The Only Living Boy is one of those comic book success stories that makes you think creators still have a chance in a world where Disney owns your entire childhood. Writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis conceived and exploded their Kickstarter goal to fund it. Then they partnered up with Comixology to offer even more availability to their backers and fans. Until midnight tonight, get the first and second issues for 50% off with redemption code: ONLYLIVINGBOY.
You can also read the first issue for free on the comic’s official website, but we wanted to go deeper. So we invited them to provide a commentary track on their work. (To save your browser from having a heart attack, it’s spread over three pages.) Take it away, fellers:
David: So here we are, Steve…Only Living Boy — now serialized and broadcast as an online graphic novel.
Steve: I’m excited. So what are we covering today? The first 20 pages or so?
Steve: Sounds good. Sooo…let’s start with the cover?
David: The cover is important.
Steve: Well, you know — the cover expresses everything we want the series to be about. Erik looks small, but at the same time looks strong. Confident. It gives you a slight taste of this new worlds and pushes the pulp flavor forward. A lot of what we’ve done here was take this very classic, pulp action setting and replace the hero with a young boy. This could have been a Tarzan image. It wasn’t, but it could have been. The difference is that in a Tarzan story — he solves the problem, saves the day, and goes home to have dinner with Jane and Cheetah. Erik has no home to go to.
David: The world can be a lonely place. It’s why I love this cover so much.
Steve: And even though it’s lonely, he’s still ready for adventure.
David: Right, so now we’re on Page 1.
Steve: This is our third version of the first page. Originally, Page three was Page 1. Then Page 2 was Page 1. The action of running brought this sense of urgency to the story.
David: What I like about this page is that it’s a strong powerful statement that colors the rest of the story.
Steve: It’s much more literary this way. There is a sense of mystery about it.
David: So then we cut to him running. Who hasn’t thought about running away just once? So anyway — yeah — this is Erik. He’s 12. An age where he’s experienced enough to have mastered childhood, but knows nothing about being an adult. It’s the age where we see signs of the man he might become — but it’s all buried under awkwardness. It’s the age you can’t wait to grow out of.
Steve: What I like about the narration is that we’re giving reader everything we need them to know. He’s mostly a blank slate — a cipher — like you’ve find with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. We’re painting on the blank slate of these characters.
David: How’s that quote from Fight Club go? “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Un-burdened by his memories and cynicism, Erik is much more interesting character to play with — at least right now.
Steve: There’s an oppressiveness to this scene. Originally, we had two pages of running, but that didn’t feel like enough. There’s a sense of menace here — and by extending the scene — we can build off of that. We have no idea what he is running away from or even how long he has been running. Nothing about his life is pretty at this point.
David: I believe this is around the time we were considering designing the book exclusively for digital — like we did for Box 13.
Steve: I think once we decided that page count didn’t really matter, I felt more comfortable being expansive with the story. It was important as a young adult book — to make the artwork a bigger part of a story than you’d find in a simple grid — it’s difficult to open the world up to somebody who is reading when you box yourself with with a grid. We’ve been building our story on a larger stage — and using that to our advantage as storytellers.
David: Speaking of opening the story up…we’re now in our first double page spread of the series.
Steve: We get to the park. Now we’re somewhere. The running has some more context. At least we have a location in Central Park.
David: There’s a sense of freedom here, but Erik is still scared. He’s more scared of whatever is following him than he is of getting hit by a car. But — there’s also this reverence to the traffic lights too.
Steve: Those are subtle behaviors, but ultimately important.
David: So now…we’ve crossed the street.
Steve: I think of the park and the stuffed bear as very Campbellian elements in the story. It’s the ‘Place of Transfer’ — illustrating a shifting world. Bear is a guide — something that helps him make it though the transition. A connection to the past that keeps him grounded, but also acts as his ‘little buddy‘ — his companion though the story.
David: I love how monolithic you made the rock that Erik sleeps under. More importantly though — there isn’t a “moment of magic” here.
Steve: I think that would both be too easy and too obvious.
David: It would reveal too much of the inner workings of our story. I’m glad we made the choice not to include anything like that. There’s no ‘magical fairy dust’ or ‘presto chango’ moment.
Steve: I love the lightning strike here though. It reminds me so much of how Lovecraft used lightning as a Deus Ex Machina troupe in his stories. In his stories, lightning is a ‘doorway to transition’. A visual signifier that something is about to change.
David: Eliminating any ‘magic moment’ trope also gives us a little more room to play. Readers are learning about the world just about the same time that Erik is. By cueing them into some sort of ‘magic’ or whatever — we rob our readers and Erik of drama.
Steve: So … up to this point the book was dark and grey and muted. Erik wakes up and everything is lush and techno-color. The vegetation alone might give our readers hint that something isn’t right. It’s not earthly vegetation.
David: And as we learn…no earthly creatures live in those trees.
Steve: So that brings us to Page 10. This is the fourth version of this page. All this first ten pages went though a lot of work, but the final version of this page really hit the mark of everything that would follow. The first version, we showed to much. The second version was too goofy. When we went dark and scary with it…everything really fell into place.
David: This was a good moment to clue our readers in to that…this book wasn’t just going to be fun, it was going to be crazy as hell.
Steve: I designed Erik to be a kid who was recognizable and identifiable. He’s essentially surrounded by wild dogs here — and he’s going to do what any kid his age would do …
Steve: Yup. He’s going to run. This is how I remember running as a kid. In the city, Erik was running on the flat ground. He’s not running on a track here — he’s running though this teaming mass of plants and vines. He’s got to be constantly aware of everything he’s going over, around, under and through. This is the sense I remember of being a kid and playing in the backyard or in the woods. There’s not this straight path.
David: The real terror of being chased is fearing what happened if you got caught. It’s relatable to anybody who’d played hide and seek or been chased by a bully.
Steve: There is something stark about a silhouette. Here we use it to suggest that Erik’s climb is some of struggle. The silhouette makes the moment feel like it takes longer. It extends the length of the time period — making it more iconic in a way. We’re cheering Erik every step of the way on his journey up the rock — to escape these creatures.
David: Until, of course, we pull the camera back to show he hasn’t really gotten that far. That’s not good.
Steve: Yeah, not good at all, but he still triumphs. Shakes all the monsters loose — makes it to the top of the rock — and BAM! New information. A whole new world has opened up.
David: The all-seeing eye of Baalikar!
Steve: It’s like that moment that you recognize that you’ve been noticed by a god. He recognizes your presence and he’s staring right at you.
David: For all the strength Erik showed climbing the rock, when he blinks at the sight of Baalikar, he falls…and falls hard.
Steve: There’s a weakness to it. Erik collapses under his own weight. And as far as Baalikar is concerned, we’ll get to him soon…besides when Erik lands…he has somebody else to deal with.
David: Morgan. His not-so-friendly-friend. They speak different languages, but Erik adapts…or visa versa…and we move on. I don’t think we needed to over-explain how everybody spoke the same language.
Steve: In a way, once you start over-explaining things, it boxes you in as a storyteller. Once you establish too many rules, you become lost in your own mythology and the story just stops.
David: If you can’t explain it well, explain it quickly. Besides, Erik and Morgan don’t have time for a linguistics lesson — they are under attack!
Steve: I love how Morgan tells Erik, the boy who has been running all issue that ‘only cowards run’ — it’s such a contrast to Erik.
David: I love the way Morgan moves.
Steve: To be honest, I fashioned her fighting style of of staff fighting, but I want her to move in a very fluid way. There’s a confidence to how she moves — as though she is comfortable in her body — in a way that Erik is not. She’s knows her missions. Knows why she is there — and in a way — what’s nice about the pairing is that his presence messes with her.
David: She could have totally taken all those monsters on herself.
Steve: Totally. But — they both lose — kinda because of Erik. Though what I love about Erik is that there’s never a “Can you please help me get home” moment from him. He’s just trying to survive.
David: And he does survive, waking up in a similar position, but different spot from where we started the story. He even narrates for us — reminding us that he ‘didn’t die.’
Steve: I think the mystery and truth of the story is more interesting than that. There is this beauty — this depth — to that story that has a life and an existence all its own.
David: I think we’ve made some very strong and deliberate choices here.
Steve: Now, we have an obligation to make it great.
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