“Lonesomes” is one of those unexpected surprises that I am grateful for. Ryan Little, the creator of this comicbook series, has reached out to me and he offered me a generous sneak peek to the brilliant story of a lonely boy and his new friend, a creature of incredible power and beauty.
“Lonesomes” is a story about loneliness, how we identify this feeling and more importantly how we can break free from it. Tom, the hero of Little’s story, is a young boy facing all the struggles of growing up. Tom has no friends. His family (his mother and his sister, Angela) urge him to talk to other boys and girls, to engage with them, to befriend them. But Tom seems more interested in spending his time alone. One afternoon, while Tom was trying to pass his time, a strange looking, but beautiful, creature found its way next to him. A wolf/dog looking creature with a majestic foliage fur, a Lonesome, approached Tom, sensing his ever growing loneliness. Tom was standing in awe in front of this strange and amazing creature. The Lonesome was playful and full of life and energy and Tom couldn’t possibly resist adopting his new, his only, friend.
This is how the story of “Lonesomes” begins and it is promised to be an amazing, crazy and emotional ride for Tom, his new friend and the readers. Ryan Little was able to create a deep and emotional story, a story that is promised to explore the difficult feeling of loneliness without a strict educational format. The story is meaningful, but also interesting and funny (Angela has to be one of my favourite new characters! She made me laugh out loud quite a few times).
I do strongly believe that the feeling of loneliness is defining in our lives, as kids and adults alike. Many people claim the the most dire emotion people has to face during their lifetime is the fear of death, but I would argue it’s the fear of being lonely. Death, certain as it is, is nothing but the fear of an unknown state of being. But what you don’t know, cannot really hurt you. What is able to hurt you, though, is the sinking feeling of loneliness. There is a wide spectrum of feelings that creep in when you feel lonely: immense sadness, fear of the state you are in, despair… Loneliness can break people.
And yet it is so difficult to address this feeling, to understand it, to conquer it. In a day and age where communication and interaction is becoming easier (we can connect with people from all around the world) we feel more and more lonely. It seems we somehow are unable to form stable relationships, create real ties of friendship and love, thus being faced with a surge of loneliness and depression. Instead of creating flourishing friendships with the assistance of social media, we prefer to give in to hate speech and narcissism. We are isolating ourselves, we become lonelier and this time around we are accustomed to the misery that it brings upon us. It’s our normative state of being.
And yet I remain an optimist! This is why I really loved Ryan Little’s passion project. He chose a very sensitive subject and he was able to create a world that will help both children and adults to understand and identify this feeling of loneliness, to be able to address it and also to have a great adventure with Tom and Peat as they navigate through this new (and surely exciting) life. I would have to say that I highly recommend to you this comicbook as something to read yourself or to your children or to your nieces and nephews or whoever needs to be a part of this adventure!
And, for the first time here in “The ComicBook Imperative” I have the privilege to talk with the creator of “Lonesomes”, Ryan Little:
The ComicBook Imperative: So, first of all, I would like to say thank you once again for reaching out to me. It was great reading “Lonesomes”. I am going to start right away and ask you, how did you come up with it?
Ryan Little: Sure! So, I’ve been making comics for about five years now (and I’ve been writing screenplays and stuff like that on the side) and I don’t remember where a lot of my ideas come from. But “Lonesomes” is one of the few that I remember the exact moment I thought of it. At the time I was living in New York city, in Brooklyn, I was working at the production office for a Netflix TV show and we had these really late night shoots. So, I was driving home at like 4-4:30 in the morning and this is this kind of a cliché that New York is the city that never sleeps, but at 4o’ clock in the morning it’s pretty empty. So, I was driving home and you know for whatever reason (probably because I worked 14 hours a day) I started feeling really lonely, in a funny way. And you look around and you see these huge buildings, this huge city, the whole world literally right there. And it’s a ghost town. And then, probably because of all the New York iconography, I thought of Simon and Garfunkel when they sung: “Hello darkness, my old friend”. And, see, that’s kind of interesting, because you know when you laugh and experience comedy and joys, all sorts of different things can make you laugh and you know you get a kick out of it. But loneliness is familiar. It does feel like an old friend that comes back to visit you. And then my creative nerd kicked in, what if that friend is a Pokémon? I sat down [and over] the next three days I wrote 100 pages of content that I’ve turned into like the five issues of “Lonesomes”.
CB: Wow! First of all, this story by itself is pretty amazing! I think it’s very interesting what you said about loneliness being something that we are very familiar with. I am actually going to agree with you. It is like an old friend, as you said. Is there a reason why a certain Lonesome will seek and find a specific individual?
RL: Right, so in the world of “Lonesomes” these creatures are out there in the world and, if you become lonely enough, one of them will find you. And we know that specifically one at first will be drawn to you, but you’ll have to tune in to Issue #3 to find out why…
CB: Okay! That is great! I can’t wait.
RL: It’s written! Because the Kickstarters backed, editors are already drawing it. So, you’ll find out probably over the next month or two.
CB: This is amazing! And I have to tell you that “Lonesomes” is probably one of the best things that I have read in quite some time!
RL: Wow, thank you! This is so generous.
CB: Really, it is so good! And, first of all, the whole idea is fantastic. And it is very important because you are tackling a very serious issue in a way that is going to be accessible to children and adults alike. I cannot wait to read the rest!
RL: Well, I’ll tell you right now that I have plans to write this for as long as people read it and as long as it means something to people. So, I can write a 100 issues of this!
CB: You know what, I hope that you will do that! So I guess you have actually answered my next question, but I am going to ask anyway. Where do you see the story going in the future?
RL: I have three real goals with “Lonesomes”. One, is to contextualize loneliness, which I think is a very difficult thing, but it will allow people to find ways deal with it. It’s hard to have conversations about it because of the nature of these emotions. That is why if you can marry it with this comic, you can talk about Lonesomes and without realizing it you are talking about this emotion with each other. The other side of it, [the one with the] with the dramatic and thematic elements, is an exploration of what I call the “Collectible Monsters” genre. Which is my fancy term for Pokémon, Digimon, Yo-Kai Watch, Monster Rancher, all these things. And what I love is right now people kind of think it’s the best time to be a nerd. There’s all these Marvel movies, comic book TV shows and while superhero stuff is really in the mainstream, I think there’s a whole world that live in comics and manga and anime have yet to be explored. So one of my goals with “Lonesomes” was to look at these conventions that exists and this “Collectible Monsters” genre that we all know so well and explore them, and put them through a western, indie comics lens. So, we know from Pokémon that every game has a legendary Pokémon, but what does a legendary Lonesome look like? What is the world that exists around them that you never get to live in the games? I was talking to someone recently, they were kind of asking me what I meant, I said picture Gyarados, a really popular Pokémon. Big water dragon! People would love it! Could you imagine waiting in knee-deep water looking for this thing all by yourself, first thing in the morning? I really want to live in these moments and plan the drama and just the epic awesome scale that exists in these worlds with these kinds of characters and situations. So [another] goal is to play with stuff like that. And the third one, really, is I kind of have this theory that there’s no such thing as the adventure genre anymore. Now we have the action/adventure genre which is always about fun and games, but then it always ends with stuff getting blown up. And “Lonesomes” is never about that. “Lonesomes” is about this kid who is in a difficult place in life and he discovers this whole incredible world and he dives in. And he commits, and he experiences it, and it’s about the wander and the mysticism and the things he can take from it.
CB: I agree that we have kind of lost the essence of adventure in this whole process of making bigger and fancier action/adventure products, whether that is movies, TV, or even comicbooks. And even though I love the big scenes and the explosions, sometimes I think we kind of sacrificed the emotional aspect of an adventure. The emotional and mystical part of this journey.
RL: Look at Star Wars! The best moment of Star Wars is the Death Star blowing up. It’s the “use the Force, Luke” as he turns it off and grabs the lightsaber from across the room. The other stuff is just the garnish on top.
CB: Exactly! One of the first things that I noticed even from the very first issue of “Lonesomes” is that you really did put a heart in all these heroes and generally your story. This is not a generic take on the “Collectible Monsters” genre. If you ask me, it’s much deeper than Pokémon or even Digimon (which I pick over Pokémon any day).
RL: That’s very generous. That’s very kind. I mean, there’s so much stuff coming out right now, I think as a storyteller you have to be authentic. You have to say what’s real and what matters to you. And you know, the more I take this comic out into the world some people say that this is the most esoteric thing you can make it: Pokémon with heavy emotional flares. The first issue, we shipped to 13 different countries. Thirteen people, probably five different continents, all people that I may never meet, but we live in the same emotional place together. And it speaks to those people. And every new backer that I meet, and every new interview that I have, everyone that I talk to that’s the one really incredible thing about doing this is seeing all these people. I take these comics to work, my coworkers will check them out, and they say that “this is kind of emo” and [I reply] “yeah, might not be your thing, but I’ll tell you what, there are people that it speaks to. I think it really talks to them”.
CB: Exactly! That brings me actually to my next question. Have you had an experience with a “Tom”? Is there one (or more than one) character(s) that you see yourself in them?
RL: Sure! I have been lonely, just like anyone has before. I think in general I am a very self-reflective person, so when I felt like that [lonely], it really kind of interest me. I am from Pennsylvania, I moved 3.000 miles away to L.A. for work, so I know positive loneliness and negative loneliness. And all the different ins and outs of it. I spent a couple of summers teaching an elementary school back at home, when I was in college, and I thought it was interesting because for a little kid that was having a hard time, the only advice they used to give was to stop being lonely. Find someone to hang out with. But, looking back at my life, it’s not always your choice. You just kind of end up there sometimes. I have been very fortunate in life to meet wonderful friends and have a very supportive family, so my real goal with this book is to give people some tools and some armor and to know how to challenge the beast in their own life.
CB: Something that you will read on my post for “Lonesomes” is that I do believe that the fear of loneliness and the feeling of loneliness itself is somewhat more prevalent in our lives than the fear of death. The feeling of loneliness is intense in a way that it affects your life at that very moment. It’s not the promise of death -something that every living creature will have to face-, but it’s an emotion that creeps in on you when you least expect it. It’s a dire subject that affects your reality and your world and your life. And we have to address it in a manner that shows how important it is. And from a very early stage.
RL: Yeah, I think it’s different now. The more technology comes along, the more we interact with each other [in that way], I think the starker the contrast of having human interaction, but being truly alone can be. And if you can make stuff that might help people along the way, why not? Or maybe that’s just who I am. That’s what really interests me. Half the fun of “Lonesomes” is designing these monsters and building these adventures, and the world, and where they all came from, and where they go when they are not with that person anymore. But more importantly, the best feeling in the world is empathy, when you find someone that gets where you are coming from and knows what you are talking about. Because even if you don’t have answers for each other, you [still] don’t have to explain yourselves to each other. So, if the book can at least do that, that’s that little lantern in the dark place that I am trying to hang. That’s my real goal.
CB: And I do think you have accomplished that as far as I can tell. So why did you choose the comic book format as a way to develop your story?
RL: It is like a new Golden Age to be a comics creator. I can sit down and write this and thanks to crowdfunding and internet and stuff like that I don’t have to go to publishers. I can just make my book. Comics always spoke to me. I love the visual medium. I love that I can be very reactionary with it. If you are trying to make an animated movie/series, it takes 6 months. I created the first issue of “Lonesomes” in two weeks. And based on what people like I can tweak it a little bit and adjust based on what is going on with the world or a new inspiration. And I think it’s the best way to create a body of work, to dive into a great series. Sit down on a couch with six volumes of something and diving into this world. I grew up as a really big manga fan, and American comics right now are getting shorter and shorter, while you have something like Naruto that is 700 chapters and it’s a world that people want to live in. The creative might of something like that! It is a world where people want to live in and people want to breathe in. And in comic books you can keep adding little side stories and other characters. And that is what really interests me! Would I ever turn it into something else? Maybe! But it’s always the comics first. They are cheap and I can easily give someone a copy of “Lonesomes” for $5 and they can just bring it into their lives and experience it. And it’s also what is really cool for me, which is why I insist of making hard copies with the Kickstarter [campaign]. As a comicbook you can sit, you can read it in ten minutes and take it in your life. And it’s so easy to hand it to somebody else. It starts that conversation so you don’t have to.
CB: Even though the digital format of comicbooks have helped us a lot, there is some kind of magic when you are holding in your hands a hard copy, an actual book. When you turn the pages, read it and then pass it along, as you said, to other people who may need it. I would like is for you to describe the creative process behind an Issue of “Lonesomes”.
RL: I always write the books first. When I was doing the first issue of “Lonesomes”, as I said, at that point I had a whole bunch of stuff written, I had [done] two other comics, but this was the first time that I found the right creative team for it. And it was then when I decided it was time to pull the trigger. I posted it on an indie comic creative forum I was a part of and our pencilled editor (Eder Messia) got back to me, he was one of the first people that got back to me, I told him the pitch (it’s Pokémon meets ‘I kill giants’, which is a beautiful Joe Kelly book). And I sent him the script, he loved it, he sent me the designs for Tom first and Peat right after and he got it almost first try for both. This guy totally knew where I was coming from and he is based in Brazil. And the cool thing is we took those designs, I went back to that forum to find the kind of colourist we are looking for. Fahriza Kamaputra was one of the first guys that got back to me and he is in Indonesia. It’s the best part about making this stuff. It feeds the fire in my soul. We grew up in three different countries, we may never meet each other, but we have all lived as neighbours in this creative place and in this emotional place. Every time I send them a script and they send back their designs it’s the coolest [thing]. It’s just the best! There’s so much stuff going on right now the only thing you should be doing is what speaks to you. I am lucky enough [to do this]. I wrote something that really speaks to me, I found guys that really speaks to them and the work is not work, it’s a pleasure. It’s the best part of my day getting designs from them.
CB: And this is how things get done. When everything clicks right. And it certainly translates to the work you guys have been doing. And I have to say, even though Tom is the protagonist of “Lonesomes”, I do love Angela! She really made me laugh!
RL: (Laughing) Well, you got to have some light with the heavy. You got to balance it out.
CB: And it is really interesting to see the stark difference between Tom and Angela. Angela seems really energetic and hyped about everything (plus, in my head she is a young Monica Geller [from FRIENDS]) and on the other hand you have Tom who is older, but seems much more frightened and tensed. It is not easy for him to work and communicate with other people.
RL: I think that is really important too. Because we talk about loneliness and it’s easy to go to that kind of Peter Parker cliché, the kid by himself at a gym class or something like that. Me and my siblings– I am the middle child, I have a big sister and a little brother, my big sister’s name is Angela (shoutout to my sister), but we are all very different. I always felt very lucky because my parents always told us that they didn’t want to raise little clones which I think they are right about. But for readers, especially for younger readers, just because you share a home doesn’t mean that there aren’t a bunch of different worlds in that house. There’s the world of his sister, there is the world of his, there is the world of his mom. And I think if you really want to dive into this and want to engage it, you really have to go to his point of view and feel how stifling that distance is. I am not convinced that his mom and his sister realize how much he is hurting. They can’t see his grief. I think they have an idea, but they are kind of writing it off a little bit. And as much as I love diving into the “Collectible Monsters”-esque adventure stuff, I think staying true to the thematic core of it means you have to see that stuff too. Because that’s what creates empathy. When you see this kid in his room, 15ft. from his family, and they have no clue and he feels a million miles away, that tells everything.
CB: Actually, I think that this is really interesting. His family is obviously not bad and they want to help him, but at the same time they cannot really understand his struggle.
RL: They have sympathy, but not empathy. It’s a big difference.
CB: Exactly! So, whenever they urge him to just find a friend is not really something that helps Tom. They do not understand his perspective. As you mentioned before, more often than not it is not a conscious choice.
RL: You feel stuck. And in many ways you are stuck.
CB: One of the first things you told me was that you with “Lonesomes” you want to contextualize loneliness, so we can better understand it and engage to that emotion. How do you think a child can approach this issue?
RL: I think the goal is, as the story goes on, that Tom will explore the world of Lonesomes and the world of emotions that live within himself. He is going to learn different things about it through the creatures. But outside of the story, I used to teach kids from a really tough inner city neighbourhood and they had stuff that needed to talk about and they didn’t always know how to talk about them. So, the real goal for “Lonesomes” is that this creature comes to you in your loneliest day. When you are at the bottom of everything this beautiful, interesting monster will find you. And it’s been drawn to your exact loneliness. So, my goal is that if a teacher can give this comic to a student and come back ten minutes later with a piece of paper and say: “What does your loneliness look like? Is it a bear? Is it a snake? Is it on fire? Is it made of ice? Is it loud? Is it sneaky?” And in that little way you are discussing fantasy, but you are also discussing that emotion. It makes it palatable. It makes it direct in a way that it doesn’t feel like as saying “Sometimes when I am by myself I feel sad”. I would say: “This thing that is coming from me is a fucking tyrannosaurus and it’s made out of lava. It’s red hot”. That in itself is so much. And it tears down the barriers. That’s where being palatable comes from. And it’s so much easier to talk about it than the heavy stuff. You are still talking about it…
CB: Just in a different way! And, as a child, it’s in terms that you can understand and you can work with this situation better, since it’s being processed by your imagination. Giving it faces and attributes that you can describe and communicate.
RL: I have always been a person that loves deep conversations, [this is] probably why I became a writer, but I think more as we move forward it normalizes it in a way, when they get together and they say what does the Lonesome of a person in solitary confinement look like. What does his lonesome become? And now they are talking about the person and their feelings, and really that’s empathy. Thinking about the other person. What drives them, what moves them. Not everyone has emotionally penetrating conversations like that. Something is feeding it [loneliness], something is causing it [loneliness]. [The idea is to make] that kind of thought process a little more normal for people and not [present it] like it’s that big dramatic heart to heart moment in a corny episode on TV. Making that a skill set is valuable.
CB: Absolutely. And this is why probably every educator and every teacher should be able to do that. Inserting a deeply creative approach to issues like that can be something that will end up helping a lot of students.
RL: Yeah! And the thing that feels the best in the world is when you are by yourself and you are feeling so walled off from everything, a little bit of empathy, a little bit of understanding goes so far. I think that’s why music can kind of find you when you are there. You can listen to something the resonates. You feel that little bit of closeness with even just a song [and] it lightens the burden. So, especially if you have a physical copy of this book, it’s sitting there with you and when you are in a dark place and you can think that someone wrote it, someone sketched it, someone coloured it and they have been there too. They have a made a whole world, because they know how expansive that emotion is. And if you can just get your head out of the water and return to that adventure for a little while, sometimes that is all you need.
CB: Sometimes even by just getting a book in your hands and reading it can make you feel so much better. It can give you all the necessary energy to continue your adventure. It is clear that empathy is a key emotion for you, how do you think we can become better at it? Sometimes it seems that we care less and less for the people around us.
RL: One thing is that because our culture is just shifting towards the focus on the self. I make my Facebook page, it’s about me. I put on pictures that they’re about me. It’s tailored to me interests. I only listen to the music that I like. I wear the clothes that I like, because there are so many options. And I think it is all about taking an interest in other people. Maybe because I grew up in a close family and I have siblings, [I have learned] that everybody has something that makes them tick. And people aren’t as bizarre and confusing as you think they are. Once you listen, all the pieces just add up. I think it is all about caring. And it is the easiest answer in the world. That is kind of the sad beauty of it.
CB: Thank you for saying that. It is not that difficult! You just need to be open to other people, to listen to them, to understand them. Everything is there. It can open a whole new world for you, if you just do it. Sometimes we just have to stop talking about ourselves.
RL: There’s better things than that. My best moments in life are meeting up with my friends and bonfires in a backyard. None of the best moments in my life were standing on a podium winning a trophy. It just it isn’t! You can’t get alone to the place that you can get with other people. I firmly believe it.
CB: Exactly. For me both life and art is a collaboration. And why would you want to do anything just by yourself?
RL: It’s so simple, right? Simple truths!
CB: So, going back to “Lonesomes” how many different Lonesomes are we going to see over the course of the series?
RL: So, people so far have read Issue #1 and Issue #2 is Kickstarting right now. In Issue #2 we will meet two additional Lonesomes. Issue #3, I am thrilled that we have five people pledged to help make a Lonesome with me. And then already in the comic I think we plan to do five more. So, that will be ten new ones in Issue #3. The bottom line is that these things are drawn to loneliness, and who says that Lonesomes age as normal people do. As long as there’s been more than one person on the planet, there’s probably been loneliness. So it’s easier to dive in to this role and explore them all. Because there is something about, I think, when you are having a difficult time and then you meet the kind of island of misfit toys. You walk the boulevard of broken dreams and you meet your people. And this is where the story and the theme merge. If you are lonely and you succumb to it, if you give yourself to it, it’s immersive and massive and strong. And I think you can take it to a lot of different places. And, like you said it, it can sneak in different ways and forms. It can be red hot or icy cold. It can be barbaric and it can be clever. So, I think that one of the goals is to build that world so when he indulges that part of himself, when he is brave enough to explore that part of himself, it’s going to be expansive. So, I guess we will see different context, past Lonesomes, some of them have come and gone, some of them changed. A Lonesome that hasn’t seen its creator in 200 years, what does it look like? We are going to keep exploring that question. What does loneliness look like? That’s the core part of this book. But it’s also the part of taking him through this world. Where’s that old friend when it’s not spending time with you? So, I’d love to say hundreds.
CB: So, for my last question, what would you like to say or share to all the people (myself included) that follow “Lonesomes”?
RL: First, I would like to say for anybody who kind of read bits and pieces of the conversation that “Lonesomes” is a “Collectible Monsters” book about a young boy named Tom who finds a Lonesome (a Pokémon-like creature) drawn to his unique loneliness. And together they go on an adventure to explore both the world of Lonesomes and the world within himself. And I think that if the book speaks to you, come on this journey with me. My favourite thing is walking through this world, showing it to people and have this conversation. We don’t have to be lonely anymore. So let’s do it! And right now we are making Issue #3 and we are going to meet our main villain. So, this is exclusive (George here: jumping up and down! Anybody who knows me, knows that the first thing I look for in a story is a good villain) his name is Virgil. There’s healthy loneliness. I live 3000 miles from my family who I love dearly, but I have to do it for work. And there is darker loneliness. And it affects us all differently. And while Tom is somewhere in the middle, we are going to see what the darker side looks like. And if you want to explore this emotion with me, I am willing to go to the deepest and darkest depths of it with you in these books. So, Issue #3 is already written, it’s being drawn right now, which means I have already started Issue #4.
These are amazing news! I have to say I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for Tom and Peat in their adventure! I want to thank Ryan for the amazing conversation that we had. It has been a great honour for me and my work here at “The ComicBook Imperative”. I really do urge you to look Ryan Little and his work. Visit his Kickstarter campaign (here) and get a hard copy of “Lonesomes” for you and anyone around you that might find this adventure helpful, fun and exciting.
Till the next time,
The ComicBook Imperative Guy!