Review: The Only Living Boy Vol. 1: Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet
“With volume 1 of The Only Living Boy, Gallaher and Ellis have tapped into an alchemy that not only provides high adventure and break-neck action, but also adds a Trojan horse: making readers reflect on who they are and what they can become, given curiosity, conviction, and courage.”
The Only Living Boy Vol. 1: Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet
Writer: David Gallaher
Artist: Steve Ellis
Release Date: Wed, March 9, 2016
While reading writer David Gallaher and illustrator Steve Ellis’ The Only Living Boy Vol. 1: Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet, memories of devouring compilations of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes washed over me. Maybe it’s in part because Erik Farrell, the 12-year-old hero of OLB, bears a striking resemblance to an older Calvin, with his lanky form and shock of blonde hair. It could be in part because Erik, like Calvin, has a sense of adventure and wonder that draws the reader in.
However, beyond all of that, I think what makes me think back to Calvin & Hobbes when I read OLB is that both Watterson and the creative team of Gallaher & Ellis have a phenomenal grasp of what it means to be a young person attempting to make sense of and finding a place in a world that is densely populated with bubbles of possibility. And Gallaher and Ellis make certain that Erik has ample opportunity to explore those possibilities in the new world in which he finds himself. The online series is now being released in print, the first volume of which is out now from Papercutz, following young Erik Farrell’s adventures after running away from home. He awakens the next morning with no memory of who he is on a planet populated by mermaid warriors, humanoid insects, and dragons, attempting to navigate this hodgepodge of seemingly disparate populations and locales. How he reacts to the threats and new friends he encounters along the way gives him opportunities to act the hero and figure out what he’s made of.
And, really, that’s what makes OLB so special and poignant, for readers young and old. While Gallaher crafts a tale that is all-ages friendly, I couldn’t help but nodding at several places in the book, remembering what it’s like to be a kid who is feeling around in the world to ascertain who I want to be. In our interview with Gallaher, he said that he wanted Erik to have no memory of who he is when he wakes up on the patchwork planet so that he would be free from any cynicism and could experience this strange world with fresh eyes. As youngsters, that’s what we do, isn’t it? Before the weight of experience and memory shades our worldview, each new encounter brings something new to the table and shapes and informs how we act and, ultimately, who we are. Erik comes up against forces in OLB that might fell the strongest of spirits, but with no memory of his past, he’s able to try on different hats—adventurer, explorer, hero—with fresh eyes. Even as an adult, I certainly appreciate the notion of feeling about the darkness to discover who I am, and I imagine that’s a big appeal of the series for other readers as well. Gallaher pulls us in with the fantasy and sci-fi, but keeps us reading by showing us our reflections in Erik.
Ellis’ gorgeous and dynamic linework more than do right by Gallaher’s plotting and characterization, creating locales and aliens that are both fresh and always moving. This isn’t a surprise for anyone who’s followed their work on Box 13 and High Moon, but their years of collaboration shine in how well the words and pictures marry beautifully. While I’m particularly fond of Ellis’ character designs, what I adore about the illustrations are the emotions that he’s able to pour into each and every character. While the mad scientists and dragons populating Erik’s new world are candy for the eyes, Erik’s worry or Doctor Once’s malevolence wash over their faces and give folks visceral reactions to what they’re reading. It’s truly an exemplar of what the comic medium can do in the right hands.
With volume 1 of The Only Living Boy, Gallaher and Ellis have tapped into an alchemy that not only provides high adventure and break-neck action, but also adds a Trojan horse: making readers reflect on who they are and what they can become, given curiosity, conviction, and courage.
The Only Living Boy Vol. 1: Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet, written by David Gallaher and illustrated by Steve Ellis, in on sale now from Papercutz.