Two titles this month by former Marvel Comics associate editor Brian Smith will showcase the writer/artist's talent for innovative all-ages comics.
The Intrepid EscapeGoat is a brand new all-ages comic written and drawn by Smith that comes out from Th3rd World Studios this month. At the same time, Smith is continuing to co-write The Stuff of Legend, which is kicking off its third volume. Both comics were previewed by Th3rd World on Free Comic Book Day in May.
The EscapeGoat story focuses on Thomas Fleet, also known as the Intrepid EscapeGoat, a world famous escape artist who also solves paranormal riddles around the world. The comic is set in a pseudo-Victorian era, in a time of discovery and advances in science, but also a time of magic.
The Stuff of Legend, which Smith co-writes with Mike Raicht and artist Charles P. Wilson III, became an indie hit after its introduction in 2009, making it all the way to the New York Times bestseller list.
As loyal readers of the Stuff series know, the comic follows the courageous toys who set out from World War II-era Earth to rescue their master from the Boogeyman. In Volume 3 of Stuff, which is subtitled "A Jester's Tale," the story will focus on a quest undertaken by the character, Jester.
Newsarama talked with Smith about both titles as they are released this month from Th3rd World Studios.
Newsarama: Brian, you had both Stuff and EscapeGoat featured on Free Comic Book Day. What's been the feedback you've heard from fans or retailers about the free issue?
Brian Smith: The response has been overwhelmingly positive, from both fans and retailers alike. We already have a pretty loyal following on The Stuff of Legend, but this year's Free Comic Book Day issue was the first time anybody had seen The Intrepid EscapeGoat. I was invited down to the Eisner nominated Acme Comics in Greensboro, N.C., to sign on FCBD this year, and the crowd there was super enthusiastic about the book.
Nrama: What does something like Free Comic Book Day mean for a creator like you who is working in indy comics?
Smith: The impact is huge. Every year we have participated in Free Comic Book Day we create more and more awareness of the books we're producing over at Th3rd World. It's not easy to stand out on the racks, but Free Comic Book Day really spreads the spotlight around. People have no excuse to not pick up your book when it's free!
Nrama: I know you've got a history in the comic book business, but can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Smith: I'm a writer/artist with a focus on creating all-ages comic material. Most folks in comics know me as "Smitty." I went to art school in New York City, where I studied illustration. I'm a former Marvel Comics Associate Editor.
While at Marvel, I worked primarily in the Ultimate office, back when all those books first launched. I've also worked at Nickelodeon as their Character Art Manager, and more recently as their freelance Comics Editor/Consultant. I illustrated a four-volume graphic novel series for younger readers over at Penguin called The Adventures of Daniel Boom, AKA Loudboy! and I own way too many video games that I'll never get the chance to play, but that doesn't seem to stop me from buying more.
Nrama: What's the appeal of working on comics like Stuff and EscapeGoat?
Smith: Working on creator-owned material is the single greatest joy I've had working in comics. The freedom to write and draw the stories you want, and having complete control over the characters and their destinies — there's nothing else quite like it. It's awesome and I recommend that everyone try it.
Nrama: What can you tell us about this first volume of EscapeGoat? What's the overall premise?
Smith: EscapeGoat is set at the dawn of the 20th Century. It's the story of Thomas Fleet, the world's premiere escape artist and star of the stage and screen. EscapeGoat tours the world with his act, playing to sold out crowds around the globe.
More often than not, it's off-stage where the real action occurs. It falls on EscapeGoat, along with his assistant, Isis, a two-thousand-year-old mummy girl, to solve the paranormal riddles plaguing the cities they visit. This first arc finds our heroes in London, England, where they must crack the mystery surrounding an ancient gemstone known as The Buddha's Tooth.
Nrama: At the same time, you've got the third volume of Stuff of Legend beginning this month, "A Jester's Tale. I know you've switched the format so it's 24-page issues that come out monthly. Anything you can tell fans about what they'll see in the comic?
Smith: A whole lot of Jester — and from what I've heard from fans, that is definitely a good thing. Folks seem to really dig that guy. And I totally get it because he's my favorite, too. The next four issues focus on Jester's solo quest within The Dark. Lots of high-seas adventure and hatchet throwing.
Nrama: You're wearing two hats on EscapeGoat, doing both the writing and art. Has that been a challenge? And how is it different from the experience of collaborating with others on Stuff?
Nrama: Writing and drawing EscapeGoat has been a blast. It's a lot more work, for sure, but it affords an unprecedented level of control on the final product. (Side note! I'm very fortunate to not only have Th3rd World publishing my book, but I also have the amazingly talented Mike DeVito supplying the colors. He's absolutely killing it on every page.)Because of my art background, I usually have the pictures in my head before I have the words to explain it. I tend to build the stories visually, even when working on Stuff of Legend. On Stuff, Mike Raicht and I bounce a lot of ideas back and forth, and then we have the genius of Charles Paul Wilson to give everything life on the page. It's a totally different process, but it's equally as rewarding.
Nrama: Who are your main influences, both as a writer and an artist?
Smith: Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, Ronald Searle, Maurice Sendak, Bryan Hitch, Akira Toriyama. I really love Duncan Fegredo's work. Dave Cooper's, too. I'm also influenced by my friends and fellow cartoonists Chris Giarrusso, Jacob Chabot and Gregg Schigiel — tremendous talents, one and all.
Nrama: You're one of the more prolific creators in the world of comics, but on a wide variety of projects. What else are you working on right now?
Smith: Beyond EscapeGoat and The Stuff of Legend, I recently wrote a story for SpongeBob Comics, and illustrated the cover to SpongeBob Comics #2. I'm also writing the initial six volumes of Voltron Force for Viz Media, based on the hit NickToons update of the classic franchise. I'm really excited about these. Each book weighs in at 90 pages, and I get to start the party with my good pal Jacob Chabot, who's illustrating the first volume. It looks amazing.
Nrama: With your experience at Marvel, are you one of those people who dreams of being able to write or draw superheroes? Or are you content to work within the indie, creator-owned world?
Smith: I've already spent quite a bit of time playing with Marvel's toys in an editorial capacity, but that's not to say that itch has been completely scratched. I still love superheroes. My sensibilities as a storyteller have always skewed all-ages, more humorous, and more on the action-adventure side. I think that's reflected in my current creator-owned material, and I'll continue to pursue those opportunities wherever they arise.