Meet Taylor Wells
There are many reasons that you read the comic books that you do; you like the character, you like the writer and/or you like the artist. Many (including myself at times) take for granted the artist who works on the colours for each issue.
Meet Taylor Wells. Taylor is one of these artists. The 22 year-old Louisiana-native is the Colour Assistant on multi-Eisner award winning Image comic CHEW, she graduated with a BA in Painting and Drawing from her home State University this past May. CHEW is never dull, the story is constantly engaging and the visuals of the series are consistently bright and eye catching.
Here, Taylor talks about her influences, experiences and why you should be reading CHEW.
Let’s start with you. Is there anything in particular you would like readers to know about yourself?
I'm gay. While I don't want to sell myself only as "the lesbian comic book artist" and have that be the single thing that defines me as an artist and as a person, it IS something that I want to be open about. Visibility is something that I feel is really important in the queer community.
Also important - my entire life is based around the acquisition of dark chocolate and tea.
How did you get into art?
Art has always been something that I’ve been drawn towards. Even as early as kindergarten, I listed “artist” as what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, there were points where being an astronaut, a palaeontologist, surgeon, or a dinosaur surgeon on the moon seemed like the best jobs ever, but I was always pulled back into drawing.
What artists inspire you?
Gah! It’s always so hard to narrow it down to just a few, because I try to learn as much as I can from as many artists as possible.
Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Sailor Moon, was the artist that originally got me interested in comics and started my love affair with drawing. I always liked to draw, but her work turned what was once a merely a hobby into an obsession. Her comic made me want to draw comics. Takeuchi’s art heavily influenced my art for years and years. Eventually, much of that manga-influence eventually petered out of my work but I still love to go back and revisit her art books for her airbrushed colours and her sweeping, graceful lines.
Jhonen Vasquez’s work has been really inspiring. It was his comic JTHM that showed me that there’s more to American comics than just superheroes. It was dark, edgy, funny, brutal, and strangely philosophical. It became the catalyst for a lot of things, including being the thing that caused my own art to move away from anime and manga and inspired me to start searching for my own unique style.
Working with Rob Guillory has been amazing. Ever since I first started reading CHEW, I fell in love with the art and it became something that influenced me. Now that I work on the comic, I get paid to carefully comb over Rob’s work every day. After about the first year, I started noticing that I had picked up a lot from Rob subconsciously - small things like the way I draw the bridges of noses, background details, composition, etc. Working with him, I’ve also learned a whole lot about the process involved in comic creation and other insider sorts of things.
Other artists who have helped my artistic journey: Kody Chamberlain for being the one to tell me that my art was all over the place and I needed to focus on refining it to one style; John Kricfalusi because I find his animation blog often applies to comics as well; and painters like J. M. W. Turner, Alex Kanevsky, James Michalopoulos, and Frederic Remington because their colours are absolutely amazing.
Why comic books?
Comics, to me, are the fusion of my two loves – art and storytelling. My mother is an author so I grew up with a great appreciation for books, reading, and captivating stories.
Did you read any comics or graphic novels as a child?
I would occasionally draw (really bad) comics about my toys as a kid, but I wasn’t at all into reading comics at that age. I read the dad’s old copies of Tintin whenever I would visit my grandparents, but while they were alive I was too young to understand or appreciate them. Around that age, I thought that comics that weren’t Tintin were only about superheroes and not for girls.
I didn’t start to seek comics out until I was about 11. I had been in love with the Sailor Moon as a child and I discovered that it was originally based on a manga. I found and read the manga at the bookstore, and it completely changed my perception of what comics were and what they could be. It took me a few years to pull me away from only Japanese and Korean comics and to start reading American ones, but I’ve been hooked ever since.
How did you get the job working on CHEW?
It was really serendipity. I’ve found that working in comics is as much about knowing the right people as it is about talent, and even more so just being incredibly lucky. I first got in touch with Rob with a fan email that essentially said “I love your art and I want to draw comics myself. I’m local, please give me advice.” I also included some fan art because everyone loves getting fan art and also to prove that I wasn't just some crackpot who didn’t have any skill. We corresponded a bit back and forth.
About a month later was the New Orleans Comic Con. It was my first comic convention and I was really nervous. Portfolio in hand, I asked Rob to critique my work. As he looked through it, one of the things he kept coming back to was how much he liked my colours.
About a month after that, out-of-the-blue, I received an email from Rob. He needed a new assistant, remembered how much he liked my colours, and still had my email address. He wanted to know if I wanted the job. I was ecstatic. I immediately said yes. He sent a test page (which ended up being the first page of the CHEW short story for the Hero Initiative.) I was hired that day.
How was it balancing CHEW with study?
Sometimes it was hard, especially around exam week or when there was a project due the same time as a CHEW deadline. Otherwise, it usually it wasn’t too difficult.
What's the process between yourself and Rob with each page? Are you in constant contact or does he trust you to get on with it?
Rob sends me the inks and roughly maps out where he wants the shadows. I clean up the shading, add colour to it, and sometimes add a little more detail. We use flatters who lay down the flats - or basic flat colour – because it would take forever otherwise. Those colours are terrible and not meant to reflect what the final colours should be so I then take those flats and change the colours to what I think they should actually be. After that, I add some layers that shift all the colours of the page towards certain hues. Then I add simple highlights along the edges of things. Finally, I send the page to Rob, who might change some of the colours. He then adds details and does a little bit of airbrushing. Rob usually doesn't tell me what colours to use; there’s a lot of freedom. We naturally have pretty similar colour palettes. He initially sent me some older pages that to colour-pick from, but that’s pretty much all the guidance I’ve gotten. When he doesn’t like a colour I’ve picked, he’ll just change it when I send a page back to him.
What are your thoughts on newly announced CHEW animation? Will you have any involvement?
I’m excited, because I feel like it would translate really well into a cartoon. I most likely wouldn’t have any involvement in it, but it would still be really, really cool to be able to say “Hey, you see character on TV? I originally picked out that dude’s colours.”
Are you disappointed the Showtime deal never worked out?
Yes and no. Yes, because that would be so cool to see CHEW on TV in any format, but also no because Showtime wanted to change a lot of things that make CHEW, well, CHEW.
What are your feelings on the fact that the mainstream comic book industry is male dominated?
It’s frustrating. I don’t think the ones in charge are intentionally saying “we can’t let ladies into our club,” but I think that mainstream comics has become an entity that’s afraid of taking risks. It has consisted of almost exclusively white, straight, cisgender men and was aimed towards other white, straight, cisgender men from the very beginning, so anything deviating from that is seen as “unsafe.” The lack of diversity is frustrating for everyone, not just women.
I think it’s silly to think of women as a risky market, though. There are ALREADY tons of female comic book readers. Movies like The Avengers are popular among women and generating more and more female interest in the comics. Anyone who believes that there isn’t a female readership is out of touch. The past few years, I’ve noticed heavier and louder criticism towards both the lack of women working in comic and towards the treatment of female characters. I hope that people at Marvel and DC are beginning to listen, because the creator-owned side of comics sure is. Lately, I’ve seen more and more really great indie titles created by women. Saga, Mara, Womanthology, and Friends with Boys all immediately come to mind.
As much as a lot of mainstream comics frustrate me, the women who do work for them are all top-of-their-game and produce great work. I have mad respect for their creators like Gail Simone, Christina Strain, and Marjorie Liu.
Do you think this is part of the reason the top/flagship titles at most of the top publishers are either male-orientated or have dominant male characters?
Absolutely. People write about what they know. If you’re a man, you know what it’s like to be a man, so you’ll most likely want to write about things from a male perspective. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but problems start when that’s the only perspective ever put forward.
Do you have any new books or jobs coming up that we should know about?
Now that I’m free from college, I’m currently searching for more work. Rob is planning on doing a superhero comic down the line and has asked me to be the colourist, so that’s something to look forward to. Right now, I’m talking a local guy who wants me to illustrate a children’s book for him. Fingers crossed that that works out.
If you could work with any writers/artists out there at the moment, who would it be?
For pencils or inks, I’d love to work with Warren Ellis, Gail Simone, or Nick Spencer. Doing colours, I want to stick with Rob as long as I can. I’d also like to work with Nick Stakal, Jim Mahfood, or Ross Campbell.
Finally, for anyone reading this that hasn't already picked up an issue of CHEW, explain to them why they should.
There’s a U.S. government-sponsored cyborg chicken that’s essentially a weapon of mass destruction. It also has a great story and stellar art, but - let’s be honest - the chicken is the real selling point.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR EVERYONE;
1. Who - dead or alive - is on your fantasy dinner party guest list?
Artemisia Gentileschi, Gautama Buddha, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Hilary Clinton, Oscar Wilde, and J.K. Rowling. I’d then probably be too intimidated by such talent and greatness to actually say anything and I’d just listen to them talk amongst themselves.
2. Favourite TV show?
I don’t watch much TV, but right now the only shows I regularly follow are Adventure Time, Attack on Titan, and Doctor Who (although I need to catch up on that one.)
3. Funniest joke you've ever heard
I have a weird sense of humour. Can’t say that it’s the funniest joke, but this one certainly warranted a chuckle from me:
“A duck walks into a convenience store and says ‘Give me some Chapstick and put it on my bill,’ but the man behind the cash register doesn’t speak English and cannot understand him. He questions whether his God is punishing him because, as all people know, ducks cannot speak. This hallucination must be punishment for a horrid misdeed. The employee breaks down into tears and begins reciting prayer. The duck, slightly miffed, walks out, pondering why he’d need Chapstick anyway, since he has no lips.”
4. If you were an animal, what would you be?
As much fun as it would be to pretend I’d be something cool like a platypus or a tiger or something, I’d most likely be a housecat. Minus the hairballs, of course.
5. 3D movies, yay or nay?
Complete and utter nay – I hate paying more for something that only gives me a headache.
You can follow Taylor on Twitter, Tumblr and Deviant Art.
All three places are good for keeping up to date with awesome pieces of work like this;
Taylor also offers commissions from $10 upwards, you can contact her via any of the methods above.
CHEW is available from all good comic book stores,Waterstones and Amazon.