Rat Overboard: Taylor talks “Pirat Tales”

Born in the mind of writer and rat-lover Dan Taylor and brought to the comics page by artist Orlando Baez, “Pirat Tales: The Legend of the Cat O’ Nine Tails” is a classic treasure hunt story -- allowing for the fact that the pirates involved all have twitchy whiskers and long tails. CBR News caught up with Taylor to get the skinny the upcoming five-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing.

“Pirat Tales” is a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas featuring any and all things “piratey.” “If the reader is familiar with the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Errol Flynn movies, and of course, ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean,’ then they’ll know what to expect within the pages of ‘Pirat Tales,’” Taylor told CBR. “There is something for any and every pirate fan in this tale, including tavern brawls, navel broadside battles, threats of mutiny, dangerous uncharted seas, and mysterious islands with threatening natives-- tree frogs.”

The treasure in question is the hoard of the notorious Blud Brothers, reportedly stashed on an uncharted island before the brothers’ death. One particularly wicked pirat who has his sights set on the brothers’ treasure is Bartholomew the Blade. “Bartholomew the Blade is an all-out notorious and evil pirat to the worst degree, who has a twin blade appendage to replace his missing hand (no mere hook for this rat),” Taylor said. “Bartholomew uses this tool to obtain information about the Blud Brothers’ treasure from Willet the White, an old blind rat who serves as guardian to the young mouse Pip. Unfortunately, Bartholomew extracts more than just information from the old rat and Pip is left alone.”

This is where the infamous Captain Blacktail and his first mate Peeve come in. “Ne’er do well,” “Hooligan” and “thief” were just a few of terms Taylor used to describe Captain Blacktail. “But underneath the scruff and salty exterior lies a rat of his word,” Taylor said. “And, like many classic characters of this type, Captain Blacktail has a trusty sidekick, his first mate Peeve.” Peeve is a sounding board for Blacktail’s outrageous plans, but he also acts as the pirat’s conscience.

“Upon finding that Willet the White has given up the ghost and is unable to provide them any information to lead them to the Blud Brothers’ hoard, [Blacktail and Peeve] decide to shanghai the young mouse who might know enough information to help them beat Bartholomew to the treasure,” Taylor explained. “And, thus begins Pip’s adventures with Captain Blacktail and his vessel the Vile Vermin.”

At the heart of “Pirat Tales” is the relationship between Captain Blacktail and Pip, one the writer likens to that of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” “Pip is a young mouse who has led a rather cloistered life under the guardianship of White Willet,” Taylor said. “When Pip loses the only family that he had he ends up being thrust into a world so different and alien to his own. And, the one rat that is there to steer him through toward a new life is as different from his former guardian as can be.”

When Taylor was developing “Pirat Tales,” the rats came first, the pirates second. “Initially, ‘Pirat Tales’ started out as ‘Rat Tales,’ a title idea, really,” Taylor said. The writer had a number of rats as pets over the years, and as far as he’s concerned, the animal gets a bad rap. “Contrary to what many people may feel toward rats, they make excellent pets: they’re clean and if paid attention to, quite responsive.” Captain Blacktail’s first mate actually is actually named after one of the rats Taylor had while growing up, his pet Peeve… get it?

When Taylor first conceived of the story, all he knew was that he wanted it to be an action-adventure spectacular with lots of colorful characters, and the fervor around the second film in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise set the writer on his course. Having spent his formative years in Orange County, CA, the writer was no stranger to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland that inspired the blockbuster pirate film franchise of the same name. “It was while I was walking by a theater marquee for ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ when that blackjack struck me on the back of the head and I thought, ‘Pirat Tales. I’ll make the rats pirates,’” Taylor explained. “Pirates are all about action and adventure, and tend to be rather colorful characters to boot.”

Taylor traces the negative portrayal of rats in most literature back to their role in spreading the black plague, but as far as Taylor is concerned, the natural scavengers have a lot in common with pirates of old. “If any creature were going to pick up a cutlass and don a tricorn hat, it’s going to be rats,” the writer remarked. “I just don’t buy a pirate story about a group rugged elk aboard a pirate vessel. Their atlers would get caught up in the rigging. That’s why we may never see ‘Buckaneer Tales.’”

Taylor fully expects that readers will draw parallels between “Pirat Tales” and “Mouse Guard,” and the writer was quick to acknowledge that David Petersen’s fan-favorite series was indeed an influence on his story about rodents on the high seas. “But I also have to give credit to Brian Jacques’ ‘Redwall’ series, and Don Bluth’s animated ‘The Secret of N.I.M.H.’ adaptation of Ryan C. O’Brian’s ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.’”

After Taylor completed a detailed outline for the first in what he hopes will be a long run of “Pirat Tales” books, the writer set out to find an artist to bring depict his words on the comics page. “As much as I love the collaborative effort of writer and artist, I’d cut off my right hand to be able to draw: Of course, I’d have to learn how to do it with my left hand,” Taylor quipped. “Luckily for me, the internet provides the opportunity to search the world for talented individuals (who don’t have to give up a limb) who can draw the characters and concepts that I dream up.”

Taylor had found his “Hero Happy Hour” collaborator Chris Fason by posting a notice on DigitalWebbing.com, and the writer saw no reason not to mine the same well for “Pirat Tales.” And when Taylor posted a call for artists who could draw swashbuckling rats, Orlando Baez stepped up to the plate. “I’d throw concepts and ideas his way via e-mail, and then he would sketch up some characters based on my notes and send them back,” Taylor said. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had found the guy that was put on this Earth to draw pirate rats. Once he nailed down the look of Captain Blacktail, I knew that I had the final piece of the puzzle in order to confidently pitch the concept of ‘Pirat Tales’ to Ted Adams at IDW Publishing.”

Taylor really put Baez to the test with “Pirat Tales: The Legend of the Cat O’ Nine Tails” issue #2. “The second issue is a pirate tale in true form, all set aboard the Vile Vermin,” Taylor said. “Pip experiences his first adventure upon the high seas, and meets the somewhat unsavory crew under the command of Captain Blacktail. There is a broadside battle between, not two pirat ships, but three! We’re talking swordfights, cannon blasts, rats swinging amid the sails and rigging: stuff that would have made the late great Errol Flynn wish he were a rat, more so than some alleged him to have been.”

The first issue of “Pirat Tales: The Legend of the Cat O’ Nine Tails” hits stands November 26 from IDW Publishing.

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