#BlackComicsMonth – Day 5 – Whitney Taylor : Interview

BlackComicsMonthSpotlight1

Whit Taylor is a Brooklyn-based cartoonist and comics writer. She won a 2012 Glyph Award for her self-published comic Watermelon and was a 2013 Ignatz Award Nominee for her series Madtown High. She also writes comics reviews and articles for Panel Patter, The Comics Journal, and Comics Workbook Magazine. She can be found online at her site, WhitTaylor.

How was your journey from beginner to the comic artist and writer that you are today?

I attended my first con, APE, back in 2008 I think? I just walked around and was blown away that there was this small press comics world where creators were challenging the conventions of what comics could be. Sparkplug Books was one of the first tables I approached and after picking up some of their minicomics, I decided to teach myself how to make my own, which I think I learned from Jessica Abel’s old ArtBabe site. I just steadily made comics in my free time as I worked full-time/went to grad school in the following years.

I’ve always deemed myself more of a “writer who draws” and have always been super hard on myself about my art, especially as someone who is self-taught. Every cartoonist has a private relationship with their inner artist. I know that sounds cheesy, but I think it is a relationship that evolves and goes through trials affected by one’s inner critic as well as the outside world. It’s a constant challenge but what keeps me going is a compulsion to tell stories I care about.

What or who has been a major inspiration for you when create comics?

I’ve been drawing comics informally my whole life but wasn’t aware that I was actually doing it until I got to college. This is when I discovered indie comics. I was blown away by the work of Craig Thompson, Charles Burns, Peter Bagge, Roz Chast, Alex Robinson, Harvey Pekar, Daniel Clowes, and Jeffrey Brown, to name a few. It made me realize that comics could deal with the complexities of real life, not just superhero stuff. I started making journal comics, and other autobiographical work, which felt natural to me. I am inspired by a lot of things, but thematically I find myself coming back to issues involving culture, race, mental health, friendships, and relationships.

How does nerd culture play a part in how you create your art?

I don’t really subscribe to the idea of “nerd culture”. As a kid I definitely qualified as a nerd and those tendencies have stuck around in many respects, but traditionally, nerdom was more of a pejorative term and one that felt isolating rather than unifiying. I know the term is being reclaimed, but the actual culture as you define it (superheroes, fantasy, science fiction etc), is not really what I deal with in my comics at this point.

What is your stance on Black presence in the art world, especially in comics?

Yes, I think that race absolutely plays a role in public perception for artists, but perhaps is a bigger issue in the industry. Diversity seems be becoming a buzzword now in the industry, and I’m glad that there is an increased awareness of the necessity of including and promoting different types of stories and narratives in comics. But it’s also a very complex issue that requires more than just awareness. And think that “success”, however you define it is the result of many factors.

What advice do you have for those hoping to break out in comics and visual art?

There’s no getting around working hard if you want to “break out in comics”. That means putting in the time to actually make comics and improve at your craft, get to know other people in the community, and find ways to promote your work. I think you have to be willing to be vulnerable, patient, and humble. Also, I think “breaking out” really depends on what your goals are. I think it’s OK to want to make a career of comics, but I think it’s just as fine to do it as a hobby or somewhere in between.

Switching gears a bit, let’s talk more about your work The Anthropologists. What was it like working on that comic?

Working on that comic was really fun because I was able to travel back in time and reconstruct an experience that I had in a way that straddled autobiography and fiction. I also felt honored to work with Sparkplug, which as I mentioned before, was  the first small-presses that turned me on to minicomics.

The most challenging part of writing autobiographical-ish stories is to create an incentive for people to care about it. I wanted to write about my weird trip to the Australian Outback, but at I had to figure out how to write something that was more than just a travelogue, which can alienate a reader if it’s just telling a verbatim story of an experience that they were not a part of. I spent a lot of time on character development and dialogue because the story is ultimately about three misfits who are brought together in an unlikely circumstance. I also wanted to create an underlying uncomfortableness about race and cultural tourism, because I think that these are topics that people generally have trouble communicating effectively about.

How does your new work, Ghost, differ from The Anthropologists?

I can’t really compare them. Stylistically and content-wise they are very different. I always find myself trying something slightly different in each comic I make. In the case of Ghost, it’s a bunch of short stories, I don’t use panels in every comic, and it’s in color.

What is the one thing you want readers to take away from by reading Ghost?

I want them to take a way a specific mood, I guess? I don’t always have an explicit point I’m trying to make in my comics, even if it ultimately comes off that way. I think a good story can get something across to the reader which can’t be articulated but has a meaningful impact on them.

What do you think is one of the keys to establishing more visibility for Black artists and creatives?

Being on Tumblr in particular has shown me that their are plenty of black artists promoting their work. These are artist working in all sorts of mediums and genres and I think that they have different followers as a result of that. I don’t believe that there is a single factor that is the key for establishing more visibility because it depends on the art form/industry.

What are some of your favorite diverse comic titles?

I don’t know quite what my favorites are because ‘diversity’ encompasses so many things. I’ve actually been learning more about other cartoonist of color from Mari Naomi’s Cartoonists of Color Database, which is definitely a site worth looking at.

Black comic cons are some of the best ways to raise awareness for Black visibility in comics. What are some ways you think more awareness can be brought to the mainstream?

Well, the first thing is that black comic book artists need not be thought of as a uniform group. We work in different genres and styles. We also have different ideas of what we are trying to achieve in our comics.  I also do not believe that everyone is seeking “mainstream” success or that achieving it is necessarily indicative of something’s worth. It comes down more to the concept of “mattering”. In a sense, the existence of a black comic con sends the message to artists and fans that their narratives matter. This encourages artists to keep working and trying new things, while also allowing them to grow their readership. Shows like this are important to me for that reason primarily. Also, as a kid who grew up and rarely saw herself in comics, it makes me happy to see black families exposing their children to the work of black creators at a young age. I always meet young black girls who are are interested in drawing comics at these shows and it makes me super happy to offer advice.

And finally, what does Black History mean to you?

Well, I guess I can speak to Black History Month? I have a complicated relationship with it, which dates back to being one of two black kids in my class growing up and often feeling singled out, as if I was supposed to be a representative for my race. When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous that a group of people have a month where their whole history, which is very complex and intertwined with the history of everyone else, gets showcased. I’m glad that untold narratives are often highlighted during this time, but I also find it problematic. I’m happy that a month like this can provide exposure for black creators, but it also makes me a bit sad that this is sometimes THE month for press.