Kickstarted successfully, David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ newest project together is The Only Living Boy which, if you read Comics Vanguard a lot, you’ll already have heard about. The premise is fairly basic, with a young boy running away from home, spending one night alone, and then waking up into a world of monsters. And it’s a fun story, although not without a problem or two.
Interestingly, it’s perhaps the only living boy himself – Erik – who is one of the bigger problems for the story. Gallaher convincingly puts together a world full of interesting characters and struggles, but Erik’s journey through them isn’t as well-defined. He doesn’t really have a goal or ambition, which makes his story feel a little flat. He also has an overly wordy narration, which at times works well – there’s a gladiatorial scene where his narration mirrors his attempts to avoid getting beaten – and at other times is overwritten. The start, in particular, is clunky.
Once he starts meeting monsters, the story picks up, in part because the monsters are interesting and varied, and brilliantly conceptualised. Ellis’ art plays a large part in this, with a rounded-out style which seems more like his ‘Darkstar & The Winter Guard’ work than the more scratchy style of previous books like Box 13 or Iron Man.
The dialogue also improves with their introduction, especially once the main villain walks in. The scenes in the monster prison are perhaps the best of the book, with a darkness which isn’t too overwhelming but still pushes tension onto the characters. It feels like a grim, unforgiving place, and we don’t have to see graphic violence or over-the-top depictions (a Mark Millar tendency) in order to get that tone. Erik feels more in-place here than he does when he’s wandering aimlessly, as it gives him something to attempt for.
Assisting Ellis’ art are a stunning artistic team made up of letterer Scott O. Brown (whose work here is excellent, especially when he starts trying stranger approaches to delivering the narration boxes) and colourist Mike Paar. The book switches in tone and location every ten pages or so, and each one of these feels like a different section of Gallaher’s world. The use of colour and Ellis’ storyboarding work together to build up the idea that the whole world has been taken over somehow, and that Erik really is alone here.
The design is strong throughout, in fact, with the monsters taking on a range of forms and attitudes which don’t fall into stereotypes. There are warrior women and princesses and gruff prisoners, but Gallaher’s approach to them feels more organic and open than most. It probably helps that he has no compunction about abandoning them whenever he feels the story requires, and leaves several of them for dead seemingly at random.
That sense of cruelty gives more focus to Erik’s central journey, although the character still really needs some direction or ultimate ambition. His personality isn’t well-defined enough to really earn a big speech he tries to give, and thank goodness Gallaher realises that and interrupts it with a new monster running in to cut Erik off. The Only Living Boy is a fun, somewhat throwaway book at the moment, which plans to have three more volumes before concluding the story. If the creative team can find a reason to connect readers with their main character – and not just with the intriguing and fun side-characters – then the story will really be able to take off and grab people.
You can pick up The Only Living Boy at Comixology for a dollar, which is insanely good value for money.