When you see the name Top Cow on a book, some readers might have a preconceived notion of what to expect. But in recent years they’re been expanding the scope of their line and this November they’re making big step out of their comfort zone – and possibly yours – with the ongoing series A Voice In The Dark. And it’s written and drawn by a talented California man who was born with a congenital disorder forcing him to write and draw the entire series with his mouth.
A Voice In The Dark is a black-and-white creator owned series by cartoonist Larime Taylor that follows a teenage girl moving away to an all girls’ college in California. But along with the clothes, books and memorabilia she brings with her to begin her college life, she also brings something her fellow students don’t have – an urge to kill. It’s a desire Zoey’s had since childhood, but so far she’s been able to restrict her imaginative fantasies strictly to her mind – except for once. And now as she moves away from everything and everyone she knows, she’s faced with new trials and new temptations.
Writer/artist Larime Taylor has been involved in comics as far back as 2007, going from lettering and drawing other people’s work to drawing his own. After self-publishing his series Hellwatch he was set to do the same with A Voice In The Dark, but after blindly sending in a submission to Top Cow they picked him up and put him front-and-center in his own ongoing, black-and-white series for their Minotaur imprint.
Newsarama: Larime, what can you tell us about the story of A Voice In The Dark?
Larime Taylor: At its core, it's about a young woman who is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. It's - hopefully - something that most people can relate to, becoming an adult, growing up, finding yourself after all of the turmoil of high school. Male or female, we've all been through it.
In the case of Zoey, however, it's a lot more complicated than that. She's struggling with lifelong compulsions to kill, so on top of deciding what she wants to be when she grows up, she's wrestling with whether or not she's a monster and what that means.
Nrama: Zoey’s an incoming college freshman, and as you said she’s the urge to kill for her entire life. Tell us more about her.
Taylor: Zoey seems normal enough on the surface, and in some ways she actually is. She's never been abused, she's not a psychopath or sociopath, and she has a conscience and feels emotions. She's from a mixed-race, working class family, and she's attending an exclusive women's college on an academic scholarship. Most people would look at her and see an intelligent, hard-working young woman rising up from humble beginnings and making the most of her opportunities.
Beneath the surface, she's a mess. Since her earliest childhood memories, she's had these urges and compulsions, but because she does have a conscience and understands right and wrong, she was able to go all the way through high school without ever giving in to them. She's wanted to kill, even thought about and planned out how she'd do it on several occasions, but she always held her urges in check at the last minute. She doesn't want to kill, doesn't want to be a monster, but she's afraid that she is
Nrama: That urge to kill is something she’s pretty much stifled her entire life – with one exception. Can you talk about the murder she committed, and how it affects her now?
Taylor: I can a little bit, but a lot of the specifics are revealed over the first several issues. Most of her life, she's only had one real, close friend, a neighbor girl from her apartment building that's a year younger than her. Seven, as she's called by most people, is first-generation Cambodian American, and her parents were always working, so she spent most of her time wandering the building and harassing Zoey until they eventually became friends. Seven's kind of a kid sister to her, since Zoey's an only child.
Seven is also gay, and while Zoey's always known and never cared, Seven's parents didn't know and most certainly would. A girl at school played a prank on Seven and it ended up with the school accidentally outing her to her parents, and they disowned her. Threw her out. Zoey's family adopted her, but it really crushed her, and she tried to kill herself. That was the catalyst for Zoey finally giving in and killing someone.
Nrama: Zoey Is trying to leave all of it behind with a full ride scholarship to a women’s college in Cutter’s Circle, California. What’s this town, and this college, like?
Taylor: She's really trying to run away from it all, yeah. She was born and raised in Seattle, and now she's all the way down in the inland desert of California. Blair University is a prestigious women's college, and she's only able to attend because of the scholarship. It's way out of her family's budget. It's a very different world for her, being surrounded by all these wealthy young women and their first world problems. It's definitely culture shock.
The town itself is a bit more complicated. It's fictional, but it's basically a cross between the inland empire towns I currently live in and Palm Springs. Half the town is wealthy, Hollywood getaways, and the other is struggling, working class suburbia, all built around a lake. Which side of the lake you live on determines which side of it you experience Supermodels or meth labs. It's also got a bit of notoriety for having the highest rate of serial murder in the country. It's like Zoey in a way, pleasant on the surface, but with a darker heart.
Nrama: At college she gets the job of being the host of a late-night campus radio show. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for her?
Taylor: Yeah, she decides to try and control her urges by hosting an anonymous call-in show, hoping that by hearing other people talk about their problems and their own dark secrets, she might find some peace. Maybe she's not alone. Maybe everybody has their own demons to struggle with. She desperately wants to be normal, and so the show is born out if that desire to find peace. Whether it turns out that way and has the desired results is what the book is about, in part.
Nrama: You’ve already completed the first few issues, so I’ll ask this – how does living in a place like this affect her?
Taylor: Without her parents or Seven around, she's more free to explore who she really is, and that brings good as well as bad things into her life. She' having to live with roommates and come out of her shell, which is good, she's making friends. But caring about people means getting hurt, either by them or on their behalf, and that threatens to push the same buttons that drove Zoey to kill the first time.
Nrama: It’s hard for people to understand how you do such great art, and at a rate of one to two pages a day, given you’re working only with your mouth. Can you describe the process?
Taylor: I start with outlines and scripts, and I use the scripts as 'shooting scripts', like I'm making a film, but instead I'm making a comic book. I shoot my friends in the various poses I need for the comic, and use them as references when drawing the pages. I work digitally, and straight to inks, which is a big part of why I'm as fast as I am. Starting with A Voice In The Dark #3, I've been drawing foregrounds in black and backgrounds in gray to get better separation and depth, and then I do detailed shading/toning on the foregrounds and a 'wash' style toning on the backgrounds. While I'm generally proud of the work, the first two issues can look flat at times, and so I changed things up a bit to add depth. The art gets better as the series goes. Promise!
Nrama: How long have you been doing comics and drawing?
Taylor: I've been drawing since I was little, and I was a professional caricature artist at about 14. I used to draw caricatures at festivals, conventions, weddings, and parties. It's the other part of why I'm as fast as I am. In that line of work, you get paid per person, so drawing quickly and cleanly and capturing the essence of the person is the focus. That's why my characters all have distinct faces, expressions, and body language, but it takes me an issue or two to really start exploring camera angles and detailed backgrounds.
Nrama: You’ve been self-publishing for years, with your previous book Hellwatch and even did a early version of this under the title Dark Zoey. How did you end up getting in touch with Top Cow to end up doing this at their Minotaur imprint?
Taylor: I used a Kickstarter to fund a mini series, which I used as a submission package to Top Cow, Aspen, IDW, and several other publishers. Top Cow President Matt Hawkins and I hit it off really well, and despite telling me that Top Cow really doesn't do much creator owned books, he was intrigued and kept finding reasons to talk himself into taking it anyway. His book Think Tank is a black and white ongoing series, and he thought that my book would be a good fit there on Minotaur.