Upon a recent trip to the library, I had a chuckle over my two choices: Tim Kreider’s I Wrote This Book Because I Love You and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Winter. Though seemingly incongruous writers, they both put pen to paper with the same target. That is, trying to figure out ideas and emotions about their respective universes – which things mean what (and why others don’t).
The pair aren’t trying to provide life lessons or universal truths; rather, their books are reflective of men in a chaotic universe trying to carve out some kind of lower-case truth they can hold on to. It’s the equivalent of attempting to find the North Star during an earthquake amid a forest fire.
That very same target appears to be the end game for Void Trip, the new series from writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Plaid Klaus (both of Turncoat fame). The story of the last two humans in the galaxy searching for the famed Euphoria, it’s a tale of humanity, existentialism, drug use, friendship, and freedom. But more than anything, it’s about artistry and seeking personal truths through the act of creation.
Certainly there’s plenty of universally-applicable ideas and threads within these 130 pages. The dynamic of the two leads, Ana and Gabe, serves as the tome’s undisputed heart and soul. Like Cheech and Chong meets Tom and Jerry, the pair have almost a quasi-father-daughter-meets-married-old-couple tinge to their relationship. They spend a huge chunk of the book arguing or high on transcendent space drug Froot (or both), but you can’t deny the appeal of their dynamic.
All they have is each other, banding together against monsters and evil space assassins and the laws of physics. Their interactions expertly highlight the absurdity and power of our humanity while also demonstrating how sad and tiny our particular lot in the universe can feel amid all its endless swirling.
As creators, O’Sullivan and Klaus pull out many tools from their bags to enhance the powerful relationship between Gabe and Ana. The most obvious way is through Klaus’ artwork: it looks and feel very real. Which is to say, there’s some real grit and detail here that makes the art practically pulse with an intensity and depth mimicking our own reality. The end result is wacky aliens that feel familiar, and humans that often tip-toe right into the uncanny valley. Either way, it brilliantly plays up the themes of humanity and the pursuit of freedom, a wacky mural of imagery that sinks its teeth into your sensibilities and very sense of reality.
O’Sullivan’s dialogue, especially, is really sharp here – he’s great at setting the pair apart (Ana as trippy space rebel, Gabe as tired old man needing the deepest of rests) with efficient, streamlined convos that help build emotion and perpetuate ideas about their disconnect from the universe and a search for something more. There’s a lot going on as the pair meet (and later anger) aliens, undergo bizarre drug trips, and land smack dab amid a robot war. Yet their ease together helps to ground some of these huge ideas and locales, bringing the spotlight directly onto the people and their debates and ideas. It’s a story of humanity in an otherworldly setting, and that makes their hopes and shortcomings all the more resonant.
For all that O’Sullivan and Klaus want to explore regarding the book’s thematic pillars, it was impossible for me to not see all of this as a dialogue of sorts into the creative process. At the book’s core, it’s about Ana and Gabe trying to find their own slice of home. While I won’t spoil what that ends up being – the creators do a wonderful job of providing pacing and a sense of kinetic energy to get you to that Big Reveal – I can say that it might not be the emotional care package you were expecting. (But it’s still a perfect sort of ending). Because whatever grand revelation O’Sullivan makes regarding life and choice and freedom, he immediately pokes several huge holes in it. Big enough to drive an interstellar RV through.
The writer George Saunders once talked about fiction’s role in presenting grand truths. He came out firmly against preaching to your readers, and how that band-standing feels disingenuous. What works, though, is facilitating a conversation, providing ideas and feelings to engage the audience. That’s what makes Void Trip appealing: it’s two men talking about the wonders and perils of mere existence, finding happiness, understanding your own power, and what value is to be found out in a universe that’s either A) indifferent or B) actively trying to squash you.
O’Sullivan and Klaus are working these ideas out on the page, and as such it’s not about taking home some grand ideas. Rather, picking up on their thoughts and emotions and trying to gauge them with your own experiences. Michael Chabon talked about reading being the meeting of two minds, and with Void Trip, you’re drifting through a psychedelic landscape with two creators trying to suss out the rules of being alive (spoiler – their may be none).
This notion goes further still with the introduction of two key characters: a nameless villain (part robot, maybe?), who chases the pair and the A.I. from Ana and Gabe’s ship, who is equal parts friend, guide, and teacher. Without making overly wild assumptions, I see the bad guy representing some semblance of inevitability, be that death or boredom or just our own crippling realizations. The A.I., meanwhile, could be The Self, that helpful voice that keeps you going despite it all.
In this sense, O’Sullivan and Klaus are commenting on the true cross-section of both life and humanity’s creative pursuits. We are alone in the universe, except for what we put out there. While something will get you eventually, it’s what you say and do and stand for that means the most. Even if that something is getting high and chilling in your own physical and ethical space bubble.
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