Comic books and graphic novels have been thriving since long before Bea Arthur (rest her soul) picked out her first jock strapbut only within the last decade have they emerged on a more mainstream front. Hollywoods hottest are lining up to don a cape or cowl, and you can find a comic review anywhere from Entertainment Weekly to The New York Times.
Joshua Smeaton, whose first self-published graphic novel Haunted hits comic shops this week. Haunted follows a group of children trapped in a haunted house with a murderous ghost.
Actually, dont ask him. Let Creative Loafing.
CL: Tell us how Haunted came to be, from concept to thumbing through the first finished copy. How many people were involved with its creation? How directly involved are you in each step?
JS: I originally wrote Haunted as a screenplay. I wanted to write the kind of movie I enjoyed as a kid that they dont seem to make anymore. A Goonies type story. As I wrote it, I knew I wanted to turn it in to a comic book. The nice thing about comics is that anyone with a bit of talent and a lot of determination can do it completely on their own. Which is the route I took. I penciled, inked, lettered and colored the whole thing. I also chose to self-publish. So that means Im also responsible for printing, distribution and marketing.
CL: What was it like to hold that first copy?
JS: It was really great opening that first box and pulling a copy out. It made it all real instead of a goal that I was working towards.
CL: What kind of determination does it take to self-publish?
JS: Its a lot of work. You have to find and research printers. Educate yourself so you give accurate info to get a proper quote. Then follow through the process of approval, printing and delivery. You need to find out what different distributions options are available to you and which you want to go with. Then promote it. Interviews, mailers, ads, message boards whatever works. You also have to pay for all your costs and deal with all the issues that pop up along the way. So along with determination you need to be optimistic, stubborn and masochistic.
CL: Did you consider pitching the story to a publisher before going the self-publishing route?
JS: Yeah but only half-heartedly. Im not opposed to having a publisher but I was drawn to the idea of doing it on my own. There are a number of self-publishers that I admire and I wanted to be a part of that world.
CL: What are you most proud of with Haunted?
JS: That if it wasnt my book and I came across it in a store that I would likely get it. I also like that its full color. Self-published comics tend to be black and white.
CL: Black and white because it's cheaper? Was it important to you for Haunted to be in color?
JS: Printing in color is about double the cost of black and white. This may sound a bit odd but our emotions are effected by colors and I like how I feel looking at the pages in color. So it was important to me to keep that a part of the book.
CL: Is there anything you would've done differently?
JS: Give myself more time to work on whatever task I let creep up to a deadline.
CL: Why would a comic reader want to read Haunted?
JS: The majority of American comics are super heroes, which is cool. I love that stuff too. But its great when you find something new that maybe wasnt an obvious choice.
CL: Why would a non-comic reader want to read Haunted?
JS: If when you think comic books, all you think of are super heroes or Archie, youre missing out on a fantastic source of entertainment. There are comics in just about every genre. Haunted is about a group of jr. high kids that get trapped in a haunted mansion. Its a really fun adventure story. Its a kid story but I think it appeals to adults too. Kind of like Harry Potter, or The Goonies.
CL: What is it about comic books, and the graphic novel, that you prefer as a medium?
JS: That my budget is only limited to my imagination. I can do whatever I want. I love the art form too. A big appeal for me is discovering new artists and seeing their different styles. I also enjoy looking at the different ways a story can be told.
CL: And what appeals to you, style-wise? Art-wise? You mention a few non-comic inspirations of sorts, are there any particular comic influences in Haunted?
JS: I like a clean clear animated look with my art. I admire a lot of the classic Disney stuff. There are lots of comic artists and books I admire. Im often inspired by a drawing or comic page. Im not necessarily wanting to emulate that picture or style, rather it makes me want to draw something cool. I also follow a bunch of cartoonist and comic artists blogs too.
CL: Any thoughts on the current comics industry?
JS: It seems every year that there is more variety to choose from. I hope that continues. Though it would be nice if there were a bigger market. There is so much competing for everyones attention these days. TV, internet, video games, movies, books, mobile devices, cell phones. I would love to convey the idea that comics are for everybody. Not comics are for kids and not comics are for adults. There is something for everyone. Sci-fi, romance, horror, mystery, crime, adventure, historical, humor, biographical, you name it.
CL: What's next? For Haunted and for you?
JS: This is the first part of Haunted. The story isnt done yet so that is what Im currently continuing to work on. After Haunted wraps up Ive got some other stories and characters Im itching to get to.
CL: As this is Haunted's first part, does it stand alone?
JS: I think it does well on its own. This part of the story is where we meet the characters in their regular lives, then theyre thrown into a situation thats way out of their reality. Its not the whole story but its [a] big entertaining chunk.
Smeaton will be signing copies of his graphic novel and doing sketches at Read More Comics, located at 115 E. Brandon Blvd. Brandon, this Saturday, March 6 from noon until 3 p.m. Stop by, meet the creator and grab your own copy of the Tampa-bred Haunted. Its sure to be an easier decision than Bea Arthurs was.