Keezy Young is a freelance illustrator and comic artist who has an affinity for creating stories and images about fantasy and queer experiences. While her use of vibrant colours might be what first catches your attention, the way she brings her characters to life is what will keep you reading.
For this interview we were discussing her webcomic, Taproot, which weaves a mysterious and entrancing story about a gardener (Hamal) and a ghost (Blue).
It is really cute.
Ryan Troock: Can you talk about where your interest in gardening and plants comes from?
Keezy Young: My mom and both my nanas (grandmother and great grandmother) had beautiful gardens when I was growing up. I used to follow my mom around and pretend I was a bee, helping to pollinate her flowers with a q-tip, and asking her questions about why things grow a certain way or what flowers are related to each other. Whenever I go home to visit now, I still go out and circle the house with her, pointing out things and learning something new every time. Her garden is always a little wild, and it’s just the way I like it.
When I started writing Taproot, I lived in a tiny, tiny studio apartment in the middle of the city - it felt kind of lifeless, so I started buying shade-tolerant potted plants as a reward for hitting milestones.
Ryan Troock: Did you always intend to have the story revolve around gardening and plants, or was this something that came out as you developed the story?
Keezy Young: I didn’t actually! The first iteration of Taproot was really different. It was a lot more urban, and Hamal didn’t have a job. He was sad and miserable, and super insulated in his tiny, tiny apartment (just like I was at the time...hm). The story was definitely missing something, and I wasn’t happy with how it was turning out. After inking about 20 pages I threw my arms up and decided to rethink everything, starting with what I loved to draw most - flowers, leaves, sprouts.
From there I gave Hamal the garden store job, basing the setting off of my mom’s favorite store in my hometown, and then decided to just set the whole story in a small town by the ocean like where I grew up, and everything sort of just came together after that. I realized that my idea process needs to start with something I love and care about, and it can grow from there - even something as simple as ‘flowers and leaves make me happy’ or the peaceful feeling of wandering around the garden with my mom.
Ryan Troock: Plants often represent life, and ghosts tend to go with death. I feel that Taproot plays with these assumptions a bit, especially with the character of The Reaper. can you talk about Reaper's motivations?
Keezy Young: Reaper doesn’t think of life and death as opposites the way we do. She certainly doesn’t see death as a bad thing. Gardening is all about cycles, and nothing can grow if nothing dies. Some plants come back every spring, while others come back in a different way - maybe a seed from last year’s plant - and others still will only live for one cycle and then die forever.
Reaper doesn’t have a lot of patience for ghosts, because she doesn’t empathize with their desire to halt that cycle - it just doesn’t make logical sense to her. And she hates necromancers, because they actively interfere with the cycle. She is, however, a romantic at heart, and so when Blue sacrificed himself she decided to change his form into something that would be reborn. His new heart is a sprout that grew from his old one.
Ryan Troock: You’re currently putting out another comic: Yellow Hearts. Are there any learnings coming out of Taproot that have changed your approach to creating a webcomic like this?
Keezy Young: Definitely! I learned that part of what I love about making comics is being able to really live in the story for a long period of time, because you’ll be constantly learning new things about your characters and finding new directions to take the story - so I wanted to do a much longer project.
I also realized that writing what you know doesn’t have be so literal as people make it - I may not know what it’s like to be a disgraced nobleman soldier, but I do know what it’s like to be terrified that your dad will be disappointed in you, or what it’s like to look in the mirror and be really unhappy with what you see. I’m not Alder, but parts of me definitely are. In Taproot I wasn’t literally writing about my mom’s garden, but I kind of was writing about my mom’s garden and everything it means to me.