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.

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