The Indie Odyssey of "Wahoo Morris"

Music comes up a lot when people talk about comics. Authors like Warren Ellis experiment with beats and rhythms, even using the ideas of singles and LPs as ways of structuring comics. There are lots of comic book creators who actually dabble as musicians, and even a few musicians like My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way who, in turn, dabble as comics creators. Certainly, the punk rock ethos carries much weight in the indie comics scene.

Yet for all of that, there aren't a great many comics about music. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have recently knocked one out of the park with their ode to Britpop, "Phonogram," and Chris Arrant and Daniel Warner are producing "One Way Ticket" as part of the Chemset web-comics collective.

And then there's "Wahoo Morris."

Written and drawn by Canadian cartoonist Craig Taillefer, "Wahoo Morris" is both the name of the comic book and the name of its fictional band. A kind of magic-realist approach to a rock comic, Taillefer's "Wahoo Morris" predates both "Phonogram" and "One Way Ticket," and draws not just from Taillefer's imagination, but also from his years working as a bar musician.

The publishing history of "Wahoo Morris" goes all the way back to the murky depths of the late '90s, moving from self-published to Image Comics and back to self-published at Taillefer's own Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics, transforming him into a convention road dog, putting "Wahoo Morris" into the hands of fans all across North America. Tailefer's recently put the pressure on to get "Wahoo Morris" even further out there, participating in Free Comic Book Day and other initiatives to put his comic where more readers can see it. CBR News had a chance to sit down and talk to Craig Taillefer about "Wahoo Morris," art and music.

Thanks for talking to us, Craig. Can you give the readers an idea of what "Wahoo Morris" is about?

"Wahoo Morris" is about indie rock band Wahoo Morris. Made up of long time close-knit friends, the fledgling group is rounded out by a newcomer, Alicia, on lead vocals. On stage the band gels, but off stage things aren't going quite so smoothly.

Sebastien, the band's lead guitarist, has developed an attraction to Alicia that is not in the band's best interest. And the band's enigmatic new lead singer's dabbling in the occult threatens more than their carefully laid plans for success.

It's a modern day urban fantasy laid over the backdrop of a slice of life tale about a college-age rock band. Perfect for those who like a mix of Vertigo weirdness with their "Strangers in Paradise" or "Love and Rockets" real world drama.

What lead you to create "Wahoo Morris?"

Hmm. I'm not really sure, after all these years. When I was brainstorming for a story to self-publish, I had two ideas: one about a shy girl who found a magic book and gets into a whole lot of trouble, and the other a meandering soap opera about a rock band. Somewhere along the line I mixed the two up and got " Wahoo Morris."

A lot of the music background comes directly from life and my experiences as a working bar musician. The impetus to start a creator-owned project came from my frustration of working as an inker and getting bumped from project to project at the whim of the editor. I wanted control over how much and how often I worked. Didn't quite work out as planned, but that's okay.

"Wahoo Morris" went to Image and then back to being self-published. What prompted the move?

Well, I started out self-publishing, and it was a promising start, but I didn't have the finances to keep going long enough for the buzz to build a sustainable audience. Moving to Image seemed like a good idea at the time, and it did boost my numbers, but with the added costs of being at Image, I lost more money than I did self-publishing. Moving to

Image was what killed the book, because my momentum was shot, and I just didn't know where to go from there. I floundered for a while trying to decide on what project to work on next before finally deciding to buckle down and finish what I started with " Wahoo Morris."

It's taken a few years to get going again, but I won't be dabbling in much else until I finish the initial story arc. When I returned to self-publishing, I knew I was going to be starting over at the bottom, and it was going to be a long road up. I'm starting off with a much smaller base of stores and audience than I did back in '98, but I expected that. That was my main reason for going with a direct to trade paperback approach this time around. There isn't a short shelf life with trades like there is with singles, so it facilitates a long-term approach. I aim to keep going as long as it takes, so when the audience and the retailers take notice, I'll have the books in stock to service them.

What made you take the leap into Free Comic Book Day? Not a lot of self-publishers participate.

I wanted to boost " Wahoo Morris'" profile. The series is currently carried by around 100 stores out of the approximately 3,000 comic shops in North America. My hope was that, in addition to new readers being exposed to the book, that retailers who hadn't given it a try might bring in a copy or two to see what it's all about. Adding an extra 200 to 300 stores to my base would go a long way to making the book profitable.

Did it work?

I've heard from a lot of people who read the FCBD edition and liked it, and my online sales have jumped, but orders through the Direct Market have not increased by much. The FCBD edition had over 10,500 copies distributed, but my most recent purchase order from Diamond was for 34 copies, so not many new stores have ordered yet. It's a frustrating experience, but the FCBD book was an experiment, and hopefully the long-term returns will be better than the short-term.

What's next for "Wahoo Morris" now that FCBD is out of the way?

Book two is coming out later this year, and the story arc will be wrapped up in book 3 sometime in '08. After that, I've got a couple of self-contained stories I want to do. I've got a short story written I'm thinking of publishing as a $1.99 single following "Wahoo Morris" book 3's release, and I'm toying with the idea of doing a three-issue miniseries for the next story arc. A lot of it will depend on the sales health of the series once book 3 of the trade paperback is out.

Let's go way back, because I'm always interested in what got creators creating. How did you get into comics?

I've been "reading'" them since I was four - I bought the first one at a spinner rack in a diner somewhere in Nova Scotia while on family vacation-- and I've been reading them ever since, so I'm not sure what it was that got me interested. That first comic had Cavemen, Dinosaurs, and Indians on the cover, three of my favorite things at the time, so that was the hook.

Who's inspired you, artistically?

Too many to list, really. I have a deep love of Carl Barks' "Duck" comics, Asterix, and all things Edgar Rice Burroughs. My art style is probably most influenced by Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, though I've never been one for mimicking, so it probably doesn't show much.

Aside from "Wahoo Morris," what other kinds of things have you worked on?

"Elfquest" is probably the most well known property I've worked on. I was a cog in the WaRP Graphics machine for close to five years. Prior to that I worked on a lot of black and white indies as an inker, and post-WaRP I've mainly done some creator-owned work in addition to a lot of animation work. In comics, other than " Wahoo Morris," I did a number of short stories for the anthologies "Mythography" and "The Forbidden Book," inked a few issues of "Sleeping Dragons" for Slave Labor and later published the collected edition, as well as publishing the Eisner Award-nominated all ages series "Growing Up Enchanted." Recently I have worked as the illustrator on the web-comic "The Chelation Kid" with writer Robert Tinnell, which just got us the honor of a Harvey Award nomination.

Do you have anything else coming up?

I've completed a two issue series called "Cleopatra" for Moonstone books which will be coming out sometime in the near future, ghost inked a few pages of an upcoming issue of the Johnny DC "Legion of Superheroes in the 31st Century," and have another creator-owned project in the planning stages. But the next thing on my plate after finishing " Wahoo Morris" book 2 is " Wahoo Morris" book 3.

Thanks for talking with us, Craig!

"Wahoo Morris" can be read and ordered from the Wahoo Morris website , or you can help Craig feel that his Free Comic Book Day dollars wouldn't have been better spent on booze and cigarettes and ask your friendly neighborhood comic book store to order it!

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