Those colours. That face. That hair. That blood spatter. Everything about this cover demanded that I watch the trailer for Larime Taylor’s A Voice in the Dark from Image Comics. It promised me that this book was everything I wanted:
“Featuring such pop culture commercial kryptonite like a female protagonist, realistically drawn women, persons of colour, and a focus on character and dialogue, over meaningless and gratuitous sex.”
Yet, despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek tone, having a trailer mock my literary needs left me feeling conflicted. Maybe even a little annoyed. So I took my righteous indignation to the store to buy the first issue just to see how it held up to its proclamations.
Not only does A Voice in the Dark fulfill my desires, now I can’t stop singing its praises, and jumped on the opportunity to speak with Larime and his wife, Sylv.
There are a lot of books featuring memorable female protagonists, but many of them are falling through the cracks. Larime believes that readers tend to equate the term “strong female characters” with the likes of Wonder Woman and Black Widow, and, while it’s great to see Marvel’s new female Thor, independent comic creators like Larime struggle to get noticed because their books aren’t focused on superheroes. Larime cites Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising as an excellent example of a female led book that isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it should.
Like Rachel Rising, A Voice in the Dark–volume one of which features an introduction by Terry Moore himself–is a horror comic, though it didn’t start that way. Larime, who is a huge slasher movie fan, originally planned to write a homage to all the tropes featured in horror movies, beginning with the woman of colour dying first. But what if the woman of colour survives? What if she survives because she’s the killer?
Zoey Aaron’s subsequent evolution into a young woman trying to understand and deny her murderous impulses was very organic as Larime discovered “far more pathos and depth to the character than a parody would have allowed.” He revamped his story “to be more surreal, rather than absurd,” says Larime, though some of the parody elements remain, such as Blair University’s nickname, “Slaughter U.” There is still comedy, but it is black, with the movie Heathers as a major influence, (NOTE: I have been thoroughly admonished for not having seen the film–an error I plan to correct soon.)
Zoey’s roommates encompass several stereotypes on introduction–Krista the ditzy blonde, Mona, the sassy Latina, and Ash, the punk goth. We’ve only scratched the surface with Krista and Mona, but Larime promises to turn our expectations upside down in the next story arc. He’s already done that with Ash, who is obviously his favourite to write. “She talks like I do,” he says of the sailor-mouthed character who’s actually more like a protective and caring big sister than a scary anarchist.
Larime took his story idea, then called Dark Zoey, to Kickstarter, with a goal of $1,500. Two previous Kickstarters, including a successful novella, Hellwatch, had earned Larime a small following, and he had support from big industry names like Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar and Joe Hill. But when Gail Simone, whom Larime had met through her You’ll All Be Sorry column and forum, took to Tumblr and Twitter, support for Dark Zoey leapt to almost $10,000. It was enough to put together a 56-page trade that Larime carried to WonderCon in 2013. Several publishers liked what they saw, but Top Cow Productions–an imprint of Image that is slowly getting into the creator-owned scene–was immediately interested. “And they didn’t ask me to change a single page,” says Larime. “They really believed in what I was doing,” though he notes that Top Cow will provide input if he asks for it. Describing the experience as “a dream for any indie creator,” Larime is very happy with the company’s smaller, more hands-on vibe and has had no regrets in working with president Matt Hawkins. He considers CEO Marc Silvestri to be “the perfect example of what a professional should be.”
Seven issues and a graphic novel later, Zoey is still exploring her dark tendencies, and her radio show, from which the comic eventually derived its name, continues to take us deeper into the secrets of Slaughter U and the town of Cutter’s Circle, California. It’s important to note that, not only is Larime putting his stage writing skills and literary influences to good use as writer, he also does all the art for for A Voice in the Dark. By mouth. Because Larime does not let Arthrogryposis stop him. Now that technology has caught up, he is able to work with a Wacom Cintiq tablet, generously provided by Wacom. Larime, a former caricature artist, put himself through two years of “art boot camp,” as Sylv calls it, teaching himself how to draw natural-looking women (though he still needs to work on drawing men).
Sylv, who was born into an artistic family and has been drawing since childhood, puts her freelance fantasy art experience into those eye catching colours that you see on most of the covers. Larime has the final say because “this is his baby,” she explains, but the bright blood spatter, subtle contrasts, and shadow play come from Sylv, who happens to be legally blind. “Ultimately, we both want to make the best art we can,” Sylv says, and stresses the importance of putting aside egos when couples work together on the same project. “Don’t take anything personal.”
Sylv’s involvement with the story is usually only hands on when colour is required. Otherwise, she serves as a sounding board for Larime’s ideas. Their conversations about those ideas have even worked their way into story elements, and she may, from time to time, visually edit his art. But her input has been required less over time, “because he’s learned so much,” she says. Not that Larime’s increasing skills have diminished her role. In fact, the next arch will be full colour. Set aside her health concerns, Sylv has been experimenting with water colour washes and muted tones “to see how it comes together.”
Personally speaking, I love black and white art, and was surprised to read several letters from people who don’t usually enjoy colourless graphic novels, though they were glad they made the effort with A Voice in the Dark. Larime points out that black and white art is not all that uncommon, and The Walking Dead comic was a success before the show aired. Still, money is a concern for the couple, who struggle with their health, and Social Security, and they hope that the switch to full colour will help boost future sales. Larime has at least two more story arcs planned for Zoey, though if sales fall short, “I won’t simply end it until I can end it the way I want to,” he says. Larime is dedicated to his fanbase and doesn’t want to leave them hanging, so even if it means turning to commercial work for a time, he would definitely return to A Voice in the Dark at a later date.
So does Larime harbour any dark secrets himself? He won’t tell, but I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what comes next for Zoey.