Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Interview - Martin Smith

I'm going to try something a little different and hopefully I can keep this going as a feature, the plan is to try and get an interview with people whose work I'm into. I'll try and get an insight into why they do what they do and also what kind of stuff they're into themselves.

Without further ado, here's my first interview! Ladies and gentlemen Mr. Martin Smith

Mr.Martin Smith and his best ever pic!

First of all, for those unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little about yourself.

I'm Martin, a Welsh small press comic creator of superhuman size and strength! I write and self-publish horror comics under the Attackosaur banner, selling them at various UK conventions and through my website, the snappily titled Attackosaur.com. My hobbies include labouring away at a film degree at Aberystwyth University.

Why Attackosaur Comics?

In an effort to appear more professional than I actually am - more like a company and less like a guy with £60 worth of software and a box of comics under his bed - I thought I should use some kind of logo. Marvel have one. I needed more things that they have. With dinosaurs being my one true love and the only thing I'm any kop at drawing (not that much kop, mind), I settled on Attackosaur. It's a dinosaur, but he attacks things. Instead of dino-ing things. Naturally.

How and why did you get into the comic book industry?

Sadly, I don't think I'm in it. I'm super excited to be part of the UK small press industry though, if industry is the right word. I got into making comics through film. For years, I'd spend every waking hour writing film scripts. Eventually, I realised that I was always having to scale my ideas back for financial or taste reasons ("There's no way I can get an actor to do that on camera!"). Then, I think I saw the movie adaptation of American Splendor and realised that all comics aren't just made by huge companies sitting on scripts for years at a time. Having been into them ever since reading From Hell as a teenager, I figured comics would solve all of the problems I'd had with the restrictions of screenwriting. Of course, it's completely different from screenwriting in almost every way, but by the time I understood that I was well into it and enjoying it as its own medium. 

What was your first book and how do you feel about it now with hindsight?

It was a slow-burning horror set during the Blitz called Paralysis. I find it impossibly clunky in places now - the story hits some of the right notes, but in really clumsy ways that would need much more room than I gave them - but I'm still proud of it. I still think it's a fun story, though it must've been a nightmare for the artist to draw all that talking and brooding. I was going for an old-fashioned Vincent Price kinda vibe and I think that still comes through. Just seeing the comic in print was magic, to be honest. I damn near did a little wee when I first saw someone else's drawing of a character I thought up.

Over the course of your other releases how do you feel your skill as a writer has developed?

My old scripts make me cringe a little, which is a good sign! The Arvon Foundation were amazing and gave me a grant to be able to attend a week-long comics workshop with Bryan Talbot (Grandville, Luther Arkwright) and Hannah Berry (Britten & Brulightly) which was invaluable, smashing home the insane amount of thought that needs to go into every detail of every panel. After devouring as many writing books as is humanly possible (anything by David Mamet or Scott McCloud is absolute gold), I'm much more confident with story structure. Still wonky on other things, mind! I'm currently digging into retro comics (e.g. Simon & Kirby) for inspiration. 

What are you working on right now?

I'm working with a top-notch artist named Nicolas Giacondino on a new exorcism-based comic called Devil Executioner. I'm lettering the pages for that as they come in. Not having a huge distribution machine or the brilliant marketing skills of a Stan Lee, I have to work in one-shots. Developing a series is a bit more than I can afford or handle at the moment. That said, I love one-shots. There's something satisfying about finishing a script and moving onto completely different material. All of them being self-contained gives me a handy leg-up with the sales aspect as well. It's much easier to convince someone to take a chance on a single comic.

So do you think you may create a series later on down the road or are you happy to keep producing one shots?

If I come up with a cool enough idea I'll be back on it in a flash for another one-shot. Quite happy to leave it at one if that doesn't happen, mind. A series is expensive stuff when you can't draw! (Though I'm trying to learn, so fingers crossed.

Anything in the pipeline after you finish Devil Executioner?

I'm hammering away at a couple of horrors. The first is a dirty little thing set in Wales - I'm trying to do a little for Wales of what Tobe Hooper did for Texas - and the other is a historical murder mystery set after the fall of the Knights Templar in the 14th Century. There might even be a sword-fight in that one!

You mentioned earlier that you're from Wales, and you've said you're working on something set in Wales. Do you think that being Welsh and in Wales helps or hinders you in any way or do you even think it has any influence on your work?

It's a bit of a hindrance in that I'm pretty far away from most of the conventions and comic shops that I could otherwise pester into stocking one of my comics. As far as stopping me breaking in or anything like that, I don't think it matters that much. Alan Moore is a comics god and he's from Northampton. I can think of only one thing from Northampton, and it's him. As for how much it influences my work, I couldn't really say. It makes me want to write stories about Wales though, especially considering how invisible the country is in popular media. I wish that made Welsh stuff exotic in some way, but I don't reckon it does. The Scots and the Irish are always stealing our non-English thunder!

One of the features of your work, and in particular A Rope Around Your Broken Neck, is the depth of the research that seems to go into each book. Is the research a part of writing that you enjoy?

Love it! I tend to choose an idea to develop depending on how interesting the research is going to be. I sometimes get carried away and do more than is really necessary, but it always leads to new ideas and the sort of perspective you can't really get from anywhere other than real life accounts. If my knowledge of a subject completely comes from films and comics I've read about it, I feel like whatever I produce will be kind of false and removed from reality by an extra layer. If I write a story about a secret agent and don't go beyond watching Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible, I'm basing my story on a fictional account of reality and not reality itself. I've let someone else decide for me which are the most interesting parts of the job. I'd be writing a comic about spy movies rather than spies, if that makes sense.

Do you find that the story is easier to write once you get into the research or do you find it sometimes means you can't go in directions you were thinking about?

It's easier when you find great little details you can use and when, as with Paralysis, the situation lends itself to the character's mood and the atmosphere, but it can totally mess with your plans. A Rope Around Your Broken Neck completely changed. The original pitch was 'The Fugitive during the Great Plague of London.' Harrison Ford was going to have the plague and this doctor would chase him down in his creepy outfit. There was a big sword-fight at the end and everything! The research, though, was brutal. The Great Plague by Stephen Porter is one of the most horrific things I've ever read. What seemed like a fascinating subject at first, a fun backdrop for an action comic, was of course in reality one of the most tragic things to ever happen to the country. Reading account after account of slow, agonising death with weekly death tolls in their thousands stopped me from ever being able to write something as trivial as an action story in that setting. It's easy to gloss over it because it's not in recent memory, but think of having a half dozen 9/11s every week. I didn't feel comfortable using something like that as a backdrop. If that's in a story, for me, that is the story. I'd still like to rip off The Fugitive at some point, mind. I'll just have to set it somewhere nice. 

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

It'd be lovely to be paid to write full time, but I'm perfectly happy to keep knocking out self-published comics until I am but a useless husk of a man. 

Right then seeing as the point of me setting up the site was to try and put people on to the stuff I enjoy and to be positive about the all the great art that's out there right now, I've decided that I'll try and get the people I interview to give a few recommendations for stuff to check out and an insight into their favourite films/books/music.

From a creative stand point who influences you and why/how?

Kazuo Koike, definitely. The massive amount of research that seems to have gone into Lone Wolf and Cub is insane. It feels like you could read them as history books alone even if they didn't have those brilliant, mostly stand-alone stories. The amount of drama he can wangle out of the smallest details is astonishing. The other big one, I'd say, is the crime author Jim Thompson. The way he bends what could've been a run-of-the-mill genre piece like The Getaway into a deeply personal, massively disturbing story is blinding. He takes a bog-standard plot like "A couple of bank robbers escape from the law after a heist goes wrong" and when you put it down it feels like he's smashed you in the face with a shovel.

Aside from comics what other things are you into?

Oh, um. All sorts of horror films, video games, dragging my sorry near-corpse through music festivals, and that kind of thing.

Have you read any good books lately?

The Green River Killer. Brilliant serial killer story written by the son of the lead investigator on the real life case. With his personal connection to the investigator, it kind of reads like a serial killer version of Maus.

Just to put you on the spot, could you please name your three favourite books of all time?

All time favourite 3 books: I'll just go with comics. Top 3 novels would probably be all Jim Thompson ones anyway! Lone Wolf and Cub (Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima) for the reasons I mentioned earlier. The artwork is stunning as well. Preacher (Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon) for its absolute insanity. I re-read the whole lot like once a year and it just gets better. Road to Perdition (Max Allan Collins, Richard Piers Rayner) has to get a spot too. Lone Wolf and Cub meets The Untouchables. What's not to love? The comic has a great deal more crazy John Woo-style gunplay than the film (which was also brilliant) and the pen and ink style artwork rocks my socks. I love that kinda look. Eddie Campbell's ace at that.

What's the best film you've seen lately?

Indie Game: The Movie is a brilliant indie documentary about the creators of Fez and Super Meat Boy. It's not technical at all. It deals with the pitfalls of creating art, that kind of thing. I can't help but feel for Phil Fish when he's standing around at a convention looking terrified as people walk past his game. I gave them $5 on Kickstarter. Best $5 I ever spent!

Top three favourite films?

Jurassic Park is my all-time favourite anything by a country mile. Perfect cast, perfect score, ground-breaking effects that still look amazing, and all the dinosaurs you can eat. The scene where Sam Neill sees his first live dinosaur still gives me chills. The bit where the T-Rex looks through the jeep window still makes me do a little wee. I'm a big fan of westerns, but none of them have messed me up quite as much as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Casey Affleck's performance is seriously heart-breaking and the whole thing looks just stunning and the score by Nick Cave and (the other) Warren Ellis is... Well, I'm running out of different ways to call this film brilliant! The film I watch more than absolutely any other - not including a huge Fight Club phase I had ten years back - is a documentary called American Movie. I must've seen this thing about 50 times. It's about a guy who lives in the middle of nowhere trying to raise enough money to make his dream film. It's so funny that the first time I caught it on TV I assumed it was a Spinal Tap for film-makers. The main guy is a fascinating dude and something of a cautionary tale for anyone making their own stuff.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I'm absolutely useless at keeping up with new music, I'm afraid. DJ Format's latest album, mentioned in this fine establishment, is one of the best things I've heard in ages. Definitely go get that baby. Um. I'm loving a band (or just a man, I'm not sure) called College at the moment. They/he did that song from the super amazingly brilliant film Drive. Everything else I've heard is mostly instrumental stuff, but it's got a great 80s dancey vibe. One more. I won't lie. I'm listening to Justin Timberlake a lot. The man's pretty brilliant. Decent actor too!

If you could make the people reading this check out three musicians, who would you recommend?

I'm not very good at describing why I like music and I still haven't come up with any more words for 'brilliant', so I'll make this bit quick. Rough top 3 off the top of my head would have to include Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Joy Division.

Finally (in the interest of plugging your stuff) why should people check your stuff out?

Like Lloyd Kaufman, I don't have anyone to tell me off for writing stupid stuff. There's always the very real chance that it might get a bit too silly or a bit too personal. You don't tend to have that problem with Marvel stuff, brilliant as some of it is. This applies to the whole small press industry (I'm desperately trying not to use the word 'scene'). It's a great reason to try any self-financed, for-the-love-of-the-game comic books. If you can get to a convention, the place will be full of great comics trying things you'd rarely see come out of the big two. I once bought a Judge Reinhold mini-biography which came with a badge and a word search! I'm going to leave it to my grandkids! (If I don't have any, I'll leave it to someone else's.)

That's that and hopefully you all enjoyed the interview. Once again you should all go and spend a few pennies over at attackosaur.com and support Martin.

Thanks for reading!