Exploring ‘The Deep’ With Writer Tom Taylor

The Tom Taylor-penned indie comic The Deep: Here Be Dragons is coming in August from Gestalt Publishing. The book—featuring art by James Brouwer—follows the adventures of a family of aquanauts, the Nektons, and they traverse the globe’s oceans in search of adventure and new species. Taylor is no stranger to comics, having written for Dark Horse’s Star Wars: Invasion with upcoming DC work on the horizon.

I’ve had the opportunity to read the first 24 pages of the 88-page OGN and I have to say that it’s pretty impressive stuff thanks to Taylor’s simple and clear take on the Nekton family combined with the wonderful cartoon-style art by Brouwer. It strikes just the right balance between smart, funny, and menacing with the family element being present and a major throughline but never reducing what I read to sitcom material.

Gushing aside, here’s what Taylor had to say about his book in a recent e-mail after the break.

MTV Geek: What was the genesis of The Deep as a project?

Tom Taylor: I think the human race needs mysteries. We need the unexplainable and the unknown. I love knowing that there IS more out there, things that no human being has yet seen or experienced. Things that we can’t immediately explain and, as we become more connected by technology, aren’t a convenient button press away. It’s a kind of magic when we read about people making a journey to the inside of a dormant volcano where no one has ever set foot or hear about the discovery of a new species.

Recently, an Australian scientist in Vietnam discovered a vampire flying frog. A Vampire. Flying. Frog. Little tadpoles with fangs! How can your mind not be a little bit blown by that? Tell me you’re world is not just a little but better for this? Now, take that wonder and think, “Hey, one of the largest creatures on Earth has barely been seen.” The Colossal squid is down there. We think they grow far larger than any of the juveniles we’ve ever found washed up dead on our beaches. There are actual leviathans living on our world and we’ve never seen them. And if something that large can remain hidden… what else is down there?

I’ve always wanted to explore this more and I had a little drawing of a young boy in a small submarine stuck above my computer monitor for years. Next to this image, I wrote the following words:

My family are explorers.
We have been for generations.
Some argue that there is nowhere left to explore, that everything on earth that can be discovered has already been found.
They say that to truly explore we need to leave our planet.
While others look up to the stars, my family knows that there are also stars beneath us, that there are an infinite number of things that shine brightly in the darkness below.
Most of our world lies unexplored, unexplained. There are things lurking in the seas that have only ever been spoken of in myth.
My family are explorers.
We have been for generations.
We explore… The Deep.

This image and these words were sitting there when I first began writing Star Wars comics. While I spent all of this time writing in a galaxy far, far away, my mind was racing with the possibilities of what could be right here on Earth. I wanted to know what that small boy in his submarine and his family were uncovering down there.

Eventually, I shared this with my editor at Gestalt Publishing, Wolfgang Bylsma. He wanted to know too, to the point where he wanted to publish it. Soon, I had written the first adventure of the Nekton family, and the single most perfect artist for this book in James Brouwer came on board.

Ah, Brouwer. He makes me so happy. His art is like what fairy floss should really taste like.

Geek: Tell us about your cast of characters—how does a family end up becoming deep-sea explorers?

TT: The Nekton family have always been explorers. This is what they do. They are born into it. William Nekton was born on a boat and, with his parents often coming back to the Coral Triangle on their adventures, he grew up alongside the children of the Bajau Sea Nomads. He was born to the sea and, despite a brief period spent as an Olympic swimmer, he was already exploring the ocean’s secrets long before he met his future wife, Kaiko.

Kaiko had an early life which was also heavily influenced by the ocean. Her parents safeguard one of the largest marine reserves in the world and Kaiko was raised there. She is fiercely protective of all sea-life and, as a marine biologist, she is always eager to know more about the life beneath the waves and discover new species.

It’s no surprise that Will and Kaiko have two children that share their passions. And the fact that Fontaine and Ant have grown up on a submarine, the Arronax, means they’re very gifted aquanauts despite their age. There’s also a fish called Jeffrey but I don’t know much about his story… he’s not very talkative… he’s a fish.

Geek: You can count on one hand the number of characters that are multi-ethnic in big-name titles. What appealed to you about giving the Nekton family this composition?

TT: Well, I think the first part of your question played a large part. The world is a diverse place and not every family of heroes looks like The Incredibles. We haven’t made a big deal of this in The Deep. We simply wanted a unique cast of heroes who aren’t from anywhere. Their ethnicity and countries of origin aren’t talked about or pointed out in the book at all. The sea is huge and covers the globe, and so do the Nekton family.

Geek: What were some of your initial thoughts about the design of the characters as well as their ship, the Arronax?

TT: We really did put a lot of work into the designs of these characters. Height, age, short hair, long hair, the color of their uniforms, all of it was discussed and changed a lot of times with James, Wolfgang and Skye Ogden, Gestalt’s Art Director. The moment we gave Fontaine a haircut and the small amount of pink hair dye went in, was the moment her character was born visually. Will without glasses was the wrong guy entirely. We wanted Ant to be old enough for very young male readers to look up to him but not so old that he wouldn’t be identifiable. We also wanted him intelligent and witty enough that older people would really appreciate him. However, his expressiveness, what makes Ant, Ant, is all Brouwer. The man is a genius.

As far as the Arronax, we have pages of submarine designs from James. We made the mistake early on of trying to go too futuristic. I wanted something like Deep Flight, the vessel Richard Branson is currently planning on flying along the bottom of the ocean or something even more space-age. But it was the wrong fit for the Nekton family. They’re not flashy. We took it back to basics and built from there. I love how the Arronax looks now. I truly hope I get to open up a toy of the Arronnax one day and sit all the action-figure characters down in it.

Geek: What were some particular bits of nautical history, science, or mythology that appealed to you when writing The Deep?

TT: With this story, I did piles of research into sea monsters. There have been all sorts of documented sightings in human history, and I’ve actually weaved real-life historical sightings into this book. I have a real fascination for cryptozoology and it’s a fascination that is shared by the Nekton family. I spent a lot of time learning about how submarines work, how they can withstand pressures, and what they need to do so that they can withstand more. I also spent a lot of time learning about voyages to the bottom of the sea and the pioneers in this field. Most of the names in this book are in honor of these pioneers.

Geek: What was the collaboration like with artist James Brouwer?

TT: James is brilliant. He has added so much more to this book than what I’m used to from some artists. He sometimes adds whole panels to fit in another expression or another moment, and he’s absolutely right to do so. He gets my humor, adds to it and conveys it perfectly on the page. As a former theatre director, professional juggler and actor-type-person, I really want my comic characters to “act” out the scenes correctly, and with James they do so perfectly. He also knows these characters very well.

I remember one night I was Skyping with him and I was asking for a panel insertion where Ant and Fontaine had a little exchange, and James didn’t want it. He told me Fontaine would never speak to Ant like that… and he was absolutely right. He’s been great to collaborate with and it’s always felt like a real collaboration. He and I are in this together. And we’re planning a lot more… so much more. We both gave up on sleep long ago. Sleep is for the weak!

Geek: From your bio, it seems like you came to comics through a circuitous route. What gave you the bug to write for comics?

TT: Yeah, you could call ex-professional juggler, singer, songwriter, playwright, actor, screenwriter, musical writer, and fire-eater a fairly circuitous route. But, trust me, the bug to write comics existed long before any of my ‘award-winning’ (ooh, ahh) plays were being produced. Comics are, to me, the single greatest story-telling medium in the world and, since breaking into them, I’ve not once looked back. I doubt my wife misses the smell of kerosene on my breath…

Geek: What do you have coming up after The Deep?

Hey, thanks for asking. Later in the year, I have my first work in the DCU coming out where I’ve actually been lucky enough to write this superhero called Green Lantern… have you heard of him? There’s a new movie out this weekend, you say? Ooh. You should see that. I’ve written a two issue stand-alone story in DCUO: Legends called ‘The Braniac-Sinestro Corps War” which features Hal Jordan and others. Writing the DC characters, the characters I’ve loved all my life, was an absolute joy to write and I can’t wait for the issues to hit. There may also be some more DC stuff on the horizon.

On top of this, I am currently writing a creator-owned series called Rombies, a Roman Zombies epic. “The dead shall walk again… in sandals!” Rombies is being illustrated by the genius himself, Gestalt Comics’ art director, Skye Ogden. The prequel issue and issue #1 are actually free to read online over at the Gestalt Comics site.

On top of this, I have another new creator-owned book in the pipeline with my fellow Star Wars: Blood Ties creator, Chris Scalf, called Voice of a Dragon. I can’t say too much about that yet, however. I also can’t talk about three other projects… yet.

The trade of Blood Ties came out last month. Really happy with it. You should all pick it up. I believe I have another one-shot coming out in the next few weeks called Believe illustrated by rising star, Emily Smith. Em is going to be huge. I’ll talk about that more on my website when I know more: http://www.tomtaylormade.com

Finally, July sees the return of Star Wars: Invasion with the “Revelations” arc. I’m very excited about the return of Invasion and the pages I’ve seen from Colin Wilson tonight are just… wow. I just hope Colin sticks around and isn’t lured off by Hollywood. His comic Bullet to the Head is about to be adapted into a major motion picture starring Sylvester Stallone. It’s shooting next month. I’ve been singing “Eye of the Tiger” to Colin to get him on the mood to draw. I like to think this entire arc of Star Wars: Invasion has been drawn in a Rocky-like montage.

The Deep: Here Be Dragons will be available on August 4th. You can order it through Diamond code JUN11 1131.

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