“Fearscape Is Certainly The Most Ambitious Story I’ve Written”: Interviewing Ryan O’Sullivan

by Oliver MacNamee

We took an advance look at writer Ryan O’Sullivan’s new creator-owned series Fearscape last week and found it to be a fantasy quest with a rich literary pedigree and that it is, possibly, O’Sullivan’s best, most mature world to date. I was able to catch up with him over the weekend to discuss his book in more detail.

Olly MacNamee: In a nutshell, what’s Fearscape going to be about?

Ryan O’Sullivan: Like everything I write, Fearscape is a knight’s move. Void Trip, my last book, lured the reader in with promises of a drug-fueled road-trip story, only to deliver existential dread bordering on cosmic nihilism. Fearscape is no different; it lures readers in with promises of formalist burlesque, only to slowly reveal a genuine character-driven story at the core of it.

As for what it’s about in a more pragmatic sense, allow me to refer you to the blurb:

The Fearscape is a world beyond our own, populated by the manifestations of our greatest fears. Once per generation, The Muse travels to Earth, discovers our greatest Storyteller, and takes them with her to the Fearscape to battle these fear-creatures on our behalf. All has been well for eons, until The Muse encounters Henry Henry—a plagiarist with delusions of literary grandeur. Mistaking him for our greatest Storyteller, she ushers him into the Fearscape. A fake man in a fake land…this is the story of the wrong person answering the call to adventure, and the doom that followed. 

OM: Is it fair to say that Fearscape seems to be your most ambitious book yet, dealing with some pretty heavy literary ideas?

RO: Fearscape is certainly the most ambitious story I’ve written. I’ve always admired Alan Moore’s ability to craft such layered comics with his collaborators. If you remove all the formalist experiments and literary intertext in his work, his stories still have a beating, human, heart underneath.

Sadly, it seems most of modern comics have only sought to replicate his parlour tricks.

OM: You’re playing with some well-worn literary genres and tropes, but in a very different way?

RO: Well observed.

OM: What were your inspirations that are at work within this story? It’s very much a story aware of itself and its own literary pretensions, in a humorous way.

RO: The risk in answering this question too directly would be to give the game away. I’d rather avoid “Oh that was his inspiration. Well then clearly the story is going to end with…”, type reactions from readers. Unlike Henry Henry, Fearscape’s protagonist, I know how deviously intelligent readers can be. One of the most important things that a writer discovers in the early days of their career is that their readers are just as intelligent as them, if not moreso. (Comic reviewers being the obvious exception.)

There is a lot of humour in Fearscape, but there is also a fair amount of emotion. It’s my hope that as readers follow Henry Henry’s exploits, they begin to wonder what made him the way he is.

The Tygers, burning bright in the night. One literary reference amongst many you’ll find hidden throughput the book. This one is form William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’.

OM: Do you think you’re finding your writing voice as you develop this series? Have you poured any of yourself into the central protagonist, writer, Henry Henry?

RO: Absolutely not. Henry Henry is a fictional character that exists within a comic book. He doesn’t reflect me anymore than Macbeth reflects Shakespeare. There may be occasions where my own dialogue patter or cognitive idiosyncrasies bleed into the character, but that says more about by limitations as a writer, than my inspirations behind the character.

As to whether I’m finding my voice? I’d say that’s a fair assumption to make. Each new book moves you closer towards the Platonic form of your ideals. That said, comic books are a collaborative medium, and the idea of the writer having a solitary “voice” is ignorant of the true voice of the comic; that symbiosis of imagery and text between writer, illustrator, colourist, and letterer. As this is the first book I’ve worked on with Andrea (Mutti), Vlad (Popov), and Deron (Bennet), it’s impossible to know if we’ve found our voice on it.

My last two creator owned books, Turncoat and Void Trip, were created with illustrator Plaid Klaus. I’ve certainly developed a voice with him over the years. (As we are now discovering in our third, unannounced, book together.) It’s my hope that the same happens with Andrea and Vlad. They are phenomenal artists.

OM: Finally then, what can we expect from this series overall? What perils and pitfalls will our would-be hero be getting into?

RO: I’m afraid you’ll have to read and see for yourself. I always skip the introductions in novels. I would be a hypocrite to provide my readers with one here.

Fearscape #1 is in stores September 26th from Vault Comics and written by Ryan O’Sullivan with art by Andrea Mutti.

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