Like many comics before it, the behind the scenes tale of “A Voice in the Dark” is just as interesting and compelling as the story between the covers. Written and drawn by Larime Taylor, the comic started off as a Kickstarter project that wound up making 600% of its intended goal. That allowed Taylor to not only produce the first issue — which was supposed to act as a kind of comic book calling card — but two more. He took that book around to conventions and eventually struck up a relationship with Top Cow Productions President & COO Matt Hawkins at Top Cow. Now “A Voice in the Dark” is scheduled to debut from the Cow’s Minotaur Press imprint in November.
But that’s not all. Taylor, who was born with a congenital disorder called Arthrogryposis, drew every panel of “A Voice in the Dark” with his mouth using a Wacom Cintiq tablet. A casual comics fan as a kid, Taylor turned his knowledge of the medium into a burgeoning career.
The ongoing series through Minotaur follows the trials and tribulations of a young woman named Zoey who has always felt the urge to kill. She’s given in to the lust for taking life and now finds herself dealing with that growing desire while also moving away from home for the first time to attend college. Taylor has infused “A Voice in the Dark” with a elements of satire and parody, including the fact that her new college is referred to as Slaughter University and Cutter Circle, the school’s hometown, has the world’s highest concentration of serial killers.
CBR News spoke with Taylor about his history with the medium of comics, his process for creating “A Voice in the Dark” and the inner workings of a dark, complicated character like Zoey.
CBR News: Let’s start off with a bit of your personal history. How and when did you first get into comics? Did you know at that time that you also wanted to draw them?
Larime Taylor: As a fan? When I was a kid. I grew up when spinner racks were still in 7-11, so comics were a pretty common part of life. I was never heavily into them, though, until I was an art major at Arizona State University, and then it was “The Crow,” “Sandman,” “Strangers in Paradise,” things like that. I’ve actually dabbled with making comics off and on since childhood, but never seriously thought that this would be what I do for a living. It always seemed like a daydream.
What made you switch from thinking of making comics as a daydream and actually doing it?
It was mostly a childhood thing, dreaming of being a comic book artist. I probably wanted to be about 75 different things as a kid. Now, it’s becoming my day job, but it doesn’t feel like one. All I really have as far as useful skills are my art and my storytelling, so I may as well use them to make a living.
I saw on your site that you use a tablet for drawing. How long have you been working with that rig?
I’ve been drawing digitally for about four years now, and it’s the reason that I can actually do this professionally. It’s allowed me to draw sitting upright, with full range and control of my lines. Drawing with my mouth, flat on a table, I was all hunched over, cramped and restricted. Now I can draw in a more comfortable position. I can zoom in and out. I can spin the image so that my lines are being drawn at the best angles for me. It’s completely freed me up.
When you’re working on something like “A Voice In The Dark” do you plot it out in a script form or lay things out in thumbnails?
I plot out story arcs in outlines, then write the scripts. Being my own artist, my panel descriptions are very simple. I get more specific with things when I do my reference shoots. That’s where I decide exactly what I want for each panel, and I shoot the photos the way I want the comic to be. Then I do page layouts with all the photos. I actually have an entire issue shot and laid out as photos before I start drawing. Sometimes I’ll even letter the pages off of the photo versions, then drop the art in after it’s drawn.
Do you have a regular group of people who you use for photo reference models?
I do. I have a group of about six to ten “regulars” I can count, friends who will show up and pose as various characters for me, and another 15 or so that swap in and out as they can. I’ve had four different women pose as Zoey, all roughly similar in height, in build, and I just tweak the figures as needed to keep them consistent. I add weight, or subtract weight, as necessary, make them taller or shorter, and so on. The characters’ faces were all designed before I had any body models, so they always remain the same regardless of who shows up to pose that day.
How was your experience with Kickstarter? Were you surprised by how much your goal was surpassed?
I was quite happy and humbly surprised. The Kickstarter I used to fund the first issue as a submission package ended up raising over 600% of the goal, so I made it a 3-issue mini. I used the trade as a submission package to publishers, and it got me the deal.
What went through your mind when you first heard from Top Cow about publishing “A Voice In The Dark” through Minotaur?
I was excited, obviously, and also pretty surprised. Top Cow doesn’t really do creator-owned books, and that was Matt Hawkins’ first answer when I pitched at WonderCon. He still let me give him the pitch, since I was there and he was curious, and as the conversation went on I could see him talking himself into saying yes. A few weeks later, he e-mailed me and said that he talked with Marc Silvestri, and they decided to do my book.
The project was officially announced at Comic-Con International, which you attended. Did you get to meet many of the Image Comics folks?
Not too many, really. I got to meet Erik Larsen, who was incredibly kind, and all of the Top Cow people, like Stjepan Sejic, Rahsan Ekedal, Marc, and the office crew. I also hung out a bit with my friend [“Bomb Queen” and “Five Weapons” writer/artist] Jimmie Robinson. It was fun.
Turning to the book itself, you’re dealing with a pretty dark character in Zoey, a young woman who has what sounds like an inborn desire to kill. How does her struggle play out in her daily life?
Zoey can be dark, yeah, but at her core she’s just a teenage girl trying to figure life out. She’s not a psychopath or sociopath, she has friends, and her daily life is complicated by these compulsions she’s had since her earliest childhood memories. They’ve always been there. Now that she’s actually acted on them, though, she’s losing her grip on them. She’s daydreaming and fantasizing about killing people in the middle of class, or even a conversation. She snaps out of it and realizes it was just her imagination, but she’s not sure how much longer it’ll just be her imagination.
Zoey’s heading off to college, a time when people sometimes try to reinvent and explore themselves away from their families and longtime friends. Does that come into play for her in the series?
It’s really an opportunity for Zoey to try and figure out who she really is, what she wants in life and how to deal with her compulsions. She has a clean slate and can do pretty much anything. She’s starting to realize that she’s spent all these years getting top grades without ever knowing what she was going to do with them. She literally doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.
Cutter’s Circle sounds like a pretty crazy place to live considering it has so many serial killers. Does the town itself take on a life of its own?
It’s intentionally a bit campy and surreal. The best dark drama has a twist of humor, like “Breaking Bad” or early “Dexter.” The quirkiness is a tension release. In that sense, yeah, the town will become a bigger part of the story, and it’ll be revealed in layers.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the serial killers Zoey runs into? How does she react when faced with people in a somewhat similar headspace?
The first and most important one early on is hinted at in issue #1, but we don’t really start to see him until the end of #3. He’s her first encounter with another killer, and the story arc that #1-7 explores is the cat and mouse that goes on between them.
Zoey has a college radio show that plays heavily into the first few issues. From a psychological standpoint, what does the show offer her that she can’t get from regular human interactions? Does the separation from being around people help curb her urges?
It’s supposed to be cathartic, to let her hear other people talk about their own problems and struggles, so she might not feel so alone. She’s hoping to find out that everyone’s lives are messy, that good people sometimes do bad things. She desperately doesn’t want to be a freak or a monster. With the anonymous nature of the show, she can let loose, and help others do the same.
Will the radio show continue to play a part as the series continues?
The show will be an ongoing part of her story, yes. There are so many things that I can use it to explore.
“A Voice In The Dark” is an ongoing. How far ahead to you have plotted out at this point? Do you have specific arcs planned long term or are you keeping it a little looser?
The first arc sets up the next arc, which is #8-13. Assuming I get to go that far. I’ve been given an ongoing, but if the sales aren’t there, it won’t go for long. I’ve written everything through#7, and will have finished all the production on #1-7 by around the time #1 comes out. I have #8-13 planned out, and I have rough ideas beyond that, but I won’t get too far ahead until I know if there’s interest in the book to keep doing it. I hope there is.
Larime Taylor’s “A Voice in the Dark” #1 from Top Cow’s Minotaur Press imprint lands on Nov. 20.