In the latest installments of our ongoing interview series, “Five Questions with…” I have utterly failed to maintain the format. But in that failure, I was able to gain insights from comic book creators that I might not have otherwise obtained. So in that spirit, when I joined Larime Taylor, creator of A Voice In The Dark on Top Cow / Image Comics for an interview, I allowed things to go a little deeper down the rabbit hole than normal. The end result was one of the more honest conversations I’ve had the pleasure in participating in since joining the ranks here at Capeless Crusader.
A little bit of background on Larime, he is a first-time comic book creator who writes and draws all of his own work. This isn’t usually considered an easy task. But Larime was born with Arthrogryposis, a birth defect that allows him little-to-no use of his arms or legs. Because of this condition, he must make his comic books by first having friends create still-life photo bases for his panels. Then he interprets them digitally, drawing out each detail with his mouth. What is already seen as a difficult craft is made all the more arduous.
Last week I was fortunate enough to join Larime via an online messenger service to discuss his first-ever comic book, his life, and what he goes through on a day-to-day basis to make it as a comic book creator.
Larime, first I want to say, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
I’d like to ask about your creative process. You are technically a cartoonist, since that is what you call a person who does all of the tasks needed for a creating comic book. How does that affect your ability to work? Does it take you longer to make a single issue?
I’m actually pretty fast. I can do a whole issue in about 2 weeks, while most books have teams working through a month. I go straight to ink since I work digitally, and that speeds things up as well.
That is a surprisingly quick turn-around rate. At that pace, how far ahead of the published story in A Voice In The Dark are you able to get?
If I can get my reference photos ahead of time, I can stay well ahead of schedule. The problem is getting friends together to model for me. I haven’t missed a deadline yet though. Never shipped a book late.
How far ahead in the story do you have it mapped out for?
I have the next 3 arcs plotted out right now. So about 15 issues past #7.
As comic book creators go, you’re in a unique scenario. Not only do you have a disability that can’t help but be acknowledged, it seems to have taken the forefront of the focus of almost every interview you do, this one being no exception. How do you feel your disability affects how you, as a creator, are perceived?
It honestly gets me more attention than I might otherwise receive. I accept that. The strength of the work is what will or won’t bring people back.
In the very beginning, A Voice In The Dark was stamped with a company called Gimp Comics. Naturally, you seem to be at peace with your condition and have a good sense of humor about it. Are there ways that people treat you, things that people do or say in regards to your condition (both inside the industry and out) that you’d like to see change?
I thought it was an amusing logo and name, yeah. I’ve always had a sense of humor about it. As an industry, it’s not very accessible in a lot of respects, but most people seem quite willing to adjust or adapt as needed. The reception has been good. I have noticed at signings and conventions that if I have a friend sitting with me at my booth, the instinct many people have is to address them and not me, but that’s the case in other aspects of daily life as well. Waitresses, clerks, they all tend to talk to the able-bodied person first, so it’s not comics specific. I’ve also noticed that I draw a crowd when I’m sketching, and will get all sorts of compliments, but then everybody leaves and no one bought anything. It’s frustrating being told how inspiring you are and then not selling anything. I WANT to ask them if I can inspire them to buy my art, but I don’t want to seem unappreciative. I do honestly appreciate the kind words and encouragement, but kind words don’t pay the rent.
You are one of the more vocal creators I’ve seen that is willing to ask the public and your readers for constant donations. Not out of greed, but rather from a place of genuine necessity. You’ve written very candid blogs asking readers to buy your book, you’ve even asked the public to help fund a trip you had to take to Arizona to help cover travel expenses. Between the comic book sales and the donations, are you able to raise the money you need to maintain the quality of life that you and your wife require?
I try not be an obnoxious panhandler about it, but the truth is we’ve lived below the poverty line for over 14 years now. I have maybe three pairs of pants and five shirts. I eat twice a day at most. It’s rough. The comic IS helping, but sales are low since I’m an unknown creator on my first book, AND it’s black and white. We’re finally starting to get some breathing room. The book isn’t a huge hit, though, and it’s always on the bubble of whether or not we can afford to keep doing it. So I’m blunt and honest with readers and fans. I can’t afford not to be.
Speaking of unique situations, let us now shift to your work. Zoey, the protagonist of your book, A Voice In The Dark is one that we have rarely seen before: A female serial killer who is also African American and in college. A young, female, minority serial killer. Talk about a trifecta of rare in terms of candidates for serial killers. What was your inspiration there? Was that intentional or did Zoey just turn out that way?
The whole thing started out as parody, as a spoof of the ’80s and ’90s slasher flicks I grew up on. In those movies, the ethnic girl always dies first, so in my story she would be the sole survivor. Then I started thinking that maybe she survives because she’s actually the killer. It all grew out of that.
How do you feel about the current discussion about the need for more strong, female lead characters in comic books?
I agree that there should be more, and I’m trying to do my part.
Throughout the series, readers are given a detailed look into the mind of a very troubled killer. What is it like for you as a writer to inhabit her mindset, issue to issue? Is it easy for you to slip into that kind of darkness? Are there times where that might carry over to the real world? Meaning, is that hard to turn off?
In this society, we seem to have a morbid love-affair with those who kill. Particularly in America, we seem to almost always have fan followings for serial killers like Charles Manson or Ted Bundy. What do you think makes the serial killer such a focus of obsession and fascination for so many people?
It’s someone who has no boundaries. There’s a vicarious quality to it, I think. With Zoey I’m trying to make a character who is relatable, though. Someone who is trying to be a decent person. She doesn’t want to be what she is.
Did you base Zoey on any source material from a killer in history?
I didn’t really base her on anyone in particular, no. She’s not like most of the more infamous killers. She’s not a psychopath.
Do you see Zoey’s Darker Side as a mental illness? Is mental health something that you’re trying to address in this book? Also, what do you mean by “she’s not a psychopath”? How do you see her? How does she see herself?
How do you view the state of mental health care in this country?
It’s awful. It’s not dealt with at all, basically. Zoey seeing a therapist isn’t helping her compulsions, no, but it is helping her in other ways. It’s something we’ll see more of in the future.
Lastly, is there anything that you’d like to say to other creators or artists with disabilities? A piece of advice, things to beware of, or maybe words of encouragement?
Just keep working. Treat it like your day job until it is your day job. It took me years and years to get to where I am, and I’m still on the bottom rung. If you want it, you can’t stop.
Excellent. Thank you so much.