31 March 2008

Profiled at the Small Press League

The Small Press Leauge.

Member Profile: Shannon Smith
January 12, 2008

You can find Shannon Smith at
shannonsmith.net, where you’ll find links to his artwork, minicomics, web comics and his minicomics review site, File Under “Other”. A collection of his minicomics, Sleepwalker, is due out this Spring.

What attracts you to comics as an art form? I love the purity and freedom of it. Comics can be as beautiful or wretched as any other visual art, but its ability to communicate is stronger than any form of expression I can think of. One might argue that film can do more than comics, but one person can’t just sit down and make a movie in an afternoon. I can write, draw, print and distribute a comic in a day. From the reader’s point of view, comics are also much more personal than other mediums. The reader controls the pace and time. It’s up to the reader to decide what is going on between panels. The creator can try to force their intention on the reader, but each reader will read each comic in their own way. It is much more interpretive in that way than a film can be. Comics are also closer to how our minds work. The way we perceive the world is all relative to our mind’s warehouse of memories. We remember things in random, loosely connected images. Just like comics.

What is appealing/satisfying to you about self-publishing? Once again I’ll say freedom. Also the immediacy of if. I don’t need an editor or publisher to make a comic. I can just make it. These are exciting times to make comics. With web comics and online print-on-demand companies, the only obstacle I see as a creator trying to reach an audience is my own lack of time and skill. Even just making mini-comics, I can distribute them through the web and small conventions. I also meet a lot of nice people along the way. Plus, I just like making them. I like the printing and folding and stapling, etc. Making books is fun.

How would you define success as an artist, and have you achieved it? I look at each project as its own entity. My idea of success for each project is simply that the finished project that the reader holds in their hands (or reads online) is true to the original spark of inspiration. If I’ve brought the thing to life successfully, then I’m happy with it. I’ve achieved that a few times. My mini Brush and Pen came out exactly as I imagined it. Some of my three paged foldys have come out as planned. As far as success as an artist? Like a career or something? Just to have the time, tools and skills to tell the stories I want to tell and an audience to enjoy them. I guess most folks would say that to make any kind of living at it would be great. That would be nice.

What artists have inspired you the most? As a guitarist, it’s easy to see my influences as the people I sat down and learned to imitate. As a cartoonist, I would have to go all the way back to being a kid copying coloring books, Sunday funnies, and the Marvel, DC and Charlton comics of the 70’s and 80’s. I could name a hundred names from those days and they would probably be the same guys most people my age would name. The Chaykin and Infantino Star Wars comics were a big influence on me. When I was a kid, I had this one cartooning book that must have been printed in the 40’s or 50’s, because it had all these caricature instructions on how to draw people like Eisenhower and Roosevelt and the old Hollywood Stars. I probably don’t draw much differently today than I did when I was imitating that book. Since I started making comics again as an adult, I’ve been inspired by folks like R. Crumb, Julie Doucet, Paul Pope, David Mack, Gilbert Hernandez, Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, David B., Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware… I could go on and on. The usual suspects. I came upon alternative comics pretty late in the game, so I’m still consuming the stuff as fast as I can. Just everything I guess. Whenever I’m stumped or need a spark, I often go back to my box of Archie comics and look to Dan DeCarlo for inspiration. At lot of my inspiration to make comics — or at least to make better comics — comes from reading stuff from people I know, like Brad McGinty and Josh Latta.

What artists do you most see being “the next big thing?” Speaking of… Brad McGinty and Josh Latta. Both are super smart and talented and just plain make good comics. Both are probably just one nice fat collection of comics away from getting a lot of notice and respect. Same with J. Chris Campbell. Josh Simmons is one of comics’ best kept secrets. His mini comic Jessica Farm is one of the best minis I’ve ever read. I saw that Fantagraphics will be publishing it this year. Drew Weing, Eleanor Davis, Patrick Dean… lots of great folks making comics in the south. I could go on and on.

What do you see as the most common theme in your work? My work so far has been pretty minimal. I have three or four longer projects I’ve been working on for years that have some strong themes, but as far as the comics I’ve actually finished and printed — it’s kind of all over the place. I wouldn’t call it a theme, but I’m very interested in the idea that almost everyone is an emotional mess when you get right down to it. I guess I’m interested in weirdos. They seem to be interested in me. I also find stereotypes and clichés interesting. At lot of my dialog is 100% cliché but people really do talk that way. I find it fascinating how people are completely comfortable falling into the mold of a stereotype and speaking in the same clichés they hear from their friends or on TV. I find it hilarious. We are all silly little animals with the same silly little animal problems. I’m fascinated by the economy and effectiveness of old TV sitcoms. Again, not a theme but I like playing with that formula.

What project(s) are you working on currently that we can expect to see next? I have a full-time job, I’m a full-time daddy and husband, and at the moment I’m a full time college student. I’m working on collecting all my mini comics into one book by the spring. It will be called Sleepwalker. I’m about a third of the way through with a mini comic called The Lucas Code. It is written by my friend Paul McDonald. It’s part satire and part philosophy primer disguised as a Star Wars/DiVinci Code parody. I’ve been working on a series of small three-paged foldy comics, and I’ll continue to do that as long as I have ideas for them. I also have a web comic I’m working on called The Next War but I won’t start posting until I have several months of strips in the bank. Maybe in the spring. Behind the scenes, in top secret, I’m doing my real work on some longer more ambitions graphic novels. Everything else up to this point has just been practice. I doubt any of the three projects see print before 2009, but I hope to start posting some art soon. Like pre-production teaser stills. The book I will most likely finish first is called It’s Never Easy But Sometimes It’s Hard. It’s about a vegetarian lion who wants to be a farmer but has to go to war against a Wolf Dragon, or… It’s about an alcoholic surgeon who wants to write children’s books but has to go to war against boogeymen and demons, or… It’s about a girl who wants to have a tea party but has to go to war…
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