The cuteness. The creepiness. Somehow Paul Taylor manages to blend these disparate elements in his artwork and storylines.
To borrow from myself – last December I reviewed Taylor’s webcomic, Wapsi Square, on my currently retired blog, Suze Underground – They do know how to grow things in Iowa: Corn. Soybeans. One seriously excellent graphic novelist/webcomic artist with a killer-sweet talent.
As I mentioned in that writeup, I’m all about depth of story. Character development. When it comes down to it, I want to read comics with smarts.
The trek into Wapsi Square – a voyage that began with its initial post on September 9, 2001- is an ongoing journey that delivers.
I’ve been a fan of Taylor’s since I first ran into his crew of courageous and psychologically intriguing characters last year, and I count myself among one of his most dedicated readers.
It was great fun to find out more about the man behind the artistry.
Season: You’ve mentioned that your background is in photography and you have no formal training as a comic artist. Would you discuss a little about your beginnings as a comic book illustrator/writer?
Paul Taylor: Oh my goodness, I was stumbling around in the dark trying to get started. At the time that I was beginning work on Wapsi, there weren’t many resources and what I could find were very “these are the tools that professional comic artists use and this is how they work and if you want to be a professional, this is what you do, otherwise you’re not professional,” therefore I initially bought the expensive Bristol, dip pens, Windsor Newton brushes, etc.
Much later, I realized, you use what you’re comfortable using as long as it copies good and prints with good quality. As for the writing, I wrote up back stories for each of the main characters that were extensive and contained things that would probably never make it into the actual story. It sounds crazy but it gives me a base to work with that lets me know how that character is going to react.
I shouldn’t really say “know” as sometimes the characters surprise me with what they do. I took their back stories, tucked them away in my mind’s back burner, and then just let the characters lead the story. It’s quite a weird place to be and literally feels like I’m dealing with real people sometimes.
Season: I get that completely. Same thing with fiction writing. It’s important to know our characters inside and out, but it’s when they commit mutiny – sometimes taking over and insisting we do things their way – that’s when our stories can truly come to life.
Has drawing been a lifelong passion? How about fiction writing? Any formal classes/workshopping as a writer, or are you entirely self taught? You have such a keen sense of how great storylines work, and it’s clear you know a lot about “giving good story.”
Paul: First of all, Wow! Thank you! ^_^ No, I haven’t taken any writing classes, but I was lucky to grow up with a healthy diet of great movies and immediately became a fan of visual story telling.
I guess I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until the last 12 or so years that I started with graphic novel as story telling medium.
I mostly center on how I enjoy having a story told to me and try my best to work from there.
Season: I’ve read every single panel of Wapsi Square (more than a few times) and can’t help but wonder if the evolution of protagonist Monica Villarreal and her crew of co-characters is something you planned.
Paul: The only part that I planned was that I wanted to work with a story that combined my love of the contrast of cute and macabre as well as the paranormal. It took the first several comics for me to work with the characters and become familiar with them, how they react and act, what their relationships would be like and such, all the while hinting at the paranormal yet not having it as the plot.
Season: At the very start, there didn’t seem to be any discernible foreshadowing of ominous events brewing. But when I reread, I noticed little touches I’d somehow glossed over on my first go-round: Monica pulling a voodoo doll from a crate marked “Peru” in one of the earliest panels (a voodoo doll that actually works); later, she inadvertently releases “the Aztec god of alcohol” who is quickly sent away to Utah. All returns to sweet and light for quite a while, with little toe-dips into deeper waters. Then some crazy-cool magic kicks in and the storyline ventures into shadowy psychological and supernatural territory.
I think you must have surprised your readers, and I get the feeling you meant to do that. When I read through again, months after my initial explorations, I thought oh, seriously. Paul’s been teasing us from the very beginning. True?
Paul: For quite a few readers, this seemed to be jarring; some claimed it came out of nowhere. Mostly this is because the comics had been on a M-W-F schedule and took way longer to get through than had they been in a book format. When people newly discover my comic online or read it in the book format, the transition from introduction to paranormal is much smoother and folks seem to enjoy it.
Season: For me, this change took your story from the realm of light, fun, almost glance-and-go reading to a hold-the-stagecoach, I’ve got to catch the next panel experience. Was this a conscious, premeditated direction, or a surprise to you as well? Or perhaps a little of both?
Paul: While some aspects of the change were planned, others took me by surprise. Not to give anything away to potential new readers, the full depth of three very powerful entities and just how much personalities they would have is what most took me by surprise.
Season: In an August 25th Twitter post, you tweeted “I find it odd that the things that made me an outsider of sorts in high school seem to be the things that make me interesting now.”
I related to that so much that I re-tweeted it. And noticed a few others re-tweeting it. And then I began to wonder about what led up to that tweet.
Were you an outsider in a nerdy way (which is considered cool nowadays, I realize; when I was in high school, back in the ’70s, certain modes of dress were considered—excuse the cliché; can’t help myself—social suicide. Maybe it was Michael Jackson who finally made white socks perfectly acceptable), or were you more along the lines of a renegade James Dean sort? And just for the heckuvit, what were some of those odd things that made you different?
Paul: Any nerdiness on my part back in high school were by no means premeditated things nor a renegade action; that would’ve been way too cool and would’ve made the nerdiness null-n-void. I was the nerd, through and through, that didn’t realize how much of a nerd I was. I was so nerdy that I didn’t know I was a nerd, just that I didn’t fit in. It was a high school that was all about their football team or being tough-ass country boys.
I found myself way more comfortable interacting with girls in high school, but unfortunately, it was too comfortable and I don’t think the girls ever thought of me as boyfriend material. I was the one that they told their problems to and asked me about what they should do regarding their guy issues. Looking back, and knowing that I’m completely oblivious when someone is flirting with me…shoot.
Season: My favorite Wapsi Square character is Tina, and I’m happy to see you expanding on her character. (For anyone who isn’t sure, Tina Rosario Aldaco Guzmán is the owner/barista of the Wapsi crew’s favorite local coffee shop. She’s the shell of a deceased girl whose body was commandeered by a group of personal demons.)
I’ve been curious about this for some time, but are these personal demons those of the former Tina? Upon her death, did they simply take over? And what inspired the idea for this character?
Paul: Exactly. The demons that comprise the current Tina are the demons of their former host. At Tina’s rawest sense, she is a very creepy, frightening concept. She looks human and alive, and yet to converse with her, one is interacting with a shell that is quite literally being manipulated like some kind of a marionette. I’m a huge fan of creepy-cute things and enjoy the contrast of working in such a cartoony style and yet having such dark elements in my stories.
Tina comes from the idea of something that is inherently dark, horrific and possibly sinister, and yet had no control over what it is, no say in being the way it is. Take, for example, a creature like a domesticated water buffalo. A creature that is quite frightening looking and could easily take on a Sherman tank, and yet can be ridden and handled with relative safety by children.
Tina’s other aspect is that the personal demons no longer have their host to sway/torment/annoy and yet have not moved on to their next host. They’re literally stuck with the ship after the captain jumped overboard. I was just fascinated with the idea of something as dark as personal demons having to make a life for themselves, stuck in the same position as the rest of us.
Season: I love that, and agree that creepiness and cuteness go great together. Tina rocks! (If you haven’t read WS, dear readers, you’re seriously missing out.)
Have you given much thought to the future of Wapsi Square? Will Jin and Bud and Tina, etc., live on in graphic novel collection after collection, or do you have other projects with different characters and storylines in mind?
I realize some artists would rather not discuss future creative plans, so feel free to change the subject, plead the fifth, or maybe tell us about winters in Minnesota.
Paul: I have a real soft spot for this goonie world that I created and will probably always have semblance of it in some way, even if it might be a tenured character or one waiting in the wings.
Other than that…oh my goodness! Look over there! It’s the London Philharmonic crossing the street!
Thanks to Paul Taylor for taking a little time out from his gotta-be-insane schedule. I appreciate his generosity – not to mention his positive and inspirational attitude toward others.
There is so much more to the man than the art – though his art blows me away.
The art though? Wapsi Square is awesomeness squared, true, but Taylor’s creations don’t stop there.
Check it out: Pablo Wapsi Illustrations
Taylor (a.k.a. Pablo Wapsi) also showcases admirable, courageous women on his site. I love this project: The Wapsi Girl