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The Changing Power of Violence: In Conversation with David Taylor, Creator of The Grave

Scottish comics creator David Taylor is currently crowdfunding his violent, hard-boiled revenge comic The Grave on Kickstarter, a comic we recently found to be more sensitive and complex than its gritty premise initially promises. A story that matches its violence with some hook-laden twists in the tale, and illuminated with a distinctly noir-like look, we caught up with Taylor to discover more about the comic’s creation.

A Place To Hang Your Cape: The Grave packs in plenty of obvious influences, but succeeds in telling its own story. Visually and narrative-wise, how did you go about maintaining its distinct, individual flavour?

David Taylor: A lot of the influences in The Grave are things that I first discovered when I was in my teens and early 20s. But I’m quite a bit older so what I love about them now is very different to my first time seeing them.

For example, I loved the hard, nasty tone of Jim Thompson’s novels because it was so relentless. A lot of that makes it into my book, but now I see how tragic and lonely his characters are. Focusing on the tragedy of my characters helped me bring out some of my own feelings and say something different to the stories that inspired me.

But it was still really important this was a hard, exciting hardboiled thriller. I pitched it to people as “What if the Coens cast Sylvester Stallone in a revenge movie”? So I made sure I kept a lot of the elements that make those stories so much fun.

For the art, I worked really hard on the style I wanted. The strongest element was the John Romita/Klaus Janson pairing in the 90s (those first few issues of Punisher: War Zone are proper eye pleasures!). And I think you can see some of Frank Miller, Darwyn Cooke and Herge in there… but I’m not them, so it’s like putting it through my own internal blender.

I wouldn’t want to do a cover version of things I love anyway. I like the idea of bringing something new to their ideas, showing how they’ve helped me grow creatively.

AP2HYC: How does The Grave compare and contrast to your past projects, Decades and HER!?

Taylor: They all deal with how violence changes the way people see themselves. But Decades is a much longer and slower paced story, and it’s got a lot of dialogue in comparison (seriously, it’s like no one knows how to shut up). It was my first story, so you can see me figuring out how to put a narrative together.

HER! is closer to what I’ve tried to do with The Grave. I used the surface level stuff you see in noir fiction to let me look at different topics that were on my mind. HER! was me wrecking the trope of the broken but righteously violent man you see in so many stories. I liked the idea that, in his narration, he sees himself as the hero when he’s actually a pretty awful human.

It’s also a really short story, trying to capture the vibe of EC’s crime comics. That forced me to pick the moments that mattered most, cut out all the excess, and make sure the words and pictures elevated each other.

Basically I needed both of those to get me ready for The Grave.

AP2HYC: You describe your work as “… dark, twisty, emotionally complex noir”. With that in mind, I found The Grave to be quite a sensitive read in terms of its characters and overall themes. Would you agree that it’s a sensitive comic?

Taylor: Yeah, I would and I’m really happy that came across. I don’t think anyone could deal with the sort of violence that happens in this story without some sort of trauma. And that interested me to bring out in the story.

One of the tag-lines I used building up to the Kickstarter was “damaged people do damage”. It seems glib, but it’s true from my experience. And it’s really true of the characters in this. The main character might have some justification for wanting revenge, but there’s something wrong with him to go as far as he does. I didn’t want to ignore that.

I didn’t want to write something that’s all blood and thunder, I wanted to look at who these people are because of what they’ve done. It drives them to make bad choices because it’s really hard to admit they can’t handle what’s happening around them.

AP2HYC: You wrote and drew The Grave. Are you a writer first and an artist second, or vice-versa?

Taylor: I hope I’m a proper hybrid now! It’s actually hard to say. I studied art when I left school and it’s my favourite thing to do, but I write for a living, which I also love.

The stories always start with me scribbling ideas down and talking out dialogue for the characters. Then I start doodling what these people look like and that shapes who they become. When I really know them, that’s when I start writing the story, letting their decisions shape what happens.

So it all happens at the same time, really. A bit of a confusing answer – sorry!

AP2HYC: The Grave has a very sweeping, cinematic appearance to it. Why did you want to give The Grave such a look?

Taylor: I’m obsessed with the Coens’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men and I wanted to see something like that in a comic. Roger Deakins, the guy who shot the film for them, is a genius.

There’s such a strong sense of place in that movie. They manage to make the cities feel as desolate and open as the desert where the story begins. I tried to capture that same feeling.

And I can’t remember seeing a book that uses the grey tones in the way I have, so that felt unique to what I was doing.

AP2HYC: What would you say the black and white palette adds to the comic?

Taylor: The crime comics that had the biggest impact on me were black and white. Jordi Bernet’s work on Torpedo is one example, and especially Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations (although he used one colour per book).

But specifically for this story, I liked how it conjured a world that always feels harsh. There are lots of heavy blacks to create that brutal contrast and make the visuals pop out.

Also, if I’d tried colouring it, I’d probably still be working right now!

AP2HYC: The Grave tackles vigilantism, corrupt law enforcement, domestic abuse, and homophobia. What made you want to create a comic that dealt with such topics?

Taylor: Again, I’m really happy those themes came through. So first, I wanted The Grave to be a great crime comic, with a lot of the tropes that make it fun.

But tropes create expectations and I decided, if I was going to use them, I’d twist them in some way. Most of my characters have been hurt by people who were meant to care for them. All of them have lost things they valued. They’re all struggling with their place in the world, and those themes naturally came out from the characters I’d written.

It comes back to your question about making something distinct to its influences. I said The Grave has a hardboiled heart – so all the things that make hardboiled fiction thrilling but with heart and soul too.

AP2HYC: The Grave has smashed through its Kickstarter goals. What’s next for you as a comics creator?

Taylor: It’s really exciting. I didn’t expect to be where I am right now! And there’s still time for people to pledge and get a copy of the book.

What’s next? I’ve been working on a couple of ideas and posted a few sketches on Instagram. The one I’m most excited about is called Wild Nature.

A man is sent to find a girl in Miami and finds he’s been entered into a high-stakes game of death. Hunted by trained assassins in animal masks, he needs to survive the night and find out why he’s been betrayed.

So far, so tropey, but I’m bringing a whole load of weird twists to it, from the psychology of identity to the mad ultra-violence of grindhouse cinema.

And then I’ll probably do a sequel to HER! and reveal more about the title character and her dark agenda. My plan right now is to do that with traditional inks and Copic markers rather than my usual digital set up. Just to see if I can.

Lots to work, and I hope the people that backed The Grave can get behind these as well. They can follow me on Twitter or through my occasional email updates.

Have you back The Grave on Kickstarter yet? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out our review of the comic, too!

About the author

Fred McNamara