A Tale Of Survival: Ryan North On Being Trapped In A Hole With His Dog For 40 Minutes [Interview]
Yesterday, the world of comics was rocked by a true life story that rivaled any cataclysmic event that we have ever seen on the printed page: Ryan North, award-winning comic book writer, was trapped in a hole in a Canadian skate park for almost an hour. Throughout the harrowing experience, North was communicating with the outside world, sharing the drama of the experience with his Twitter followers who, as a community, came together to help North escape his predicament and return to the surface world.
In the aftermath of that experience, I spoke with North about the struggle of escape, how he refused to save himself and leave his loyal companion behind, and how being trapped in a hole can affect all of us --- even the very tall.
ComicsAlliance: Ryan, you're a successful comics creator. You're an award winner. You are also very tall. How did you end up trapped in a hole for the better part of an hour?
Ryan North: I was walking my dog Chompsky in the rain --- as one does when one decides to take one's dog for a walk without looking out a window --- and saw the skate bowl was empty. Normally it's full of skaters, so I thought this was a good chance to go down there and take some pictures of my dog --- which is sort of a thing I do? I post them on Tumblr. It's good to have hobbies.
And that is how I ended up in a hole. I took my pictures, and then there was the dawning realization that all my attempts to get me and Chompsky out of the hole were failing. Totally worth it, right?
CA: Do you think it's fair to refer to a skate bowl as a "hole?" I mean I guess that it's technically a depression in the ground, but I'm not sure that's the right term.
RN: There are length limits on Twitter! "Skate bowl" is a decadent ten characters. Besides, where I come from, we call spades spades and holes holes.
CA: How deep are we talking, here? You're, what, 6'5"?
RN: I'm 6'6" and a half, and the pit is probably... 7 feet at its shallowest? I couldn't see out. But, there were two steps carved into it that I could use to climb out, or I could pull myself up from the ledge using my arms.
The problem was, this left me out of the hole, and Chompsky still in it. I quickly discovered that I couldn't carry a 65 pound dog in one arm and pull myself out with the other --- the rain made the concrete too slippery to scramble up the side --- and the steps needed two hands too.
So I posted the picture I took on Twitter and said if you hopped down into this structure to take this picture and now couldn't get out, what would you do? Hypothetically speaking.
CA: So take us through the process of realizing you were trapped in a hole with very limited resources and no obvious way out. Was it only after you got the picture that you started looking around and noticing that you had become a human logic puzzle, or was it as soon as your feet hit the ground?
RN: Once I had my picture and failed to get out of the pool a few times in a row, I realized that this was not going to be as easy as I'd hoped. But I didn't even think I was in a human logic puzzle until people started asking me about my inventory! Once that started I was really into it. It was like, "Alright, we've got an umbrella, a leash, a dog, and the clothes on my back. How do we get out of here?"
CA: I think that's what really struck people about your situation, other than just that you were a grown man trapped in a hole with a dog. If people are familiar with your work, you talk about text-based and point-and-click adventure games a lot. Did you feel like those had prepared you for this experience?
RN: Yeah, as soon as we started talking about inventories, I was like, "Okay, I get this. I have done this before. We just need to figure out which item combines with which other item to produce a solution."
In retrospect, "use UMBRELLA on LEASH" is something I should've tried sooner! It's an almost entirely nonsensical solution to a puzzle, and those were endemic in old adventure games. And we all made fun, but guess what? TURNS OUT THEY WORK.
Hilariously, earlier that day I had retweeted this:
Hours later, I was living that tweet!
CA: Was there ever a moment where someone said, like "climb up" and you legitimately thought, "I don't see 'up' here"?
RN: Hah! There were a few people afterwards who said, "Obviously the solution was 1) leave hole, 2) get large item, 3) return with large item, 4) stand on large item to leave hole with dog," but the curved walls wouldn't let me get any large items close enough to the edge, I don't own a ladder, and I wasn't about to leave my dog in a hole without me! He was fine to chill in the hole with me, it's as good a place for bros to chill as any, but I don't think he would've liked me wandering away without him.
Anyway, "I don't see LARGE ITEM here".
CA: It seems like Chompsky was taking his cues from the hole itself: Chill or be killed.
RN: I wish I'd examined that graffiti more closely when I was down there and had the time. I'd love to know if it was "Chill or be killed" or "Chill or be chilled". I kinda prefer the latter!
There's an Ask Metafilter thread about this too, and my favorite comment there was Oneswellfoop saying how much he liked my comic The Midas Flesh and how clever it was, and how could someone that clever not be able to find his way out of a hole?
But what he's forgetting is, how could someone that clever get trapped in a hole in the first place? Answer: quite easily, the walls are real slippy!
CA: How did the experience change you? Did you have trouble re-adjusting to life above ground once you'd gotten out of the hole?
RN: I've got a sore butt from sliding down the cement walls so many times! But I still defy all holes and will continue to see holes as they really are: Potential Adventure Apertures.
CA: Finally, do you have any advice for anyone else who might find themselves trapped in a hole with a friendly dog and a limited personal inventory?
RN: First off, combine all inventory items with all other inventory items, even if you're not sure if it'll work.
Second off, play Ronka's "Man in a Hole" game in your browser --- as it will help you live the experience, which is valuable practice for if --- when? --- you find yourself in a hole.
Thirdly, be wary of suggestions to take of your shirt and pants to make slings. I am 99% sure people just wanted me to end up naked in that hole, to better set up a, "this isn't what it looks like!" to anyone who came by?
And I guess fourthly, livetweet your experience, because some awesome things (like that game, or this art by Michael Firman) can come out of it!
For more information about holes, please visit your local library.