This month, our 20 on the 20th Author is Paul Taylor from Wapsi Square. Taylor, an Iowa native, is the mind behind Wapsi Square. Wapsi Square is a slice of life comic centering on the adventures of Monica Villareal, a busty, short, and nerdy Latina, and the eclectic cast of characters that seem to be gathering in Wapsi. Monica’s life has been getting more and more complicated, since it seems like she might be at the center of a great cosmic mystery involving the Calendar Machine, the secrets of the Chimera, and her own burgeoning powers. So yes, it’s just a slice of life… that is, if your life involves magic, the Aztec god of alcohol, and a demonic barista!
1. I understand that the character of Monica Villareal is based on an ex-girlfriend of yours. What’s it like writing the fantastical adventures of comic character originally based on a real girl?
A. Technically, she was a friend who happened to be female, we weren’t like boy-friend and girl-friend. 😉 While there’s parts of Monica’s personality that echoes Sonya, it was mostly how she didn’t fit the stereotypes of what one would think a girl shaped like that would be like that helped shape (no pun intended) Monica. I don’t think that I’d see Sonya quite as opinionated and neurotic as Monica comes across. Those are more traits that seem to have come from me. ^_^
2. Do many of your characters draw their inspiration from people you know in real life?
A. Shelly is loosely based on a gal I knew in college who was quite the muscle-butt and the most guy-like girly-girly I’ve even know. The character Phix is mostly inspired by my college Mythology professor, Lori Rackstraw. Kath is very loosely based on another college acquaintance who was in another one of my classes. Those are the only others that I can think of off hand that were directly inspired by others.
3. What challenges have you faced featuring such a multiethnic cast? How do you handle those kinds of characterizations in a black and white strip?
A. Crazy enough, that was something I didn’t set out really to do, creating a multiethnic cast. I just wanted people that felt like the type that would really exist in the world and these were the characters that took shape. I think I was influenced by the places that I have lived, CA and Minneapolis, and there is a wider ethnic mix, but it wasn’t a goal I set out with. Without actually having the luxury of having the comic in color, I try to include subtle ethnic facial features and clothes or props that help hint at a character’s ethnicity. Most of the time, it’s just mentioned and left at that.
4. It’s a really believable mode of characterization. I’m thinking, tho, of characters like Katherine, where I think a lot of the readers imagine her as being white. In the Wiki about her, she’s even referred to as having unusually pale skin, even though I remember her canon coloring as being distinctly darker than that. Do those kinds of issue with fan-art and fanon bother you? If so, how do you handle those conversations?
A. I can certainly see where Kath would come across as being pale white with her “goth-like” look, but she was based on a college acquaintance who had pale olive skin (I think she was Greek) and deep set eyes. Her irises were very large and dark, almost filling her whole eye. She looked very creepy and absolutely adorable at the same time. This individual left such a profound image in my head, I never stopped to think about having Kath pale.
5. Will Monica’s Mexican/Irish heritage and Shelley’s Comanche heritage impact the mythos or the plot? In what ways? It seems like their ethnicities, more than the others, are an important part of the plot.
A. While the ethnicity of the characters was never meant to make any of them token characters, I do feel it was important to help solidify the mythology by having Monica’s and Shelly’s background rooted in it. As I said earlier, the mythology is as much a metaphor for individual exploration and growth as it is a good “ghost story”. I think it’s important to know where we have come from to know where and why we are going the direction we’re going.
6. Some forum attendees have complained about the strip getting too fan-servicey — it seems like there’s a tension between presenting “real” body types and “cheescake,” which can be hard to navigate, especially when one of the themes of the strip is that there’s beauty in every body. Can you speak a little bit about this?
A. Yeah, it’s difficult when someone complains that the comic is cheescake or that Monica is degrading to women, just because she’s thin and has big boobs. Most of these complaints seem to come from men! Frankly, I don’t think they really read the comic or for that matter understand it because Wapsi’s biggest audience seems to be female. Women tend to like Monica and the variety of body types in the comic and how they’re handled. I will admit though that there are moments of cheese cake in the comic, but it’s normally when a character is flirting with another or trying to be sexy. Just because a character has a scene in their pjs, my goal wasn’t. “let‘s see how much I can turn on the readers today”. More so it was, “how can I show this character going through their daily routine?”.
7. Some OTHER forum attendees LOVE the fan-service. 😉 Does it ever weird you out that some of your characters are objects of PSL?
A. I just kind of roll my eyes about that. ^_^ Heck, even Harry Potter gets the “royal treatment” at the hands of fan-fic writers.
8. Speaking of Harry, does fan speculation ever impact the plot? How far ahead are you writing?
A. The only way speculation really affects the plot is if I feel that readers need a break from the drama. The way the story is planned, I can take time for character breaks or development. While I have the overall plot penciled in, I leave plenty of room for characters to surprise me. And they have.
9. Ohhh! In what ways?
A. Katherine for one. I thought it was going to take much more prodding to get her out of her safe world, but she took that trip to the conservatory in the dead of Winter. She seems like she’s forcing herself to do things that she’s terrified of and each time gaining a little bit more confidence.
10. One thing I’ve really appreciated over the years is how you work so hard to keep the forum a “safe space” for women readers. Can you speak to that?
A. Comics, by their very nature, have not always been the most welcoming of formats for female readers. I like to try and think of the comic/graphic novel as just another way to tell a story, like a book or film. I wanted the forum to also have this welcoming air about it as well. Quite a few forums have their severe pecking orders and others are just anarchy ridden free-for-alls where foul behavior is the norm. I just want to keep everyone on track for what brought them all to the forum (Wapsi) and have everyone on their best behavior (i.e.: all the rules everyone should have learned when they were in kindergarten). The internet can be such an anonymous place and things can easily be taken the wrong way, as we’re relying only on text without inflexion or body language to augment it. I just want people to remember that what they type is being received by a living, breathing human on the other end of all those cables. If that makes the forum a safe place for women, I like to think it makes it a safe and welcoming place for us all.
11. That’s such a great point. I think people forget that in its most ideal form, a safe space is a safe space for every body. How did that idea of welcoming lead to the creation of the Wapsi Pub?
A. I just felt that the Wapsi Forum would become too cluttered if we had off topic discussion there. With everyone sharing there ideas, questions and opinions (and in such a thoughtful manner) I felt it was the obvious solution to have a casual place for everyone to gather under the Wapsi banner. Thus, the Wapsi Pub was created.
12. One of the great things about Wapsi is its commitment to talking about a variety of body issues and body types; sometimes you seem to take a step back from the action to talk about issues related to weight, metabolism, and health. How does this more prosaic theme fit into a strip centered on, powerful chimeras, and demons?
A. I like to think it fits in nicely. For all the comic’s elements of mythology, monsters and demons, they mostly serve as metaphors for the problems and challenges that we all face day to day. And if I can show the most powerful beings that you’d meet in the course of several lifetimes having weaknesses, doubts and fears but yet finding solutions in the craziest places… I’d like to think that there’s hope for the rest of us. ^_^
13. Heh, like Tina 2.0 finding solace in her coffee shop. Did this idea of metaphor impact the character designs of the various demons?
A. Oh, completely! ^_^ Just the thought of any personal challenge being represented in a physical form lends itself to let my imagination run wild. Imagine being locked in a dark room with only your own fear to keep you company, you know it’s there, you can almost hear it breathing. It’s creeping closer to you now although don’t know what direction it’s coming from. You have a dim flashlight but the walls of the room are too far away to pick up any detail and still you fear is getting closer. You’re trying to keep quite, hoping it won’t find you but it’s getting harder to keep your gasping breaths from giving you away. By now your fear has blossomed into terror and you can practically feel its frosty presence. You turn quickly with your flashlight, sure that it’s right behind you. Nothing’s there. You suddenly feel completely empty and totally alone. You now turn to look for a door and terror jumps out of the darkness to challenge you…
What did you see? ^_^
14. Speaking of the shop, and Tina’s “entrepreneurial spirit,” it seems that for a lot of the characters, self-realization is based around beginning projects and goals. I’m thinking of Tina’s shop, Jackie’s studio, Shelley’s band, and Amanda’s work as a professional photographer. Is that something that’s played out in your life?
A. I find that quite a few people are at there best (including myself) when they find something that speaks to them and allows them to create in their own way. This may be a hobby or an actual vocation but I think we can explore what makes us tick by just allowing ourselves to be active in something we enjoy.
15. Mm. It seems like this idea of enjoyment/self-love is key to your characters’ personalities. Like, when I think of Monica, what immediately comes to mind for me is that she loves learning and flirting, and for Shelley, that she relishes passion. However, it seems like some of their demons are actually the extremes of these traits (like Monica’s voluptuous vanity and Shelley’s scissor wielding mystery girl). How does that fit into the self-realization mode of the strip?
A. I think it’s important for each of us to find what are basic traits are and use them to our best advantage. However, not at the risk of harming ourselves and those around us. As you pointed out with Shelly, she is a very passionate person. If not kept in check passion could easily be what keeps her in the past, but if channeled safely, it could be a force to keep moving forward. The self realization is finding the balance of who you are at heart and making that work for you.
16. How did you begin researching the myths you’re using?
A. It happened little by little from a very early age. At some point before middle school I became very interested in mythology, monsters and the paranormal. By college it really branched out and was nurtured by my Mythology professor, Lori Rackstraw. I loved looking up information on converging mythologies, finding their similarities and what set them apart. I also watched a ton of documentaries ranging from ones focused on ancient cultures to others on specific mythological stories. The other big influence on the angle that I wanted Wapsi to have was from my Anthropology instructor, Dr Duram. He had a very “just look at the facts in front of you, they‘ll tell you a story” type attitude. While Monica aspires to this, I think she has quite a way to go.
17. How did having such a long term interest lead you into photography?
A. Photography was one of those things that I never really thought about nor had a lot of interest in until I tried dabbling in it. I actually found that I was intuitively pretty good at it and really enjoyed it. You can say that I got side-tracked by it for a while but eventually I came back to drawing and Mythology.
18. The Golem Girls seem like they’re emerging as serious characters in their own right — except for Brandi! What’s in store for my favorite girl with a fro?
A. You know what they say, the characters that are quiet and little is known about them are the ones to watch out for. 😉
19. Awww, no fair! Will all the characters eventually play a role in the series’ climax? Some (like Monica or the Elder God Tepoz takes orders from) we haven’t seen in ages.
A. I don’t like to think “climax” as much as solving one mystery to go on to others. Everyone has their part, whether it’s actively “fixing” things or to provide some kind of support to another character.
20. So there ARE no plans to end the strip soon! Some fans have been speculating that the plot acceleration is because we’re in the 11th hour. However, I’m wondering — what other projects do you have on the back burner?
A. Goodness, no! ^_^ Just because one ancient mystery gets solved doesn’t mean that there aren’t a dozen more waiting in the wings. That and I like to think that individual issues are just as important in the comic, the calendar has just been a nice backdrop through most of this.
~*~*~*~*~ Bonus Question Time! ~*~*~*~*~
21.has started to come under criticism for having a “girls with power = broken” motif, which appears in Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and his work with the Xmen. How are you working with the ideas of power and strength in your strip?
A. Just having Joss Whedon mentioned in the same interview as me just made me giggle! ^_^ It bugs me in movies and stories when women are the characters to be saved, specifically by the male lead or his doofy sidekick (also a guy). At the same time, I didn’t want to have a story that was about GURRL POWER either. Neither is a very fair nor realistic. Just because the women in my story have power doesn’t make them controlling or domineering over men, however I didn’t want there to be something making them somehow incomplete that a male character would have to come along and “fix”.
Almost all of the problems and issues in Wapsi are either internal or metaphorically so. These are issues only the individual can solve and while they may need to work together, they all have their own demons. The power isn’t what makes them broken just as the shear fact that they have power doesn’t make them immune to having their own weaknesses.
Want more Wapsi? Curious what all the fuss is about? Check out Wapsi Square at www.wapsisquare.com!
Posts in this Series
- 20 on the 20th — Featuring Paul Taylor from Wapsi Square!
- 20 on the 20th — Gina Biggs from Red String