I’m interested in the absurdities of life: Jamie Smart on creating comics

    Jamie Smart lets us into his world of comics. He reveals the inspiration behind his characters, what he’s working on at the moment, and how organisations like DACS help him with the day-to-day business of being an artist.

    What made you enter the world of comics? How did it start?

    Like most artists, I’ve been doing it since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and just kept going. I was lucky enough to have supportive parents who could see my fascination with comics, and encouraged me to go to art college. That freedom was quite important, I think. It gave me the mental space to just explore what I was doing and work out what I was trying to say with it all.

    What were your inspirations growing up? Did you have a favourite comic book or artist?

    I used to read all the weekly comics, and there were a lot to choose from back in those days! Buster, Beano, Dandy, Topper, Whizzer And Chips, all were filled with absolutely tons of original comics. Oink! was a particular favourite of mine; it was very scruffy and anarchic, like Viz for kids. I also read a lot of newspaper strip cartoons – such as ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and ‘Garfield’. Alongside all that though, I think one of my biggest influences was 80s TV comedy. Blackadder, The Young Ones, I watched it obsessively, repeatedly. I think it really informed the humour I put in my work.

    How would you describe your style of drawing and storytelling?

    I draw in a very cute style. All my characters are squishy, quite simple designs, but squishy. I find making them cute gives me a lot more licence to play around with them – they can shout and scream at each other, chase each other with weapons, and it’s somehow all the funnier for it. I don’t really tell many serious stories, I’m far more interested in the funny details, the absurdities of life.

    If you could spend a day with one of your characters, which would it be and why?

    Every character I create is a part of myself – they all represent small elements of my psyche, just exaggerated for comic effect. So I have a strong affinity towards all of them, telling stories with these characters is my way of expressing myself to the world, in ways I could never do verbally. And with them running around in my head all the time, I spend my whole life with them already!

    You’ve had some great gigs over the years. What have been your biggest achievements or proudest moments?

    Being asked to write and draw ‘Desperate Dan’ for The Dandy. I did that for five years and it was wonderful, so exciting to be entrusted with such an iconic character. I also created my own US comic book series called ‘Bear’, which ran for ten issues and became books and toys. That was really important to me personally. And it brought me in touch with a lot of good friends, changed me as a person, so it’s no overstatement to say it changed my life.

    It’s notoriously difficult to sustain a career in a creative profession like illustration. What do you think of as DACS’ role in this area?

    Oh services like DACS are essential. Personally I only use the Payback side of DACS, which is something every artist should get involved with. I create a lot of children’s books, perhaps a few a year, and while that’s a real joy in itself, the publishing royalties are usually pretty minimal. It’s certainly not enough to base my career on. The additional Payback royalty I receive each year from DACS really helps supplement my income. Often it pays more than the other royalties do, and yet it’s not something you’re really told about except by other artists. I wish the publishing industry would tell more people about it!

    Do you think it’s important for illustrators and comic artists to have an awareness of copyright?

    While it’s important to understand copyright, and the business side of things, I completely understand why a lot of artists don’t. It clutters up your brain, and when you’re a creative, that’s valuable space (and time) you’re often losing to admin and worrying about rights. It really helps to have representation, an agent for example, who can take some of that stress away from you. Getting an agent is a task in itself though, so it’s really important that DACS, and other artist associations, can help too.

    You’ve been in the comics industry for a while now. Has it changed much? What tips would you give to younger comic artists?

    In a way. The children’s comic industry in the UK has been declining over the last few decades, it’s an absolute tragedy that it has been so neglected. In the last few years, however, it has really felt like there has been a resurgence, so that’s heartening to see. Also the internet has changed things a lot – publishers often require the artists they hire to have built up their own audiences first, which is both a bad and a good thing. Bad because everyone wants you to be ‘viral’, but that’s not something anyone can just choose to do. But good because it shows how comic creators are able to really carve their own niches, and build huge audiences, all on their own. Also, sites like Twitter have become invaluable for artists getting to know each other. There is a real sense of community, and that’s a great thing for the industry.
    As for tips, if you love creating comics, you’re already doing everything you need to. There are no rules, no right ways to do things. Art is fuelled solely on passion, and as long as you have that, you’ll be okay.

    Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

    Most of my time is taken up creating strips for The Phoenix Comic, which is a fantastic weekly children’s comic spearheading this resurgence in quality, original kids’ comics. I’ve been drawing a comic called ‘Bunny Vs Monkey’ every week for them since they started five years ago, and we collect the strips into books every year.

    Alongside that I’m always working on a number of different things at once, I get very excited about new ideas. This summer I’m launching a Kickstarter to make toys of my character ‘Find Chaffy’, so that’s taking a lot of work to get ready. And I have my first illustrated novel ready for release early next year, which is taking a lot of fine-tuning. I feel really lucky to be able to do this as a career, and I want to squeeze every hour in the day to get everything done.

    Find out more about Jamie Smart

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    Image: Jamie Smart in the studio. Photo by Brian Benson © Brian Benson, 2017.

    Posted on 13/03/2017 by Laura Ward-Ure