Inspiration is a funny thing. Stories can come from nearly anywhere, as large as a whole life of experiences and as small as a single moment, or a patch on a stranger's jacket, or a brief sound effect captured from the ocean. Tall Tales began with a single scene.
I took a vacation to Chicago during the last week of October 2004, and my flight home was scheduled for election day. I was visiting a friend, who I had met through an IRC tabletop campaign based on the World of Darkness. We had met in person before, and when I was looking for somewhere to go to kill a week he offered to let me stay at his place and invited me to attend the Halloween party he and his roommates were planning.
The scene that introduced me to Tall Tales was not a real event that happened during that trip, and it isn't even in the story anymore. But in thinking about other things that did happen, and some conversations that we had, I ended up daydreaming later and imagined a scene with a guy, about my age, helping some druids and witches in a ritual to exorcise the apartment I had been visiting. That was it; a brief snapshot of a single event in the lives of these characters. I liked the scene, though, so I started asking myself who these people were, why they were there, and what they were trying to exorcise.
That guy, I came to understand, was named John Matteson. As I thought more about him, I ended up developing a little story about a certain period of his life, and jotting down notes about the characters for that story and the general idea of what was happening. As soon as I had a rough idea of a beginning, ending, and overarching theme, I went to a friend of mine named Alex Portal and pitched the idea of making a webcomic. This would have been January, maybe February 2005.
I'll talk more about that webcomic in another post, but the reason that scene didn't last was because, ultimately, the story I developed didn't need it. In its original form, as that first webcomic, the story actually took place about twenty years after that scene. The scene itself was preserved as a possible flashback, but we never really decided whether or not we were going to do that. I eventually changed the model of the story to be two parallel periods in Matteson's life, about twenty years apart, and the scene was going to make a comeback until I realized that in order for the overall story to work, that scene had to be changed. By the time those changes were settled, the scene was scrapped entirely. As was, of course, the idea of telling two periods of Matteson's life at the same time.
But I can still imagine it just fine, or at least as well as I mentally view anything; Matteson standing next to the fire, his back to me, smoking a cigarette and listening as his newly-found friends performed their ceremony, only really there because they had asked him to be because he was somehow connected to what they were exorcising. With that single snapshot, a character was created that would haunt my dreams and projects for the next fourteen years, until I finally decided it was time to let everyone else see him.