As our the heroes turn their attention to fight the evil Balikaar, Morgan, an amphibious warrior, turns to Erik, our protagonist, and asks what he plans to do. He responds "Something awesome, I hope." The line encapsulates the goal of The Only Living Boy, an all ages book driven by spinner rack sci-fi/fantasy pulp novels. The Gallaher and Ellis duo set out to do something awesome, but with an "I hope" caveat to forgive any imperfections.
The Only Living Boy published its first page online in December, 2013. As the book approaches its 5th year of existence, writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis are releasing the physical, definitive omnibus through Papercutz. The omnibus collects all five volumes and throws in a bonus story to entice to total roughly 400 pages of story of content.
The story's concept is simple yet expansive. Erik Falwell is a boy who falls asleep in a New York park, distraught by events unknown to the reader. When he wakes up New York is now part of a larger world, The Patchwork Planet. This world is part science fiction (hi-tech amphibious creatures), part fantasy (winged insect armies), and part Eastman-Laird (an unauthorized army of Master Splinter's). Within it, Erik must unite reclusive nations to defeat the evil Balikaar.
The idea of a human boy in a foreign world is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination, but The Only Living boy does take care to avoid some of the overused tropes which come with it. Erik is not the "chosen one" of the land. He has no special powers once in the world. Nor is he the most intelligent. Erik is simply determined to do the right thing, and perhaps that is the most endearing theme of the book. No matter what the situation, Erik, though always physically weaker, is most concerned with doing what's right.
Gallaher leads the reader through narration from the story's protagonist. Erik's internal dialogue is straight forward (avoiding the philosophical meanderings of, say, Watchmen's Rorschach or every character written by Jonathan Hickman) but keenly synced to the action in the panels. For a boy in an unknown land, his thoughts are highly introspective rather than physically observant. This choice seems odd at first, but later revelations expose his personal reflection is more relevant to the world than any observation of the world would have been. The dialogue excels most when there are only two characters involved. These moments seem to allow for the most development in the characters and their relationships. This is most evident towards the end of the book as a heroic cast assembles to defeat Balikaar. The characters form a group where everyone has something to say, but not all are saying anything meaningful.
But should the reader dwell too long on any such moment (of which there are admittedly few), the use of full page splashes will quickly pull them back in. The Only Living Boy is chock-full of page turns to jar the reader and heighten the tension of the story. This is not an uncommon practice in comics, but it is a technique Gallaher and Ellis make a point of utilizing in their work. These "Oh crap!" moments (an all ages translation of Gallaher's prefered term for them) occur at least once per chapter, and while most are full page splashes, Gallaher and Ellis play with the format to avoid turning the full page splash into a crutch. Many times this moment appears across the top of two pages as Ellis displays his landscapes as awe inspiring establishing shots.
With all this said of the story and writing, and with all due respect to David Gallaher, the best part of The Only Living Boy is Steve Ellis's artwork. His style is unique to him and highly adaptive. Ellis has a penchant for bolder outlines with delicate pencil detailings (and that is still visible here), but The Only Living Boy is different from his grittier work on High Moon or Box 13. Instead Ellis adapts a Saturday morning cartoon feel by rounding characters' faces and holding back on some of the detailing to leave space for colors.
He also takes this story as a chance to create the aforementioned sprawling landscapes. The Patchwork Planet is an amalgamation of unrelated worlds, and each of those worlds needs a unique design. Ellis does a masterful job in illustrating this, and through the use of wide panels, establishing shots, and full page splashes, he creates a unified land of uniquity.
This omnibus also contains some of his best work in the 20+ bonus pages of story. Gallaher and Ellis channel their inner Jack Kirby for a psychedelic few pages... but giving that away would ruin one perk of the omnibus. The other perk, which cannot be ruined by words, is the larger page dimensions. The individual volumes of The Only Living Boy have been more adept for tiny hands (6.1 in. x 8.8 in), but Ellis's work is more powerful on a larger page. The omnibus uses a more traditional comic book page size (6.6 in. x 10.2 in), and brings more punch to the landscapes and monsters of The Patchwork Planet.
The Only Living Boy is a romp of fantasy and science. While not perfect, the book brings a lot to the table to pique the reader's interest. It also carries considerable emotional weight at times, not holding back from the fears and guilt which can occur in childhood. More than anything The Only Living Boy is an exploration of a child's maturation when circumstances force such change... but if you don't analyze the story heavily, it is a simple, fun read. There is no reason to not pick this up for yourself or the young reader in your life.
DISCLOSURE: David Gallaher has previous purchased advertising on this website.