Axiom Illustration recently had the privilege of speaking with Taylor Overbey (TO), a veteran illustrator and writer with an extensive array of impressive work! From fine art to children’s books, how-to books, cartoons (including the GLAD Christian Humor magazine) and more, Overbey is a fascinating individual who works at finding creative ways to share a unique message with our world! In the interview below, he shares many of his fascinating experiences as an artist, author and much more. Enjoy!
Axiom: Thanks for talking with us! First off, what could you tell our audience about your work? TO: I work in a variety of mediums and styles. This is probably due to the fact that I love so many different ways of making art, and also how unique of a message can be communicated in each of these methods.
For instance, there is a difference between oil painting and comic books. I love both. However, oil painting is considered to be more of a “serious art” and comics are considered more of a form of entertainment. So my message in an oil painting might convey some deeper, more thought-provoking subject, or it might be something simply beautiful, or even what a particular viewer may consider confrontational. A comic story, or a children’s book can usually be read and enjoyed purely for the entertainment value, but still may have a certain message that comes through. Being a Christian I believe that my faith somehow bubbles to the surface in all of my work.
Axiom: How did you get started in this area? TO: When I was in 3rd grade my teacher had the class write stories based on one of several photographs she would hang on the wall. She always loved my stories, and would have me read them aloud to the class. But she didn’t want me to show them to my parents because she was afraid they would take me to a psychiatrist! I don’t recall the stories being weird at all, just very imaginative, and I certainly loved the reaction I got from the class. That was probably how I developed a love of making up stories.
My first big break came when I was about 26. My father helped me start a comic publication called, GLAD-The Christian Humor Magazine. It was styled off of MAD, which, at the time was one of my favorite things to read. Every other month we had 32 pages to fill up with stories and art, so I had to come up with 6 to 15 pages every issue. We had a good run. GLAD went for about 3 years, 17 issues in all. I did make up a color version that is on IndyPlanet.com.
I just had my first children’s book published. It’s called, “The I-Wants and the Gimmies,” and it is released by Crimson Dragon Publishing in Aurora, CO. I have another children’s book I am working on for them called, “The SNIT and George Franklin Whit.” I really enjoy writing and drawing the children’s stories because they are playful and fun, but I still endeavor to sneak in a positive message. For instance, “The I-Wants and the Gimmies” is about sharing, and “The SNIT” is about our being in control of our anger.
If I had to choose favorite thing to do it would be hard to decide, I just love making art. But I do think that GLAD would come pretty close to the top. I like telling people about Jesus Christ in a way that isn’t heavy handed or preachy. Humor and the Bible is a challenge to combine, because on the one hand I don’t want to be too frivolous with the subjects, but I also don’t want to be heavy handed. I think that in general I came pretty close. Not perfect, but close.
Axiom: Do you have any favorite books, movies, artwork, games, etc that you find inspiring? TO: I do read a lot. I still need mentors, but there aren’t a whole lot of them where I live, so I read books. I just finished Frank Capra’s autobiography called, “The Name Above the Title.” For your readers who don’t know Capra he was the director of the Christmas classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stuart and Donna Read. I consider Capra a mentor because I find his message something that I can relate to, and it is missing from today’s movies. His message was, the little guy triumphs over the odds in spite of the evil people and obstacles he faces, but he was able to communicate that without outrageous sex scenes and gore. And now Mr. Capra is no longer living. So I can watch his films and read his books to learn from him. I’ve done much the same with Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.
The first thing I do read in the morning is either the Bible or an inspirational book written by a Christian minister or writer. I’ve read a number of books by John Eldredge and now I’m reading a book by Joseph Prince. When I fill my mind with these uplifting ideas in the morning I find here it keeps me going all day long.
Axiom: Do you have any interesting stories regarding the work you’ve already done in this area? TO: One thing that happened was after I finished writing and some of the art work for “The I-Wants and the Gimmies” I sent out query letters to about 50 publishers. I never heard back from any of them. Not one! Then one day while I was teaching an art class in Grand Rapids I asked my assistant if I could show her some children’s book illustrations I was working on. She said, “Sure.” Well, she looked at them and said, “You should send these to my mom. She has a publishing company and she’s looking for children’s book authors. She’ll get back to you in 3 days.”
I had a very hard time believing any of what she said. My experience with publishers was that if you didn’t have an agent you couldn’t get in the door. And if you weren’t published you couldn’t get an agent, so, it was next to impossible to break into that business. But I decided to take her up on it and I sent the story and some drawings to her mom. Well, sure enough, within 3 days she got back to me and wanted to send me a contract. Then last week I got a box full of the books sent to my doorstep. Crimson Dragon is a small and new publisher, but I look at them like David and the Giant.
So, if you are doing something you love, like writing, painting, drawing, or whatever–I believe that the right doors will open for you if you don’t give up. You’ve got to keep working at your craft, of course, to continually get better at it. But like Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, give up!”
Axiom: What’s some of your goals for the future while working in this area? TO: My goal is to have 100 children’s books published in my lifetime and have the messages in my stories influence the culture for generations to come. I’d also like to publish GLAD again, I’m just not sure there is a market for it.
Axiom: Do you have any recommendations or thoughts on how Christian creatives can get involved in their community? TO: I would suggest joining Christian art groups on Facebook. I started a group called, “The Christian Art Society,” but there are many others. If you belong to a church there may be other creative people who want to meet and support each other, or, if there are not enough interested people in your church maybe you could find interested people in the community in which you live.
We also need to be able to show our work. Perhaps you could host a Christian art show at your church or at a restaurant or coffee house. Many times Christians don’t want to go to art museums because they are sick and tired of looking at “art” that is nothing but a big put down of everything they hold dear. The unbelieving liberals who own galleries and direct museums believe their vision of what art is is the only right way. Christians need to make art work that represents their values, morals, and beliefs, and show it, and invite the community to come and see.
Most of all we all need mentors. That is someone who is doing what you want to do that you can learn from. If there is no one near you then start by reading books written by or about people whose work you admire. But here’s a word of warning: Don’t look for perfection! There was only one perfect man, and he was raised from the dead and is now seated at God’s right hand. Everyone else will disappoint you if you expect them to align perfectly with what you personally believe, or behave exactly as you would have them do. Just learn from them: what did they do to get where they are? What motivates them? What books do they read? And so forth.
Axiom: Where can readers find out more about your work? TO: GLAD, the Christian Humor Magazine is available as a free digital download or can be ordered as a hard copy at Indy Planet. “The I-Wants and the Gimmies” is available from Amazon.com or Crimson Dragon Publishing. One of my biggest goals is to start an art school for conservative Christians. I can hear some people groaning out there because they think that conservative Christians are boring, unenlightened, critical, etc., etc. etc. OK, so this art school would not be for you. But if you believe that the Bible is God’s Word and you want to learn how to make art that will turn our country and world around, please write me at: taylor (at) wordcentered (dot) com!