The world of comics is filled to the brim with a countless number of stories. They can be sad, joyous, heroic, and even inspirational, but rarely do you find a story in our medium quite like that of Larime Taylor. He’s the creator of the hit series A Voice in the Dark; a series that’s become popular so quickly that issue #1 has already been ordered for a second print. He writes, draws, shades, and does the lettering for the series but there’s a twist. He was born with Arthrogryposis; it’s a condition that has left him with very little use of his extremities. With a condition that would leave most of us looking at the bleakest side of things, Larime hasn’t let Arthrogryposis, poverty, or anything else get in his way to the spotlight. He was kind enough to share an hour of his time with me to sit down and talk about his book, his condition, and how he’s able to put out such an amazing product!
FTN: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’d like to start by asking you how you got in to comics. Are they something you’ve always been in to? If not, what drew you into making them?
LT: Off and on as a kid. I was a kid in the 80’s so comics were fairly popular. I remember those spinner racks in the corner stores. I was into comics a little bit back then, I didn’t follow it too closely. It was an every now and then sort of thing. I mostly fell out of it in middle school and high school, and then in college I ended up getting back in to comics because I picked up The Crow. That started to get me back into comics. It was getting popular even before the movie came out. Then a friend loaned me Sandman: Season of Mist. Season of Mist is the one where all the family is in it, it’s an introduction to the adolescent and everything. It’s such a great story arc. It was really my introduction back into comics, you know, The Crow and Sandman. They really showed me the comics I remembered as a kid, getting them from the spinner rack at the corner store, weren’t exactly all there is to comics. There’s so much more to it. There are more adult, serious stories out there.
I was a kid in the 80’s so comics were fairly popular. I remember those spinner racks in the corner stores. I was into comics a little bit back then
FTN: More than capes and cartoons?
LT: Yeah, you can do pretty much anything with it. Yeah I was more into the cartoons and anime as a kid. I used to watch Voltron and GI Joe growing up. I wasn’t really big into comics. I wasn’t the kid that had a hundred comics in a box.
FTN: Is AVitD your first endeavor into comics? If so, how can the readers get more familiar with the other work you’ve done?
LT: It’s my first comic that’s actually hitting the shelves. I developed a series with my with and a friend named Duncan Eagleson who back in the heyday of Vertigo drew on Sandman and shaded Changing Man. He did Anne Rice’s Witching Hour adaptation for comics. He was my penciler, my wife was the colorist, and I was the writer and letterer. We were doing a book that got picked up by Archaia that was going to be put out. The first issue was actually completely drawn, lettered, and mostly colored but it never ended up never coming out because lots of things all went wrong in our lives at that point. We couldn’t afford to keep paying Duncan, who obviously is an artist that can command a page rate. My wife’s health was starting to crash. The book just kind of fell apart and we just never ended up publishing it. Although, it’s still with Archaia and I’ve talked with them recently and with my book coming out and it doing as well as it is, there’s renewed interest in picking it back up. So we’ll see what happens with that. So, this is my first actual, published on the shelf, you can go online and read it book.
FTN: So this won’t be all digital? I thought I had read something on Bleeding Cool about it going to that format.
LT: Oh! You mean The Kickstarters. I did some Kickstarters to help fund the series when I was first getting it started. The first Kickstarter reward was an actual, printed TPB. The second rewards were digital only because I didn’t want to deal with printing, especially now that I have a publisher. So basically, the second Kickstarter was digital only and all of those backers will be getting issues 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 months before they hit the shelves. They’ll be getting them in PDF format. As soon as I finish with issue 3, they’ll get that. That won’t actually be on the shelves until January, but they’ll be able to read the PDF of it in about 3 weeks.
FTN: Is it a limited run? Something you plan on being a 10 issue series or is this something you plan on making an on-going?
LT: It was signed as an on-going. I said I wanted an on-going, open-ended kind of a story and Matt Hawkins didn’t flinch or blink and just said, “ok.”
FTN: Do you have any influences from comics in your work? I know Jeff Lemire is a creator that likes to write and draw his creator owned stuff. Do you draw influence from people like him?
LT: I would say…more James O’Barr who did everything on The Crow. He wrote it, lettered it, and drew it. Terry Moore. James Robinson. People who are pretty much doing their books by themselves are who I’m most familiar with.
I wanted an on-going, open-ended kind of a story and Matt Hawkins didn’t flinch or blink and just said, “ok.”
FTN: Terry Moore has had a lot of success with Rachel Rising recently I’ve noticed.
LT: Yeah it’s still going strong. He publishes it himself; it’s not being done through a publisher. It’s been going for a couple of years now. Before that he did Echoes which had a bunch of critical success.
FTN: Yeah I hear nothing but good things about his work.
LT: Oh yeah, I love Terry Moore. Strangers in Paradise is started him. It was his big thing and its 20 year anniversary is this year so he’s been all over the place promoting that. My stuff has been compared to his a lot; as well as the Hernandez Brothers.
FTN: Well, I obviously read the book and loved it. Let’s talk about A Voice in the Dark. Where did the inspiration come from for that?
LT: It started out as a campy, parody, homage to the horror/slasher genre. It was going to be a very tongue-in-cheek, over the top absurdism where there was very little to no 4th wall. It was going to be a lot of archetypes and tropes, turned upside down. In doing that, in taking the tropes and turning them upside down I realized I had something more serious that I could do with it. For example, in most horror movies the ethnic character always dies first. So I decided she would be the main character and the sole survivor. Then I decided, well, what if she survives because she’s actually the killer? Then I thought, hey, a female serial killer. No one’s really done that before and that’s kind of interesting. It kind of evolved from there and got more serious when I realized I had some interesting ideas I could play with. So it turned more into what it is now. Although I kept some of the slightly surreal, campy elements to it; like the name of the radio station name, the name of the college, the town they live in; I kept things like that.
FTN: Well it’s great that you kept some of that light-heartedness in it with a story that dark!
LT: I really cite the movie Heathers as a major influence of that. It’s an 80’s movie with Christian Slater and Winona Ryder. It’s not so much horror as it is a dark comedy. They go on a killing-spree at their school and set it up to look like suicides. It goes from some really heavy, gritty moments to really surreal, absurd campiness. It’s a great movie, I love it. It’s one of those things that really influenced me. So I kind of site that a lot as a major influence because the book has its more surreal and humorous elements but at the core it’s telling a serious story.
FTN: It’s obviously a VERY psychological story .You really get into the psyche of Zoey. How do you get yourself into the mind-frame of someone that’s slowly becoming addicted to killing people? I listened to an interview with Scott Snyder recently and he described how jarring it can be sometimes!
LT: I don’t know that it’s as jarring for me because I come from a theater background and I’ve played Role-Playing Games my whole life. I was a theater major in college so I’m used to acting and playing characters. I’m used to getting in the heads of people I’m not. It’s one thing that comes a lot more naturally to me. Being a gaming geek all those years really made it easy for me to come up with, and get into characters. My theater background really plays a role in that. Zoey is actually fairly normal. She’s not a psychopath. She’s not a sociopath. She has a conscience. She has empathy. She has emotion. She feels guilt and remorse and she knows what she’s doing is wrong. In her case it’s more of an obsessive compulsive thing. I’m OCD myself. With her it’s compulsion. It gets stuck in her head and she can’t stop thinking about it. That’s really where it comes from with her. It’s basically writing a character that’s trying to be normal and have a normal life, but she has this side of herself that no one knows about that she’s trying to come to terms with. She’s trying to learn how to accept herself and learn how to deal with it. I can bounce in and out of characters fairly easily. It’s not as jarring for me, at least not yet. Maybe in theater it’s a little more difficult because you actually have to get up and embody the character, but when I’m writing in my little office it’s pretty straightforward.
I really cite the movie Heathers as a major influence of that. It’s not so much horror as it is a dark comedy.
FTN: You’re a jack-of-all trades! Did you ever consider using an artist other than yourself on the book? Or was it an executive decision from the start to do it all yourself?
LT: The way that the last book I was working on fell apart because we couldn’t afford to keep paying the artist and my wife couldn’t keep coloring it. All of that directly led me to doing this one entirely by myself. I wanted to do something that was entirely all on my shoulders so that I didn’t have to worry about, “what if I can’t pay this guy” or “what if this person misses a deadline”. I didn’t want to have to deal with creative teams and trying to find an artist that will work for free or work for cheap because I don’t have that much money, I’m pretty poor so I couldn’t afford to pay an artist a page rate. I decided the more of it I do myself, then the more of it sinks or swims on me and I don’t have to worry about outside forces stalling it like the last book. That’s why I decided from the beginning that this is something that I’ll do all the facets of. Starting with issue #3 my wife colors the covers, but that’s the only other outside participation other than having an editor.
FTN: You did the cover for #1, right?
LT: Yeah, I did the cover for #1. I drew it. I colored it. Everything. For #2 a friend of mine named Tony Puryear colored it. He has a book that he writes, draws, and colors that’s coming out on Dark Horse. It was in Dark Horse Presents for awhile and now it’s going to be a limited series from Dark Horse called Concrete Park. So I had him color the cover of issue 2 while we were in the process of getting my wife a new laptop that she could actually work on and do art again for the first time in about 4 or 5 years. Her colors look so amazing and make my line art look so much better so I’m really excited about that. I’m really happy to have her coloring the covers…she really does amazing work.
FTN: That brings me to my next set of questions. It’s impressive when a creator takes it upon themselves to shoulder all of the creative duties, but doubly so in your case. Would you care to share with the readers the details of the condition you were born with?
LT: It’s called Arthrogryposis. It’s basically a collection of various birth defects that affect the development of the limbs in the womb. So my arms and legs didn’t fully develop properly. They’re in fixed positions my legs are bent in the sitting the position and my arms are bent up against me, hands down. The tendons and muscles never really developed so even if they were to unlock the joints; I couldn’t really do anything with the limbs. I can move them a little bit, it’s not a paralysis issue, the muscles and tendons just really aren’t there to do it. Down the line when they do muscles transplants and things like that, that would open some avenues for people with my condition, but right now there’s really not a whole lot other than surgically changing the positions of the arms to make them more useful. I know some people that have had their arms and hands put into positions so they can feed themselves with their hands. I just use my mouth, I don’t care. I don’t get it all over the place, it doesn’t bother anyone and it doesn’t bother me. So basically, I just have very limited use of my arms, legs, hands, and feet so I do most things with my mouth.
I didn’t want to have to deal with creative teams and trying to find an artist that will work for free or work for cheap because I don’t have that much money, I’m pretty poor so I couldn’t afford to pay an artist a page rate.
FTN: Doing the entire book with just your mouth and a pen, what’s the most challenging part of the creative process?
LT: Generally a lot of that has been improved with me drawing digitally now. Now that I draw on a tablet I can draw sitting upright rather than hunched over. I can draw sitting up rather than flat on a tablet. I have my range and reach, you know, the neck can only stretch so far. It’s not like an arm and a hand where you can get a lot of extension. My lines are smoother side to side rather than up and down, so now I can rotate images. So if I have a vertical line that I need to draw or an arc I need to draw I can rotate the image to draw it side to side rather than up and down to get it smoother. I can zoom in and out which helps with perspective, which helps because I’m drawing with my nose literally two inches from the surface. So it’s hard to keep perspective and keep a sense of proportion to what you’re doing when you’re that close to it, but being able to zoom in and out I can check my perspectives and proportions. I can easily lasso things to shrink them or expand them to make them work. So that really freed me up. I’d say most of the obstacles I had in the past have been alleviated due to the fact I can draw digitally now. I wouldn’t be doing this book if I was drawing it on paper.
FTN: I remember in the back of the book it had mentioned the tablet you use. Would you like to tell me a little bit more about that? The company donated it to you, right?
LT: Yeah! The tablet I have was given to me by Wacom, who makes the tablet. A Wacom Cintiq tablet is what it is. I told them about myself, who I am, and what I’m doing and they gave me the tablet. That’s really allowed me to grow as an artist, I think. If you look at the stuff I was drawing on paper 5 years ago compared to stuff I’m doing digitally now it’s not even in the same ballpark, it’s not even the same sport. That’s how much it’s drastically improved and changed. I’ve been able to really grow and evolve as an artist and that’s all because they were able to help me out.
FTN: Comics are a very competitive community from the creative standpoint. Was there ever any doubt in your mind or a time you felt like you were at a disadvantage because of your condition?
LT: There’s always days where you’re like, “I don’t know if this is going to happen” or “I don’t know if this is going to go anywhere.” There’s been a lot of tension with trying to get the book picked up by a publisher. Especially in the early days when I was submitting it online through submission links on publisher’s websites, like they tell you to do. They never, ever get to them because they’re so backed up. So, I did what they tell you not to do and hit them all up at a convention and had a lot more success. There’s always that worry of, “ok can I even get a publisher to take a look at it?” or “is anyone actually going to like this book?” There are always those doubts but I’ve been living below the poverty line for 13 years now and something’s gotta give. So I just get up the next day and keep working. There’s nothing else I can do but get up and go at it again. So I just keep getting up and drawing more and getting up and drawing more. Eventually I’ll knock the wall down…and I finally did.
FTN: You led into my next question beautifully because that obviously didn’t happen overnight. Can you tell us about how the book got funded and how you ended up over at Top Cow/Image?
LT: I did a Kickstarter to start the series basically. I wanted to have the best submission that I could have. Most places are like, “send us 5 pages, an outline, and a pitch of what the story is.” I’m thinking, “what if I send them an entire first issue? Wouldn’t that look more professional, respectable, and serious?” I wanted them to say, “Wow he put the book together himself. He’s dedicated, he’s serious, and he wants to do this.” It gave them an example of how it’s going to look. So I did the Kickstarter to fund the pilot issue basically. The Kickstarter was so successful that I ended up turning it into a three issue mini-series. They got each of the 3 parts digitally in PDF format as I completed them and then the book, which I printed, is the print reward they get in the end. That printed book is what I used as my submission package, like I planned to. So I went to WonderCon and was giving out copies of my trade to publishers as my pitch. I was telling them about the story and my vision for it. I submitted it to probably ten publishers at WonderCon and I ended up having several of them interested in talking about a contract and making a deal. Top Cow is where I decided to go. I really hit it off well with Matt Hawkins. He really seemed to like the book. Top Cow is one of the most prestigious of the Image imprints. It’s been around the longest with titles like Witchblade and things like that from the very beginning. I mean, it’s Image. Image is the ideal for a creator for their creator-owned book is Image. Whether it’s Image Central, Top Cow, or Shadowline; Image is Image. I was quite happy when Top Cow and Matt said they were interested even though they don’t normally do creator-owned books. He liked it and actually saw how they could make it work. So I said, “sure, let’s do it!”
FTN: That’s exciting news for you! Image is the third biggest market-share in comics. I would mention them as much as DC or Marvel as far as the quality of books they put out.
LT: Image is really having their renaissance right now. This is probably the best possible time to get picked up by Image. You’ve got Saga, Jupiter’s Legacy, Ten Grand, Pretty Deadly and Velvet. Not to mention, The Walking Dead. Image just keeps putting out more and more books that are better than the last ones. Saga just swept all the awards last year and was their top seller. Then Ten Grand came along and is doing similar numbers. Jupiter’s Legacy came along and did HUGE numbers. Right now, Image is doing very, very well. Every new book they put out seems to just hit gold right off the bat. I know Pretty Deadly did like 50-60,000 with that first issue. Brubaker is doing Velvet which is supposed to be like a female James Bond. You’ve got the guys from Wasteland at Oni doing a book at Image. Fraction’s doing Image. You just have all these creator-owned books coming out from Image that are really starting to become popular again. Creator-owned books went into a dive for a long time after the 90’s speculation market and now they’re coming back with a huge bang. It’s the perfect time to be jumping in. I think part of the success my book is having, if for no other reason is because I just happened to be picked up by an Image imprint at the right time. That alone is worth a few thousand in sales.
I just get up the next day and keep working. There’s nothing else I can do but get up and go at it again. So I just keep getting up and drawing more and getting up and drawing more. Eventually I’ll knock the wall down…and I finally did.
FTN: You just named off the All-Star team of comics. Do you feel at all intimidated by the fact you’re on the same label as them or do you see that as motivation?
LT: A little bit of both. It’s crazy to be sitting at a booth at a con six feet away from Marc Silvestri sketching on people’s books and thinking, “wow…I’m on his label. That’s just crazy.” It’s crazy to think the same publisher that puts out The Walking Dead and Saga is putting out my book. It’s kind of mind-bending to wrap your head around that. It’s also encouraging when a lot of the people you meet in the industry are so positive and supportive. It really helped. They like the book and like what I’m doing and they’re happy to be a part of it. It does a lot to encourage and motivate you to want to do better so that you feel like you deserve to be where you’re at. It makes you nervous enough to appreciate you where you’re at, but in a way that makes you want to do better.
FTN: The quality of AVitD is top notch. I read the book and loved it.
LT: I’m really happy with issue 2. Issue 1 is a bit hit or miss for me. On one hand, I want to go back and re-draw half of it, but then if I did it would look different than stuff I didn’t re-draw. It would be a never-ending cycle. As issue 1 goes you start to see the art really improve. Issue 1 that’s coming out on the shelf is actually 2 parts of the 3 part Kickstarter that made up the trade. Issue 2 is the third part, so you’re really getting 2 issues in 1 with #1. I think if you look at the first 18 pages and the second 18 pages and compare them you can already see the growth and improvement. Issue 2 is a bit more than that. The art in issue 3 is a huge jump. Stylistically I changed a little bit. The backgrounds are more detailed, yet, more simplistic in that the backgrounds are more line oriented with very simple washes for the shading. It’s done in gray lines instead of black ones so they fade into the background more. The characters and foreground objects are being down with black lines and bolder grayscale shading that I’ve been doing so they have a good pop. It adds more dimension to the page. It’s a huge improvement in the art when issue 3 comes out. I’m finally happy where the art is, I mean, I’m not satisfied because I want to keep getting better, but I can look at issue 3 and be happy with most of what I see. I look at issue 1 and I get so busy grumbling how I could do things better that I don’t enjoy it as much as I probably should. When I got the funds to do it, especially with the first issue, it was about proving to myself that I COULD do it. It was the first time I’d ever done a sequential book before. Just completing it was kind of a victory. Now that I’ve proven to myself that I can do an entire book of sequential art in a timely manner, now I’m focusing more on my craft and improving my storytelling and visual elements…really trying to make the art observe the story rather than just be a camera showing the story. I’m getting more adventurous artistically now that I know I can do it.
FTN: I read that you’re big on making deadlines. It has to be a huge amount of work just to do the book alone, let alone make your deadline. With that being said, are there any more plans for future books or any genres you’d like to explore?
I would love to write books with other artists. I can write a script fairly quick, so I could be writing a couple books a month and then be doing this book as the art book that I draw as well. I’m always interested in hooking up with artists that are willing to draw my scripts. The problem that I’m running into is most artists want to write their own stuff or are already committed to a book. Publishers want me to draw it because that’s the attraction. They don’t want the book the guy in the wheelchair writes, they want the book he draws with his mouth. I can at most do 2 books a month. If I did do the Archaia book or if it goes somewhere else that would be my second book if I ended up drawing it. It wouldn’t be a monthly; it would be a mini that comes out in bunches throughout a year like Locke & Key or Saga. It wouldn’t be on-going like this; I’m not crazy enough to do two on-goings by myself.
LT: What I didn’t realize is how far in advance they needed cover art done. The cover for issue 5 was supposed to have been done last week. We couldn’t get it done in time because I haven’t had a working wheelchair for 3 months. I do photo shoots to reference my covers and I haven’t been able to leave the house for 3 months. So one I drew everything I had already shot for issue 3 and 4, I’ve just been waiting to go shooting more. Once I dug through my photo archives for a photo I could use as a cover for issue 5 and got it to my wife to color, we lost our oldest cat that we’d had since before we got married the week the cover was due. Stress really affects her health so that just crashed her for the week so we weren’t able to get the cover done. It will obviously be done for when the book comes out; it just wasn’t done in time for the Diamond Previews book.
I’m not crazy enough to do two on-goings by myself.
FTN: You’ve obviously set high standards for yourself. What are your goals for the book?
LT: The book did about 3 to 4 times what Top Cow was hoping for. They told me what they hoped for as their target number and it came in at about 3 to 4 times more than that. That was nice. There’s obviously going to be a drop between issues 1 and 2, but even if it dropped by half, it would still be doing double what they were hoping for. That would be nice. My only real target is having it sell enough to keep doing it regularly and make a living at it; that the book does enough to be my day job. Issue 1 is more than a day job! Even if it dropped in half I would be making enough money to do it regularly.
FTN: That being said, what major title would you like to work on and with who? So what’s your dream collaboration!
LT: Wow…that’s the first time I’ve been asked that too. Anything with Terry Moore would be awesome. Two people I want to work with are Terry Moore and Jimmy Robinson, but if I could do anything, anywhere I really want to do Oracle for DC and have a character in a wheelchair for DC again. When DC got her out of the chair and put her back in the Batsuit, they disappointed a lot of disabled readers, myself included. I don’t blame Gail for it, she did the best she could with the situation and she’s doing a great job on Batgirl. It’s a great book, but I’m still sad to see, and I know she’s sad to see Oracle go. So I’d like to create the new Oracle for DC and have Humberto Ramos draw it. He’s my favorite Big 2 artist now.
If you’re a writer that can’t find an artist, learn to draw. Don’t just do a couple of pages and hope that’s enough. If you really want to get attention, give them a finished product.
FTN: What kind of advice do you have to offer any creators out there just hoping to get noticed and hoping to be given the opportunity to have their work shown to the world?
LT: Do it yourself to start. Do a Kickstarter, put it together yourself, and print it at your local Office Depot if you have to. Just do something that’s finished. Don’t do 5 pages and show it on a convention floor and ask to get a book deal or email 5 pages to Image and ask to get a book deal. It happens sometimes, but it’s rare. If you really want to open a door, impress publishers and get attention; walk up to them with a finished book; even if it’s one issue. You can print on-demand comics now from all kinds of places. I think Amazon Kindle is even doing comics now. You can write and publish lots of stuff through Kindle now. There are just so many ways to get a book done on your own now that you don’t need a publisher to see your book get printed. What you need them for is getting into the market, into stores, and have Diamond pick it up. As far as having a professional, finished product though, there’s no reason you can’t print it yourself. The early trade version that I took to the convention that I used as my pitch, I printed on high-glossy magazine paper at Office Depot. I had them use the black, plastic spirals and the pages were double sided just like a comic. I had them trim it down to comic size so there was no blank white or black space. It looked really professional. Every publisher I gave it to told me it was the nicest looking package they’ve ever been handed. I did it for like $6 a copy at Office Depot. For $60 you can do 10 copies and hand them out to 10 publishers at a convention and maybe get a deal. Don’t do 5 pages and just hope…do a whole book. If you’re a writer that can’t find an artist, learn to draw. Don’t just do a couple of pages and hope that’s enough. If you really want to get attention, give them a finished product.
FTN: Larime, thanks so much for taking the time to chat to FTN and we wish you all the very best for the future.