Halloween, my friends, has come at last and what a perfect time to debut A Taste of You, a tale of horror and humor, illustrated by yours truly and written by the talented Matthew Hayes. I couldn’t be more excited to pick Matthew’s brains (figuratively of course). Read on for the interview.
In terms of art direction, I aimed to make each page visually appealing, even beautiful, despite the macabre subject matter. Matthew has a distinct style for writing comics, a style which blends poetry and storytelling. His clever, five-page script about a cannibalistic serial killer is narrated like a nursery rhyme. My intent was to match the tone of Matthew’s writing which is simultaneously pleasant and gruesome. The creative process was collaborative and filled with long-winded, enthusiastic emails and generous feedback.
Page five is my absolute favourite because of the way violence is portrayed. The gore is shown through suggestion and abstraction, leaving more to the imagination. I have to owe this to Matthew’s poetic language that graces his writing even in parts that don’t appear in the final comic. As an artist, when you’re given script direction like this you just can’t go wrong: “Blood spatter provides a macabre tapestry of art against the starkness of the bright white sheet hanging from the basement ceiling.”
The main challenge of illustrating A Taste of You was to find a design solution for the three separate timelines without breaking up the narrative. The solution was to assign a colour to each timeline: red represents the present, blue represents a few hours before the present and yellow represents the distant past.
So without further ado, I hope you enjoy the interview and A Taste of You comic below.
AZ: Hi Matthew, thanks so much for taking part in this interview. To begin with, tell us a bit about yourself. When did you start writing and when did you start taking it seriously? Why did you decide to write for comics?
MH: First, thanks so much for the excellent work you did to help bring this short little twisted tale together!
So, a brief history of me in the last few years. After getting out of the Marine Corps, I found myself searching for something. I really wasn’t sure what, but I knew I needed to find it. The first step was to end up somewhere peaceful, away from the chaos of the cities. So, my wife and I ended up in the beautiful rural Ozarks in Missouri where we have a nice little homestead bordering the Mark Twain National Forest. We’re fairly self-sufficient and growing and saving our own food has been an amazing experience. We have free range hens laying at least a dozen or more eggs per day, had pigs at one point, plus a pack of the most loyal dogs you’ll come across! The clean air, and really being a part of nature helped open up a creative door in my mind. I always wanted to write, knew it when I was a kid. I always used to tell myself I was going to write one day, but never really had a direction, and when I’d start, I’d rarely go past the second day.
That all changed after my experiences in the military, world travel and combat. Ultimately, it started out as a therapy tool, then really blossomed from there. I enjoyed comics growing up, and after the military, I just started buying comics, trying to get back into them, but, I felt pretty disconnected from it all. You see, so many of the mainstream comics are stereotypes of what it is to carry great burdens. I dunno, it was probably just me, but then, I figured why not try to write a comic, put my money where my mouth is, I guess. I love the medium of comics, so I took a course through Comics Experience and it really helped me peel back the ‘mystery’ of making one. That’s where I had hashed out the script for ‘A Taste Of You.’ Then it was off to the races.
AZ: Tell us about your influences on writing (whether that’s literary, from pop culture or personal experiences etc.)
MH: I can say a majority of my influence comes from music. I love music. I have different music for different moods. Often times, I’ll put my headphones on, match the music to my mood, close my eyes, and let the music show me a story, almost like meditation I guess, crazy huh? I’m a total metal head (including every genre and sub-genre and sub-sub genre) but, I can really listen to almost anything if it has that ‘right’ sound. My personal experiences though are hands down the biggest influence on how I write and why I write what I do.
AZ: What is the inspiration behind A Taste of You?
MH: The inspiration for Karl Leemeister (the main character) came from all different sources. I’ve always loved horror movies and my wife and I are always watching ID Discovery shows. I enjoyed Dexter and I dig all things macabre and dark. I’m fascinated by psychology and what makes us as human’s tick. Why are the crazy one’s crazy? The one poet I’ve always liked is Edgar Allan Poe. He navigated that same dark territory of the human mind, with style. So of course, that was a huge influence.
AZ: In A Taste of You, Karl the serial killer is very methodical. Why did you choose to present the story in three separate timelines rather than chronologically?
MH: Well, the challenge of Andy Schmidt’s course from Comic Experience was to make a 5-page comic with a clear beginning and end. So, you had to establish who your character was, what made them tick, and have it fit into a story that made sense. Really challenging to do in 5 pages! So, I kept only the most important elements of each timeline, and with your excellent visual impact, knew it would easily drive home why someone would be this way, I mean look at how he was raised! I guess I also felt it made sense to just jump right into who he is. The reader has a front row seat to his mind, that’s pretty creepy.
AZ: I noticed in your poetry and in A Taste of You, you explore the psychology of a character through internal dialogue interspersed with moments when the dialogue is directed at the reader. Why do you choose to use meta-reference (when a character is aware that they are being observed by an audience) in your writing that deals with macabre themes?
MH: I like immersive reading experiences. I like feeling a part of the story, no matter how twisted. I felt Karl was, and is, unique and absolutely deadly. He hides like a predator behind good looks and a suave persona. The outside world only sees him this way in the story, especially poor Alice, but as the reader, we get a real sense at just how wrong his thinking is. But in a way, I also think it shows his disconnect towards human beings, to be able to talk to himself and think the way he does is totally unhealthy! Also, I think it adds another creepy and unsettling layer to it all.
AZ: In March Toward Chaos, a non-fiction piece about your experience in the Marine Corps, you write in reference to the company you were leading: “But we all have a dark humour that keeps us from sinking into self-pity, or worse, fear.”
I’ve always thought of dark humour as pure cynicism but through your perspective I came to understand that dark humour can function as a kind of psychological survival. Could you speak more about your take on dark humour and how this has affected your outlook on life?
MH: Ha, sure, if you dare! No, but really, dark humor is more than just crude jokes and very inappropriate behavior. You see, to go day in and day out in a combat zone, you have to stay detached from most of it. And I mean, anyone one of us could have been killed instantly, or we’d be ambushed again, so we were always hyperaware for the times we actually needed to be. You just accept the situation you’re in, but then after a while it becomes normal, then it becomes a habit.
We were there (Helmand, Afghanistan) for seven months, and you really end up getting used to really fluid, chaotic, deadly situations, every-single-day. I’ll never have an adrenaline rush like that again, just imagine having your adrenaline red-lined all the time! So yeah, you just see life different. Gory and gruesome things become a joke for us, I guess that’s what you do to keep yourself distracted.
I remember always walking by their burial grounds. The ground in Afghanistan was so hard, they don’t dig graves. Instead, they pile rubble on top of the dead. After a few months, we’d start noticing more and more piles of rubble, usually small ones since the children there often don’t make it past youth. That sticks with me still, it really made me appreciate everything I have. Remember, when you’re having a bad day, I promise someone is having a worse one. That’s just the harsh reality of that deadly beautiful place.
We had good moments though. Our other section had gotten into an intense firefight with the Taliban in the area, so we geared up as a kind of quick reaction force, to go and gain the advantage. The Taliban had left the area by the time we made it to where the other section was holding security. This lady came out and hugged us because we’d been pushing back the Taliban in that area since we got there. She owned a ‘shop’ and sold bread, and in the middle of the desert, was selling ice! She hugged us and told us she was praying for us, and that she was glad with what we were doing. She was a big ol’ woman which isn’t common in Afghanistan. She had a really intricate tribal tattoo smack dab on her forehead. She was a single woman living in a harsh area, raising who knows how many kids, 12, maybe 15? So, even amidst the chaos of that place, we had our positive moments.
AZ: Psychology seems to be a reoccurring theme in your writing. Even in March Towards Chaos you talk about managing the thoughts in one’s head. I am curious to know how your personal experience has shaped the way you deal with the creative struggle or the struggle with other fears that are not life threatening?
MH: I live a pretty peaceful life, pretty humble. That’s really been the key. Growing most of my own food and having a level of self-sufficiency has helped keep everything in perspective. Honestly though, I just feel more at ease closer to nature. I guess that’s how I deal with it, one day at a time. So far, the only struggle creatively is trying to stay focused and on task. I want to write five different stories in three different mediums, all at the same time! Obviously that’s not realistic, so the challenge is to stay humble and not let my thoughts and ideas spin out of control. Writing has been a great release for me, but, I also have to be careful. I have a tendency to go all in and turn something I love into something I dread because I set my own expectations to nearly unattainable heights…that’s still a work in progress.
AZ: Earlier this year you completed a writing course at Comic Experience taught by Adam Schmidt. What was your biggest take away from the experience and what tips would you offer to people who want to write but haven’t taken that first step?
MH: I think my biggest take away from the course was there is no right or wrong way to develop a script. Sure, there are a few ‘standard’ methods, but it really boils down to how well you convey what you’ve written to the artist. It also really helped remove the mystery behind what it takes to make a comic. It was a great course and was exactly what I’d been looking for. It gave me the confidence in moving forward into the daunting world of comics.
When it comes to actual writing though, the most generic answer is that you have to actually do it, but, that is the first and most important step. The biggest challenge for me was making writing a habit. So, I forced myself to sit down every day and write something. I approached it like I do weight training: I set a time slot, and didn’t let anything distract me. That’s the key. If you really want to write, you HAVE to start writing something down. It always looks so ugly when it births out of your brain, but once it’s out, it’s easy to start shaping it into something substantial.
Now, I write every single day. Sometimes I focus on poetry, sometimes on scripts, sometimes on prose, but I strive to write something every day. But hey, I’m still learning as I go! It just has to become a habit.
AZ: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming projects? Do you have any plans to continue writing for comics?
MH: I have a few more short story scripts I plan on being a part of an anthology of creepy unsettling characters. Each is written in a different way and each story explores the psychology of what makes violent people tick, do they see themselves that way? I absolutely plan to continue to write comics, but as it stands, I’ve put script writing aside to focus on a science fiction story I’m currently writing, called ‘The Great Divide.’
As you stated, a recurring theme in my writing is psychology, and it’s no different here. I’ve also been writing lots of poetry and may start getting themes together for a future compilation of poems. I’d like to stay independent as much as possible. The hard work doesn’t scare me. Everything I write will be posted on my site, as well as Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/theunlikelyfellow). I’m incredibly unknown, and that’s okay, you have to start somewhere. Hopefully though, I can entice people to come along the journey with me!
And again Angela, thank you so much for this opportunity, and for the excellent work and time you put into this dark and twisted tale. Hopefully we can do some work together in the near future!
I’d like to thank Matthew again for taking the time to answer the questions and sharing his unique perspective with us. You can keep updated with all of Matthew’s projects and get in touch with him here:
To read A Taste of You on Issuu, simply click on Karl below (don’t keep him waiting).
The story may not be appropriate for all viewers so viewer discretion advised.
P.S. A special thanks to Blambot Comic Fonts & Lettering for providing free font licenses for indie creators.