David Taylor makes grim comics. Dirty comics. Nasty comics. He also makes these grimy, dirty, nasty comics enjoyably progressive in their complex characters and thoughtful, well-executed themes. With the one-shot graphic novel The Grave and the short-form, ongoing HER! series under his belt so far, Taylor has now turned his attention to a digital format with the 80s themed action thriller web comic Wild Nature. On first inspection, Wild Nature matches The Grave‘s premise of characters trying to leave their violent pasts behind them, only to be dragged back in the underworlds they attempt to escape from, in search of a better, more peaceful life. We caught up with Taylor to discover more about his latest comic.
A Place To Hang Your Cape: So tell us a bit about Wild Nature.
David Taylor: It’s an action thriller set in a future Miami that’s slowly rebuilding after mass civil unrest. They’ve replaced traditional sports with the war game, Wild Nature. The main character, Swan, used to be the best in the business, but he’s quit to try to be someone else. And it turns out his old life isn’t willing to let him go so easily.
I started working on it when I was getting ready to crowdfund The Grave, and it’s a very different book. Out of the crime fiction I’ve been making for the last two years and into dystopian fiction with a big helping of satire.
Even though it’s an action-thriller on the surface, this is really a character drama. Everyone’s got an agenda and watching them catch fire when they meet has been great fun, and created some really interesting moments I didn’t expect.
It’s also a story with a few firsts for me: I’m releasing it in parts rather than as a complete one-off book; I’ve got some collaborators instead of doing it all myself; and it’s my first book in colour.
AP2HYC: Why serialise Wild Nature online?
Taylor: I’m still undecided if I’ll stick to that after the first volume is complete, but really that’s me trying to share more work more often than I could otherwise. This is going to be a big, long story and I don’t want to be waiting over a year before getting something out to readers.
There’s a really nice side effect to serialisation, which is making me focus more on individual scenes and really honing them. I think that will lead to a really complete story when I collect it all together.
Also, on a simple marketing level, it’s good to build the brand of the story rather than firing it into the world and it disappearing after launch. So whether I stick to monthly online releases or collect it into two or three volumes, that will help get people invested in what happens next.
AP2HYC: Wild Nature is your first generally-released comic to be done in colour. Why did you want to add this extra visual dimension and what extra dynamics does this give to Wild Nature?
Taylor: It’s the first time I’ve worked in colour since I left art school! I love black and white, but I saw a gap in my skills: I write, draw, ink, letter, but I’d never figured out how to colour. I want to be as complete a creator as I can be, so that felt like something I could work on.
Aesthetically, as soon as I had the idea for Wild Nature, with Miami as a sort of neon-soaked fever dream, there was no way I could do it in black and white.
For storytelling, it gives me more tools to enhance drama but, most importantly, communicate emotions and atmosphere. And it’s eye-catching, because I’ve gone for a very bold palette as much as possible. The story might go some dark place, but this isn’t a grim and gritty scowl-fest. I wanted it to be bright and engaging to draw people in.
It’s also really inspired me when I’m inking. I use a lot of heavy blacks normally, but now I need to think about how I’ll apply tones and colours, so I’m refining my style and learning some new tools to make sure everything works together to tell the story.
AP2HYC: What themes are running through Wild Nature?
Taylor: Identity is the biggest one, or as my editor Claire said, mistaken identity. Most of the characters are trying to be someone they’re not or denying who they are. But there’s also some really big stuff around families and friendships, as well as some bigger social commentary/satire under the surface.
I’ve been thinking a lot about family and loss, as well as self-esteem and other internal issues for the characters. All the characters have very developed inner lives, and that’s allowing me to explore lots of themes in subtle ways as well as the big ones in the story.
AP2HYC: You often lead your characters down dark, unforgiving paths of violence and redemption in your comics, is Swan getting a similar treatment?
Taylor: By the time we meet Swan he’s decided he’s at the end of that path, but he’s not really looking for redemption. He’s led a life of violence and it’s not as easy as saying “I’m done” and walking away.
Without ruining anything, there’s a reason I called it Wild Nature. Swan will have to learn a lot about who he really is underneath the masks he’s been wearing his whole life. And when everyone knows him for hurting people, it’s hard to get them to look any deeper.
AP2HYC: Reading through the first two chapters, I spy some similarities with your previous long-form work, The Grave, in that a central theme shared is that of violent comics preaching non-violent messages. Would you agree or disagree?
Taylor: Can I do both? Haha. It’s complicated…
As much as I love violent movies, I don’t think creators can tell them with the same laissez faire as they might have in the 80s and 90s. Personally, I’m more interested in the effects of violence and how it changes people.
So, it’s less that I’m preaching non-violence, more that I’m showing it’s messy and destructive during and after the fact, even when it’s done with good cause. Swan is who he is because of his violent life – who is he when he can’t define himself that way anymore?
How do people deal with the death of their loved ones in Wild Nature matches, when they see the killers being celebrated on TV?
These are big things to deal with and make for a more interesting story than just showing badass action. But I’m going to do that too!
AP2HYC: You’ve expanded your reach by working with a creative team rather than working on your own for Wild Nature, how might that sort of process differ to working solitarily?
Taylor: It’s a lot more fun to be honest. Doing everything yourself gets lonely and it’s hard to keep perspective, which leads to reworking things late on when you realise you could have done something better.
I’ve got two collaborators: Jon Siozon, who gets my line art ready for colouring, and Claire Napier, who’s my editor.
Claire’s played the biggest role. She challenged me to really build out the world and characters before outlining the story, and gave me lots of pointers on how to make sure everything resonates.
Over time, I’ve gone from effectively writing a script for me to draw, to a Marvel method with a looser outline where I write dialogue ideas as I develop my layouts. Then I refine it all and Claire gives me her thoughts and often hilarious asides.
It’s good knowing I’m writing for someone who’s taking on the role of my audience, but with her own tastes to challenge my thinking. Most of the time it’s asking if a line of dialogue really says something about the character, or adding a visual detail to tie things together.
That’s helping me think a lot of this stuff through in advance, which is making the story feel more grounded in the characters’ behaviour, and more dramatic when the big moments come.
The best thing though is knowing there’s someone who’s rooting for me to do the best work I can, and to push me in the right direction when I need it.
AP2HYC: Going forward, what can readers expect from Wild Nature?
Taylor: This is going to be my most ambitious story so far. It’s a true epic, with loads of interesting character drama and some big action set pieces in the next few parts. You’ll start to understand who Swan is and see how the other characters are going to run into each other and leading to some serious drama later on.
I’ve got a few more parts to finish in the next three months and I’ll collect them as volume 1 of the story and share it with fans on Kickstarter. So I’m building something here and I hope people check in every month to see what Swan’s getting up to.