“We want to create stories that power the imagination” Steve Ellis and David Gallaher discuss their new pulp adventure The Only Living Boy
When I started Pipedream Comics over a year ago, the first people I interviewed were the very talented Steve Ellis and David Gallaher, creators of High Moon and their ComiXology Exclusive title Box 13. Well, a year on and David and Steve’s latest masterwork, The Only Living Boy has been released this week and it’s a whopping 52 page debut issue, for the bargain price of £0.69. Telling the store of Erik Farrell, a put upon young boy who ends up transported to a world of hybrid creatures who are competing for freedom in a gladiatorial conflict, Hunger Games style, its much more of a pulp adventure story in the vein of Flash Gordon or John Carter and so I wanted to ask them just where the inspiration came from and whether they still through the world of digital comics was like the wild west.
You’ve recently released The Only Living Boy, which has a very ‘classic’ feel to it – it reminds me of everything from John Carter to The Island of Dr Moreau to the Hunger Games, what was the inspiration behind Erik Farrell and his other-wordly predicament?
STEVE ELLIS: A lot of the inspiration for me was the kinds of stories I loved as a young adult. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned John Carter and even the Hunger Games those kinds of stories are definite inspirations, as are things like Flash Gordon and even the Wizard of OZ. the sense of a character lost in an unknown world, trying to feel things out as they learn more about themselves in the process is the theme we are working with.
DAVID GALLAHER: Personally, for me, the story was influenced by the sort of things I used to see when I taught special ed. In the early 90s, I worked with high risk, developmentally disabled, and troubled children and teenagers. There’s a feeling of isolation that develops as part of those challenges. Add to that the obstacles and struggles
of hitting adolescence … well all of that stuff is the inspiration behind Erik. When you are a teen, it is easy to feel like you are the only one in your tribe, that nobody else understands you, that you are the only person on earth. Those feelings of isolation and abandonment are an important part of growing up. The otherly-world place that Erik
inhabits … that’s sort of a mish-mash of influences ranging from The Jungle Book to Flash Gordon and John Carter … but it’s crucial to conveying the story as we’ve conceived it.
How’s the reception been for the book, and how was it’s debut at Comic Con?
SE: So far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had so many people come back after having read the first chapter and demanding the next.
DG: Yes, the reader response has been pretty exciting. It’s a sizable first volume … and the demand for the next issue is pretty intense. It’s flattering and a little humbling.
The most interesting part of the book for me was hybrid creatures that Erik meets which must be great to come up with. What’s the process, does Steve choose something which looks cool or does David come up with the character first and then it’s up to Steve to add on the animal elements and make it work!?
SE: It’s been kind of a hybrid of both really. We both work on story ideas and fleshing out the feel of the world, and then I take a stab at designing things. At that point David has written some of the story surrounding the character and I adjust the characters from there. Sometimes the characters will change wildly after a first or second draft.
DG: In all of our work, we play off a lot of different archetypes. Sometimes developing a character is as easy as ‘we really need a _____’ to act as a foil for the main character. Sometimes, that’s a mad scientist, sometimes that’s a crazy monster, sometimes its a synthesis of both, as was the case with Doctor Once. Every character, every creature, and every monster has a purpose and a place though. Part of the fun is figuring out what place that is.
Price is a continual issue with digital comics, especially with more niche titles. Do you think you’ve struck the right balance of price vs. pages and how did you choose that point?
SE: Well we wanted to start out with a low price point if only to get more people to try the book. $0.99 is a bargain for the digital market for a book that’s 52 pages long, but we felt we wanted to get as many people to see the book as we could and build up a nice readership in the process.
DG: Exactly. We wanted to lower the ‘barrier for entry’ with this book. 99 cents is a nice little ‘value menu’ that can give readers a taste of where we are going with the story. We’ve run the sale for nearly a month at this point, so the 99 cent sale ends on Friday the 10th of August, after that the book will hit its regular price of $3.99.
Are you planning on releasing the book digitally and in print, or, after the success of Box 13, did you consider releasing it only as a digital release?
SE: We have a print version which we debuted at SDCC. While we both are huge digital supporters, we understand that when you really love a book you sometimes want to hold the copy in your hot little hands and really have that visceral relationship with the art and story that isn’t really possible digitally. Also, the reading experience is different from paper to digital, pages are a different animal and it’s nice to read the book in the different formats and get a different experience.
DG: We have a limited edition 2000 copy first printing of the comic that we made available at the convention and for our supporters. We’re in the process of talking to other distributors about carrying the series later in the year.
Tell us a bit about the Bottled Lightning stable of titles. Is it just a way for you to keep all your various books under one umbrella or is it the start of something bigger like a fully fledged digital imprint?
SE: For the moment, Bottled Lightning will be an umbrella for projects David and I have created, but as we create more titles and find other creators who share our vision of comics and how to make them there is the definite possibility of expanding to a larger team of creators. Right now, I’m trying to focus on creating the best projects I can myself.
DG: Right now, it’s us. We want to continue to create stories that power the imagination. Stories that create a spark in their minds. As our readers have seen with High Moon, Box 13, and Only Living Boy, we’re dedicated to finding the right format for all of our stories – as apps, comics, graphic novels, games and more. Some days, we’ll operate like Image, Monkeybrain, and/or Thrillbent, other days, not so much. Which is kind of how we’ve been working anyway. We’re been working together for five years now — and developing new ways to tell stories almost every step of the way. Bottled Lightning is really just an extension of that. It’s a house where all of our stuff lives.
Do you think the growth of the new digital platforms has helped you start something like this and what do you make of the current crop of increasingly sophisticated digital titles that are beginning to emerge?
SE: The world of digital comics is moving very quickly. When we first started with Comixology on Box 13 we were really trying to play around with this new medium of digital comics and it’s great to see more people moving forward with it and trying to push the limits. I believe some will create great new digital comics and others will move into a new direction maybe closer to animation. I think there is a very blurry edge now between what is a “comic” and what is something new. I think it will be a challenge to not let the technology and the bells and whistles it allows to not get in the way of telling compelling stories in a “comic” way.
DG: I love seeing more creators following in our footsteps. And when I say ‘our footsteps’ I don’t just mean Steve and I. There are a lot of really talented creators and editors who have been working on or championing digital comics for some time now.
People like: John Cerilli, Ron Perazza, Kwanza Johnson, Alex DeCampi, Mike Jaspers, Nikki Smith, Aaron Alexovich, Scott McCloud, Drew Rausch, Reilly Brown and more. Thrillbent is rather genius. And MonkeyBrain is certainly a step in the right direction.
Finally apart from the Only Living Boy, what can we expect next from you guys?
SE: Well, we have a long list of projects on our plate for the future, but one step at a time. We’ve got the next few chapters of Only Living Boy, more Box 13 news coming up, as well as projects like Marlowe: The Devil’s Detective, The Extinguished, and a few others waiting in the wings for the next few months.
DG: We’re moving a mile a minute right now. The Extinguished will be a lot of fun and Marlowe absolutely plays in my wheelhouse. We have a handful of other things we’re working on that we might start talking about in greater depth soon.