Originally funded through Kickstarter, writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis are bringing their acclaimed series The Only Living Boy online as a serialized webcomic that debuted today. The pair have worked together on many projects, from creator-owned series to Marvel projects, from Zuda to self-publishing. Now they’re using what they learned from all those works to bring a passion project to the masses, and they’re doing it for free.
Newsarama spoke with both Gallaher and Ellis about the inspirations of the comic and why they decided to take to the web, as well as how they both see this generation of kids, and what the future holds for the series.
Newsarama: So David, for those who are unfamiliar with this project, which was a success on Kickstarter about two years ago, would you mind doing a small introduction on The Only Living Boy, especially the titular character, Erik Farrell?
David Gallaher: The Only Living Boy centers around Erik Farrell -- a twelve year old runaway who finds himself with amnesia in a strange patchwork world filled with insect warriors, mermaid fighters, mad scientists, and assorted monsters. And its heart, it is a series about finding oneself in the midsts of adolescence. Like our previous work with High Moon and Box 13, we’re playing in the pulp troupe toy box. Some of the troupes we’ll mangle, some of them we’re scramble like a Rubik’s Cube, some of them we’ll build off of, and the rest we’ll crash up. We’re trying to following in the tradition of Flash Gordon, "The Jungle Book", Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy, and the works of folks like H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Lloyd Alexander.
So, yeah ... Erik runs away from home. Hides from the rain under a rock, where he finds a teddybear backpack that he refers to as Bear. They keep each other company through the night. The next morning, Erik wakes up in a strange world where he is hunted my monsters. He eventually befriends Thea, an insect princess, and Morgan, a mermaid warrior. The begrudgingly become allies against Doctor Once, The Consortium, and the Dreaded Lord Baalikar. It's a tip of the hat to Saturday Morning Cartoons, with an eye towards the future.
Nrama: At first glimpse, The Only Living Boy almost seems like a Jack Kirby's Kamandi homage. Did Kamandi have any inspiration with your story? I also notice a possible Thundarr reference as well.
Gallaher: A few years ago, I was working for the New York City Police Department. On the way back from Manhattan ... heading into Brooklyn, I noticed "I Am Legend" was filming in my neighborhood. I got to thinking about what a challenge that setting would be for a kid. “The Last Man on Earth” concept has seen a lot of play over the decades, but to be a lost boy, abandoned in a strange and unfamiliar city would be a lot of fun to play around with. The 1968 Paul Simon song -- "The Only Living Boy in New York" -- and the Carter USM song "The Only Living Boy in New Cross" both crossed my mind. I brought the concept to Steve Ellis and in 2008 we created a little ‘proof of concept’ piece. We were sorta goofing on bits and pieces of things to include -- the broken moon was just sort of a fun little gag. Kamandi never entered the picture, because I’d never read it, and it never occurred to me.
Anyway, when we retooled the pitch and turned it into a series, we rebuilt everything from the ground up -- only the monsters, Bear the teddybear backpack, and the broken moon remained. The stuff we kept had to have a purpose in the story. Steve wanted a cover that had weight to it. We thought about Tarzan, Tom Sawyer, John Carter, and Mowgli, and Steve came up with something that we really liked. We get occasional references from casual observers about similarities to Kamandi, but we also get references to Killraven, Calvin and Hobbes, Y: The Last Man, or to classic stories like "Knock" or "Robinson Crusoe". They are just different projects, with a very different voice.
Nrama: Now the big news is that you're going to start serializing this series as a webcomic. What made you come to that decision?
Gallaher: The Only Living Boy, which has had tremendous success in print and digitally, is a huge hit a comic conventions. How could we maximize our readership? We we looked at our collective success with High Moon and Box 13, we found ourselves thinking of webcomics more like broadcast television and radio. We love the nearly 15,000 plus readers we’ve had, but we want to get our story out to as many readers as possible.
Nrama: You've finished the second issue, when will the serialization actually launch?
Gallaher: We finished the second issue last year -- and have been building the site since October. We very quietly launched the site in December, but the serialization starts on March 24th and pages run every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The first 20 pages are up now. For fans of the series, new material will be up in just a few months. For new readers, this is a great time to catch up.
Nrama: Will you have an archive up for new readers to catch up on or will the story start after the events of issues one and two?
Gallaher: We have an archive, which will be bundled by issue. You can read them free when they are released, or you can buy digital copies on the store link though our site.
Nrama: Steve, is there a particular mindset of scheduling yourself to do a webcomic like you did with High Moon and this project that's different from that of a monthly series?
Ellis: It’s a slightly different animal. The frequency of the serialized storytelling allows us to build a relationship with our reader-base that we don’t get with a monthly series. One of the great things about High Moon was that we were able to continue to building momentum with existing readers, while also giving new readers a chance to discover us for the first time.
Nrama: Erik seems pretty mature for a 12 year-old. Do we eventually learn more about his origins along the way or are you keeping mum on that for now?
Ellis: My experience of having an 11 year-old, I can say, he takes on a whole lot of responsibility. He can handle a lot of things -- stress on the playground or stress in school with maturity. We don't give kids enough credit for the amount of hidden challenges they have to deal with.
Gallaher: That’s interesting, because I do think the culture of childhood has changed. Children, these days, are are under constant supervision and scrutiny. Not just because of all the crazy expectations with school ... but I mean ... we've rubberized our playgrounds, childproofed everything, and become incredibly pre-occupied with safety. We've created this unnatural condition when children can't take or manage their own risks. The experience of living in a giant safety bubble has changed the way children develop.
Ellis: When I was a kid, I skinned my knee (a lot) and got all sort of great little battlescars. Each one came with a story. The process of growing up requires self-reliance, resourcefulness, trial and error, and conquering fear. When we keep kids from experiencing these things, we inhibit their maturity. If a parent influences every moment of a child’s life, how does that influence the adult that child will become? Are we protecting kids so much that by the time they are 25 they can’t function on their own?
Gallaher: It makes me think of the book "Bridge to Terabithia," have you ever read it? It's all about children playing on rope swings, hanging out in the woods, and teaching themselves how to behave -- not just like adults -- but as a king and queen. In order to become what we want to be - we have to take risks. Sometimes those risks have tragic consequences, but that shouldn't stop us from taking the adventure.
Ellis: I remember when I was learning how to rollerblade. I was totally terrible at it. A friend skated up next to me as I was wobbling and said I was terrible because I didn’t know what is like to fall down. You are too nervous to take that risk. Once I fell a few times, I was able to feel at ease. Nobody wants to see their kid get hurt or get damaged in anyway -- but when we remove self-determination and self-reliance from the equation -- we create an era of timid people who are unwilling or unable to fight for themselves.
Gallaher: What are children capable of when they are totally unsupervised? What happens when they are unprotected? What happens when we free them from memories of the past? We'll learn how that dovetails into Erik’s own past soon.
Nrama: Do you guys have an end game planned? If so, would you consider doing trade printings or even an omnibus collection later on?
Gallaher: We're looking at a 300-page epic for the fist story. A solid three act structure. Currently, to minimize our overhead, we're printing comics for conventions and specialized shops. We've even made very limited hardcover editions of the first issue -- they are beautiful editions with a dust jacket and everything. Anyway, starting in the Fall, we'll be implementing a much stronger bookstore/comic shop model. We've talked to a few publishing partners who are interested to helping us put together things like an omnibus when we're all finished. And ... if there is demand ... we'll do some merchandise too. I'm had my eye on Only Living Boy metal lunchboxes.
You can find the series online at The newly launched site here!