Mark Andrew Smith is the Harvey & Eisner award winning writer/creator of the Amazing Joy Buzzards, Kill All Parents, & Aqua Leung (all published by Image Comics), as well as co-creator and editor of the brilliant Popgun anthologies. Along with artist Matthew Weldon, Mark is currently working on his second volume of New Brighton Archeological Society, the all-ages original graphic novel series, following the fantasy adventures of the “world’s most famous explorer’s” offspring.
How did you first break-in and get connected with Image?
It seems like so long ago. I think it was a case of determination and then finding Dan Hipp to work with on the Amazing Joy Buzzards. Those two things started the career that I have now.
How did you get hooked up with artist Mathew Weldon?
The New Brighton Archeological Society began as a series of shorts in the Popgun Anthology with Matthew Weldon who I met when he did a pinup for one of my other books.
What’s your process like?
I’ll usually work in scene sections. I’ll be about 40 pages ahead of Matthew and then when he catches up I’ll write the next 40 pages until the book is finished. I like it because it gives me enough of a break in between to muster up creative forces and then I can see his art as it comes in and be inspired as I write the next scenes.
Why an all-ages OGN?
I enjoy the Original Graphic Novel as a format to read but also I enjoy it as a writer for the space and freedom it provides when creating a story. With monthly comics I feel like I’m too ADD to wait for a month. It’s hard to remember what happened in the story after a month. But the direct market is really based on monthly books and that’s what a lot of readers enjoy. My next project out in May, Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, is a Young Adult monthly series.
A huge drawback is that when an Original Graphic Novel comes out it’s got a life of about three months if it’s lucky and then it’s gone. But if you do a monthly series then your name is out for a year with the same amount of work and it can go farther to build an audience. For readers and comic/bookstores it’s hard to take a risk with something in OGN format at a higher price-point that isn’t yet tested material.
Do you think the format is currently overlooked or underexplored?
I don’t think that this particular area of comics is that overlooked and there are a lot of all-ages OGNs that do well. I think it’s much more the larger picture of retailers not ordering a lot of copies of untested material and not reordering when it sells out. The market is flooded and most creators do almost nothing to promote or sell their books. I think creators really should do their best to get the word out about their books outside of the comics market.
Talk about your marketing strategy a little bit. Currently you have a campaign going at Kickstarter to help in production on the next volume, but I imagine you’re also constantly trying to bring new readers in. What creative things are you doing to promote the book?
The answer to that question is ‘everything I can’. I feel like I can be smart with marketing but I don’t want to give away my tricks here for others to use because I learned them over time and they’re mine. I definitely have a playbook but also I wish the book would market itself or elves would do it for me. We did a lot of things that didn’t work also like mailing hard copies out to YA review sites and creating a website. We probably spent $300 mailing out copies and got ten quick reviews.
I think a while ago I heard some famous Authors state that giving away stuff for free was a good way to get people buying the material. So we thought we’d experiment and try it out by posting the comic book online. Web Comics and the idea of doing those were also interesting to me at the time in having something that got over a certain number of subscribers. I think it was great to try but this idea didn’t work or have much of an impact. For webcomics it’s important to follow the form and have something new and then for the free material angle. I think it just didn’t circulate around enough that it was there and that people were able to read it or the updates were so slow that it was hard for people to follow.
So those ones failed but other things that we do are very successful and have an impact. We tried and not everything works. Still it’s important to try new things out.
Is New Brighton available digitally?
I’ve really wanted to get New Brighton onto the Ipad but the wait is next to impossible with the Ipad gatekeepers. I think that approach of the gatekeepers isn’t the best because they all go through one app and then they’re in a candy bowl with a million other books.
The trick is to stand out and to get in front of as many people as you can. I’d like to finance our own app and also go straight to ibooks store. I’m going to look into that and getting my own distribution digitally. I like print because anyone and everyone can publish digitally. I would like to distribute digitally also but not solely digitally.
What does it take for you to consider your book a “success?”
I think what’s important is to get your book out in front of as many people as you can. I think our book is already a success on a personal level. I’d like to get to best seller status of course.
I think success for me then probably means that the book pays my bills and Matthew’s bills for the time that we’re working on it. But we’ll keep working on it for free and do our best to finish the series.