Left to right: Wordsmith concept originator & writer Dave Darrigo; Wordsmith illustrator, Rick Taylor; From photo taken by Rick’s wife, Krista, probably behind Dragon Lady Comics in the alley north of Queen Street West in 1986 or 1987.
“Wordsmith” is one of the more interesting features to come out of the 1980’s. Writer Dave Darrigo originally conceived it as a text novel, but then changed it to a graphic format. As manger of the retail outlet Dragon Lady, on Queen Street West in Toronto, Darrigo met Rick Taylor, saw his graphic work and invited him to collaborate on an unrelated graphic story “The Big Bounce”. This led him to invite Rick to do a four page “Wordsmith” episode he had written to illustrate the concept he had earlier presented to Deni Loubert. This sample was shown to Deni and Dave Sim. They decided to publish a periodical featuring the character. But, all was not well at Aardvark-Vanaheim. Deni and Dave broke up both as spouses and business partners. Deni moved to Long Beach, California in the U.S.A., organized Renegade Press and the “Wordsmith” series was published by this company.
The serial which followed the flow of “Clay Washburn’s” life, was published in twelve issues from August 1985 to January 1988. In 1990 it was gathered into a two volume book by publisher Caliber Press.
In the same year, Darrigo now owner of the publishing company Special Studio, again teamed up with Taylor with the intention of creating a series of periodicals called The Heroes from Wordsmith. It was to feature the stories created by “Washburn”. Unfortunately only one issue was published.
“Wordsmith”is a fiction series that focuses not on the fantastic lives of pulp heroes but rather on the life of the writer who creates them. It was the result of Darrigo’s research into the pulp fiction era which had its heyday between World Wars 1 & 2. But it is also clear that Darrigo identified with the protagonist “Washburn”. The serial is clearly not autobiographical but it is reflective of many of the attitudes and concerns and perhaps experiences as a writer of Darrigo himself. Most interesting about these stories is the way that Darrigo juxtapositions the pulp stories written by “Wahburn” next to events in Washburn’s life in order to show the relationships between the two. Sometimes real events inspire the story. Sometimes Washburn reflects on how poorly the stories reflect reality.
Illustrator Rick Taylor was responsible for the visual aspect of the series. His characters are based on photos of actual persons. Clay Washburn is based on Rick himself. “Vince Gallo” is based on Dave. As a result we have this hybrid character whose visual aspect is based on the illustrator and his inner life is based on the writer. Other characters based on members of the cartoon community were “Eric Hassel” (Anthony van Bruggen), Asa Cohen” (Mel Taylor). Mel Taylor has mentioned other models. He was also the model for the hero in “Cactus Express”. The “screaming young maiden” was Mel’s downstairs neighbor. The cab driver in issue 10 was based on Harry Kremer, the iconic owner of Now & Then Books. Harry’s mother Mrs. Kremer was “Asa’s mother”. “Clay’s wife and daughter” were based on Rick’s sister-in-law and niece.
BOOK GRAPHIC COLLECTION:
Content story & Cover book front & back:
Wordsmith Book 1. Writ., Dave Darrigo. Illus., R.G. Taylor. Caliber Press, 1990. (Collects issues 1-6).
Wordsmith Book 2. Writ., Dave Darrigo. Illus., R.G. Taylor. Caliber Press, 1990. (Collects issues 7-12).
Content essay text:
Wordsmith, 1, Aug.1985: “Long Live The Pulps, Part 1.”Writ., Dave Darrigo..
Wordsmith, 2, Oct.1985: “Long Live The Pulps, Part 2.” Writ., Dave Darrigo. 22.
Wordsmith, 8, Feb.1987: “The Pulp File: Man of Tomorrow.” Writ.,Don Hutchison. 26-27.
|Wordsmith,…: “Pulp pin up.” Illus. Steve LeBlanc. Renegade Press|
|2, Oct.1985: 23
3, Dec.1985: 23.
|5, May 1986: 28.||7, Nov.1986: 24.||8, Feb.1987: 28.|
Wordsmith, 7, Nov.1986: Renegade Press. “Pulp Portrait: Jules de Grandin.” Illus. Ai Davidson: 26. “A Wordsmith Mini-Portfolio.” R. G. Taylor. 27-32.
Content serial & Cover front:
|Wordsmith, Writ., Dave Darrigo. Illus. R. G. Taylor. Let., Les Taylor. Renegade Press.|
|1, Aug.1985: “Chapter 1, Tough Men Tender Moments.”
“Chapter 2, Deathtraps and Breadlines.”
2, Oct.1985: “A Dash of Chaos, A Pinch of Order.” 1-21.
3, Dec.1985: “File It Under P.”: 1-21.
4, Feb.1986: “Jimmy Carter.” :1-28. Reference Photographer, Krista. Taylor
5, May 1986: “Even Heroes Have To Take A Joke.”: 1-25.
6, Aug.1986.: “Haunted By Ghosts.”: 1-32.
7, Nov.1986: “ Tis The Season To Be Jolly.”: 1-21.
8, Feb.1987: “Romance and Real People.”: 1-25.
9, May 1987: “The Cactus Express by Eric Redwood.”: 1-32.
10, Aug. 1987: “Castles In Spain.”: 1-32.
11, Nov. 1987: “H’Lo Joe, How Goes The Battle?”: 1-32.
12, Jan. 1988 : “Old Dogs and New Tricks.”: 1-25.
“The Last Word.”: 32.
Content story Cover front:
Heroes From Wordsmith, 1, May 1990. Writ., Dave Darrigo. Illus. R. G. Taylor. Special Studio. “Hunter Hawke: The Volcano Gun.” “The New Flying Tigers: The Big Bounce.” Special Studio. Previously appeared in Quadrant, 1-6, no date.
Comics Feature, 56, June 1987: “Wordsmith.” Writ., Unidentified: 10-11.
Emails from Dave Darrigo to Robert MacMillan, 3 Sept. 2016.
Illus., R.G. Taylor. Wordsmith, 1, August 1985: Front cover.
Illus., R.G. Taylor. Wordsmith, 5, May 1986: Front cover. Note the persons behind the character heads on the cover. Top “Vince Gallo” (Dave Darrigo), below “Eric Hassel” (Anthony van Bruggen), “bottom Asa Cohen” (Mel Taylor)
Illus., R.G. Taylor. Wordsmith, 12, Jan 1988: Front cover. Note the juxtaposition between the fantasies that “Wordsmith” writes and his real life.
Illus., R.G. Taylor. Wordsmith Book 1, 1990: Front cover. “Wordsmith” and his characters”.