There’s a stereotypical notion that men don’t know how to write female characters, but readers of Paul Taylor’s Wapsi Square would beg to differ. While this online comic is supernatural and often macabre in nature, it’s grounded in the relationships and everyday lives of its young, female characters. Museum anthropologist Monica Villarreal is a twentysomething with a close-knit and diverse group of girlfriends, but she also happens to live with an Aztec god … of alcohol. The comic has been going strong for a decade, and Wapsi Square won a 2009 Lulu Award for Best Female Character. Writer/artist Paul Taylor gave us some insight into the creator-owned strip, which he suggests newcomers start from the beginning.
Girls Gone Geek: Describe Wapsi Square for the uninitiated. There are a lot of supernatural elements, but it’s also about friendship among a group of young women. How did you decide to tie those elements together?
Paul Taylor: I think calling it a “slice of supernatural life” may be a fitting description. I love character-driven stories, but I’m also a sucker for a good ghost story. I have this fascination with things that are both creepy and cute, and most of the territory that I cover tends to fall into that comfortable creepy/cute area.
G3: The comic has been noted for its progressive portrayal of women, and it won a Friends of Lulu for Best Female Character. There’s also your Wapsi Girl project, so you’ve clearly tapped into an appreciative audience. Did you set out to create positive female characters, or did things just evolve that way?
PT: Setting out to make a comic with any kind of role models was never my goal; the whole thing kind of evolved in a very organic way. I let the characters do the talking. They don’t like it when I try to tell them what to do, and in the process of telling their stories, I think that honesty comes through and strikes a chord with some. I find it pretty cool at conventions when better than 60 percent of the folks coming to talk to me or buy stuff are women.
G3: How has the comic evolved since you started it in 2001?
PT: I think overall, the story has found a nice groove that moves between light-hearted and quite macabre. In the beginning, I was taking time to get to know the characters better, and now, I can easily say that they are strongly directing the direction of the story.
G3: Tell us a little about your background as an independent writer/illustrator. What made you decide to make the comic your full-time gig?
PT: Starting my comic full-time is pretty much my experience/background. Before that, I was a photographer and then an apartment manager, only doing my comic on the side. Wapsi’s audience was growing, but I really didn’t know how to make a profit from it. Slowly, I dabbled in putting advertising space on my site, taking some pics and comics and putting them up on eBay, and looking into other options like shirts, sculptures, and prints. After seeing that the income potential was there, it was a matter of a leap of faith. That, and I just couldn’t see being an on-call-24-hours-a-day apartment manager anymore while trying to raise my new son.
PT: It sounds odd when I say it out loud, but the old Abbott and Costello movies where they meet Dracula or the Mummy. I loved the mix of comedy and danger, and even when I was a little kid it just felt like a fun way to tell a story. I think my art style is influenced by old Warner Bros. cartoons, Jack Davis from Mad magazine and a little Frank Frazetta (although, I‘ll never be as good as Mr. Frazetta).
G3: What are some of the highs and lows of being an independent artist? How do people usually find Wapsi Square?
PT: Creative control is the best, but sometimes the razor’s edge of self-editing can be stressful. I always feel funny talking about building an audience or guiding new comic artists. I didn’t really follow a plan, and I’m not really sure my path is one anyone would want to replicate. It took me almost 10 years to build an audience, let alone get to the point where I was making decent money at this. Most people found my comic through word of mouth, or at least a recommendation online. Advertising has worked a little, but a current reader mentioning and introducing Wapsi to a new potential reader is by far the strongest audience builder.