What if you were 12 years old, woke up, and found you had to survive in a world of monsters?
That’s the premise of The Only Living Boy, a new all-ages adventure comic that begins chapter two this week. GeekDad has the exclusive preview above. The rest can be found at the website, along with the complete first issue.
GeekDad: How did you and co-creator Steve Ellis come up with the idea? Who do you hope to reach?
Dave Gallaher: Steve Ellis, who people may remember from his pencil work on Green Lantern, Lobo, and most recently Breaking Bad, was illustrating the series we co-created: High Moon. While has was keeping busy with that as a full time job, I was writing advertising for the New York City Police Department.
Anyway, I was riding home on the subway one day while I Am Legend was filming in my neighborhood. I was struck with the idea that fighting monsters for a guy like Will Smith wouldn’t be that much of a challenge. In virtually every film he’s got the skills to beat up the bad guys. What I thought would really be a challenge would be to have a young kid — with no skills — fighting assorted monsters.
It just so happened that the Paul Simon song, “The Only Living Boy in New York” was playing on the radio… and those elements sort of began the process of the story. We started the whole thing as a riff on I Am Legend with Kirby-style monsters.
You know what I mean, right? Unusually shaped, grotesquely proportioned, visually arresting creatures often cast in heavy shadows with gnarly teeth. We put together a little two page comic that illustrated a kid waking up in a world of vampire bat-dogs. While that was a lot of fun, we felt like we were missing something. We dug into the story, and recognized the series needed more meat and more depth. We called upon our experiences in role-playing games and my time as a special education teacher, along with Steve’s experiences as a parent, and we fell in love with what we came up with.
We created Erik, the Only Living Boy in the series, as a bit of a critique of those summer blockbuster heroes. As a 12-year-old, there is space and room for him to grow with the readers. All he remembers is that he was a runaway — and after that — he’s kind of a blank slate. We get to watch him try and fail at a whole bunch of new situations. There’s a joy in exploring that side of the character with our readers. I guess we’re trying to reach everybody who wants a little more wonder and discovery in their stories. We have an opportunity to tell a sincere and action-packed adventure free of snark or cynicism.
GD: What are the influences behind the comic?
DG: We wanted a big, beautiful, and dangerous world for Erik to play around in. Visually, there’s a little bit of Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, and John Buscema in it. Quite a bit of pulp and Frazetta too. We’re going for over-the-top and adventurous. Bizarre monsters, unusual characters, and strange settings.
From a writing perspective, there’s a whole lot of Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, Jonny Quest, Jungle Book, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books, especially The Black Cauldron.
We wanted to start with something familiar and twist it around a lot. I wanted to take the basic foundation of pulp stories and put it into a context that felt true and personal to me — I wanted to make the journey matter. The challenge with pulp is that it often uses a lot of flat, stock characters who serve very rudimentary roles in the stories. We had an opportunity to change that here — and what you’ll see as we tell our story is how all the characters serve multiple roles in pushing the narrative forward. Morgan, the Mermaid Warrior, Thea, the Insect Princess, Doctor Once, the fiendish Mad Scientist, and Baalikar, the dragon, all engage in the story on a level that you won’t find in the pulps. Anything can happen — which is what we love so much…
But, really, at the end of the day, our own experiences are the biggest influences on the story. We want our characters to come alive — and we’re pumping the well of our childhoods — pulling out all sorts of hurt, anguish, pain, sorrow, joy, wonder and laughter.
GD: What’s your favorite part of writing comics? Least favorite?
DG: My favorite part? Building new worlds is sorta fun. And I love collaborating with Steve. There is an organic process to the whole thing that I absolutely love.
My least favorite part ? Right now — I think it is pulling apart my own childhood and putting it on the page. I know where the story is going and what Erik has to confront. I feel bad for him. It’s hard to see him hurt. It’s hard to hurt any if the characters, but life can hurt. It can also be beautiful too. I’ve been avoiding writing two scenes in the series because I know what they’ll do to me. It’s hard to feel that much emotion. I feel for these characters and I hope that it will come across in the story.
GD: What comics would you recommend to adults who want to get into reading them? For kids?
DG: As a reader, I want stories that are reflective of my values, but I also want to be challenged and thrown into new settings, locations, and worlds. Show me something new. Teach me something I don’t know.
On that note, I think Boom’s Adventure Time is pretty spectacular. Bone, Amulet, and Mouse Guard also all harken to that sense of adventure and resilience that I’ve always loved about comics. Young or old, l think we can all identify with “heroic quests” and “legendary battles.”