Plus Awesome: Paul Taylor, Artist behind web comic Wapsi Square

Note from Di: for those unfamiliar, Wapsi Square is a web comic series set in Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. The cast consists of female leads in a magical realism action/adventure slice of life type hybrid, and addresses creatively physical and emotional challenges common to these women. The most obvious is the size of main character Monica’s breasts, which has been remarked upon widely by web comic fans and critics. The very nature of this criticism demonstrates exactly what Mr. Taylor speaks of when he reflects upon the treatment women receive based upon their bodies. In addition, Taylor also runs the Wapsi Girl  Project, that highlights female fans of his comic that has included actresses, yoga instructors and writers, among many others.

Shelley (left) and Monica (right) from Wapsi Square

Please give a quick synopsis of Wapsi Square for my readers. Also, talk about Monica, her background, and how she came to be (as much as any creative can explain such things.) Can you elucidate the core message of the comic, especially any message intended for female readers?
Wapsi Square is best summed up as a slice of supernatural life. All the things you would expect in your day but with a healthy dose of paranormal thrown in and a balance of cute and macabre. Monica, Wapsi’s protagonist, came about when I was thinking about a friend of mine, who although was naturally thin and very busty, was not what society would label her. Most wrote her off as sexually promiscuous, not smart, had fake boobs, they were seriously wrong on all counts. Anyway, it got me thinking that society doesn’t really have any positive characters that addressed those issues, and having that personal relationship with Monica’s inspiration, I felt that I could render her realistically without falling into trite stereotypes. As my comic goes Monica had run-ins with the paranormal at an early age, only to find out that what she perceived as normal, was anything but. This leads to her having a very skeptical view of the world and shields herself from anything challenging by hiding behind books and science. As the story progresses, she gets tossed back into a world of the paranormal and also has to deal with her own anthropomorphic personal demons. I feel the main messages of my comic are redemption, overcoming personal demons, and to never be afraid to be yourself.

When you created Monica, why the breasts? While many comic artists gleefully create women with large breasts, you are among the first (and possibly only) to actually explore the maintenance and even tactical issues involved. What led you to take this into consideration? Will this be a continuing theme throughout the comic? How much has your wife contributed to research on this topic?
Growing up, I was very much a nerd and it didn’t take long for other kids to determine this and begin picking on me. By the time I was in junior high school1 some of the early developing girls became targets for the mental troglodytes that feel pointing out the obvious in rude ways makes them clever. Anyway, having already been the subject of being picked on myself, I wasn’t one to rudely tease anyone else and ended up befriending many of the girls in junior high that had more boobs than they considered their share. I got to know them and saw the was they were treated and it just made me sick. Sadly, the rudeness of others towards girls for their body shape seemed to continued on into high school and college. Hell, that behavior seems to be socially acceptable in our society. My wife, also a busty gal, had a very similar experience growing up and has also had to deal with sexual innuendo and rudeness. Taking my own experiences, those of my gal friends, and combining those with the way women are treated in the media, I felt that Monica’s presence was more than needed.

You have mentioned before attending web comic conventions where women will walk up to your table and start discussing their breasts. Would you like to share any anecdotes?
Crazy enough, this is quite common for me and it’s quite flattering. I mean, they’re talking about something pretty private, and technically, I’m a stranger. But they know me though my comic, through my characters. That’s very flattering and very humbling. One convention, a tall, very thin, and very busty gal came up to tell me that not only did my comic help her feel better about herself, not feeling like she was such an oddity, but also taught her how to shop for better fitting bras. She imparted part of her confidence in the bra helping her posture, standing up tall and proud, and also the great support her quality bra had. She commented that even running and going up and down stairs was no longer a problem, then began enthusiastically jogging in place. Then she gave me a big hug after buying a book.

Corrected: Katherine is just a highly phobic human being. There are demons in the comics, though, although as housebroken as those sorts get.

One of the running themes throughout the comic is inner demons, which speaks to a lot of human experience, especially for those that struggle with body positivity. What led you to take this narrative tack? How do you feel it’s working?
I love human psychology and interaction with others as well as our own inner dialog. Toss that together with my love of mythology and it only seems logical to have our own issues and problems actually facing us down in a game of mental chess. From reader feedback, this style of story telling seems to be taken quite positively. I think this is because it can be looked at as a paranormal story, but then layers can be peeled back and now you have a psychological story, and then the whole thing can be looked at as metaphor. Each time you read the story, you can get something different from it.

What is the Wapsi Girl Project? Who are you looking for to contribute to this project?
The Wapsi Girl Project was inspired by positive emails from female fans of my comic. The project gives the female fans a venue to talk about how they relate to the stories or the characters and how they may have been inspired by the comic. This is also a chance for the female fans to tell their own stories of overcoming adversity or going against the grain. In turn, hopefully inspiring others.

Why are you trying to reach Felicia Day?
Felicia is the queen of the nerds and I feel that she would be awesome to help spread the word about the Wapsi Girl Project to as many gals as possible.

If you had to pick three web comic artists to recommend Fat Chic readers explore, who would you pick and why?
Definitely Danielle Corsetto who does Girls With Slingshots , Aaron Alexovich’s Serenity Rose , and anything done by Faith Erin Hicks of Friends with Boys.

What other projects are you working on right now? You have mentioned attempting to shop Wapsi Square to studios, and studios not quite getting the actual message of the comic.
I’m in the process now of having a manager shopping my comic around, and while it mostly gets positive feedback, most studios aren’t sure how to interpret the story into something they can work with. As you mentioned, there are other producers have said that they fear that women would be insulted by Monica and her chest size. Honestly, I don’t think that they look at my work any further than Monica’s breasts, myself, and this may very well speak of just how mainstream consumers would totally focus on Monica’s boobs and miss everything else. Lately, I’ve been looking for a more indie web series venue.

What is the next big thing you’d like to see happen with Wapsi Square?
I would love to see a web series, live action or animated, based on Wapsi Square that could grow along beside the daily comic and possibly evolve in its own way. My idea was to maybe have a series based on Tina. I don’t want to mention more about her so not to ruin any surprises for potentially new readers.

Felicia Day as Codex.

  1. For non US readers, junior high is between the ages of 12 and 15, depending on the school system and town. []