Trash Mutant Interviews (TMI): Jamie Smart
- by Ninja Ross, 12 March 2014
TRASH MUTANT: While you were originally known for more mature work like “Bear,” you’ve been working a heck of a lot of all ages comics, for the likes of The Dandy, The Beano and Doctor Who. Is there much of a difference between the two, creatively? Do you ever feel stifled or restricted?
JAMIE SMART: Not at all, I can’t find any difference in the tone or the humour. The only thing that changes is the swear words (obviously), and maybe a little bit of the more visceral violence I was drawing when I was in my twenties. But everything I draw comes from the same place in my head, so there was no real need to separate the grown-up comics from the children’s comics, at least not creatively.
Children’s comics are, and always have been, what paid my rent, so they always had to take priority. Now I’m at the point where I very rarely do grown-up comics, and I’m quite happy with that. Mainly because the children’s comics seem to appeal to adults too – the humour is slapstick and silly which is pretty much universal, without the need for swearing. Apart from the work where I get sent scripts to work from, my work for The Beano and The Phoenix is very hands-off. I’m just asked to send in two pages a week and I’m never really told or asked what to do, just left to get on with it. I think that’s the best initiative for any artist to do their best work!
Speaking of The Dandy: You took over creative duties for one of its biggest characters, Desperate Dan. What kind of obstacles did you encounter when creating the strips? It was pretty different from what fans are used to, I imagine some people perhaps responded badly?
I was pretty amazed at being given Desperate Dan to draw, he was such an iconic character and I was given free reign with what I wrote and draw for him. My style was very different to what had come before, a fair bit simpler, a bit goofier. More modern, I guess, and that must have been what they were looking for. And while I always prefer to draw my own characters, I have to say drawing Dan was some of the most fun I’ve had doing comics.
It actually wasn’t that hard to write for him either, I was a little worried at the start that I’d run out of cactus or cow-lifting jokes. But it really helped me develop as a comic artist, as I soon realized your jokes and story don’t come from the setting, they come from the character himself. Once I had a handle on who Dan was and what he was trying to do, I found endless stories to write, and loads of situations to throw him into.
For the most part, people really liked it. I got a lot more positive feedback than negative. But, as with everything, it’s always the complainers who shout louder. So there were a couple of people online who took real offence to what I’d done to a classic character of their childhood (and I believe it was, literally, just a couple of people), who started becoming pretty nasty about it. That was my first real experience of trolling I think. Then one of the red-top newspapers ran a story along the lines of ‘what have they done to Desperate Dan now?’ But that was pretty much all of it, as I say, most people who actually read comics and enjoy them really got into it.
You’ve recently had trouble with people plagiarising your “Nine Ways” comic strip. How do you handle something like that?
Not being bothered, basically. It’s annoying at first, of course, and you try and shout against it and call out the websites doing it. They often remove your name from your own work, slap their own website tag on it, then post it and get hundreds of thousands of views and all the advertising revenue that comes with that. It’s a pretty crappy way of living your life, to be honest. And it’s not just me of course, most artists have been lifted like this. Some, like The Oatmeal, try to fight back, but realistically there’s very little you can do. The most you can do is, I think, inform people what these websites are doing, and try bit by bit to turn people off them.
That comic I did, which was all about how men pee, has been seen by millions of people now. Millions. And only 1% of them through me, the rest all through websites which steal art, so very few of the people who’ve seen it will know I drew it, or even care probably. So, y’know, you have to be zen about it all. Maybe I don’t want a comic about peeing to be my best known work!
It gets funny when you post it on your own website, and people accuse you of stealing it because they saw it posted on one of the art-stealing websites though!
Corporate Skull [go here to read our spotlight article on the comic! - Ed.] is a bit more dramatic than a lot of your previous work, with some infringing conspiracies and a long running plot. What made you want to go down this route with this character? What made you want to do a more dramatic comic?
Corporate Skull is kind of my release, it’s where I go to let off steam from drawing happy colourful comics all day. It’s more adult, quite offensive, but hopefully still silly and fun at the same time. I’d been planning it out for a good two years before I even began work (or built up the nerve to), and is supposed to run for 600 pages.
So it’s just a place for me to go crazy, really, and it’s insanely good fun.
You’ve worked on both print comics and webcomics in the past; do you find one better than the other, or easier?
I like the immediacy of webcomics. An audience can instantly respond and that, when you’re working at home on your own every day, can actually be quite gratifying (and a great motivator). But as I say, it’s very tricky to get webcomics to pay you any sort of salary, so print has always served me better in that respect. And there’s nothing like the feeling of holding a book of your own work, that’s just the best.
Comics are enjoying a lot of popularity right now, thanks to the incredible success of the Marvel Movies, but British comics have a lot of trouble gaining popularity. Do you think there’s a specific cause for this?
I think the superhero trend in movies is brilliant, and I’ll watch them all, and I’ll love them all (except Green Lantern), they’re the best form of escapism. It’s still pretty sad though that most people think comics are JUST superheroes, despite the massive scene in indie and smaller comics which has been growing constantly, and beginning to gain respectability. There are some amazing ideas in those comics, which would make really great movies, and sometimes one gets through the system and becomes a movie but not nearly enough. Superhero movies are like animated kids movies – they begin to all look alike after a while, and you need something new and original to break the trend. So I don’t mind where the next big idea comes from, whether it’s American or British, I’d just like to see some new styles hit the big time.
And while we’re on it, much though I love all the gritty superhero stuff, it does feel like we’ve left kids behind a little bit now, especially in the comics. It’d be nice to see more Spider-Man and Batman titles being fun and family-friendly rather than just angsty and brutal. I know there are titles like that but hey, my head is in children’s comics, they’re the next generation of comic readers so lets engage them now with titles they might actually enjoy.
You mention a lot of secret projects on Facebook and Twitter. Is there anything you can tell us about these upcoming projects? I think I read something about a novel not so long ago!
The other main project I’ve been working on is Moose Kid Comics, which is my attempt to contribute a bit more to the children’s comics scene. I’ve spent this last year talking to artists and trying to make The Best Children’s Comic We Can Make, filled with new, original-content, characters. And you know what, it looks amazing. That’s not even biased hyperbole, it does look amazing, and the artists we have involved are incredible. Some great names, and great talent. Once it’s complete, it’ll be free to read digitally. More a statement than a money-making exercise, a way to open discussion, something to take to publishers and say “Look, we need more original content children’s comics on the shelves. There are only two. And there are a billion ‘Look how fat this celebrity is’ trash mags.” Doesn’t that seem so wrong? So yeah, maybe we can do something positive. Hopefully it should be released at the end of April, beginning of May, all things being well.
You’ve collaborated with other artists and writers in the past on books like Hairy Steve and Fat Chunk. How different is collaborating compared to working alone? Do you have a preference?
Working on Hairy Steve was amazing, on a purely selfish level, it was one of my favourite comic artists (Steve Bright) drawing the things I was writing. What a buzz! The thing is though, I think the comic was one of the best things I’ve written, and Steve’s work was incredible! We made a one-off single issue, and it’s online to read. It’s like Hellboy mixed with the Wolfman, and I love it, I really do. I wish we could make more.
The process is fun. I don’t know if I’d enjoy it as much if all I was doing was writing for artists, I need to get my fingers inky too, but as a project it was a blast.
Both Corporate Skull and Whubble are set in an office environment. Are these comics inspired by your own experiences?
I hadn’t worked in an office when I started Whubble, but the dynamic and power-struggling characters are just the same in an office as they were in school, or life in general. The setting is almost irrelevant, it’s how the characters interact and are generally horrible to each other which is important. I did work at Cartoon Network full-time for nearly a year, and while that was more of a studio, it was the closest I’d got to a working office environment. And hey everyone there was lovely, but you could still see characters emerging, and I could feel myself feeling like I did at school.
Anything else you want to add? Anything you want to let fans know?
Check out Moose Kid when it’s out, the website has a twitter address which’ll be the first place to announce its actual launch! It’s 36 pages, more than 40 artists, all for freeeee!
Also the rest of my work is at www.fumboo.com. I haven’t updated it for a little while, but there’s still a ton of stuff on there. How do people even have time to update their websites? I don’t get it. I think most people use Tumblr, but I’ve never managed to get more than a couple of notes on Tumblr, and I prefer the clean slate of your own place on the web rather than someone else’s blogging template. Still this is the future I guess. Basically if I’m allowed to keep working at home, drawing silly comics and characters all day every day then I’ll be extremely happy, and the world can keep turning outside my window. I found a corner to sit in and it’s nice here!
Thanks so much for the interview!
Like the man said, check out Fumboo and the links sprinkled throughout this interview. And if that's still not enough Jamie Smart for you, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!
Tagged: comics, TM Interviews.