By Janet Hetherington

The 67th World Science Fiction Convention, a.k.a. Anticipation, is taking place in Montreal, Canada, from August 6 to 10, 2009. This year, graphic stories are getting their due thanks to a brand-new category in the Hugo Awards for Best Graphic Story, and famed novelist and comics scribe Neil Gaiman is the Worldcon Guest of Honour.

But Worldcon is, and always has been, a fan convention. This year’s Fan Guest of Honour is Taral Wayne, an accomplished artist and writer whose work has graced both the science fiction and comic book genres. His specialties include drawing cool futuristic machinery and attractive anthropomorphic characters (or furries), and he was the key artist on the comic book series, Tales of Beatrix.

This year, Taral was awarded the Rotsler Award (lifetime award given by SCIFI Inc., named after prolific fan artist Bill Rotsler) and has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Fan Artist. The Hugos will be given out at Worldcon.

When asked about these achievements, Taral is modestly proud. “I suppose the reason my name appears on the [Hugo] ballot from time to time is that I’ve been contributing art to fanzines for over 35 years, and people began to feel its about time fandom took notice of it,” Taral says. “While my work hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea, they generally concede my skill and persistence.”

“I fell in love with fandom in November of 1971, when I answered an ad in the back of a used magazine I had bought for fifteen cents,” Taral recalls. As a newbie (novice fan), the Toronto native turned up at the next meeting of the local fan club -- the Ontario Science Fiction Club (OSFiC) -- where Taral saw a fanzine for the first time. He was hooked.

It took the budding creator a while to learn the ropes and to understand that fandom wasn’t limited to just that club. “With my new friends, I went to conventions, wrote and drew for fanzines, mimeographed some of my own, and lived the lifestyle to the hilt,” Taral says.

Taral also notes that his fan art work is currently being rediscovered… and digitally enhanced. “In the last two or three years, you might say I’ve made a bit of a comeback,” he says. “I was busy with comics and furries for most of the 90s, but shortly after Y2K, my interest in SF fandom revived. I raked through 2,000 or 3,000 furry drawings to see what was presentable for SF ‘zines, and began to send some of it out. I also did new art, meant for fandom. Since ‘zines were more and more often in digital format, I was able to do color covers, which added possibilities there hadn’t been before.”

Dedicated to Form

Taral is well-known for drawing shapely bunny-girls (a commission favorite), but he also has an affinity for drawing machines.

“Since I began drawing at a very tender age, you can be sure I was drawing machinery, like hot-rods and jet fighters, long before I discovered ‘girlie’ characters,” Taral says. “Of course, once I was old enough, I became as dedicated to the well shaped female form as I was to the well-oiled mechanism.”

“I’ve always had a minor talent for mechanical things,” he says. “As long as I could see how the parts moved, I had a chance to fix a thing. Circuits and chips are something else again. As much as I enjoyed using my hands to draw, I also liked to use my hands to build model kits, or fool around with stuff. I continue to be fascinated by replicas of military helicopters, fire trucks, choppers, spaceships, racing cars, firearms, ships, even miniature figures. I like having them around the house on view, so that the eye is constantly stimulated. And I enjoy handling them -- opening the doors, peering in the engine compartment, loading or unloading the chambers, imagining it flying at 20,000 feet, repositioning the hockey stick, or just about to touch down on the surface of another planet.”

“In a nutshell that’s how I do my research,” he says. “I handle things, and over time commit them to memory, and often won’t need to refer to a book or photo at all.”

Artistic Aspirations

Like many fans, Taral’s interest in literary SF led him to genre movies and television, including the classic show Star Trek. “I was an avid fan of the original Star Trek, though never a Trekker,” he says. “It was a treat to see on the screen what you could only read before.”

His interest in the genre also affected his life goals. “All my life I was waiting for the future,” Taral says. “But the future is never here. Not entirely anyway. Bits of it have arrived -- the exploration of the solar system, laptop computers, cell phones, global positioning systems in your car -- but there’s always more to come. I guess I could say that wanting something better, rather than settling for what there was, is as good as any explanation for why I am the way I am.”

Taral followed his artistic aspirations through his SF fan art, and he also pursued doing comics professionally. “As a very young kid I thought I might like to be an anatomical illustrator,” Taral says. “Fortunately, that takes a medical degree, and I suspected early on that several years of medical school wasn’t in the cards.”

“My real ambition was to get into humor magazines like Mad, or maybe into comics,” he says. “I wasn’t very clear about how to do that, or exactly what sort of comics. Newspaper strips, or the funny books?”

“This was before Marvel came along and spoiled everything, by driving all but superheroes out of the field,” Taral comments. “So, by comics I was likely thinking something more like Donald Duck, or Sgt. Rock, or perhaps even Magnus Robot Fighter. When it became obvious that spandex and capes were mandatory in the comics business, I abandoned any ambition that way for the time being.”

“I did try to start a newspaper strip or two,” Taral reveals, “but found out that the local newspapers weren’t interested in finding new talent.”

“Eventually I did break into comic books,” Taral says. “It was a different genre in the 80s, and for a while it was possible to do quite well without knuckling under to the demand for superheroes, or to sell your soul to Marvel or DC.”

Taral found himself witnessing, and participating in, the birth of anthropomorphic comics and its fandom. “I was a founding member of Rowrbrazzle, the flagship apa for anthros, and participated in many of the earliest ‘zines,” advises Taral. “It was in the days when black-and-white comics sold several thousand copies, and the creators made slender livings. I sold a number of minor efforts -- filler art for letter columns, and pin-ups in Amazing Heroes. Then I began doing covers for a comic called Gremlin Trouble.”

Taral also worked on Tales of Beatrix, created by Steve Gallacci. The title, about a rabbit girl who is forced into the role of superhero for hire, was published from 1996 to 1998 by Mu Press, Vision Comics and Shanda Fantasy Arts.

Drawing the comic proved to be both a burden and a delight. “I learned that it was effin’ hard work,” Taral comments.

“I actually kept a journal for much of the time I worked on the first issue, and recorded my thoughts,” he says. “Pity I don’t remember them in any detail… But I recall discovering that storyboarding a comic is much like acting. It isn’t enough to break a plot down into individual scenes, with spectacular graphic effects like Spawn. At least that approach never appealed to me. I found it was more like putting myself into the heads of the characters on the page, and trying to understand how they thought, and how they would express themselves in anger, fear, despair, or laughter.”

“I also learned that good work is no guarantee of success,” he says. “Sales were awful. In part it was because Marvel chose exactly that moment to seek Chapter Eleven. But also, I found non-furries wouldn’t read a furry book.”

“I had enjoyed doing Beatrix, no question of it,” Taral says. “Sometimes I imagine going back to the character when I’m retired on the public dole, and can afford to spend all year on a profitless book if I want.”

The Winding Road

Despite finding the road to artistic fulfillment a hard and winding one to follow, Taral has stuck to his love of fandom, and has continued to draw and write.

“I stuck with fandom for 35 years, so what does that say?” Taral muses. “Oddly enough, though, I think most of my energy went into writing for fanzines, not drawing. And since the Hugos are decided by essentially irrational impulses, the weight of the writing I’ve done, added to the weight of the art, seems to have put my name on the ballot again. Short of actually winning the award as a fan artist, I suppose my greatest ambition now is to get nominated as a fan writer!”

“If I have a plan at all, it’s to write more, and perhaps write things I can illustrate myself,” he says. “It’s an idea I’ve spoken of more than once in the past, and done little to bring about.”

“So, strangely enough, I wrote my first children’s book a few days ago,” Taral reveals. “It’s not a book I plan to write, or I’m in the process of writing, it’s finished. Period. Next step is to do a couple of pages of illustration (out of a dozen or so total), and figure out how one goes about selling to a publisher. The book isn’t Harry Potter, or even Goosebumps, but it’s a start.”

When Taral attends Worldcon as Fan Guest of Honour, he is eager to chat with fellow fans about his work and experiences.

“So far, Anticipation has made few demands,” Taral says. “What I have wanted to do, I’ve offered to do. That includes designing a t-shirt for the con, doing some of the art for publications, as well as submitting a written item or two. I’ve volunteered for Program, and have suggested an unorthodox sort of workshop for artists. Beyond that, I would like to sit in the dealers’ room with a coffee machine, and donuts, and be available for people to talk with most of the day.”

Fans will also be able to view some of Taral’s art in the Worldcon Art Show. “I’ve been given a little space in the art show,” Taral says. “I’m essentially a minimalist, and most of my original work is in black-and-white. I’ve decided that I’ll only be showing work that is Not For Sale, so that I can show some of my best. Perhaps a couple of comics pages, maybe some color prints (since most of my coloring over the last several years has been digital), and the majority likely b&w drawings I’ve done for my own enjoyment.”

“Most likely I’ll have a few of my CD folios with me, but on the whole I don’t expect to use the con for selling,” he says. “My experience as a dealer over several years suggests that selling is a full time job, and half-hearted efforts to flog a product will have disappointing results. As well, most of the material (comics, prints, and folios) I sold when I was a dealer was at furry cons. It isn’t well suited to a science fiction Worldcon.”

Attending Worldcon is not a new experience for Taral… nor is visiting Montreal.

“Montreal is an appropriate place for this year’s Worldcon,” Taral says. “It’s the 67th one, you know? The first, and so far only, time I was in Montreal was for the World’s Fair [Expo 67]. That was 1967. And I still have the ‘program book’ for it.”

“My first Worldcon was in Toronto, Torcon II, in 1973,” Taral remembers. “Even now it’s regarded as one of the high points in a history of Worldcons that go back to 1939.”

Naturally, this year’s Worldcon will also be a high point for Taral Wayne. “Dan Steffan -- a talented fan artist himself, with years of seniority over me -- once said I was the most under-appreciated artist in fandom,” the artist comments. “So, yes, it was nice to actually come out on top for once. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of bigger things to come. Although, in fandom, I don’t know what’s bigger than GoH at a Worldcon.”

Janet Hetherington is a freelance writer, cartoonist and screenwriter who shares a studio in Ottawa, Canada, with artist Ronn Sutton and a ginger cat, Heidi. Follow Janet on Twitter (BestDestiny).