Shane W Smith is an incredible all-rounder and creates truly impressive graphic novels. He’s based in Canberra and manages to juggle full time work, parenting and creating unforgettable comic works all at once.
I was honoured to have been able to sit down with him (virtually through a set of emails) and pick his brain on what he does and what advice he’d give others looking to follow his lead.
1. Describe what you do in one or two sentences, using at least 3 colours and an animal.
My name is Shane W Smith, and I’m a graphic novelist based in Canberra. My job is to sit here banging on the keys, bleeding red, white and black onto the blank page, and hoping the infinite monkey theorem is true.
2. What’s your earliest memory of discovering a graphic novel and how did it effect you?
I used to read quite a few comics as a kid (TMNT, Archie, Richie Rich, etc), but they were individual issues and short stories. Eventually I drifted away from them into prose stories and novels. I’m pretty sure the first full-length graphic novel I picked up was Joss Whedon’s Fray, which would make me a relative latecomer to the field.
Hot on the heels of Fray, and upon the recommendation of a very cool tutor at university, I devoured Maus, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Because I read so much of the comics canon back-to-back, and because I read them while considering diving into making comics myself, the effect of these books is best measured collectively. But these four books gave me an unbelievable appreciation for the potential of comics: their literary merit; raw power; density; emotional impact; strong visual language and metaphors; and a pervasive sense of fun.
Hackers for sure. The source code for comics – simultaneously art and craft, a fusion of intuition and mathematics – is so unique and yet so derivative of so many other forms that it can only be the work of programmers. Also, there’s something so deeply subversive in the best comics that the hacker analogy seems particularly apt.
4. What inspired you to create your first graphic novel?
I’ve been writing prose all my life. But when I studied Creative Writing at the University of Canberra, one of the things they encouraged us to do was learn about all sorts of different creative forms. After completing units on short stories, children’s books, scripts, and poetry, I developed an appreciation for experimentation, and for the individual strengths and unique stories available to each form. When the time came to do an open-subject, open-form creative project, I picked something we hadn’t studied yet: a comic.
Fray, which was the first comic I’d read since I was a boy, probably influenced that decision. There was something about the way it flowed, the way it read, that made me feel like perhaps this was something I could branch out into.
Insofar as any creative work is ever completed, I’ve made eight full-length graphic novels (and one comic/essay hybrid). These are the ones that have been published:
The Lesser Evil, Peaceful Tomorrows 1 and 2, and The Game comprise a sci-fi series about a bunch of broken people trying to make sense of their lives and dreams in a galaxy torn apart by civil war. It’s got coming-of-age stories, redemptive arcs, humiliating falls from grace, dark mysteries, haunted pasts, and a healthy sense of adventure. (Watch out for All The King’s Men, an epic anthology of short stories in the same universe, coming out by the end of 2016!)
Undad and Undad Volume 2 comprise a zombie-family-drama saga, featuring a family man who unexpectedly turns undead, and must win back the love and respect of his wife and kids while maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle. It’s a story about the difficulties being a husband, father and role model while being (literally) dead inside.
James Flamestar and the Stargazers is a post-apocalyptic-musical-adventure-romance about the last band standing in a world that’s outlawed music. It’s about the power of creative expression to depict love, incite revolution, and destroy the entire world.
Academaesthetics is a comic/essay hybrid analysing the strengths of both the comic and the essay, and presents an argument that each can be employed in such a way as to save the other.
There’s no magic formula for this. Even the most productive person still only has twenty-four hours in a day. And my day – after full-time work, husbanding and fathering – sure didn’t contain twenty-four free hours. But I took a good long look at those twenty-four hours, and began to identify blocks of time that I could utilise better.
But that wasn’t enough. I needed to find more time to write… somewhere.
So, about six years ago, I took the drastic step of slashing my sleep. After my wife and kids have gone to bed, I stay up to work on my books. After some experimentation and conditioning, I managed to train myself to function well enough on 4-5 hours sleep per night. It wasn’t always easy, but suddenly I had regular time to write, and regular progress to celebrate.
7. What are some of the best lessons you’ve learnt from creating graphic novels?
Most of the lesson I’ve learned from writing are ones in which I come to understand the mysteries of my own soul a little better. I learned everything I ever needed to know from fiction – it’s the prism through which I understand the world. To me, it seems natural that writing stories would help me to understand myself and grow as a person.
For me, there’s no better way to figure out what I really think about a situation than to sit down and bash out a fictional narrative about it.
Amateurs wait for inspiration. Pros sit down and do the work whether or not they feel it… even if it all gets deleted in revision the next day. Writer/artist block isn’t a thing, because a strong and determined routine will trump it every time.
9. What advice would you give a creator who is looking to go down the self-publishing route?
Don’t self-publish your first book. Just don’t do it. Get it past some gatekeepers (editors, agents, etc) first, and then you’ll know you’re ready to go pro.
I can’t even begin to describe the myriad horrors of my Unpublished drawer (and there’s gotta be at least a million terrible words in there), but I don’t regret any of it. Nor do I regret now not having any of that published. There’s nearly fifteen years of heartbreak and anxiety in between my first rejection and my first commercial publication, but there’s also fifteen years of improvement there too. That means my first published work is still something I’m pretty proud of a few years later (some niggles notwithstanding).
I’ve tried to make my website (http://shanewsmith.com) a one-stop shop for info about my books. It’s got book trailers, review quotes, price comparisons, etc. For up-to-date information from ongoing projects and general Shane W Smith writing misadventures, I can be found on the social medias thusly:
It’s worth checking out Shane’s creations (I highly highly recommend his website where there’s lots of info and fun interactive elements like videos to sink your teeth into!)
– Written by Meri Amber