Ryan O’Sullivan has loved fantasy and science fiction since childhood. He would later decide to try his hand at crafting narratives as well. This started him on a path towards producing the comic books Turncoat, Eisenhorn, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, The Evil Within, and Void Trip. His latest comic book is published by Vault Comics and is titled Fearscape. Wanting to learn more about his career and his latest project, I was able to interview O’Sullivan for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you enjoy revisiting?
Ryan O’Sullivan: My reading habits were typical of a young geek growing up in the 1990s: Tolkien, Pratchett, Jacques, Zahn, mountains of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and comic books that I can’t even begin to name the authors of. It was only when I stopped growing up, and started growing in, that I found literature.
I don’t read children’s books or young adult novels anymore. For the simple reason that there exists more classical and contemporary literature in the world than I have years left to read. My “to read” list is the source of an overwhelming amount of existential angst.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to make a career out of writing? Was there a moment in which this goal crystallized for you?
O’Sullivan: I’d always thought professional writing was something based entirely on merit. That only those with raw, untamed, talent would ascend the Mount Olympus of WHSmith’s bookshelves. Teenage Ryan, ineffectual scribbler, was well aware of his limitations as a man of letters.
As I entered my mid-twenties, and saw the role nepotism played in Godhood, I realised, courtesy of Dunning-Kruger, that I could take a stab at it. And while I wavered for a few years, Bukowski’s monomania against a world that continually rejected him is what cemented me on the path.
Yanes: As you’ve grown as a writer, what are some of the lessons that impacted you the most?
O’Sullivan: To quote the man himself: “If you’re going to try, go all the way.”
All that matters is the quality of the work. It’s more important than finishing the work. It’s more important than hitting your deadline. It’s more important than being well liked or impressing those that call themselves comic critics. It’s more important than winning awards. It’s more important than making money. It’s more important than doing as well as your contemporaries. It’s more important than your happiness. It’s more important than your feelings of self-worth. It’s more important than your relationships. It’s more important than your mental health.
It is also, fortunately, the only thing you have any real control over. You need only yourself. Alone, save for the gods.
Yanes: You recently published Fearscape through Vault Comics. What was the inspiration for this story?
O’Sullivan: A magician never reveals his tricks.
Yanes: The story of Fearscape is only enhanced by the amazing artwork from Andrea Mutti and Vladimir Popov. What guidance did you give them when developing the visual style for Fearscape?
O’Sullivan: Fearscape is a comic, not a novel. The story isn’t enhanced by the artwork. The artwork is part of the story. When I first approached Andrea and Vlad, the narrative threads of Fearscape were firm in my mind, as was the tone of the book. All I had to do was communicate this clearly to them, which in turn allowed them to use their expertise to suggest how best to translate it, visually. There were only a few artistic elements I was adamant about (the presence of panel gutters and a muted palette) but everything else about the visuals was down to those two geniuses. (Although, like any good collaborator, I always provided feedback.)
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but we wanted the story to have that classical “through the looking glass” fairy tale aesthetic. Fearscape subverts a fair amount of what you might call classical fantasy tropes, so having a visual style that reflected that style of storytelling, but that we could also burlesque where necessary, is what lead us toward the inkwashed watercolours.
Yanes: An important theme of this story is plagiarism. Why were you attracted to the idea of making the main character a plagiarist?
O’Sullivan: Because it’s a knight’s move. The entire setup is typical; dark lords, an evil world beyond the world we know, a spirit guide, a chosen one mantra, trials, the belly of the beast, apotheosis, the return, and all other manner of Campbellian and Jungian archetype. It is only in adding Henry Henry, plagiarist, that the story of Feascape finds its teeth. The Muse, The Fearscape, The Fears, the plot – all of these elements take a backseat to HH’s attempts to seduce the reader.
Of course, knights move frequently in chess, each time changing the course of the game. To think Fearscape maintains the trajectory it sets in the first issue, is to fundamentally misunderstand the game being played between author and reader.
Yanes: Fearscape has some cool looking creatures in it. What some of your favorites?
O’Sullivan: Andrea Mutti and Vladimir Popov.
Yanes: What are your long term goals for Fearscape? Do you have more stories you want to tell in this world? Do you see it being adapted to television or film?
O’Sullivan: Ideas for a second volume are already percolating. (As is always the case when writing; you’re always pondering the next book, whilst noticing areas for expansion within the current.)
I could see Fearscape working in film, the core of the story would work in any medium. I imagine certain comic-centric aspects of Henry Henry’s commentary would have to be rewritten, though. Henry Henry’s opening tirade against the nine-panel grid would make little sense when transposed into film. I’m not sure there is a direct equivalent in film. The well of film has been so deeply mined I can’t imagine they still cling to outdated totems of prestige to the extent we comickers do.
Yanes: When people finish reading Fearscape, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
O’Sullivan: Fearscape has no moral message or lesson to teach. There is no “great idea” at the core of it that will reshape the reader’s life. Every reader is different, and Fearscape is layered enough to give different types of readers a different reading experience.
Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
O’Sullivan: A third book with Plaid Klaus (the illustrator I worked with on the TURNCOAT and VOID TRIP graphic novels) a second book with Andrea, a first book with another illustrator, and likely more licensed comics work in a similar vein to the comics I’ve been writing these past two years. (I find licensed work incredibly useful for stretching a different set of creative muscles to the creator-owned work. Limitations can be testing. And I enjoy being tested.)