone else’s sandbox. You are laying in a world that is not your creation. Don’t get me wrong, I bled as much of myself into those books as was possible. But simply by virtue of playing in someone else’s sandbox, there’s always going to be a ceiling on how much of yourself you can put in the books. You didn’t build the world. You didn’t set the tone. By definition, it’s not 100% you.

VOID TRIP is different. It’s Klaus and me 100%. If you enjoyed our last book together, TURNCOAT, you’ll enjoy this. With every book we work on together, we become much more unified in our collaborative “voice.” As for what that is, think one part world-building through humor, and one part existential dread. We like to force people to gaze into the abyss, and hopefully laugh at it.

PK: The story has more heart and soul than anything I’ve ever worked on before. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve brought characters to life and given them original personalities that feel genuine. I grew really attached to the characters throughout the creation of the series. It’s gonna be hard to let them go and move on to the next project.

CV: What do you want readers to walk away with after reading VOID TRIP?

RO: I want them to like it. I want them to buy it. I possibly want them to be entertained. And my ego would like them to go away with questions they might not have had before.

PK: Life is filled with roadblocks, wrong turns, and dead ends.  The construct we live in feels like its designed to confine and control us. But the one thing the confines of the world can’t touch is your individual free will. Take life’s setbacks as challenges or hurdles to overcome on the path to your dreams.  My personal take home is, you have to be willing to die to be free.

CV: One of my favorite panels of  VOID TRIP #1 is one of the fuel tankers with this giant moon behind it. It looks like a gas stop in America, but it’s also foreign. When you’re building a world, how much do you take from what you know and what is unfamiliar? On the art side and writing side?

PK: My process is to seek out a bunch of inspiration and reference for a story. I compile a library to draw from later.  However, after sketching and studying the various elements of the story, I put the reference aside and work from my memory and imagination. This way the objects and details become my own. I’ll pull the reference back out when I have trouble imagining certain elements, but I try to keep them to a minimal. This helps to create a world that is filtered through my personal imagination.

RO: Don Paterson is one of my favorite poets and aphorists. I remember listening to him on a podcast years ago when he said, “Truly original ideas must be part familiar to take the reader from the known to the unknown.”

I think that’s pretty spot-on and it’s definitely the approach we took to both the art and the writing of VOID TRIP.

CV: What’s the most important thing to nail in a story about the last humans in the universe?

RO: Not losing track of who they are as individuals. It’s very easy when writing a sci-fi story about the last two humans left alive, to suddenly start caring about all horrendously boring stuff. Things like “how can they make more humans?” or “what is the legacy of humanity?” Sci-f lets you play in space, with aliens. I think it’s dangerous always to assume that humanity’s ongoing survival is important. By all means, use element sin the story to talk about the human condition and the existential dread at the core of it. But for the love of $deity doesn’t make it overtly about humans. That’s just vain.

PK: Well, at its core [VOID TRIP] is a road trip story, so the landscapes and environments were of primary importance.  It was important to feel like the characters were on a journey through new and unexplored places.  The environments help set the mood and tone for the various scenes and became an element that helped define their trip.

CV: If you were the last two humans in the universe what would you do?

PK: If I discovered space froot I would probably follow suit of Anna and Gabe.  There is a vast Universe to explore and what better way to take the journey than tripping out on exotic plant drugs.

RO: I’d repopulate the earth with Ryan/dolphin hybrids. We would rule the land and sea. My opponent, the other last human, would probably rule the skies with some sort of human/bird hybrid.

He would forget, however, that it isn’t possible to rule the skies. He’d have to land eventually. And when he did, I’d be waiting. Me and my anthropomorphic dolphin incest children. We’d be waiting, ready to pull those feathery bastards down into the wet, muddy depths of our lairs.

CV: If you had to describe VOID TRIP in three words, what would it be?

RO: Carpe diem, yo.

PK: Psychedelic Space Trip.

VOID TRIP has Already Landed!

You can learn more about VOID TRIP here. Keep an eye out for what Ryan O’Sullivan is doing here and what Plaid Klaus is up to here on Twitter!

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