At some point or another, the road comes calling. The road represents new vistas, resurrection, and, most importantly, freedom. In writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Plaid Klaus’ upcoming Image Comics series Void Trip, the highway of space beckons Ana and Gabe, the last two humans in existence, for a journey to a paradise in the stars, the super-planet known as Euphoria. Along the way, Gabe and Ana trip into the unknown using psychedelic space foot and evade a gunslinger with eyes on stopping the hippies on their path to inner and external freedom.
Fans of the Beats—and Hunter S. Thompson, for that matter—take note.
I spoke with Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Klaus recently about the genesis behind Void Trip, the storytelling options psychedelic-using characters provide, and the search for freedom.
FreakSugar: For folks who are considering picking up the book, what is the conceit of Void Trip?
Ryan O’Sullivan: Void Trip is the story of the last two humans left alive, Ana and Gabe, on a psychedelic road trip along the intergalactic highway, to hippy-paradise super-planet Euphoria. The story chronicles their journey there, and is very much a “life is about the journey and not the destination” kind of tale. Think 1960s counter-culture movies like Easy Rider, or beat generation writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, or Bukowski.
Chasing our two space hippies through space is an all-white, nameless gunslinger. We never really reveal who he is. And part of that is because we want to leave his true nature to the reader to decide. The “headcanon” that I’ve got is that he’s the last god of the human race, wanting to stop the last two humans (i.e. his entire powerbase) from reaching Nirvana and escaping his providence for good. But Void Trip has so many different influences, the villain in particular, it’s hard to really nail down just who he really is. Don’t get me wrong, he’s fire and brimstone and guns and death and blood and gore, he’s every bit your typical American Evil. But his true nature? Well. We’re hoping the readers will look into the void and see for themselves.
FS: What can you tell us about Gabe and Ana, our through characters in the first issue?
ROS: Ana is young, idealistic, and wants to live her life freely without exception. Gabe is older, a bit more long in the tooth, and has realised that, in life, you have to find freedom where you can take it. Gabe thinks you have to play the system in order to find small spaces where you can live freely. Ana, on the other hand, thinks that you should just bulldoze through life, fuck the system, and do whatever you want. The two of them make for an interesting dynamic. Ana is the character, whilst Gabe is very much the straight man. In a lot of ways, Gabe is a future version of Ana. He’s the dude who’s been broken by the system.
Their genders play a big role here too. Gabe represents the male-lead, broken, old world we’ve inherited, whereas Ana represents the more gender-neutral progressive future we’re allegedly moving towards. (Note: This is all in the subtext though. Void Trip is not a didactic polemic hot take disguised as a comic. It’s a story.)
Plaid Klaus: Within the context of “drug-culture,” I see Ana as one of those innocent, beautifully naive free-wheelin’ hippies in the short period of the 60s trying to maintain a perpetual high. That beautiful era before ‘69 when the star-children gave the keys of the hot-boxed Volkswagen to a crazed Manson and the culture took a wrong turn onto the Altamont speedway. She is free, alive and unaware of the horrors of life that await on the horizon.
Gabe is the responsible elder who has seen the horrors of what can happen when we take our hands off the wheel for too long. He knows you can’t fight the system, but you can avoid the strong hand of the law. However, even the oldest of psychonauts occasionally craves a little bit of the chaos of youth. His relationship with Anna is a constant battle taking the wheel and letting go.
FS: There are a bevy of ideas and concepts that you explore in the debut chapter. What is the genesis behind Void Trip?
ROS: The central theme to Void Trip is “How can we be free, if we exist in a universe which, by its very nature, is always course-correcting to limit us?” I’m not talking about free will here, I’m talking about the society/environment around us always striving to reach equilibrium. We move too far from the norm, and the environment in which we live will always try and hold us back or reset us. That’s why Ana and Gabe are constantly jumping from planet to planet – they keep themselves on the road, and they let change be their constant. In a way this ties into Ana’s idea of freedom no matter the cost, but you could also make an argument that the road is the “small space” within society within which you can be free, and thus also follows Gabe’s beliefs too.
Ultimately, though, even the road has an end. And I think it’s how our heroes respond to this, and how they come to terms with their actual freedoms and options there, which answers the question of what freedoms we really have in this life.
FS: I love that you just drop us in the middle of the story—like a cold open—in the first issue. How would you describe the world of the series?
PK: Vibrant, psychedelic and lived in. “Lived in” being a key element for me. Personally, my biggest issue with certain sci-fi visions of space is the Kubrick-esk or Star Trek-ish sterile pristine environments. In reality, those environments are short lived and tend to morph and respawn into a more chaotic habitat. Most industrialized areas begin as clean optimized setting and within a generation end up being more like a living jungle floor full of human trash and wasted elements. It was important for me to produce a sci-fi world that had that element of organic footprints to it. Especially in relation to the Space Van our heroes travel in. Everyone knows hippies are a messy lot, so the van needed to feel like a VW crash pad.
FS: Much of the first issue centers on psychedelics and the experience of using them. Why was focusing on psychedelics something that appealed to you? It seems to open up so many storytelling possibilities.
ROS: Two reasons. The first is that we’re exploring the idea of the reality of existence beyond the limit of human perception and understanding. One way of having our characters able to access this is via psychedelics. The second is that, once the illusion of reality is removed, the core of our story is incredibly pessimistic. So having something funny – sentient froot people, robots getting high, cannibals in denial. etc – helps to create a contrast. We didn’t want Void Trip to be so daft people ignored the pessimism, but we also didn’t want it so stoic it was a slog to read. Froot, and the storytelling possibilities it opened up for us, allowed us this balance.
PK: Personally, psychedelics are really appealing to me. However, so is grounded scientific materialist and day-to-day reality. This transition from youthful drug exploration into a mature examination of the phenomenon is a right of passage for anyone who considers him or herself a psychonaut. The TRIP is fun, and opens up a lot of questions, however, eventually you do meet the VOID along the journey.
I think this story, while it is about a lot more than drugs, has embedded a micro-message about escapism. TRIPPING may temporarily allow a user to escape their materialist confines, but eventually reality will catch up to you. It may not always be a white-faced mercenary with a gun, or a fleet of robotic police officers, but it is your bills, the taxman, poor health and those things will destroy you.
FS: You two worked together on Turncoat as well. What’s the collaboration process like on Void Trip? Does your past experience give you a sense of what you both enjoy doing in a comic and work off that?
ROS: I’ve found that the more Klaus and I work together, the more coherent our collective “voice” becomes. Dark humour. Wit. Cartoonish-yet-dark art which links in well with the humourous and pessimistic stories we tell. I feel like Turncoat was the two of us finding our groove with each other, and Void Trip was us settling into it. We’re a creative partnership, and we’re fully committed to continually putting out books together.
PK: It’s one of those things where you put two elements together and instead of being an addition sum you get an exponential result. I get the script for an issue and I try to “play with it” and add layers onto it. Then when I get the next issue, Ryan has picked up on some elements I threw in and he makes those elements his own. The story keeps mutating that way. I feel like when we work together there is a third entity that emerges. A comic team is a magical thing, I imagine similar to a solid band. We definitely both have the same dark-humor and existential sensibilities. Like Ryan said, I just wanna keep dropping graphic novels together.
FS: Following up on that, the first issue is gorgeous. What was the discussion like on how you wanted the look of the book to be?
ROS: There’s plenty of artists I looked to for inspiration when I was writing the scripts for Void Trip. The chief ones would be Sean Gordon Murphy, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Geoff Darrow. These guys all have very unique, and very different, storytelling sensibilities. It was good to draw inspiration from them when putting together comic scripts. And I definitely had these guys in mind when Klaus and I discussed how the overall art style of the book should look.
In a wider sense, though? I’d say we wanted a mixture of slow beautiful wide vistas – the splash page equivalent of a vehicle montage in film, but also quick, choppy, compressed storytelling. Because of this, we needed characters/environment visuals that the reader would be familiar with at a glance, but also felt uniquely us, and in line with our tone.
PK: Every scene has a mood, every mood needs a palette that visually expresses it properly. Colors are incredibly important to tie the reader’s experience together. I developed a limited color palette for the first few scenes involving a lot of green aqua, blaze orange and cool blues, so I could counter those colors when we first meet the villain with a deep consuming blue and a bright neon red. You have to constantly balance the colors of a scene on both a micro level of the page and a macro level of the narrative as a whole. The color palette jumps in relation to the pace of the story jumping.
Another important attribute of the visuals is the textural quality of the environments. My style is a balance of cartoonish forms with visceral textures to make the world feel “real” and lived in. James Harren, Bill Waterson, Jake Parker all do this wonderfully. Even though you know you’re staring at cartoons, you feel like they still bleed if you cut them. That’s the only way to make the stakes feel real, the characters must feel like they breathe.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we can expect to see in the series moving forward?
ROS: Expect laugher. Expect tears. Expect honesty. Don’t expect a happy ending.
Void Trip #1, written by Ryan O’Sullivan on art, goes on sale Wednesday, November 22nd, from Image Comics.
From the official issue description:
From writer RYAN O’SULLIVAN (Turncoat, The Evil Within, Warhammer 40,000) and illustrator PLAID KLAUS (Turncoat), comes the story of Ana and Gabe, the last two humans left alive in the galaxy. They’re low on fuel, they’re low on food, and they’re low on psychedelic space froot, but they’re still determined to make it to the promised land: hippy-paradise, super-planet Euphoria. This is the story of their journey, the friends and enemies they made along the way, and how the universe responded to those who dared to live freely within it.