Jamie Smart interview: Bear, Desperate Dan, The Dandy and more

Rob spends some time chatting to the creator of Bear about indie comics, the Beano and Dandy, and how to draw a cow pie...

We sit down the creator of Bear and the current writer and illustrator of Desperate Dan to have chat about comics, art and if Bear will be returning…

Is working for the Dandy your dream job? Did you read it as a kid or were you more of a Beano fan?

Oh, it’s certainly an honour, yeah. They’ve always been incredibly supportive to work for too, giving me a lot of room to do my own thing without any real censorship or control over it, which makes me enjoy what I draw for them a lot more and hopefully makes for a better piece at the end of it. I read most comics when I was a kid. Yeah, I had quite an insatiable appetite for them.

What is the best way to draw a cow-pie?

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Brown lump. Horns. Tail. Write ‘cow pie’ on the side. That’s my artistic approach.

What other British comics did you read as a kid?

I adored Oink, it was so incredibly subversive and rude. It was a very big influence on me. But I also liked all the main ones: Buster, Whizzer and Chips, Topper etc. Even this mad comic called Triffic which only ran for a few issues, and I drew all over my copies of it anyway.

Who influenced you into getting into illustration and drawing comics?

No one really sparked off a drawing urge in me, it’s just something I always did. And I always drew – quite terrible – comics while growing up. It was only when I went to college and discovered Deadline that I really saw how exciting comics could be.

Do you think that British comic artists do not get the recognition that their American counterparts do?

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It’s obviously a very different market; you can be big in one country and not known in the other, though with the Internet it’s becoming easier to gain an international reader-base. It’s difficult being British because the big conventions and publishers are on the other side of the pond, so you can’t meet and greet as much as an American artist can, but conversely, you can concentrate your efforts on your home country instead. British readers are brilliantly friendly.

How do you feel about stepping into the comic shoes of other past Dandy and Beano creators such as Tom Paterson and Jack Oliver.

There are a handful, such as Tom Paterson, Lew Stringer, Steve Bright, who were really big influences on my work growing up, so when I suddenly found myself working in comics next to them, yeah, it was a total dream. Although I found it hard, as I excitedly burble to them about how much they’ve influenced me, to convince them of this, since my work looks nothing like theirs. But the inflluences are in there, somewhere.

Would you still ‘Abolish Tuesdays’?

Let’s call it Friday version 2.0

Were you a Whizzer Whizz-kid or a Chips Chip-ite?

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Whizzer had Sid’s Snake didn’t it, and Chipper had Shiner? Or is my memory failing me? Probably a Whizzer; Shiner seemed so rough to a delicate flower like me.

Is the editor of The Dandy more like Uncle Pigg or Tharg the Mighty?

Ha! He’s a lovely man. Next question.

Outside of UK comic publishing you are best known for Slave Labor Graphic’s Bear comics. Do you think there is still room in the comic industry for ‘indy’ publishers such as SLG?

Oh, totally, and I hope indy publishers continue for a long time, otherwise there’s no alternatives to the main publishers and that would make for a very boring world. Indy publishers print work that doesn’t fit the mainstream or has different ideas about how to do things, and that’s incredibly important for bringing up new talent.

How is your animation work going? How did you get the gig?

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I have been working with Cartoon Network; it’s been a five-year long grind to get shows off the ground. Here’s hoping, one day…

What other characters from the archives of British comics would you like to work on?

I’d leave them well alone, I think, I don’t want to put my inky fingers on any other institutions just yet in case I go and spoil them. If someone offers me the chance to reinterpret a character, as the Dandy did with Desperate Dan, I’ll gladly have a go – it’s humbling to be asked! – but I’d want to make sure it was their idea, not mine, so not my fault….ha…

If you were offered a gig at Marvel or DC, what characters would you like to tackle?

I’d do them all, and turn everything into a big song and dance number. With woodland animals. And a truck.

Was it cool to see plush toys made of your creations?

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Of course, it’s brilliant! They’re so soft and comfortable too. I use mine as pillows. Toys are something that most illustrators would love to do, and I would love to do more if the opportunity arises. It’s bringing your 2D creations into the real world, quite bizarre when you stop to think about it.

Do you think the Americans get your very British sense of humour? Do jokes about bottom burps, dancing monkeys and angry robots translate well across the Atlantic?

Yeah, there’s been no cultural barriers as far as I can see, silly childish humour translates into any language.

Do you think kids should read comics or is the market really now just for 30 year olds?

Everyone should read comics. Let’s bring it to a situation like Japan, where comic books are read like newspapers! Comics are, I think, the perfect storytelling medium, usually a place where the creator has the freedom he needs to explore his crazy ideas. So it’s such an open and infinite playground for ideas to run riot.

Will there be any more Bear comics coming out? 

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It’s unlikely. I get the urge quite often to work on him some more, but finding the right medium or method is a tricky one. Drawing Bear requires a lot of time, which I don’t have so much now, and besides, maybe it’s best to leave him as he finished without dragging it all back up.

That said, he and Looshkin are some of my favourite characters, and I think there are still a lot of adventures left in them. What form that will take, I don’t know, but watch this space.

Who would win in a fight between Robot Space Monkeys or Giant Zombie Pirates?

Monkeys. Pfft. Easy.

Jamie Smart, thank you very much!

Visit Jamie Smart’s blog and portfolio at Fumblog.com and Fumboo.com.

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Interviews at Den Of Geek

15 January 2009