Interview: Comic Book Writer Mark Andrew Smith

I first heard about Mark Andrew Smith’s work when his graphic novel The New Brighton Archeological Society came out and garnered tons of good reviews. I read it and found it to be a fun, refreshing story. I recently picked up his latest effort Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, and it too was an excellent read. Mark is great at creating worlds and giving characters a unique and realistic feel. He was kind enough to do this interview, and I learned a lot about him and his process.

First, tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like reading and I enjoy watching movies, but so does everyone else, so I think that’s a boring answer to your question. Haha. At the same time I don’t want to make anything up to make me look impressive. I like eating good food, and then hanging out with my girlfriend.

Favorite comic book character and/or superhero?

I like Wolverine because he’s the best at what he does. It’s not a unique answer or one that I’m proud of haha. Venom is also very original and cool just because he has one of the best costumes.

Do you remember what your first comic book was? Do you still have it?

I think the first book I read was Groo, Mad Magazine, Scrooge McDuck Adventures, GI Joe, Detective Comics, or Archie. I really don’t remember. Comics were everywhere when I was a kid and I’d sit inside the 7-11 camped out in the isle reading them for free. I don’t think I actually own any comics because I move so much. I wish could collect and amass a collection.

How did you get into writing? Did you start in another medium, or was comic book writing your first?

I was a film student at UCSB, and rediscovered comics in film school. I was interested in that time at writing movies and also comics. My friends at film school were really motivated and out shooting movies and writing scripts. I think that was very motivating because I saw them doing it and wanted to come up with something that was cool as well. I’d read ‘Understanding Comics’ for the first time that year and Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think & Grow Rich’. Put those two together and they make an explosive combination. In film school I wrote a screenplay because I wanted to see if I had it in me. It was called “Victorian Space Tales”. I did it as more of a challenge to see if I could complete it. After that I started writing comic scripts and the first issues of ‘The Amazing Joy Buzzards’. But I think it took me a long time to grow, and they say for every writer to grow they have to get a thousand bad pages out first so that the good pages can come.

Who are some of your influences, both in comics and outside?

I think I have far too many and a lot of those are from films and tv shows. It would take me ages to come up with a list of influences. I should make a top twenty movies list to have on hand for questions like these. For comics my tastes change every year.

You co-created the award-winning (and amazing) Popgun anthology. How did that come about?

I inherited another anthology and asked Joe Keatinge about what we should do for it. The other anthology morphed into Popgun and Joe Keatinge came aboard. We both knew about a lot of artists that we loved, but whose work was not popular yet at the time. After inviting our favorites, the book grew and grew. I think most of the Popgun books clock in at around 500 pages and it was a beast to work on.

New Brighton Archeological Society and Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors are both excellent books written for all-ages. What draws you to these types of stories? Is there a particular reason you wanted these books to be all-ages?

I think there’s a lot of fun that can be had with all ages books and writing for a general audience. Mike Allred and Scott Morse were both influences on my work and seeing what they did, and how fantastic all ages stories can feel was great. I wanted to do a book that I could give my grandfather, and that my dad could give to the neighbor kids. Something that worked on a few levels like the Simpsons where it can be enjoyed by adults for the story and plot twists, and also by kids for the goofiness and fun of the characters and the artwork.

By the way, it’s hard finding good all-ages books for my kids. It’s kind of a shame I can’t just pick up the latest Batman or Spider-Man or whatever comic for them without worrying about what they’ll see inside. So thank you for creating these awesome books.

In both those books, young characters make up the majority of the cast. Do you do any specific research for writing young people, or is it mainly just remembering what it was like when you were younger?

I have younger brothers and cousins in my family, but they got older haha. So they’re not that young now. But a lot of it would be remembering their mannerisms and goofy antics.

What can you tell us about Sullivan’s Sluggers, your next project?

Sullivan’s Sluggers is not all ages haha. What a topic transition, from all ages to Sullivan’s Sluggers! Hehe.

Sullivan’s Sluggers is a baseball horror comic book series. It’s about a team of washed up pro players that travel around and play farm league teams for extra cash. They stumble into a town with a curse on it and after the sun goes down, the townspeople turn into flesh hungry monsters. The team have to use all of their baseball skills and wits to survive the night and to get out of this cursed town.

When crafting a story, does a certain aspect always come first, be it characters, or storyline, or the world?

No, it’s always something different. Sometimes it could be a name or a title that’s interesting like for Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors that I want to explore. Sometimes it could be a sketch I make in a notebook or a brainstorm session like Amazing Joy Buzzards. Or sometimes it can be more of a mood that I want to evoke and characters like with the New Brighton Archeological Society.

How detailed are you in your scripts? Do you give the artist a lot of instruction, or just kind of turn them loose? Or does it depend on the artist?

I think the two ends of the spectrum are screenplay style and Alan Moore style. I’m in the middle, and I’ll start a scene and describe everything at first to establish things, and then it gets more into the action, the beats, and how it’s paced by panel. I think my writing is more rhythmic for this reason. The artist is the director and I’ll let them go loose on it. Then after the art is in, I’ll go over the dialogue script again, and gut all the panel descriptions to create a script for the letterer. I know every great writer should write ‘Alan Moore style’ but that’s just not appealing at all for me to turn the artist into a machine. Feeding and inspiring enthusiasm and energy goes a long way.

Many people still think of comics as simply superheroes bashing each other, something we know isn’t true. (though there’s plenty of that to be found) Based on Mummy Girl’s monologue in Gladstone’s, (and the dedication to Scott McCloud) it seems the huge variety within comics is something you’re actively trying to raise awareness of. Have you gotten any feedback, positive or negative about that?

I think everyone that read the book knew about it. So I was preaching to the choir but having fun doing it and I think most people really enjoyed it. It was one of those terrifying moments where I loved it when I wrote it, but then as it got closer, I started to bite my nails and second guess my instincts. Thankfully I didn’t and took the original course. I think a lot of people now have Mummy Girl as their favorite character in the book because of that scene.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, who?

Sometimes, but vocals really distract me. I can’t listen to anything with words in it when I write. That really narrows things down. I need to reconnect with music again because it is good to have different tones and energy that music and different songs can evoke during a day of writing.

Other than Sullivan’s Sluggers and hopefully new Gladstone’s and New Brighton books, what else can we look for in the future from you?

I think that’s it for this year and if I pull off those three, I’ll be very happy. There are other things that I’m working on but if I announced them it would be too soon, and people would loose enthusiasm for them or be asking me why they aren’t out yet. These days I hold the hand close to the vest and I think readers are more surprised when a project comes out that they didn’t know about.

Any advice for those looking to break into writing for comics?

Write every day and flex your writing muscles. Read a lot. Then keep a note book or a word document and fill it with strange quirky dialogue you think of or story ideas. When you finish something you can go back to something you had earlier. Also exercise is great for writing. A lot of Gladstone’s was thought up on hikes, on the treadmill at the gym, or while doing laps in the swimming pool. Doing physical activity where you get to zone out, and kind of meditate, and let your mind wander, is so great for writing.

Any other pearls of wisdom?

No pearls, just oysters.

Thanks so much to Mark for taking the time to do this interview! He’s an incredibly nice guy and a great writer. Do yourself a favor and check out his work, and keep an eye out for Sullivan’s Sluggers. I’m sure it’s going to be another great book.

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