Independent writers and artists have always been a big part of the comic book industry, although their voices often get drowned out by the bigger publishers, not to mention Hollywood.
But the independent voices remain. This weekend one of them will be at Comic Con, San Diego’s huge celebration of comic and geek culture. Larime Taylor's art and unorthodox storylines are growing a cult following.
Taylor draws and writes an indie comic called "A Voice in the Dark." His art is mostly in black and white and features dialogue-driven stories rather than plot lines that rely on explosions and half-nude women. In fact, he readily admits that he doesn't strive to make his artwork sexy.
“I don't do lots of pretty, perfect people,” Taylor said. “I tend to draw people more realistically. I actually have a hard time when I try to do superheroes and things like that, because they don't look like superheroes. They look like regular people wearing the costumes.”
Even his protagonist subverts trope after trope. She is slender and athletic, biracial and an 18-year-old college freshman when the series begins. She's also a murderess. But what sets his art apart most of all is how Taylor makes it. He draws everything with his lips and teeth.
“Growing up, I would draw on paper with a pencil in my mouth, a pen in my mouth, and it wasn't until about the last five, six years, maybe six, seven years, that the computer technology has caught up to what I need to be able to really overcome a lot of my limitations.”
The 38-year-old Imperial Valley native was born with arthrogryposis, a rare physical condition that affects the body's joints. As a result, he uses a wheelchair and has very limited use of his arms, hands and legs. And so, he uses his mouth to draw. His wife Sylv Taylor, who’s also an artist with a physical disability, does his color work.
Taylor said they rely on Social Security, but use his work to supplement it. Soon, he said, they hope to make a living off it.
“It's kind of what I can do. It's my skill set. I can't flip burgers or build houses or anything like that, so I tell stories and I draw. So I might as well combine the two and do that. It's basically the eas-- well, not the easiest, but it's the most immediately available way of making money with the skill set that I have,” Taylor said.
Sara Swieca is a manager at Villainous Lair, a book and gaming store in San Diego that is owned and run by a group of huge comic book fans. The store carries his books right up front, and Swieca has been a fan of Taylor's since she first discovered his work.
“We had been carrying his comic for a while, but I had never actually met him in person. And up until that point, actually, I didn't realize how he did his art. I'd never really thought about it,” she said.
“I don't always check into every artist I get to, and I'm sorry I didn't look into it a little bit sooner because it's really quite spectacular.”
Documentarian Neil Kendricks teaches drawing and comic appreciation classes at San Diego State University, and said he admires Taylor's drive and dedication to his craft.
“I guess the heart of the art-making process isn't really about your limbs, whether you've got the most agile hands or fingers, but it's really about your brain. That's the part that you can't really teach anyone,” Kendricks said.
Larime Taylor said he hopes to have a long career based on his work, rather than the novelty of being the guy who draws with his mouth. So far, he said, he thinks he is doing a good job of it.
“It's better to start out with the critical acclaim and integrity, and build the following over time, than to just have something that everybody bought because the guy drew it with his mouth. And then they go back to whatever they were doing,” said Taylor.
He just released the first set of "A Voice in the Dark" stories in trade paperback form, and he and his wife are now working on the next part of the series.