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Comics for everybody: an interview with Tom Taylor

Tuesday, 8 July, 2014

On the eve of Oz Comic Con, Farrago sat down with Melbourne-based and born writer Tom Taylor. Taylor currently writes two of DC Comics’ best selling and critically acclaimed titles. They are Earth 2, a re-imagining of the DC universe set five years after the deaths of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and Injustice: Gods Among Us—a tie-in series to the popular DC fighting game—in which Superman takes over the world and creates his own new world order.

His Aurealis Award winning graphic novel series The Deep, a sci-fi fantasy adventure tale centring on a family of aquanauts exploring the mysteries of the ocean, is now in production, in partnership with the ABC and US-based animation firm Technicolor, for its own CGI animated children’s series.

Did you know that your work has actually been studied at Melbourne?

Yeah at one stage a play of mine was. I remember a student coming up to me and saying that, ‘Hey I loved The Example’ and I said, ‘Cool the comic or the film?’. Then they clarified saying ‘No, we’re reading your play at uni’. Somewhere else in the States was studying it too for a bit. I had no idea. It’s awesome but it would be cool to get an email.

You essentially joined the circus, then years later wrote Luke Skywalker comics and now Superman and the Justice League? So many dreams compacted in one. How’d that happen?

Oh it was just a natural progression. I’m joking. It sounds vaguely egotistical but whenever I want to do something I just go and do it. It doesn’t always go so well but then I’ll do it and do it and do it until I’m good at it. So I was a professional juggler for ten years and when I decided to be a professional I didn’t even know how to juggle. I just thought it looked cool. I started standing in a park trying to juggle three balls and then eventually I was juggling knives and fire sticks over my now wife. So it’s just one of those things, and it was the same with writing. I never exactly studied creative writing I just did it and did it and did it.

MEDIA_TheExample_470x720I got into comics by adapting one of my plays, The Example, and having it published with Gestalt, who I eventually published The Deep with. Then I started pitching Star Wars comics to Dark Horse. They said, ‘Yes, you’ve written a comic about a briefcase in Flinders Street Station, you’re definitely qualified to write for a galaxy far, far away’. Really it was my friend Colin Wilson that got me the gig. He did the art for The Example and had been working on Star Wars for a while. I had him on my side and that was my way in. I owe him everything.

So when you were closer to student age, say early twenties, where were you in all of that?

Back then I was doing a theatre course and working with small companies doing uni theatre at Swinburne. I’d already been a professional juggler for a while so on the side I was doing street performance shows and corporate gigs. Odd things. Basically I was a dancing monkey boy for cash. Oh and I was singing in lots of musicals and had been working in childcare.

It’s a bit of a cliché but if you could go back and speak to 20-year-old Tom Taylor what would he think of where you are now?

I don’t need to go back to when I was twenty. I had this revelation earlier during the year when I realised that had I met myself five years ago I would’ve been too scared to come and say hi. It was a weird, weird moment.

I remember going to San Diego, my first ever San Diego Comic Con, and I had my Star Wars book out and everything and I was still too scared to actually go and approach the comic book creators that I really admired. But now people are like that with me. You know I sit at these conventions and you see people walk passed then stare at you from afar. Every so often you’ll get someone who’ll stare at you for an hour and you’ll invite them over and they’ll say, ‘Oh sorry I was too scared to come up’ and I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, I get it’ because I’m still like that. I’m friends with this author now and the first time I met her I sort of walked up to her and went, ‘Hhhhiii hhHavvinng a GoOd Con’. I just couldn’t get myself together.

On a creepy side note I’ve totally seen you a few times in comic stores and just whimpered out of saying howdy.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about! I get it but seriously I’m just a big fanboy. Just say hi.

As a fanboy you’ve said before that there are depressing moments having to write an evil Superman in Earth 2 as well as in Injustice, but how much wish fulfilment is there when you get to sit down and say yes, I’m going to have Superman single-handedly obliterate the entire Green Lantern Corps or amputate someone’s arm with his heat vision?

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Amputating someone’s arm with heat vision and then picking up their giant arm and beating them with it in the face was kind of hilarious. I don’t like writing evil Superman. I wish I could write good Superman all the time because he’s my favourite hero but you’ve just got to go for it and make it as ridiculous and over-the-top as you can. So that means yes, you want him to pick up the Washington Monument and spear it straight into the White House. You know, you come up with that idea and you go, ‘well, why not?’.

Do you have moments when you’re like, ‘no I can’t do that’?

No, I never say that. I always do it. See, this is the best thing about comics. I’ve written plays, I’ve written television, and I’ve written for screen. Comics don’t have a budget. Well, they do but you don’t have to worry about it. It costs the same amount for an artist to have three people sitting and talking in a room as it does for Superman to level the White House. It costs the same amount to blow up a planet as it does to have a guy sitting in a chair. You really can do anything and that’s the joy of comics. You’ve got to have that in your mind as you write. You think of the biggest over the top stuff you can and if you need to pull it back you will, but you never start with it pulled back.

Video game tie-in comics are usually pretty meh. They’ll go for a few months then disappear. With Injustice, the book comes out and all of a sudden it’s a New York Times Best Seller and people are going crazy for it. You’re now in Year Two, you just announced Year Three, potentially a planned fourth and fifth. When you get this response how do you feel?

It’s cool. I’ll admit I do a lot of navel-gazing and just lurk on the site for the Amazon Best Sellers List. I really, really do. Especially like on the single-issue comics list. A year after they’ve come out we’ve still got a few of our books on it every single week and they show up in the top twenty and when a new one’s out we’re almost always number one, two or three or whatever. I’m just going to say it, beating My Little Pony on the sale’s chart is pretty much the best thing ever.

On one level though it makes it really hard because we’re getting these great responses and it means we need to deliver on that. It takes me a lot longer to write comics than most people do. I went to bed at 10am this morning and I was in bed at 11am the morning before because I was up writing scripts that I could’ve put to bed five hours or so before I did. I imagine 99 per cent of people wouldn’t even notice the difference but I would.

Now The Deep is very different. It’s completely creator owned and anyone can read it, especially children.

That’s why I did it. I wrote it because so many comics aren’t for kids anymore. I wanted to be able to say, ‘Mine, look, here is the greatest storytelling medium in the world and it’s for you too’, as opposed to ‘Here is the greatest storytelling medium in the world and look here’s a guy tearing off another guy’s face’. They’d run away crying.

I’m glad you brought up comics for everyone. I think your run on Earth 2 shows that.

MEDIA_TheDeepJamesBrouwer_813x400Well yeah, our new Superman just got revealed last Wednesday and we’re having a massive response. It’s been the most exciting thing in the world. I got to create my own Superman and yes, he happens to be black. Nicola Scott and I recently created the new Earth 2 Aquawoman, again to a really positive response. In our world Atlantis is actually near the Philippines so the Atlanteans are more closely related to Filipinos. I had to do that, not for like a diversity gimmick but because I’ve studied so much sea stuff for The Deep and there’s like a whole Bermuda Triangle thing happening near there. I thought I’ve got to play with this. We’ve put Louis Lane in a superhuman android body so that she can fly on her own. I brought back Allan Scott, DC’s first gay Green Lantern, but that was always the plan. He’s too big a character, too politically important. But again he’s just a character who happens to be gay. We don’t have him kissing a man in every issue because it’s not about that.

Who they are or who they love or what colour their skin is, it’s a part of them but it doesn’t fully define them. You’re not just writing a character you’re writing a real person and that’s what it’s about. Some people are complaining that they want the old heroes, the old cast, but they’ve already got their books. We’re building a new world and you don’t often get that opportunity, so yeah, we want it to be for everyone.