Spandexless Talks: Mark Andrew Smith of Sullivan's Sluggers / by Patrick Smith

A few years ago I was in my local shop perusing the bookshelves with nothing really jumping out at me. The shop's owner whom I had become friendly with noticed my bored expression and asked what was wrong. I told him I was just sort of bored with a lot of books that were out, I wanted to read something crazy. Something that had energy. The guy nodded and asked me to give him one second and soon he came back with The Amazing Joy Buzzards and Won Ton Soup. I flipped through them and simply replied "yeah, just like that!"I read both volumes in one sitting and the talent involved in both just immediately caught my attention. The Amazing Joy Buzzards was written by Mark Andrew Smith and illustrated by Dan Hipp while Won Ton Soup was written and illustrated by James Stokoe. Afterwards I made a point to keep an ear out for any projects all were involved in. So when I found out that Mark Andrew Smith was collaborating with Stokoe I knew that I had to find out more about that project. It turned out to be Sullivan's Sluggers, a book touted as a horror-baseball story. Mark was nice enough to take some time out and speak with me about the project, which will be seeking funds through Kickstarter to complete the nearly 200 page full cover graphic novel launched recently. Over the course of our conversation we talked about everything from the artistic might of James Stokoe, balancing horror and humor, and why Kickstarter is the perfect tool for creators that want a more personal connection with readers.

Spandexless:  To start with why don't you tell me a little bit about the history of this project. James Stokoe and yourself have been working on this for four years now correct?

Mark Andrew Smith:  I think it's been four years. The idea came to me around 2005, and I worked on it a little bit and then tucked it away in 'a drawer' so to speak, technically a computer file, but it wasn't until about 2009 that I really started working on it. I asked James Stokoe who I've been a huge fan of from the Popgun series I created and edited with Joe Keatinge, and I think it was Joe that suggested James for the project. So the short story is I e-mailed James and he said yes, but it was around his other comic work, and paying jobs.  So it took a really long time to wrap up. Part of it is my fault because the book was originally just going to be about a hundred pages, but I got carried away when I was writing it and kept coming up with great stuff, like a kid in a candy store.  The final script I think is around 190 pages.  Which is why it took a lot longer.

S:  I can definitely understand the being like a kid and a candy store, especially with an artist like Stokoe being involved. When you were fleshing out the script was there anything in particular that you added to play with his strengths?

MAS:  I was fleshing out the script before his Orc Stain series had come out but I had read his other book 'Wonton Soup' and knew what he could do from there. Although Orc Stain was originally in Popgun so I had a good idea. As a writer it's always nice to know who you're writing for and that way you can play up to their strengths.  I think with a book like Sullivan's it really is an energy that James is able to capture and convey on the page with this baseball team and all of the different personalities on it, so I think that's where he nailed it and he was also fantastic about coming up with the monsters. Some of the pages I'd write them, and get them back and my jaw would drop and I think getting pages from James really motivated me to write the next section and make more noise as I did the writing so he actually motivated me a lot. I also know he can do giant monsters, and I think with Sullivan's it's more grounded in 'reality' than his normal work too, so it was a change for him and for him to do horror.

S:  I can only imagine what it must have been like to get these pages back, you were nice enough to send me a good chunk of the finished book and I can honestly say that the book is stunning

MAS:  Thank you.

S:  But I also completely see what your saying about it being grounded in reality.

MAS:  Yeah, and it's not to diminish the value, James is great at drawing fantasy worlds, but for this book it needed to be grounded more in reality for the horror aspect of it but he still goes all out with the designs and really animating the characters on the page and bringing them to life.

S:  Actually I think if your a reader that’s familiar with Stokoe’s work, such as myself, being familiar with some of the more fantastical aspects of his style really helps the juxtaposition of the grounding here.

MAS:  I agree. I think for Sullivan's the influence for me was really kind of big and epic classic manga from the 60s, and then splatter horror films like Evil Dead by Sam Raimi and Dead Alive by Peter Jackson.

S:  I'll admit my background in manga is limited, but I totally see the DNA of Dead Alive here. Particularly in how the book has a balance of legitimate horror and humor. Was that something you particularly went after while writing it?

MAS:  It was.  I wanted something that was scary, gory, bloody, but also a lot of fun.  Where there are horrible moments happening but they're enjoyable to read. I guess in a few ways there's a similar vibe in Shaun of the Dead or Zombie Land so if people liked those films they'll enjoy Sullivan's.

S: I can definitely vouch for that from what I've seen, now as for how people can get their hands on the book you guys are going to be going the route that is becoming more and more the norm when it comes to comics projects in that your going to be seeking funding to complete the project through Kickstarter. Is there a particular reason for that?

MAS:  I'm doing Sullivan's Sluggers on Kickstarter because I want to try something new and I want to sell directly to my readers, and have the direct contact with them I think it makes a lot more sense from a business perspective to do that, and I'll put books out in comic shops too but so often they just break even and after four years of working on a project I'd have nothing to show for it through comic shops. So it makes sense to do Kickstarter from a business standpoint, and we keep in contact with our fanbase for the next book we do and build up from there. However I think it's terrifying because it is a big risk to be enterprising and an entrepreneur, but also with risk comes reward.

S:  Kickstarter is definitely unique in that it gives you a somewhat unprecedented access to your readers and almost acts as a publisher on demand type model. Personally as of late I've been "preordering" more books through Kickstarter than I ever did through Diamond.

MAS: I'm going to do that too, I think my goal for this year will be to set an amount to spend on comics, but only buy them through Kickstarter. Also it's nice because you know your numbers, and how many copies to print, and also with the Internet people can share, and promote you.  I like that a lot. It's more interesting that way, and there are so many great projects coming through there and it actually helps the creators more than buying books in stores.

S:  But also I think that stores and Kickstarters can coexist, they just allow customers different sorts of access to different kinds of creators.

MAS:  I think so too. It's not a case of one taking out the other. They can coexist, and I think that by building a better bridge directly to readers that creators make their projects more popular and actually seed and increase the demand for shops.

S:  Speaking of that demand, once Sullivan’s Sluggers’ Kickstarter completes will there be any way for people to get the book afterward? Wasn't Image attached as the publisher?

MAS:  I think we may go through Image and release the book in shops.  We're doing a hardcover on Kickstarter that's limited.

I think my ideal would be to do the hardcover, then wait a year, do singles, and then wait a year or two and do the TPB.

S:  That’s definitely an interesting idea, sort of rewarding people for getting on early but not necessarily penalizing people who missed out.

MAS:  It's a weird line where I have to make money on the book or make money back but I also want people to read it or be able to buy it, the later two are secondary because I really want to push people towards the hardcover because that's what pays the bills and makes it easier to do more projects for me.

S:  I get that, as a creator there’s always seems to be that tightrope you have to walk between getting your art out but not go broke in the process. So I guess the big question is when will the Kickstarter officially launch and how much money are you guys looking to raise?

MAS:  The Kickstarter is up now. It's starting at a minimum of $6,000 to print the book, and if we go over that will help with other projects to get them out faster. I have four things that I'm really excited about in the works but Sullivan's has to do well on Kickstarter to give those the push that they need.

S:  Are you willing to give us any details on those potential projects?

MAS:  I think right now there's so much progress to be made on them, but I can only talk about one. One is an original all new project that I can't talk about, but it will be on Kickstarter also. The second is an original prequel, color, hardcover Amazing Joy Buzzards story which is the first book I ever did. That's drawn by Cristian Gonzales who is stepping in for Dan Hipp and takes place before any of the original Amazing Joy Buzzards stories.  It also is great for new readers and can be read on its own.

S:  As a guy who literally has a copy of The Amazing Joy Buzzards volume 1 a foot away from him right this second that is the best news I've heard all night.

MAS:  Thanks.  And Dan is nearly done with the next one in the series.  I know it's been four years but Monster Love is nearly complete after all this time Haha.

S:  That was quite literally my next question.

MAS:  There were three volumes planned and hopefully something happens that's good to let us get the last one out faster.  But I don't know, I'm never certain and it depends on Dan.

S:  of course, well as for the present I am sure Sullivans Sluggers will do great over at Kickstarter but other than that do you have any other projects you would want people to check out?

MAS:  I have New Brighton Archeological Society and Gladstone's School for World Conquerors in stores, which are all ages titles but don't let that fool you, they're full of adventure.

To find out more about Mark follow him on Twitter and make sure to check out his Tumblr for Gladstone's School for World Conquerors  progress and The New Brighton Archeological Society which is available online. You can also donate to the Kickstarter for Sullivan's Sluggers through June 16.