The great thing about comics is that there is so much opportunity for creativity and different variations. I’m interested in promoting as many diverse comic related stories as possible, which is why I’m pleased to present an interview with illustrator Jess Smart Smiley. Jess is promoting an all-ages graphic novel called Fantasy Quest that features puzzles and magic. He needs your help to fund Fantasy Quest through Kickstarter and he spoke to The Comic Vault about the story and what readers can expect.
Fantasy Quest sounds like a fun comic. How would you describe it to potential readers?
Thanks! Fantasy Quest is an all-ages comic, filled with magic, mazes, and mystery! The story follows a little redheaded girl named Sofi who is woken up in the middle of the night by a frog who claims to be a great wizard.
-Will Sofi find the Ice Cream of Power?
-Is she doomed to spend her life stuck in the Basketball Forest?
-Will the Guardians keep Sofi from returning home?
…find out the answers to these looming questions and more in Fantasy Quest!
The comic looks like it’ll be really appealing for kids and adults with the mixture of puzzles and mazes. Why do you think comics are so popular for an adult audience?
Yeah, I should mention that the mazes in the book exist for the reader to complete and move the story forward. The mazes turn the story into more of a conversation between the book and reader.
There are so many kinds of comics available that I can’t help but think there really is a comic for every reader. Graphic memoirs, comics about genetics and mathematics, horror comics, mystery comics, action and adventure comics, fantasy, historical…Comics have a lot to offer adults from all walks of life, and comics have a unique way of telling stories that aren’t available in films, tv, novels, podcasts, and other formats.
You mentioned you read Maze Quest by Wai Wai Pang and Ed Cheverton. How influential was the story in the creation of Sofi and her world?
Wai Wai Pang and Ed Cheverton’s Maze Quest is such a charming and playful comic—everyone go get a copy right now!
Reading Maze Quest sparked a memory of my twelve-year-old self, passing mazes and comics with my friends in class. The mazes we made became doorways to fantastic and dangerous adventures, and our comics were bombastic and ridiculous.
I followed that memory and nostalgia by writing and drawing different ideas that came to me, and eventually Fantasy Quest was formed.
Do you have any favourite comic writers and if so, what are some of your favourite stories?
Yes! So many!
-Aaron Renier’s The Unsinkable Walker Bean is a high-seas fantasy adventure that packs a surprising amount of character and story into every panel and page.
-Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is such a wonderful coming-of-age story that takes me right to my early teens, complete with all the struggles, emotions, and friendships of the time.
-Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports books are all kinds of amazing, as are
-Luke Pearson’s Hilda series.
-Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo is a richly illustrated deep-dive into the mysterious (and playful) world of monster-hunting.
-Ben Clanton’s Narwhal books are hilarious and adorable and perfect for reading with children.
-Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant’s Ariol series is smart, sweet, and filled with heart.
-Doug TenNapel’s Iron West is all kinds of bonkers. Go read it.
-Chris Ware’s Building Stories, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, and Quimby the Mouse are touching explorations of humanity, as well as revelations on the comics medium.
-Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a powerful story and one of the few books I’ve read that lives up to its hype.
How did your career in illustration begin and at what point did you decide you wanted to transition into being a comic creator?
Comics have almost always been a part of drawing and storytelling for me. Little Jess would draw parody comics of the X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I studied graphic design and illustration in college and would find ways to use what I was learning in Typography and 2D Design in my comics. Every now and then I would turn in a comic I had made as part of a painting or drawing assignment. I think it was my way of understanding how pictures can tell stories and how the meaning of words can be changed by the way they look.
All throughout college I submitted drawings, designs, and story ideas to book publishers, magazines, bloggers, and websites, hoping to get my work published and shared. It wasn’t until 2010 that I actually wrote, illustrated, and completed an entire 144-page that would later be published by Top Shelf Productions.
As you’re using Kickstarter to fund Fantasy Quest, can you describe what kind of incentives readers will have for donating?
The Kickstarter is all about the limited-edition printed comic, which comes with 1 of 3 collectible enamel pins, and an original drawing. Backers can also schedule a one-on-one Skype visit or dare me to eat an entire pizza!
You’ve had success with other graphic novels like Upside Down: A Vampire Tale and Spooky Sleepover. Did you use a crowdfunding approach to help produce them?
Upside Down: A Vampire Tale was published traditionally by Top Shelf Productions, and Spooky Sleepover was funded via Kickstarter. Both were very different experiences.
What’s your opinion on the independent comic industry and do you feel it’s become easier for indie writers to get their work in front of an audience compared to a decade ago?
Indie creators are in a great position! There are a wealth of accessible resources available to anyone looking to create their own comic, including information on writing and drawing techniques, printing options, and small press events. There are also plenty of indie creators that are willing to share their experiences with other creators, which can be incredibly helpful. There are also more platforms and faster/easier methods for sharing indie comics than ever before.
How important do you feel the collaboration process is between other creatives when trying to publish something independently?
Collaborations can be an enormous amount of work, but the benefits cannot be overstated. When the needs of a project are the primary focus of a collaboration, your limits as a creator tend to fall away.
You’ll also be releasing a cartoon-making guide called Let’s Make Comics! An Activity Book to Create, Writer and Draw Your Own Cartoons later this year. Do you feel the book could help encourage a new generation of comic artists?
I hope so! More than anything, I hope the activities will be a kind of game that people can play, while also making (and finishing) comics, and learning about various comics-making tools, techniques, and methods.
What kind of advice would you offer to someone who wants to create their own comic or graphic novel?
Do it! Start with just 3 or 4 panels drawn in ink. Don’t worry about messing up—just keep drawing. At this point it’s more important to finish than it is to be perfect.
Also: no one is forcing you to make your comic, so you might as well enjoy the process. Put on some good music, find a comfy spot, and draw/write something you’re excited about.
Jess Smart Smiley is an illustrator and indie comic creator. You can donate to Fantasy Quest’s Kickstarter campaign now to help get the comic funded.