Rogues Portal had the opportunity to speak with the creative team behind Void Trip: writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Plaid Klaus. Issue #1 of this brand-new sci-fi comic comes out from Image on November 22.
Check out the Q&A below!
ROGUES PORTAL (RP): How would you describe Void Trip to potential readers?
Ryan O’Sullivan (RO): Void Trip is a road trip story set in space. In it, we follow space hippies Ana and Gabe as they trek across the stars looking for the fabled paradise planet Euphoria. Void Trip is a story that seeks to answer that old question: how can we be free in a universe that conspires to trap us? I’m of the belief that if we stray too far from our designated path, the universe will course-correct to limit us. Everything strives for equilibrium, right? This story explores this idea and is a pretty deep dive into existential dread and pessimism, through the prism of a lighthearted sci-fi adventure story.
As with all good road trip stories, there’s a villain hot on their heels. But our villain is an all-white, nameless, demiurge. He’s fire, brimstone, and all things evil. He wants to stop our heroes making it to the promised land. But why? Is he the last god of the human race, desperate to stop his last two believers from breaking free of him? Is he a crazy bounty hunter hunting down the last two surviving members of an exotic alien species? Or is he just a crazy guy with a gun?
RP: Where did the idea for Void Trip first originate?
RO: I’d been reading a bunch of beat gen-era writers like Kerouc, Ginsberg, and Bukowski, plus gnostic authors like Melville and McCarthy. All of this, plus a healthy dose of pop-culture sci-fi was swirling around in my subconscious when one day I saw a sketch Klaus had posted online. It was this hitch hiker dude in space. Everything fell into place not long after that.
Plaid Klaus (PK): Ryan and I first created TURNCOAT together. We had such a great time working together we had kept an open discussion about creating a future project together. For a while, I’d been drawing these retro-futuristic 50’s style space drawings. Ryan saw a sketch with someone holding up a cardboard sign trying to bum a ride and got inspired I guess. He reached out to me and started the conversation about a “Space Bum” story.
RP: Let’s talk about the cover! When I first laid eyes on it, I was mesmerized (still am to be honest). It’s gorgeous! What inspired the color palette?
PK: Thanks. Covers carry the challenging weight of priming the reader’s psyche for the journey they’re about to partake in. The image must be immediately captivating but also relate to the narrative. My favorite cover to date is WATCHMAN, because it acts as the first panel to the comic’s story. It’s a LOUD yellow image of a smiling face with a drop of blood pouring down the face. There is a juxtaposition of happiness and violence right there (not to mention the tie in’s with the Comedian and so forth). Still one of the greatest cover design IMO.
My focus was to use the five covers to symbolically tell the overarching narrative of the VOID TRIP journey. So the center circle represents the ‘spark of life’ or the TRIP of the soul of our kind in this realm. We’re telling a gnostic tale, with the Great White representing the Demiurge or an Old Testament god. So, the same shining white star in the first issue is represented as VOID right in the middle of his chest where the heart should be. This symbol is repeated throughout the covers to a conclusion (which I can talk more about when we get to issue 05).
The color palette was very specific. Since so many of the elements are retro/modern-futuristic I choose off-kilter colors; this served to immediately communicate to the viewer that this is an otherworldly tale. I used glowing tertiary colors (warm-purples and aqua-greens) to contrast the standard primaries you see in comics. The purpose of the neon-aqua central characters was to make them appear as ghosts drifting in space. This visual acts as a foreboding element that warns the reader of the ominous nature of the book. The ghost-like characteristic is juxtaposed and undercut by Anna’s unrelenting will to enjoy the TRIP despite the VOID. She is tripping, tongue shot out at the viewer, challenging the nothingness. Meanwhile, Gabe, with his years of being broken by the Universe, is gazing on Anna with his hesitant frustrated doubtfulness.
RP: Just out of curiosity, are space scenes as difficult to create as they seem?
PK: Space is fun, it’s similar to painting clouds or gaseous forms, with some shinning sparks sprinkling. The key with space is to get inspired by our current stock of photos, then conform the palette and patterns to the needs of the scene. I change the colors and clusters depending on the mood and emotions of the scene. Space actually gives you a lot of range to play with. Also, each planet houses it’s own atmosphere which allows you to play around even further.
RP: Ana and Gabe are quite different from each other, yet they complement each other’s personalities really well. In the story-creation process, did one character come first?
RO: I think Gabe came first. He was very influenced by Bukowski. I liked the idea of having a long-in-the-tooth hippy travelling through space. The kind of guy who’d seen it all and knew how to play the system to get what he wanted. In this sense, Ana was created almost as his foil. But she quickly took on a life of her own and ended up becoming the main character. It makes sense now I look back. You don’t want an aloof protagonist, you want someone emotionally volatile. Someone proactive and emotionally driven. Gabe ended up becoming just another character along for the ride. Ana’s ride.
RP: In future issues, can we expect to get more details on the “before”—that is, how Ana and Gabe came to be the last human beings in the galaxy?
RO: The thing with road trip stories is that they go from point A to point B. What came before, and what happens after, doesn’t matter. We touch on it slightly, but it’s not a driving focus of the narrative at all. The most important thing to our characters, and to us, is the road. That’s what the story is talking about. If we got too bogged down explaining everything then the story would lose focus and mysticism.
RP: The story and the art marry together beautifully in Void Trip. What is it like working together as a creative team?
RO: Void Trip is our second book, and it’s the book that has allowed us to hit our stride creatively with each other. Turncoat, our last book, was me writing the scripts and handing them over. Sure we’d go back-and-fourth on the art, but it wasn’t as collaborative as Void Trip. Here, we came up with the concept together, with Klaus acting as my editor on the scripts, and me acting as his editor on the art. We’re both storytellers first and writers/illustrators second. And I think that similarity is why we work well as a duo.
You don’t always get this. Sometimes you’ll have a writer who is desperate to show off his ability and ends up flooding a page with dialogue. (Go write a TV script, mate.) Sometimes you’ll have an artist who wants each page to look like a work of art by itself. (Go do pinups, mate.) To work alongside a creative who places story above everything else? There’s no better feeling in comics, man. Comics is about the panels on the page working together to allow a cool thing to emerge. It’s not about the composite parts themselves being cool.
PK: It’s the greatest gift a creator can ask for. There is something about the collaboration of two minds together that sparks a truly unique creation. When you find a creator who you just plain understand at a fundamental level, you start to create a world and merge together a bit as the world is constructed.
Ryan creates super inspiring scripts, which allows me to just play around and enjoy the world building aspects. I’ll throw in a bunch of layered elements in, then he grabs those elements and turns them into something I didn’t expect. Building the story and world together helps to create something completely unexpected, because neither party knows exactly what is going to happen when the ball is tossed into the other court. As an artist, there is nothing I enjoy more than to manifest something from nothing with a talented partner.
RP: I am a big fan of wide gutters in comics, so I was thrilled to see that here. What made you go this route for Void Trip?
PK: We developed a lot of stylistic choices in Turncoat that have become our signature style. One of the choices was to not have big thick strokes around each panel. To pull this off, you need to balance the space with thicker gutters. Also, we developed another unspoken rule where we tend to use full-panel bleeds ONLY to establish new scenes or make a BIG statement in an issue (full-page splash, etc.). The thick gutters help to contrast the few times we do break into those bleeds. The bleeds for establishing shots really immerse the reader into the world, because they cause your eyes to rest in the scene.
RO: I love it too. Overlapping panels always feel claustrophobic.
RP: In general, who are some of your favorite writers and artists (comic-book or otherwise)?
RO: Favorite is a dangerous word. But the writers I tend to prefer are the ones with a pessimistic slant. The ones who look at the world and see it or what it is, without needing to hide behind anything. Writers like Bukowski, Melville, McCarthy, Thompson, and Ligotti tend to be my go-tos. Comics-wise it’s pretty much just Alan Moore. There’s plenty of other comic creators and mangaka I dig, but they’re all a distant second to big beardy.
PK: I’ll read anything put out by Gabriel Ba and Fabian Moon; they have an ability to make a book come to life that is inspirational. Something about capturing the smallest of details that make a scene breath, at times I feel like you can smell the air or taste the elements of the scene. Along that same line, Bill Watterson (and maybe this is the age I read it) is the most immersive comic creator I’ve ever come across. Calvin and Hobbes is practically entangled into my neural memory to the point where moments of Calvin’s life ARE moments of my childhood.
Outside of comics, I really enjoy dark-humor and psychedelic/sci-fi stuff. Neuromancer by William Gibson rocked my world. The Culture series by Iain M. Banks. The Matrix (the first one) still holds up as the greatest gnostic sci-fi tale in existence. Mr. Robot, Twin Peaks both have amazing undertones and do something with visual/audio narrative that I am super perplexed by (in the best way possible). Also, I know it’s not a popular opinion, but the new Blade Runner really hit some notes for me that felt epic (despite its narrative simplicity). On the humorous side I dig Rick and Morty, I mean who doesn’t?
RP: For readers like myself, eager to see more of your work, can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
RO: Klaus and I are working on something, nothing we can talk about just yet though. I’ve got a bunch of licensed comic work coming out the rest of this year / start of next from Titan Comics. Plus another creator owned series with an illustrator and publisher I haven’t worked with before. White Noise, the writer studio of which I am a member alongside Alex Paknadel, Dan Watters, and Ram V, is cooking up a few things for next year. So yah…plenty of stuff. Not that much I can talk about, sadly.
PK: I can promise you, Ryan and I will be making work together in the future, but we don’t have any specifics ready to talk about. I’ve got an ongoing ‘back burner’ series with a friend, James Potter, called The Glimmer Society (http://glimmersociety.com). We have a Patreon that drives the speed at which that series develops. Also, I’ve always written/illustrated my own personal comic books, that’s never going to stop. You can get those comics over at Mind Comics (http://mindcomics.com).
As you can tell from this interview, Void Trip should definitely be on your pull list. We will have an advanced review of issue #1 out later this month; stay tuned!