Mouth Artist Larime Taylor Explores the Noir Macabre with “A Voice in the Dark”
Larime Taylor draws with his mouth. He’s been doing so for his entire life. Born with arthrogryposis, a neuromusculoskeletal disorder which prevents him from using his arms extensively or walking, he uses a Wacom Cintiq tablet to bring his brainchild, the Top Cow comic book, A Voice in the Dark, to life.
Revolving around budding serial killer and college disc jockey Zoey Aarons, A Voice in the Dark is an evocative exploration of, among other things, sexuality, social structures, moral boundaries, loyalty, trust, female objectification and identity.
You know… the typical university experience.
Zoey, a mixed race college freshman at Blair University constantly at odds with her intense desire to commit murder again (she offed her first victim back in her hometown before leaving for school), hosts a weekly radio show, “Voices in the Dark,” which solicits anonymous on-air confessions from callers. She spends the rest of her time on campus suppressing her deadly impulses while interacting with her three very different roommates, attending class, dealing with the devious fraternity and sorority crowd and spending time with her uncle, Zeke, who happens to be a homicide detective in the quaint college town whose history with murderers has spawned numerous kitschy self-referential indulgences (an example: the campus radio station’s call letters are “KILL”).
In fact, Zoey isn’t the only serial killer in town.
That’s just the plot of the story. The real magic is how Taylor ties everything together so beautifully. The artwork is clean, with crisp line work and a clear, defined theme. All the dialogue rings true; each character’s voice comes off as unique and three dimensional. The tentative subject matter is handled deftly and is offset perfectly with just the right dose of humor. The pace, which could make or break a book driven (with sparing exception thus far) almost exclusively by dialogue and narration, is exceptional. I’ll defer to my reviews of the first and fifth issues, if you’re interested in more detail. Currently wrapping up issue seven, which will complete the second story arc, titled “Killing Game” (after the Skinny Puppy song; the first arc, “Blood Makes Noise,” was an homage to Suzanne Vega’s song of the same name), Taylor was gracious enough to put his work temporarily on hold to talk with me about, among other things, his love for indie horror films, how he wound up signing with Top Cow Productions, being married to a comic book fan and why black and white is a tough medium for any comic not named The Walking Dead.
Tuff Gnarl: How long has the story of A Voice in the Dark been bubbling around in your mind? How long have you been sort of sitting on the character of Zoey Aarons?
Larime Taylor: Probably since 2007, 2008.
And is that when you began the process of bringing her and the other characters to life?
Yeah. I briefly did it as a web comic that I wasn’t really able to keep going for very long, just before I had my tablet set up and was using decent photos and such. I was having to draw directly on the paper, hunched over, with my limited range and ability, and it wasn’t working too well. Once I started having the tablet up and running and I started getting better at that, I finally found that it was something that I could do.
The Wacom tablet – the Cintiq – how is that different than the other models? What does it allow you to do that other tablets haven’t?
The Cintiq isn’t just a tablet; it’s a screen that’s also a tablet, so you’re drawing directly onto the screen. With tablets, you’re usually drawing on the tablet while looking at your screen. I couldn’t use those because I would have my face down on the tablet. I wouldn’t be able to see the screen. This is the first tablet that I’ve been able to use because I can draw directly onto the surface, on the art itself.
How did you get in touch with Top Cow, with Marc (Silvestri) and Matt (Hawkins) over there?
I basically pitched the book at WonderCon last year. I went around to different publishers. They were one of them and were the ones I ended up signing with.
Is this your first endeavor into comic creating? I looked around and couldn’t find anything else.
This is my first published work, yeah.
That’s pretty incredible that your first book would come out of Top Cow, then. Does it kind of feel surreal at times?
Every indie creator wants to get their book in the door at Image [Comics, the parent company, founded by Marc Silvestri and many others, under whose larger banner Top Cow publishes its work] and that’s what I did. It’s pretty cool to have done that, and it’s kind of trippy to realize some days my that book gets to be put out by Top Cow, that it’s an Image book, and it does sometimes feel like that – sort of surreal.
I noticed, in the back of issue one, in the introductory to the issue’s appendix, “Grey Matter,” that you quoted Montag the Magnificent, a character played by Crispin Glover in the film The Wizard of Gore, which is an interesting reference, because although it saw decent distribution – I picked it up when it was in Blockbuster – it’s not your typically referred-to character or quote…
It’s a pretty obscure indie straight to DVD horror movie.
Yeah. Are you drawn to indie horror films? I mean, the subject matter of the book itself lends towards kind of a propensity to be attracted to the macabre, I suppose. Would you say that you are more or less attracted to that sort of thing?
I grew up on the horror genre, so [The Wizard of Gore] has long been a favorite. I wouldn’t say the only favorite, but a favorite, and Crispin Glover is just amazing in that movie, so for some reason when I sat down to write the back end of the book that just sort of came out and I was like, “Okay, yeah… I could live with that.” But yeah, that genre in general… Mine is a little more psychological noir than straight up horror, but, in a way, so was that movie. It wasn’t so much a horror movie as it had kind of a noir influence over it and it blurred the lines of reality and such.
You talk about Zoey, Seven, Ash, Kristen and Mona on your website and sometimes in the book itself, and you speak about them – as a creator rightfully should, I guess – like they’re real people, that they’re people that you know and are familiar with. As a creator, I’m sure to some degree it is that way. My question is, though, how far ahead are you playing, so to speak? How far ahead, plot-wise, are you?
I know what happens through, I would say, the next three story arcs. I’ve already plotted them out and I know what happens in them, so I probably have a couple years of material already worked out as far as where it’s going. I don’t have an end game in mind yet, but we’re going to be transitioning into a series of miniseries starting with the next story arc. Issue seven will come out in May. In June, the trade will come out [collecting issues one through seven]. I’ll take July and August and let the trade kind of saturate and hopefully build a bigger audience so that when the next monthly comes out it will be in September and it’ll be part of a five-issue miniseries. I already have that one plotted out – I’m starting writing on that soon – and then I have at least two more minis after that plotted out. So I probably have, I’d say, another 15 issues already roughly worked out as to what happens in them, and I know where that’s going.
I’m guessing it probably still changes now and then, depending…
Yeah, exactly. Some of the things that happen in this next upcoming mini were things I had already planned as part of a bigger picture, but there’s a lot of it I created specifically for it when I started breaking things up into minis rather than, say, an open-ended ongoing monthly. I wanted to have more beginning-middle-end kind of plots where things are a little more self-contained in each miniseries so that readers could pick it up and get a satisfactory story arc rather than an ongoing open-ended kind of a thing, and in working that out I sat down and wrote up a lot more material for this upcoming miniseries that makes it more urgent and immediate and gives it more of a direct plot rather than staying stuck in a long-term, ongoing storyline. So, a lot of that is still in there, but it’s more immediately accessible.
Was it always your intention to have there be another serial killer on campus that Zoey winds up interacting with or was that something that kind of developed as the process went along?
That was something I always wanted to develop from the beginning. As was mentioned in issue three, the town itself kind of has a history of serial murder, and bringing in other killers was something I always wanted to do with the series. This one in particular, as the first one that I’m introducing, has a direct impact on her life, and so that’s kind of the first long-term plot, the impact of her interacting with this other one.
Are you’re still involved with Kickstarter? You’ve had a couple successful campaigns at this point, correct?
I had one that I initially used to fund the first package that I put together, which ended up being a 66-page graphic novel, and then I did a second Kickstarter to help pay for the production of the second story arc while I was in negotiations to getting signed, but the book wouldn’t come out for quite a while still, I wasn’t going to be seeing royalties for quite a while, so it gave me some income to help keep me going. The second Kickstarter helped fund the production of what ended up being issues three through seven.
Could you tell me about using song titles to name your story arcs?
Every story arc I make I’m naming after a song that kind of played a role in my life at some point or that fits the story. “Blood Makes Noise” is the first one; “Killing Game” is the second. The next story arc, which is starting in September, I’m calling “Barrel of a Gun,” which is a Depeche Mode song.
You’ve been married for 16 years… How old are you?
So you got married pretty young. How involved is your wife in comics, herself? How interested is she?
She’s interested. She was a big fan of A Distant Soil growing up. She’s a big Colleen Doran fan. So while Sandman and The Crow were playing big roles in my early adulthood and comic experience, A Distant Soil, Elfquest and things like that were her gateway and influence. She colors my covers. Starting with issue three, the color covers are hers. I draw them and she colors them, and she may be coloring the interiors of other books that I do down the line that I do. This book is mostly going to remain black and white or it’s going to have spot color. That’s something that I’m working on right now with the publisher, with Top Cow. In trying to grow the audience a bit, we’re talking about transitioning to color and whether we want to go full color or if that kind of works against the whole noir feel of the book, and one possibility I’ve put forward is keeping it grayscale but pushing it to a cold gray – where it’s a blue-gray rather than just straight up gray-gray – so it would be a slightly bluish gray, and then having different things be spot colors, with actual colors, so, like, Ash’s hair would be magenta, Zoey’s eyes would be green, blood would be red – things like that. Kind of like a Sin City Frank Miller approach, but a little more color than that.
That’s cool. So you haven’t really nailed down exactly what it is, in that respect, that you want to do, but you’ve do want to kind of move away a little bit from the current uniformly grayscale into something else.
No, it’s mostly trying to come up with ways to make the book more accessible, grow the audience and get more people to give it a chance. Black and white… it’s kind of funny; there’s no reason why black and white doesn’t do better, because The Walking Dead sells great and it’s black and white, but for some reason it’s the exception and not the rule. Stores still buy The Walking Dead because it’s The Walking Dead, but once upon a time it wasn’t – it was just a black and white Image book that some guy named Rob Kirkman, that nobody knew that much about, was doing. Now he is who he is and the book is what it is, but when it started out he wasn’t at that level yet. So at some point, the stores did give him the chance, but they don’t do it as a rule and it’s kind of hard to crack that a little bit, so we’re looking at different ways to broaden the audience a little bit, to make it more series-tailored. We’re still working on that. Right now, my focus is on finishing issue seven and getting that out so that it can be done and the trade can go to print and then I can shift my focus to the next run and start playing with styles. I played a little bit, already, with spot color to show Top Cow what I was thinking, and they liked what I was doing, but I’m not sure if it’s ready yet, if I want to develop it a bit more or if I want to go in a different direction. I’m kind of worrying about that next. My main focus, like I said, is finishing issue seven and getting the first story done.
One marked point of the series that I’ve really enjoyed at this point – and I’m pretty sure I know why it’s there – are the professor exchanges, where Zoey’s in class and she’s talking to that big-bearded professor. Basically, he’s addressing the class, and it’s a plot device that’s used in other narratives as well, in film and in television, but in yours it’s especially well done because there’s almost a dialogical thing going on with the readers as well.
You kind of touched on a number of different things. She is a college student, and so I wanted her in college classrooms. She wouldn’t come across as a real college student if all it was was her running around stabbing people. I studied at college, and for it to be at college I have to show some of that college life, so that got me thinking, “Okay, what kind of class theme can I incorporate that won’t just be boring, with her sitting in English 101 and us wanting to stab ourselves in the face because it’s boring?” One of the ideas that I came up with was the critical thinking class, Ethics and Morality, and doing something that would really let me kind of go meta with it and incorporate things into that class that are current topics in the book itself. I can use it to explore the suicide angle, for instance, that leads into the phone call she gets at the end of issue one and through issue two; and I can the death penalty argument as kind of a meta conversation on her struggling with falling off the wagon, whether she’s going to kill again, and see how that plays out. So yeah, it’s something that I saw an as an opportunity in trying to come up with ideas to make the school part of her daily life, and I saw an opportunity to actually do something with it and explore an angle of the book that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to and actually make it something important to the story. That’s basically where that grew out of.
You mentioned on your website, also, going to conventions, being at booths and having to sometimes ask your friends to sit behind you or something so that there’s no confusion as to who the creator is, who people are coming to see…
Yeah, I’ve run into problems where if I have anybody else sitting next to me at the table, the common thing is… Fans of the series know who I am. They know who they’re talking to when they come up. With the people that are unfamiliar with it or haven’t read the “Grey Matter” in the first issue that introduced me, there’s a tendency to talk to the person who’s able-bodied first, and that’s kind of true in life in general. At restaurants, the waiter will talk to who I’m with instead of me. Store clerks, things like that. It’s kind of part of being disabled, there’s an automatic tendency – it’s not even something that’s conscious or something that offends me – to talk to the able-bodied person in case the person in the wheelchair can’t communicate as clearly or… I really personally can’t explain it entirely. It’s something I’ve gotten used to.
It’s got to be pretty wild some of the time, that there is that kind of following that’s familiar with you, who you are and everything.
It is. Going to conventions or doing signings where people are actually there to see me is kind of trippy. I did a couple of conventions with Top Cow while the book was in production and they were letting me be at the booth to promote the Kickstarter book had because it’s a gateway to the series and would help me develop a following ahead of time and they were really supportive of that, but nobody that was coming up to get things signed or buy books at the booth was there for me. They were there for Marc Silvestri, they were there for Witchblade, they were there for Think Tank and Matt [Hawkins], and so now that I can go to a convention, do a signing and people there show up for me, it’s still really kind of trippy. It’s not something I’ve gotten used to yet. I still have a hard time calling them fans or saying that I have fans, but I encourage feedback, I welcome it and I try to respond quickly and let them know I appreciate it. It’s because of them that I keep doing this.
The first volume trade of A Voice in the Dark, which collects issues one through seven, hits shelves on June 11th. Read issue one absolutely free HERE. For more issues, go by the Top Cow store. Follow Larime Taylor on Twitter, drop him a line at <email@example.com> and visit his website.
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