Introducing: Paul Taylor

Monica 01

Monica, dealing with body issues.

Paul Taylor has the distinction of being one of a shallow handful of webcomic artists to have made the transition to the ranks of professionals. His comic, Wapsi Square, first appeared on September 9th, 2001, and has been a mainstay of the webcomic world ever since. Originally starring a young Hispanic woman named Monica and her friend Amanda, it was a slice of life gag strip. In the twelve years since its inception, it has become a supernatural thriller with a huge cast, but still maintains the wit that made it popular from the outset.

Today, Mr. Taylor produces five original strips every week, sells original strip artwork and prints on eBay, and his fourth collection In the Shadow of Doubt has just become available as a paperback or ebook purchase.

We’d like to thank Mr. Taylor for taking time out from his self-imposed busy schedule to answer a few questions for us at Musebreak.

First of all, tell us about the origin of Wapsi Square. What was your motivation for starting a webcomic? Why this one?

Paul Taylor:  Mostly, I needed an outlet for my overactive imagination. Also, I wanted a venue that I could use to help break stereotypes and give characters, who are normally sidelined in more mainstream stories, a front-and-center voice. The muse for this story was a friend of mine who was short, skinny, and very busty. She fit the bimbo bombshell (other than being 4‘10“), and most importantly, she was a super smart smarty-pants and very nerdy. And as quiet and socially awkward as she was, she had the fiery Latina temper and could put people in their place quite eloquently. I just knew this was a gal that needed a wider voice.

 

2012-08-09-follow-phix

Don’t get a gorgon excited, even if they have a southern accent.

Anyone who approaches your comic for the first time and delves into the archives may be surprised by how much it has changed. The most obvious difference is the artwork; originally it was simple and even a bit sketchy, but today it’s wonderfully rendered. How much is done by hand, and how much is digital? What equipment do you use?

PT: All the line work is done traditionally with brush and ink and Micron pens on Bristol. That gets scanned, using a large format 11×17 scanner, into Photoshop where I layer in grayscale tones, textures, and background images. It’s about half and half.

The other obvious difference is the writing. It started as a gag-a-day strip, but now the stories are intricate and storylines sometimes take weeks to resolve. How far in advance do you plan the directions of the stories?

PT: I usually have about one to two months roughly sketched out, and two weeks more detailed with dialog.

Of the two, artwork and writing, which gives you the most satisfaction?

Bud (Acacia)

A sphinx introduces a titan to a golem.
Yeah, not all is what it seems.

PT: By far, the writing. Too often I look at what I draw and think about how far I missed the mark of what I see in my head.

Original content internet material gives fans the option of commenting immediately and without reserve on their likes and dislikes. This can be a blessing and a curse. How do you handle the glowing praise and harsh criticism that immediately accumulates every time you put up a new strip?

PT: I try to take everything, good and bad, with a grain of salt. I am my harshest critic. I try not to ever let the positive go to my head, and I try to find things that I can fix from the criticism. Granted some of it stings, but I have to look past the stuff that is obviously the writing of a troll and incorporate the stuff that can help me improve.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

PT: My biggest inspiration is in mythology and folklore. I love combining commonalities that I find in different myths and stories, giving them a little twist, and then adding something from the science world. Crazy alien conspiracy shows and science documentaries actually give me the bits needed, most of the time, to add fun twists to well known myths.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to get into comic art and writing?

Phix and Monica

Phix and Monica see eye to eye.

PT: Do it because you love it, not because you want to make money or get famous. If you can’t go on without writing and drawing your ideas, then comicing is for you. Whatever story you tell or premise that your comic is based in, write what you know. Don’t try to write something just because it’s the flavor of the month, it will become derivative and you will grow tired with it. This may sound trite, but if you love what you’re doing, it will show. And network with other comic and web comic artists, they’ll have a wealth of info to share.

Many webcomic producers are on friendly terms with each other. How active are you in this community? How supportive is it, and how competitive?

PT: I wouldn’t ever call the web comic community competitive, because if it is, I’ve never seen that. Webcomic creators who I have met are all too willing to share info and help spread the word of a webcomic’s existence or if an artist needs help financially and is having a fundraiser.

As Wapsi Square has progressed, it has touched on a wide variety of mythologies. How much research, and what sources, do you use to flesh out your stories?

Tina

Tina, a barrista run by committee.

PT: Quite a bit of the mythologies that I use I have grown up with. Just like a good ghost story, I became interested in mythology at an early age. I love research and I have fun finding things in common between different classical myths, and when I do find elements that work together that is where I base my stories.

Nearly all your main characters are female. Was this intentional?

PT: Very intentional. I have always gotten along better with women than men. Most of my friends growing up were gals, and I think the world needs more stories from a woman’s point of view. I wanted to go about breaking stereotypes that have plagued female characters in a variety of media based on body type and other superficial elements. Judging a book by its cover is too common, and I like giving folks a different view on things they may take for granted.

As we commented in the introduction, your cast is huge. Many have been introduced that haven’t appeared in months and sometimes years. Have there been any characters that you have simply decided to never use again, or are they all just waiting in comic limbo for you to put them to use?

PT: I do have characters, Owen and Lakshmi for instance, who just no longer have a story to tell that would work in the way my comic has become structured. That’s not saying that they don’t have any story to tell; I just don’t have time to write and draw them all.

nudge

Justin, Shelly, and Nudge.

Do you have any major long-term plans for Wapsi Square? Are there any other projects that you’d like to do?

PT: While it may not be Wapsi Square necessarily, I’m working on a short story that I’m hoping can be cobbled together into a short film with my friend Pei Pei Lin. Needless to say, it will be something very creepy and very cute.

Oddball question time. Tell us what kind of music some of the major characters would have on their MP3 players. What’s on yours, if you have one?

PT: Monica’s MP3 would have Level 42, Devo, Men at Work, Pink Floyd, Adam Ant, Simple Minds, and Pet Shop Boys.  Shelly’s would be filled with Sleater-Kinney, Shelby Tiger, Drain STH, Johnny Cash, L7, The Police, and Joan Jett. Bud would be listening to Abra Moore, Taja Sevelle, Hey Ocean!, Rusted Root, and Chris De Burgh. As for me, lots of 80’s New Wave-one-hit-wondery goodness!

Thanks again for your time, Mr. Taylor.

 

Wapsi Square can be found at http://wapsisquare.com/. (Warning: The content is sometimes rather mature, usually due to violence and language, but sometimes due to so-called adult themes.) There you can find links to Paul Taylor’s stores where copies of the collections can be purchased as well as t-shirts and prints, plus there’s a link to his eBay store where he regularly sells original strip artwork suitable for framing. And of course there’s the archive where you can read every strip free of charge from its creation to the most recent.

Monica and Shelly

Monica and Shelly share a tender moment.