Mark Andrew Smith is the co-creator of the Popgun Anthology which has helped to further the careers of some of the top talent in the comic book industry. He is also the brains behind the excellent Gladstone's School for World Conquerors and half the muscle behind one of the most successful comics projects in Kickstarter history, Sullivan's Sluggers with Orc Stain's James Stokoe. PING! Mother Box PING! sat down with MAS to talk about Kickstarting, Sullivan's Sluggers, being an editor, loving comics and grabbing your dreams by the horns.
One thing I like to ask everyone I interview is, what got you into comics? Do you remember the first comic you read that really stood out to you?
When I was a kid they stocked comic books at 7-11, so I’d always go in there, camp out and read everything. No one minded or said anything because I was six. The first comics that really stood out to me were Amazing Spider-Man and then the Mirage run of TMNT. I was a child of the 80s and 90s.
Was comics creation always something you pursued or, like many creators, did you exist on the periphery of the industry for a time until something sparked the realization in you that it was a viable career option?
No. I entered as a comic book writer in full. I always liked comics and wanted to create comics for my job ever since I was ten years old. It’s pretty cool that I do that now, and 10 year old me, well his head would explode I think knowing what I do now. I fell out of comics after the 90s bust, and rediscovered them in college while in film school, also reading everything I could about comic theory. I caught up on all the books I’d missed and saw the range and potential for comics, and that and being in film school, it was the perfect storm.
Your first book was discovered by Eric Stephenson. How proud does it make you now to be able to work alongside Stephenson in this current publishing landscape where Image is really dominating the market in quality?
Image has flourished under Eric Stephenson’s direction, and he has excellent sensibilities as a publisher.
Being an editor yourself, what tool set would you say a really great comics creator should possess?
You need a lot of tools. You need a Batman utility belt of tools. So bring everything you can.
You co-created the Popgun anthology which has done a lot to highlight newer talent. How important do you feel anthology publications are to the medium and are they still sort of the best way for a new creator to break in?
Anthologies are a great way to break in, because an artist can draw a few pages and get their feet wet. Then when they go up to a publisher at a con, they can say ‘I’ve done such and such a book’ and that’s an in.
You’ve had a fairly dichotomous career path, with titles under your belt like New Brighton Archaeological Society which are geared toward an all ages audience and your new book Sullivan’s Sluggers with Orc Stain James Stokoe, which surely is not. Have you found maintaining that balance to be difficult?
No. I’ve always written a wide range of material and tried to diversify genres. It just so happens that the all ages material is the work that found its way out first.
You and Stokoe decided to fund your project through Kickstarter, which was a rousing success. I’m sure you’d seen Kickstarters go well beyond their original funding goal before, but did you have any idea there’d be this much support for yours?
I was going to be happy if it was 30K, I told myself. Now for the next one, I need to keep those same expectations, and just stay realistic. It was huge to see that much support for our book and this is a new model.
You’ve decided to offer the book exclusively to those who contribute to Kickstarter, choosing to cut out the middle man and handle distribution yourselves. What was the impetus behind this decision?
I’ve been publishing for nine years, and never made anything on books, or I’d lose money. In this system it’s backwards and everyone gets paid before the creator does, and sometimes everyone makes money and the creators are stuck with debt from creating the books. I knew that to win the game, you had to reprogram everything, and rewrite the rules. That’s why I did it. I wrote about it in my ‘A to B Manifesto’ that you can find online.
Sullivan’s Sluggers is about a team of baseball players set against a town full of monstrous denizens. Did this book grow out of a love for baseball from either you or Stokoe, or did you both just think it offered a chance for some interesting storytelling?
It started because I liked the imagery of baseball players as a team beating monsters bloody to a pulp with baseball bats. The book grew and grew into something rich and complex, and still fun, and meaningful. The story telling and action really are minute by minute and second by second, which you don’t see very often.
Sullivan’s Sluggers was kind of a long time in the works. Did you try to pitch it to traditional publishers to no avail, or was it always something you worked on as a pet project when you had time off from other projects?
It was picked up and going to go out into shops, but the original book was going to be a lot shorter, and as I was writing it, it grew and grew.
Now that you’ve spearheaded a very successful Kickstarter campaign, what advice would you give to those creators considering using crowd sourcing as a way to fund their books?
I have too many tips, and I think I’m going to write my tens rules of Kickstarter soon in the future. J I think a good one, is don’t guilt your friends into buying your book, just ask for their support by having them hit ‘Share’ and ‘Tweet’ about it, and those go a really long distance. I didn’t ask any of my friends to buy ‘Sullivan’s’ but did the later and it paid off. To pull off a good Kickstarter, you’ve got to plan it out months in advance, and just think about it for a month or two.
Lastly, what advice would you give to creators just starting out in the industry about how to break in, and, more importantly, how to stay confident in the face of rejection?
People are always saying ‘follow your dreams’. But, to simply follow them is not enough. It’s passive and wishful thinking. The reality is that you have to chase your dreams down, grapple with them, body-slam them, get them into a submission move, and to hold them down for the 1-2-3 count. That’s how dreams are made reality because nothing in this world is easy.
Mark Andrew Smith's "A - B Manifesto" can be found here. He is also on Twitter (@MarkAndrewSmith) as is his Sullivan's Sluggers co-creator James Stokoe (@HeGotGronch). Sullivan's Sluggers #1 is currently available through Comixology.