It’s been a few months since our interview with writer/artist Larime Taylor, which came on the heels of the release of Issue #1 of his Kickstarter-backed psychological thriller comic A Voice in the Dark (then known as “Dark Zoey”). Now, with the digital release of issue #3 available to backers, and with preparations underway for a print edition of the first arc, we have a better idea not only of the story, but of Taylor’s talents and what he’s hoping to achieve.
Terry Moore, creator of Strangers in Paradise and independent comics mainstay, describes the series as “SiP meets Dexter” and it’s fairly apt. College freshman Zoey Aarons has literally gotten away with murder. In her senior year, she planned and carried out the killing of a girl who had bullied Zoey’s younger sister nearly into suicide. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a matter of an otherwise reasonable person being pushed over the edge. In fact, justified or not, it wasn’t just revenge: it was the culmination of a lifetime of obsession and fantasizing. Perhaps Zoey thought that letting the darkness out would free her. Instead, she just made it hungry for more.
In the opening page of the inaugural storyline, “Blood Makes Noise”, Zoey tells us herself that she’s been counting the days since she last killed, and knows that it will happen again. In many ways and almost by necessity, the first issue is the least strong of the three. It’s heavy on exposition and scene-setting, though Taylor manages to breathe life into Zoey’s psychological dilemmas without too much in the way of infodumps. While he makes use of a first person narrative, he takes care to convey as much as possible through dialogue that is at times a little stilted, but, at its best, flowing and naturalistic. (Content warning: some of the panels & description contain graphic depictions/descriptions of violence.)
Where Taylor really shines, from page one, is in the expressiveness and diversity of his characters. With his very spare, clean lines, he evokes a variety of ethnicities and body types. And while the characters do, in fact, say quite a bit, their faces are still capable of speaking volumes – which is no mean feat in any comic. Regardless, this first issue does a great job of setting the stage for Zoey’s first semester at Blair University, her relationships with her family and roommates, and the college radio talk show that will be one of the main things driving the story.
While Issue #1 was something of a proof-of-concept, demonstrating that Taylor had the artistic and writing chops to produce an enjoyable, intriguing comic, Issue #2 shows that he’s a creator to watch. Having set the exposition aside, he is free to begin spinning his dark, twisted tale. At the same time, this second issue shows a tremendous amount of artistic growth, especially considering that it was released only eight weeks after the first. Where the first issue had some occasionally clunky dialogue, and the odd layout or pose that seemed a bit stiff or awkward, the follow-up really nails the naturalism that Taylor is aiming for. Every line of dialogue rings true, reading like something someone would actually say (or at least an exchange from a top-tier TV drama). The artwork, meanwhile, builds on the facial expressiveness that worked so well early on by featuring looser, more believable body language in its characters. (The fact that his characters come across real enough for body language to be a consideration is remarkable in itself, though.) Similarly, the layouts and staging have evolved from the more static, documentary-like approach of the first issue to something more dynamic, using the comics medium’s innate facility for juxtaposition and full-page layouts to much better advantage.
So far, I haven’t commented too much on the story in either issue. I really don’t want to spoil too much for any prospective readers, because so much of this issue is built on the curveballs that Taylor throws our way. From the shocking (and, from a murder mystery perspective, terribly intriguing) crime scene that opens the story, to the full-page spread cliffhanger that ends the issue, he does an amazing job of pulling the readers in. Even with everything going on, the story is still firmly about Zoey, and her inner demons. If her dark impulses had their way, the body count of this issue would have been remarkably high. On the other hand, who doesn’t fantasize about killing their roommates? Without giving too much away, it’s Zoey’s premiere radio episode that drives the transition into issue #3.
Issue #3 opens up a few hours after her disastrous first show, with Zoey lamenting a call gone very, very wrong. Zoey struggles with the realization that her her attempt to, essentially, outsource her therapy isn’t consequence-free. Taylor deftly builds suspense, guiding readers through the events of the show, right up to the bloody, unexpected climax, and leaving us with a very real sense that there is something terrible and frightening about the town of Cutter’s Circle and its people. What makes this issue remarkable is that, for all the fantastic storytelling, its events take place over the course of only a few minutes, and is actually fairly light on plot. Instead, what we’re given in spades are Big Ideas and a better sense of not only Taylor’s abilities as a storyteller, but also of what he intends the series to be about. In the first two issues, and very often in this sort of story, our impulse is to root for the outsider, to empathize with the person in obvious psychological pain. Issue #3 turns that expectation on its head, making the thesis of A Voice in the Dark very explicit: there is pain and there is potential darkness in everyone. At its core, despite the mayhem and murder in this series, the series is really asking readers for empathy; that we identify with, feel for and attempt to understand not just people who are different or victimized, but also with those who attempt to conform and feel pressure to victimize others. For a violent psychological thriller, A Voice in the Dark is surprisingly heartfelt and humanistic.
In many ways, these first three issues read like the work of a much more experienced creator. Right out of the gate, Taylor shows that he knows his medium and genre and, more importantly, knows how to subvert their conventions. With a refreshingly diverse and human cast, he keeps the twists coming, cultivating a core of humanity unusual for what seems like a straight-up slasher. It’s not surprising that he’s received attention from such comics luminaries as Powers artist Michael Avon Oeming and Batgirl, Secret Six and Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone. While the initial Kickstarter campaign was, for many backers, a poignant and intriguing human interest story, the truth is Taylor has the talent to back it up. With the upcoming publication of Blood Makes Noise, collecting this first arc, I can only hope that he continues to build the necessary buzz in order to be able to make A Voice in the Dark the ongoing series it deserves to be.