You’ve probably heard of Ryan O’Sullivan and Plaid Klaus in the last couple of years. Whether it’s Ryan’s work with Titan Comics, Klaus’s work on self-published Glimmer Society or Psychonauts, or their collaboration on Turncoat, they’re comics stars on the rise. With their newest collaboration Void Trip set to hit stores later this month, we got to sit down and discuss the series and what it has in store!
Hey guys, thank you for taking some time to talk to us! Ryan’s had quite a year, so it’s exciting to sit down and chat about Void Trip!
RYAN: Hey man, thanks for having us. And yeah, it’s been a busy year. Working on Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and The Evil Within for Titan Comics has been a lot of fun. The Turncoat trade release back at the start of the year was also awesome. Really excited to see the first book Klaus and I worked on out there in comic stores. We’ve come a long way from being a webcomic!
So what’s the elevator pitch for the series?
RYAN: Void Trip is the story of the last two humans left alive in the galaxy. They’re an absolute pair of hippies, happy to spend their days traveling along the intergalactic highway, high off-of space froot, looking for the promised land of Euphoria. (A hippie-paradise planet which is more myth than anything else.)
Following our two heroes is the all-white, nameless, gunslinger. We never reveal who he is. He might be the Old Testament god, determined to bring fire and brimstone down on the last two members of the human race. But he could just as easily be a hunter of exotic aliens, keen to claim the scalps of the last two humans.
KLAUS: I always say it’s a psychedelically fueled existential road trip through space. It’s about looking for a meaningful trip in the void. The mood of the book borrows from the beat generation, progressing through the lost, but tripped out, hippies and leaves the reader in the present spiritual void of post-modernity.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the two of you got together as a creative team?
RYAN: As I mentioned above, we originally worked together back in 2015 on a webcomic called Turncoat. Turncoat was our slightly-satirical-but-not-
KLAUS: Yeah, it was kinda crazy to find a creative partner with a unique set of concepts and ideas that coalesce so well with my off kilter concepts and artistic style. TURNCOAT was a great first book because it was a pretty straight forward story with really silly fun characters, but through that project we really found our team voice. We do dark comedy really well, so VOID TRIP takes the viewer through an entertaining, comical trip that is also psychologically and philosophically challenging. It’s that “meaning of life” sh*t. At the end of the day, we figured out using cartoon/realism helps to build a unique world that can lure the reader in with laughter, then we pull the rug out.
Is it an ongoing or limited series?
RYAN: Void Trip is a self-contained 5 issue miniseries. It would be possible to continue the story, and if sales are incredible we might. But I don’t think either of us want to be the guys who continued something just for the sake of it. We’d have to have a good reason. There’s nothing worse than a sequel for the sake of it. You can always tell when you read stuff like that. It always lacks the fire of the original.
KLAUS: That being said, Ryan and I are constantly joking around with each other with bits of what our sequels and prequels to our graphic novels would be. It’s fun to see who can take it in a weirder direction. Who knows, maybe the whole story is just Hitch’s hallucination 😛
How far into the story do you have planned?
RYAN: The entire thing. I never sit down to script unless I’ve plotted out the entire comic. Stories are structural things. Relying on your subconscious to do the heavy lifting is nothing more than inviting cliché into your stories with open arms.
KLAUS: Yeah, Ryan coming to the table with the entire series plotted out gave me the freedom to start plotting out tie-ins and connectors visually throughout the series. It helps to know the vision and then let the series get its legs within the structure of the plot. There were several scenes that morphed and evolved. I hate when you’re watching/reading a series that has a strong start and then you can tell the writers started losing the thread…*cough* LOST *cough*.
Did the story have any specific inspirations or influences?
RYAN: When we were putting together the story I was reading a lot of American Literature. Counter-cultural writers like Kerouac, Bukowski, or Hunter S. Thompson, but also (arguably) culture-enforcing writers like Melville, Hawthorne, and McCarthy. This sample of authors let me stare into the soul of America. I saw the land of opportunity…in the chokehold of a master. I could see the land of the free, oppressed by a freedom-denying God. it was contradictory, it was magical, it was glorious. I wanted to hold it close, and stick a knife into its back.
KLAUS: I’m a method artist, so I do my best to get into the mind state of the story. I eat lots of Froot, put on some dusty roads tunes and got lost in space. My technique is to study all the influential forms and elements with lots of sketches while also creating a library of images. Then I try to draw straight from the hip. By downloading all that material into you mind/subconscious beforehand you can prevent yourself from just drawing from photos. I hate overly photo referenced stuff (specifically within comics) because the story on the page is supposed to be alive, moving and living. That only happens as you’re on the page with the creation. If you’re always looking at a photo and copying it you lose the thread and the scene dies. To be clear, photo-reference is necessary and aids an artist, but you HAVE TO be able to build in your mind as an artist, especially with comics.
Can you tell us about some of the characters that are important to the story?
RYAN: Ana and Gabe, our two space-hippies are important. They’re two sides to the same coin. Ana the off-the-rails anarchist, Gabe the play-it-safe old guy. One is absolute life, freedom no matter the cost, the other is absolute survival, you can’t live freely without life. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps. Or maybe both the same side, with one coin being older than the other, having passed through more hands and pockets.
KLAUS: Hitch is the most important character, look for his big moment in issue 05.
What is special about Ana and Gabe that made them the leads of the story?
RYAN: They are the default positions that most people take when faced with existential dread. Some of us would rather die than be limited. Some of us would rather be limited than die. It all comes down to fear of death, doesn’t it? That’s what determines whether we like living.
KLAUS: Anna is an allegory for youth, and she’s on a TRIP. She is young enough in the world that she still sees it as a magical playground. She represents the glass being half full, running away from the hard truths in life. Her refusal to accept the hardships of reality keeps her in the Froot realm, but we experience her starting to burn out as the series progresses.
Gabe represents the VOID. He knows the problems with the construction of this realm, it stops you from being free, there are rules and you have to find out how to live within those constraints. He escapes with Anna from time to time, but he is losing his patience with each close call the two encounter.
What’s each of your favorite challenge with building a world from scratch?
RYAN: Charles Dickens used to write sequential novels. He’d release a new chapter at a time. And one thing I noticed he used to do was throw up a ball in the air, only to have it land later. He’d place characters or settings in his stories, without any idea of what he could use them for, only to find a use for them later. I love this sort of thing. It makes the story feel organic, but also makes the storytelling feel planned and tight. I like doing things like this in my own stories. Although, with comics being so economical with space, and with the comics direct market not favouring long-form storytelling in comics much these days, I don’t have as much opportunity to stretch these muscles as I would like.
KLAUS: For me, building a world from scratch IS what it means to be an artist/creator. It is the job of the artists of the world to dive into the imaginary realm of the collective unconscious and pull out visions to report to the masses. Modern entertainment is void of meaning on the whole. I always have an eye out for true alchemical artisans, but they are certainly few and far inbetween. Too many creators are creating for the “end results” of success and fame, or even more depressing JUST for a small paycheck. The Kubricks, William Blake’s and Phillip K. Dicks of the world are few and far in between.
When you’re working as an artist for a corporation and you’re moving their puppets around, unless you’ve earned your chops and get to REALLY take free range, there’s not a lot of freedom to experiment and SAY something of meaning. So, building your own world and stories from scratch with free reigns is the only way to get to close to actually channel something of note. That’s my favorite part of the challenge; to dive within, find something to say that scares me and put it out into the world and see what waves it makes.
Klaus, what did you think when you got to start designing a whole new universe for the story?
KLAUS: I thought HELL YEAH! Creatively it’s the most vast and open expanse the creative mind could ask for. Visually, it’s my realm and I get to seduce the reader into a world that’s manifest from my mind, which gives every choice meaning.
As I build out the world, I tell myself little stories, I make little nodal connections visually. I get to pour all this meaning into it, that really doesn’t need to be understood by the reader. Just the fact that the focus and intention are there gives the world real character.
That’s the real beauty of comics versus any other medium. With each panel I’m building sets, painting landscapes, creating and acting with characters ON the page as I imagine them. All of those little choices add layers of life to this entirely new Universe. I get to do all this as a singular entity. I guess I’m a control freak, but that’s why I left the game industry. Things on an assembly line take longer to develop, so every artist is kinda forced to become a cog in a wheel. My creative mind wants to control the whole gambit from characters, environments, vehicles and color palettes. Give me ALL of it so I can give you something fun and unique.
What’s your creative process when designing the look of this world?
KLAUS: As I said earlier, I download a lot of influences and then let them ferment or grow like an embryo in my imagination. Like any good artist, I can visualize, build and form things in my mind in order to bring them forth on the paper; but you have to first load up some inspiration (like loading data into RAM on a computer). Usually I’ll sketch for an hour before trying to concept anything specifically. A lot of time stuff starts to take form that I didn’t plan as well. Those are the elements that really interest me, because even I don’t know where they came from. At the best moments as an artist you just feel like you’re channeling something.
What does your day to day process look like for working on the book?
KLAUS: Depends. My wife works in Film & TV so her morning call time could be between 4am and 10am, or if she’s doing overnights she goes to work and is out all night. I keep myself incredibly flexible as far as hourly working structure so we can spend time together.
So, while I don’t have a day-to-day process, I do have a comic creation process. I read through the script, collect a library of influential images, sketch the leading characters. Then I thumbnail an entire issue, placing the text on the page on the computer to make sure there is adequate room and the book reads right. Once the thumbnails are tight, I’ll pencil and ink the entire issue a page at a time. Then I plan out the color palettes and make sure they flow well in the book and after getting the flats from my flatter I’ll finish coloring out the book.
VOID TRIP #1 is in shops and available digitally on November 22nd from Image Comics!
Join us next week for part two of the interview.