Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Zach Taylor

A ten year veteran of the self-published comic book scene, Zach Taylor, took some time from his simultaneous projects Bear Quest 3 and Work Force! staring The Miner to answer some questions.  You can follow him on Twitter @z_bill and like him on hist Facebook page.  He also has cast posted to Youtube at Largocasts.  His comics can be found at and Bear Quest 1 and Bear Quest 2 are for sale along with some cool posters at his store

Who would you list as comic book influences?

Jack Kirby deserves mention over all others. Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, and Mark Oakley (who did a book called Thieves & Kings that few people know about and that's a shame) got me into indie comics and the idea of self-publishing. Grant Morrison and Kirby were my gateway back into mainstream superheroes. I could also label a lot of filmmakers as influences, but I'll just give a shout to Terry Gilliam, the greatest imaginative mind ever.

I'm still waiting for someone famous to say Bear Quest is "Jack Kirby meets Jim Woodring by way of Super Mario" so I can make it a blurb.

Having ten years of insider’s perspective into the world of self published comics what would you see as the high and low watermarks

Kind of hard to say, because Texas, apart from Staple!, is off the radar in terms of the indie comics scene. Tough to be on the pulse of it. The promise of real self-publishing with wide distribution and success, the landscape of Cerebus and Bone, died before I even started making comics. And I see little of that spirit in most webcomics today. Comics, with ongoing storylines, real domain remains to be print. The bright side is that I feel a greater kinship with the medium as a whole, mainstream and all. Maybe I'm delusional. But when I see guys like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, and Brandon Graham, people I consider straight cartoonists, able to draw, write, whatever, win the good graces of the big comics publishers...I smile and think of our Great Comics Family. Band together or we die alone.
You went a long period only working in black and white.  How did inform your current color work and would suggest it to other artist?

The black and white period came from frustration in printing my color work. I did digital painting in college, and always seemed to have to give the excuse "it looked better on the computer" in portfolio class. So, when I started making comics seriously, I made it my mission to create a style that was impossible to print incorrectly. That brought about a raw, strict black and white (no shades of gray!) style. Plus, it might have been my "dark" angsty years, haha.

Would I suggest it to another artist? Not if he or she isn't inclined to do it already. Artists will eventually arrive where they need to be artistically if they keep at it. It may take waaaay longer than planned, but they will get there. For instance, while I was in my black and white period, people would see my occasional color work and ask, "What the hell? This is much better than what you are doing. Why aren't you doing stuff like this?" And they were right, it was better. But I couldn't just jump right to color. I had to go through this extended black and white phase to bring myself to that point artistically.
I found an old copy of you books The Moonman on Wheels and I was wondering how would you contrast it with The Miner.  Like the Bear they both have these ballistic trajectory through life but have very different attitudes.
Difficult to talk about Moon Man because it's out of print and not available on my website, but what the hell? Moon Man is good high concept that was in the hands of a guy who didn't have much respect for his audience. A much more bitter guy made it. The Miner was that guy lightening up and making something fun and approachable. In a way though, they are both about characters feeling entitled to something they never earned. Unrealized potential. He walks into town and expects to be loved by everyone despite being a stranger who hasn't proven himself. I WAS that guy when I made Moon Man, but The Miner overcame that and decided to fit in and have a good time regardless of the apathy of the universe. I would like to revisit the defeatist tone of my early work though. I had some good ideas that I was too stubborn to write properly.

You work is influenced by video games, you have a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, you started a vlog, you do free hand and pixel art on the computer.  What is the connection between art and computers in general and what is your relationship in particular.

All media is going to collapse into one someday. Just a big mass of comic/game/movie/novel/rollercoaster/whatever. I want to contribute to the spirit of that with Bear Quest, which is at its core the history of a video game property told through a comic. But, I don't know, I'm torn between digital and print, painting and pixels, comics and video games. They all try to grab me away equally. I just hope that whatever our Entertainment Future might be, that a) I don't end up hating it, and b) it's got some spot where I fit in.

As far as social media, I try to keep up with twitter (@z_bill Hit me up!) mainly. I'm a fan of YouTube Let's Plays and podcasts, so I decided to create what I call Largocasts, where I talk about whatever I feel like (comics, games, process, storytelling, etc) as sped-up artwork plays. Trying to figure out what I can do with the platform, maybe create a little community, do something fun and audio/visual.

Do you see the collapse of media distinctions as a threat to print comics, comics as a static medium and/or some thing as aggressively low tech as zones and mini comics?
I wouldn't say "threat," but yeah, there's no way comics will exist in this same form in a hundred years. Things will be different, but no one can predict how. I mean, I'm definitely that old-fogey-in-the-making who is unable to give up on his "books printed on paper." I love books. But I'm going to look at comics' evolution the same way I'm looking at the current superhero blockbuster movie explosion: All my senses could easily judge these films as terrible. But I've consciously decided to find things I like about them, that way I don't become that hateful old fogey. And I've got some standing in the future of The All-Media. Whatever that looks like.

So, the Bear has made a few appearances at Staple! and other conventions, are their any stories you’d like to share?

Yes, The Bear has started showing up at cons and creating mayhem. I guess he heard I wrote a book about him? Weird thing is I've never seen him! I always remember walking out of the con, then...I guess I black out? I wake up in an alleyway, go back in, and everyone tells me The Bear showed up and caused all this trouble, leaving me to apologize. He's prone to shuffle merchandise around, dance, knock things over, and randomly maul people. He's going to get me in trouble!

Though for some reason, most kids don't seem scared of him. There are pictures of him playing with legos in a circle with children. And I once heard about a toddler, initially terrified, taking what looked like her first steps from her carriage to embrace his calf. Good thing she couldn't read yet or she'd know what a monster he is!

There was also an epic battle with Sonic the Hedgehog. Most the time he's in a confused frenzy at these cons.

Just to get basic terminology Bear Quest is a side scroller, Bear Quest 2 is an overhead rpg, and Bear Quest 3 is a first person shooter?  What games in each of these categories do you credit as influences.

That sounds right! (Though sticklers would call BQ2 "isometric" perspective, not "overhead") First BQ has resemblances to Pitfall and Hudson's Adventure Island. But the screenshots I mimicked when I made it were from a game no one played called Dynowarz for NES. BQ2 I just say Zelda to make it easy. However, the real influence is my favorite game from the 16 bit era, Landstalker for Genesis. Yep, I was a Sega kid. BQ3 is straight up Doom. The game panels there are actual screenshots from a fully modded Doom 2 level!

Bear Quest seems to resist over analysis at the same time it seems to invite it.  Every page has parallel storytelling but by my count there are at least four levels of storytelling.  There is what happens on the screen of the video game, what happens in the game world, what is happening subjectively for the player and in Bear Quest 3 we see the screen and the game world jump out of the player’s subject space and into the objective space of the Largo Game Console.  Where do you see it taking place?

I love this question. I can tell you are paying attention, haha! The idea that Bear Quest is just a simple rendition of "what would be happening if this game were real" breaks down slowly. At first, readers assume he's just an oblivious beast being playful. They forget about the person that may be playing the game. Is the bear being controlled? Are YOU controlling him? If he escapes into the player's world, then what does that mean about the former "reality" of the game? There are lots of different ways to look at it, and I wouldn't want to force my version.

If you are lost though, it might help to think of each panel as a viewport. Does The Bear see pixels in a world that is actually detailed… or does he see a detailed world interpreted down to pixels for someone else (The player? The reader?) to see? These questions get weirder and more meta the deeper we go in the story. Especially in BQ3, when The Bear enters the "Largo World" and now the game panels look, in many ways, more realistic than the reality! Then the insane reality-bending thing that happens when he is eaten by an armadillo, haha! It's an experimental work, no doubt. And if readers aren't asking, "What is the game? What is real?" then they are just looking at the purdy pictures.
Is there an overarching meaning to why we see Largo game systems running through out you Miner and Bear stories?
Oh absolutely! The Largo Infinite Handheld System is the glue that ties all my work together. The Miner, or another character in his story (such as The Sailor in my currently running comic, Workforce!), is prone to play Largo video games. Technically, he could pull out Bear Quest and start playing. It's a very popular game franchise, which has spawned many sequels, merchandise, and even costumes! So, by extension, the "Largo World" of BQ3 and The Miner's world are the same place. Which, to confuse things further, is named Gnourg. Call it my "Hyboria" or "Westeros" in that big geeky fantasy tradition of naming your world some nonsense word, haha. Though, is the website where you read all these stories. And has been around for 15 years! It's almost like I planned all this, right?

Apart from the connections, might there be a reason there are so many games being played in these stories? Games are my stand-in for most all media. It's relevant that the city is crumbling, or an adventure is happening elsewhere, and all these characters want to do is beat a video game. I'm not making some judgmental statement about humanity and how we bury ourselves in trivial entertainment and ignore our actual problems. But we absolutely do that. I see that and it goes in my books. I am so, so guilty of it myself. It should be obvious that I spend a good deal of my time with my head in fantasy worlds, both my own and others. I believe it's healthy, at least for me, to do this. It's how I cope with the real world. That's why beating the game always gives the hero insight into how to beat adversity.

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