Sunday, July 5, 2009


Elephant Words, the flash fiction site created by Nick Papaconstantinou, is a cool concept. Six writers given between a day and six days on a rotating schedule to create a short piece of writing based on a new image each week (usually prose, but it can be poetry, comics, a script, an excerpt, or any other piece of writing inspired by the image). For the first number of months, I contributed my own pieces in the public forums and eventually got the chance to be a part of the site with a six-week stint there. This is the third piece - based on the image below - I contributed to the public forums in the second official week of the site's existence. I like how the words loop around so that the opening line closes the piece, but like most of these quick "sketches" it is something I'd like to return to and expand a little for possible publication somewhere down the line. I hope you enjoy.


The Call of the Sea
by Chris Beckett

The call of the sea was urgent in his ears.

Of course, growing up on Ledge Island had afforded Jared Ames little in the way of job options. Not counting the schoolteacher or the post master, lobstering was the only vocation available to those living a dozen miles off the Maine coast. But that didn’t matter to Jared. As long as he could remember, he’d wanted to be a lobsterman.

Jared was a loner, always had been. When he was starting out, he took on a sternman, but that lasted little more than two weeks after which time Jared made it perfectly clear the man was no longer needed. People made Jared nervous, though maybe that wasn’t the correct word. Whatever it was, he didn’t care to socialize with others. It was the sea’s companionship he craved. Its quiet murmur and endless depths stirred something deep within him, and the mysteries held beneath the cold water excited his imagination like nothing else could. He had the sea in his veins, and Jared would never be rid of that.

Early on, it was obvious that Jared was just a natural lobsterman. He was always the first one out, without exception, and at night his boat was the last one in with hauls that were always overflowing. Jared was the only one on the island who would routinely slip in to dock with three lockers full of the dark crustaceans.

This success left many of the older fishermen scratching their heads. The boy, as they were wont to call Jared, had done little in the way of apprenticing, only serving as a sternman for one summer before getting his own boat and license at eighteen. There were more than a few whispers that he might be hauling in from others’ traps as well as his own, but nothing could ever be proven, and eventually those whispers faded away.

And so it was, after ten years of calloused hands and long days, that Jared Ames had gained the respect, if not the love, of the tiny community on Ledge Island. It was something that might have made the young man smile, if he’d been aware of it.



Billy Fernald looked around, but the only person that caught his notice was Jared gliding his boat into the dock. He stared at him for a second more and then went back to work.


Fernald looked up again, and this time Jared was waving to him. Bill stood up and dropped the lobster back into the tank. Tugging his ball cap off his head, Bill scratched at his thinning hair and waited for Jared to dock.

The two of them had been in the same class together, though that was true of every kid on the island. One room, K-8, with a new teacher every couple years. But Billy and Jared were the same age and grew up together. Even as children, it was obvious Jared preferred to be left alone. Billy tried to include his friend, but Jared wasn’t interested, and eventually Billy just gave up.

Once they reached eighth grade and “graduated,” the division between the two of them widened precipitously as Billy, at that point insisting on being called Bill, went to the mainland to attend high school. He boarded with a family that summered on “the Ledge” and received his diploma from Mattanawcook Academy, placing somewhere in the middle third of the class. After graduation, Bill considered doing something else with his life and took some classes at a local community college, but like most island boys he found his way back to Ledge Island in order to be a lobsterman. By the time Bill came back and got on the waiting list for sternmen, Jared was already working his way up the food chain. This engendered some resentment at first, which was exacerbated by the typically cool reception from Jared. But seven years later that was water under the bridge. Still, it didn’t dull the surprise any when the hermit came in to dock calling his name.

“Billy!” The excitement was evident on Jared’s face as he tied off his boat.

Fernald strolled over to Jared and stopped short when the grown man jumped from his boat onto the moist planks.

“How was your catch?” asked Bill.

“Good,” Jared said breathlessly.

“I finally found it,” he said as Bill looked at him curiously.


“What I been lookin’ for,” said Jared. His eyes were wide and gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Bill couldn’t remember ever seeing him like this . . . animated, excited. It was disconcerting and he took a small step back, hopeful Jared didn’t have something that was catching.

“It’s out there they’re out there it was amazing.” Jared ignored his breathing reflex as he tried to tell Bill what he’d found.

“You need to come with me tomorrow I can take you there you’ll love it –”

“Jeezis, will you stop a second.” Bill Fernald held his hands up, trying to snap Jared out of his rambling trance.

“What are you talking about?”

“Shhh. Don’t raise your voice Bill. I don’t want everyone to hear.” Jared looked around, eyes bugging out of his head, and decided it was safe. Sidling up to Bill he leaned toward the other man’s ear and whispered softly, “Mermaids.”

Bill retreated two paces, a broad smile crossing his face.

“Fuck off,” he said, beginning to laugh.

“No. I’m serious. I saw them. They’re out there.

“They’ve been waiting for me; they said so.” Jared’s eyes glazed as he spoke about his mermaids. Bill tried to stifle his laughter out of courtesy, but in his mind he knew his friend – which was the best, if not exactly correct, description that came to mind – had finally lost it. Too many days alone on the sea had cracked Jared Ames’s psyche. And it was at this point he decided to try and re-enter society.


“Okay. You sure they weren’t seals or a whale?”

Jared cut him off. “You’re not listening. They spoke to me. They want me to join them.

“They gave me this.” From a front pocket of his coveralls, Jared pulled out a delicate necklace with a large crystal hanging from it. He held it up, light refracting through it, painting deep beams of color over the front of Bill’s t-shirt.

“That’s nice,” was all Bill could think to say.

“It’s from them.” Jared bent at the waist, a pleading look on his face. “They told me the light would shine through it more purely because it came from the sea. Look. Can’t you see how much deeper the colors are than those things Mrs. Boucher picks up in Camden?

“Look.” He stuck the crystal under Bill’s chin, insistent that his friend see what Jared saw. Bill took the necklace from Jared and turned it over in his hand, peering at it for effect. Holding it up to the light, he shut one eye and examined the crystal as he’d seen jewelers do on the mainland.

“Yeah.” Bill dragged the word out slowly. “I can see what you mean. It is a darker color.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said as he handed it back to Jared.

“So, you’ll come out with me tomorrow?”

Bill didn’t like the frantic look in Jared’s eyes. “I can’t. I need to fish if I’m gonna pay the mortgage.”

Jared’s face dropped as he returned the necklace to his pocket.

“But if I see you out there, I’ll come over and see what we can see,” added Bill as way of an apology. “Okay?”

“Yeah.” Jared waved his hand absently as he turned back to his boat.

“All right then. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.

“Take care, Jared.” Bill watched him walk over to the boat and then turned back toward his own where there was still a lot of work to be done before supper.


A few weeks later, Bill was walking toward the western end of the island. He and Maggie were fighting again and he needed some fresh air. The full moon hung low in the sky, its brilliance illuminating the rutted dirt pack before him. He had no destination in mind, but as he rounded a bend in the road, turning into the long shadows of the pine trees, Bill saw where his feet were leading him.

Up ahead on the right, settled back nicely beneath a patch of maple trees, sat Jared’s house. It was a small one-story shack that didn’t look like much from the outside. Approaching the driveway, Bill spied a single light shining dully behind one of the windows. He paused for a second deciding if he should go in. Ever since the conversation they’d had on the dock, Bill had been considering talking to Jared. This feeling had become more urgent since Jared had started returning from a day’s fishing with less than a flatlander’s catch. And Jared was no flatlander.
Wiping his palms on the sides of his jeans, Bill walked up the narrow path and knocked on the front door. There was no response from within, but a few seconds later Jared was standing there, the door half open, a faint stream of light shooting into the darkness.



“What brings you out tonight? Maggie pissed again?” Jared said this latter statement matter-of-factly.

Bill pulled off his worn ball cap and scratched the top of his head. “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” Jared pulled the door wider and stepped back as Bill walked inside.

“Have a seat.” Jared motioned to a tattered old recliner that had patches of duct tape on the seat and back. Bill accepted the invitation and discovered it was surprisingly comfortable for such an obvious relic.

“So. What can I do for you?” asked Jared.

“Well. I don’t know.” Bill looked down at his feet as he searched for what he wanted to say. He’d gone over this conversation a dozen times in his head already but none of it was available now.

Finally he asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know. What is wrong with me Bill?”

“You haven’t brought home a good catch in over a month. You’re talking to people when you see them at the post office or in the street. And you keep babbling on about these mermaids to anyone that’ll listen.

“Don’t you see how they look at you when you tell them? They think you’re a freak, and I have to agree.”

“But they are real, Bill.

“Do you know the beauty hiding under the sea out there? It’s amazing, and I want to see it. I want to see it all. And they can show me.”

“Will you shut up about this shit? God, I get shit at home and now I get shit here.” Bill stood up quickly from his seat, pacing in front of the recliner.

“I came here to see if there was some way I could help. I wanted to talk some sense to you,” continued Bill.

Jared looked up from where he’d sat down on his brown plaid couch and was touched by the worry in his friend’s eyes. But there was nothing to be done about it.

“Bill. I’m sorry you think I’m tetched, but I can’t help what I’ve seen.” The calm way he said it was unnerving. Bill wanted to grab the man he’d known as a boy and shake him. Maybe if he shouted loud enough, reality would sink in. Something had to work. But nothing would. So Bill shoved his hands deep into his pockets and made to leave.

“Where are you going?” asked Jared.

“I only wanted to get out of the house. I don’t want to fight with you too. If you’re seeing fairies, I’ll leave you to it.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” said Jared.

“Yeah, me too,” said Bill as he reached for the door and let himself out.


The following month went along in a similar fashion to the previous. Jared continued to be the first one out in the morning, last one in at night, but still no worthwhile hauls to speak of. Bill worried about it for that first week after their late-night discussion but soon gave up. He couldn’t divide his anxiety between his own problems and his friend’s, especially when his friend wasn’t willing to listen to reason.

And then came a day when Bill was sailing back into harbor and Jared’s boat was already moored, as if waiting for Bill to arrive home. He eyed the small fishing boat as he cut the motor to his own and let it glide the rest of the way in. Tying it off, he made his way up the dock, walking past the spot where Jared’s boat bobbed on the water.

He only paused for a moment and continued up the slight incline to the post office. The ancient bell above the door jangled as he entered the tiny room. Walking over to the window, Bill leaned down and called in to Harry.

“Hey, old man. Got anything for me today?”

“If you’re lookin’ to get a beat down, yeah I got somethin’ for ya,” chuckled the postmaster as he came around the corner carrying Bill’s mail in his large hand.

“Thanks,” said Bill with a sly smile.

“Don’t thank me. It’s my job. If I could burn all your junk and get away with it, I would.

“How’s the fishin’ out there?” asked Harry as Bill scanned his envelopes.

“Good,” said Bill absently.

“Well, you must be doing better than some cuz all I get from them is bitchin’.”

“Yeah,” said Bill almost in a whisper.

“I gotta go. Take care.” Bill reached for the door and almost tripped as he quickly made his way back outside.

Turning the corner of the building, he put all but one of the envelopes into his back pocket and then stared at the single manila one he’d retained. There was no return address on it and no postmark. It was clasped at the top but didn’t appear to have been fully sealed. Pulling at the flap, Bill tore it open and turned the envelope upside down, allowing the contents to drop into his empty palm.

It was the crystal. The one that Jared had shown him that evening on the dock. Bill’s chest tightened as he rolled it in his hand. Lifting it up to the light, he was again amazed at how dazzling were the colors that refracted through its chiseled surface. He drew the crystal closer, mesmerized by the deep hues playing across his vision. The background noise around him faded, drawing slowly down.

And the call of the sea was urgent in his ears.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

FYC replay: Craig Tailleffer

Another look back at my Pulse column - For Your Consideration - a look at indy cartoonist Craig Tailleffer, whose WAHOO MORRIS combines fantasy, magic, and rock 'n roll. Also, his work on Robert Tinnell's very personal story - THE CHELATION KID - about his family's trials in working to bring up an autistic baby is an amazingly heartfelt and moving story that is what this medium is all about. You should check out what they've done so far in the links below.

Recently nominated for a prestigious Harvey award for his work with Robert Tinnell on The Chelation Kid, Craig Taillefer is storming back into comics with a vengeance. Click on in and learn more about The Chelation Kid and Taillefer’s own Wahoo Morris, and hear what he has to say about working in a medium he loves.

For Your Consideration: Craig A. Taillefer’s Wahoo Morris plus The Chelation Kid from Taillefer and Robert Tinnell By Chris Beckett

The 411:
Wahoo Morris vol. 1
Story & Art by Craig A. Taillefer
96pp. b/w
Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics

The Chelation Kid
Written by Robert Tinnell
Drawn by Craig A. Taillefer
serialized webcomic

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Wahoo Morris is an indy rock band comprised of three longtime friends – Chas on bass, Sebastien on lead guitar, and Arnie on drums. Each of the three musicians has played in a number of small bands, with and without one another, to varied degrees of success. But finally, with Wahoo Morris, their music careers seem to be looking up. Some of this positive outlook comes from the lead singer of the group, Alicia, a newcomer to the area music scene. The band has not only seen their club crowds slowly grow, but they are also getting more airtime on local radio stations. More importantly, there is also a chemistry in the group that seemed to be just out of reach in much of their previous bands.

Despite the positive outlook for the band and its members, nothing comes easy. A growing, unstated attraction between Sebastien and Alicia does not seem the most prudent course to follow, but does make for some humorous situations. The uneasiness felt by these two is compounded when Sebastien, affectionately called Bash by his friends, walks Alicia home after a gig. Invited inside, he is getting comfortable and about to kiss Alicia when she abruptly shoves him away and tells him to “Get out!” Confused – and now without his guitar, which he left in Alicia’s apartment – Sebastien heads home where his dreams that night, as well as those of Alicia, reveal all of their hopes and insecurities that have risen up as a result of the evening’s abrupt finish.

Alicia’s unease stems from her affinity with the occult. It is very real, and she practices its teachings thanks to a large library that Bash discovers while in her apartment. Alicia’s fear is that Sebastien's feelings for her may only be a byproduct of these extracurricular activities. Luckily, this single incident does not derail the band as they accept an invitation to be interviewed on a local radio station and continue to make plans for upcoming shows. But, if the sexual tension does not work to dissolve the band, the evil spirit lurking in Alicia’s mirror just might.

I was aware of Wahoo Morris in its earlier incarnation, having enjoyed a short preview in BLIP (The Book of Little Independent Publishers) a 64-page sampler of independent press comics, but I had never seen any copies of the actual book until this past year’s SPX where Craig Taillefer was exhibiting. Taillefer takes a chance with Wahoo Morris in that it is a “talking heads” book with guns, spandex, and supervillains all noticeably absent. Much of the book revolves around the every day discussions and interactions with which we are all quite familiar. This may not appease the typical comic book fan, but Taillefer has smartly created a book that can appeal to all types of readers, and a book that I find vastly more interesting.

Taillefer is an accomplished artist whose work reminds me at times of Bryan Hitch. His clean linework and capable storytelling are as good as any artist working for the “Big Two,” and Taillefer’s characters look like real people rather than pictures of models trying to act natural. These are the people walking down your streets, passing outside your windows; they are you and me, and this is not only a much needed breath of fresh air, but it also allows Taillefer’s audience to more easily connect with the characters since they are so recognizable. Taillefer is also able to compose a crowded panel without making it feel claustrophobic. Much of the action in the book takes place within clubs and bars, and Taillefer handles these situations with aplomb, giving readers the feeling of being at a teeming club without losing the focus of the panel or sacrificing storytelling. This is certainly no small feat and Taillefer seems just as at ease drawing these crowd scenes as he does when conveying the quiet moments between two people.

Taillefer’s writing is top-notch as well. All of the scenes in Wahoo Morris feel very real. Nothing is forced and the narrative flows effortlessly from one page to the next. The dialogue is smartly written, Taillefer’s ear for how people talk in different situations is spot on, and any reader could comfortably assimilate themselves into the conversations these close friends have. Taillefer also letters the book and utilizes this oft-overlooked aspect of comics in a way not seen since Dave Sim’s work in Cerebus. Whether accentuating the letters with a heavier brush stroke to suggest exaggeration in a character’s voice or scratching white lines through the larger letters when trying to talk in a loud club, Taillefer’s lettering adds life and a distinct voice to this book.

Wahoo Morris volume one collects the first four issues of the comic. Subsequent pages are being serialized online at Taillefer’s website. If you are looking for a good read with great artwork then Wahoo Morris is definitely for you. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Chelation Kid is the story of Robert Tinnell, his family, and in particular his young son Jack. Like any other child, Jack is playful and energetic, but upon turning two all of that changes. No longer engaged with the world around him, Jack stops speaking, stops pretending, and stops interacting with peers. He is diagnosed with autism and the Tinnells realize nothing will ever be the same.

In researching this disease, the Tinnells discover that the most likely cause of their son’s affliction is thimerasol, a mercury derivative used in vaccines. Angered and feeling betrayed, the Tinnells embark upon a costly journey of bio-medical intervention in an attempt to rescue their son. From the use of cod liver oil, resulting in Jack’s seeming first step back, on to chelation, a method of removing heavy metals – including mercury – from the body, the Tinnells try anything that seems plausible. Progress is slow and there are always setbacks, but by educating themselves and refusing to give in to the great despair hanging over them, the Tinnells are able to move forward with their lives.

The Chelation Kid is a heartfelt webcomic created as a daily comic strip. This format, an extremely rigid one rife with expectations from readers, is a difficult one to do well and Tinnell and Taillefer pull it off with aplomb. Working within the three to five panel framework these two artists manage to imbue each chapter – of which there are 125 currently available – with tension and humor, moving the narrative forward while educating readers and even sparking each chapter with a laugh or two.

Through it all, Tinnell never seems to lose his sense of humor, a monumental task for such a serious and personal enterprise. He achieves a precarious balance between the anxiety of everyday life and a sly wit that some might find offensive. But if we lose our ability to laugh, all that’s left are tears.

Along with the humor, it is Tinnell’s brutal honesty that allows The Chelation Kid to rise above the mundane. In one of the most heart-wrenching episodes, Tinnell confesses to a moment of weakness when his wife asks him to watch Jack for a minute. All Robert wants is to watch the game, to have a brief semblance of normalcy. A minute later Jack is gone. These episodes are harrowing, and probably affect me all the more because I am a parent who not only understands the wish to have a little time to myself, but also the horror of losing your child in plain sight. It’s frightening and it makes you sick to your stomach, and Tinnell and Taillefer get those feelings across almost too well.

Currently on hiatus, The Chelation Kid gets my highest recommendation. It is an extremely important comic that will hopefully find a wider audience with its recent Harvey nomination for Best Online Comics Work. So, do yourself a favor and check it out at

An Interview with Craig Taillefer:

Chris Beckett: Wahoo Morris is obviously not a typical comic story, which is definitely part of its appeal for me. But what made you decide to tell this tale in comics form? And, in a more general sense, why comics in the first place?

Craig Taillefer: I'm not really sure I know how to answer that one, other than to say that comics is the only story telling medium I know how to use. I've been drawing comics and 'writing' my own stories since I was 11 or 12, so it's a natural medium for me to work in. Why comic in the first place? I don't know. I've been 'reading' them since I was 4 (couldn't actually read when I got my first one) and I've been drawing with the intention of being a professional artist since around age 7 or 8, so it was natural when I realized people got paid to draw comics that that was what I wanted to do for a living. It's been a little off again on again, but for the most part I have realized that pre-teen ambition.

CB: Because of the emphasis on the imagery in the comics medium I would assume you are often looked upon as an artist first. What instruction have you had in art, and what would you say is the most important thing that newer artists trying to break into comics should focus on in order to better their chances of success?

CT: I tend to think of myself as an artist first as I can't really imagine writing scripts for someone else to draw, while I draw from others scripts from time to time. I don't really have much formal training. I got an early start working professionally in a studio, so I think I learned a fair amount by example and by experience. All my animation training has been on the job as well.
I don't think there really is 'one' thing that newer artists need to focus on to succeed. The 'indie' press is filled with such a diverse set of styles and techniques, whereas what is popular in 'mainstream' comics changes so regularly that pushing one thing on the new crop will backfire. If someone had told me 5 or 6 years ago that doing photo-referenced realistic artwork was the way to go to get superhero work, I would have laughed at them. I used to tell kids with 'Image style' portfolios who would ask for advice that I couldn't give them any, because while my advice would be good towards bettering themselves as an artist, it would be counter to what they have to do to get work at the big two. Looks like I was wrong! Oops. So, my usual advice, which is to learn to draw from life, take life drawing classes, and learn to draw properly before breaking the rules, isn't so bad advice for comics after all.

CB: Being the writer and the artist for the same project is a unique position within the greater context of comics as a medium. What is your approach to the creation of Wahoo Morris, does the writing of the story come first or do you begin with images and work from there?

CT: I see it all visually in my head when creating it, so images and words come pretty much simultaneously. I've been known to write it out visually as well as to do full scripts. Full scripts seem to be the norm these days, but I 'see' everything very visually so what is in my head and what comes out on paper are usually fairly close. After that it is a fairly traditional process. I do everything but the odd touch up and special effect on paper. I pencil on Strathmore series 500 Bristol, letter directly on the pages, then ink with a Windsor Newton Series 7 #4, various dip quill pens, and Higgin's Black Magic india ink. It all gets scanned into the computer, compiled for output and sent to the printer on disc.

CB: The Chelation Kid, with Robert Tinnell, is a very different story – and a very different format - from Wahoo Morris. How different is your approach to The Chelation Kid than Wahoo, and is it very challenging for you or – as Neil Gaiman has said of the difference between prose, comics, and movies – just a matter of flexing different creative muscles?

CT: The Chelation Kid, which can be read at, is a little different in that I am interpreting a script rather than writing a script I already see in my head. The one adjustment I had to make was that I eventually stopped doing thumbnails as the format of a daily strip is much more rigid. I don't have to play the usual game of mental tetris trying to fit together the different sized shots I want onto the page. In a daily you only have one tier so the only variation is how many panels and how wide are they. So with CK I just do little doodles in the margins of the script and then go directly to penciling. It was a joy to work on and I am thrilled that our work has been recognized with the honour of a Harvey Awards nomination.

CB: Can you tell us a little more about other projects you are working on, or extensions of these two works, and where readers can find them?

CT: Well, in the last year, in addition to Wahoo Morris and the Chelation Kid, I illustrated two issues of a series for Moonstone Books, Cleopatra, written by CJ Henderson. I'm not sure when it will be out, but it will probably be early 2008. For the immediate future though, my focus is on completing Wahoo Morris Book Two (out later this year) and Wahoo Morris Book Three (out later in '08). I have another creator owned project in the planning stages, an extension of a one shot story I did a number of years ago, but it won't be on the drawing board until Wahoo Morris book Three is done.