Stephen Scott Beau Smith is more than just a man with a one-of-a-kind name, he is a writer with four decades of experience in the comics industry. Starting off as just a fan who wrote letters to the editors of each comic he read, Beau Smith worked his way into Marketing for Eclipse Comics and then became a professional writer. As a writer, Beau Smith is best known for his series Wynonna Earp, which is currently being adapted into a TV series for Syfy. Despite being incredibly busy, Beau Smith was kind enough to be interviewed by myself so that we could talk about his comics career and the process of moving a series to television.
Nicholas Yanes: Like me, you are also a big boxing fan. (I’ve even gotten a few black eyes learning the sport. I’m not very good.) Who is your favorite current boxer? And who is your favorite boxer of all time?
Beau Smith: I’ve gotta admit, I don’t have a current favorite. I’ve found it hard to latch on and root for anyone in particular these days. Mainly due to the only guys that fight and fight regularly are the lower card fighters and they just don’t get the ink they should.
As far as all-time favorites, I would have to go with George Chuvalo the Canadian Champ, also known as “The Brick Wall That Wouldn’t Fall.” My other favorite was “The Human Windmill”, Harry Greb. Both were inspirational fighters in the sense they just wouldn’t quit. Chuvalo would take a beating, as shown in his fight with Ali, but he would pound you just as hard back. The man had an iron jaw. Harry Greb was an amazing fighter. Not only would he never quit, but he had the potential, and did beat guys more than 20 pounds heavier. He was said to be a dirty fighter, but I like to say he was resourceful.
Yanes: On this topic, how do you think Wynonna Earp could handle herself in the ring?
Beau: Wynonna has a mean streak and quite a capable, hand to hand fighter. Granted, she’s government trained now, but she learned to fight on the streets and is full throttle. The only problem with her doing it in the ring is that it has rules, sometimes she likes to bend the rules a bit.
Beau: I’ve always had a love for the old west, both factual and fictional. It was always a desire of mine to combine the two and make some compelling fiction with a twist. Wynonna Earp has provided me with that. The twist being that she hunts down fugitives, but they are paranormal fugitives. She belongs to The Black Badge Division, the most covert branch of U.S. law enforcement. Being a U.S. Marshal on that level proves to be very interesting. In studying the history of the old west, Wyatt Earp always caught my attention because there was always more to his story than just the OK Corral story. It made me research deeper into his history, and what I found made for some exciting paths that I could travel on my own when writing about his descendant, Wynonna Earp.
Yanes: The 1990s saw the birth of a lot of characters that have already been forgotten. How does it make you feel that Wynonna has not only survived, but is now being adapted to television? On this note, why do you think she’s been able to survive?
Beau: I’m stoked. After Wynonna’s run at Image Comics, I took her to IDW Publishing where we have done two other mini-series, two trade paperbacks and an original graphic novel. In truth, Wynonna has never left the comic book shelves for very long.
Now with the TV series coming out in April 2016 on Syfy and the new comic book series from IDW Publishing in February 2016, it’s gonna be a busy year. I think she has survived because she is a likable character, she’s never been a “Bad Girl”, a bitch, or a one note pony. She’s always been a character of many layers and one that grows with each series, now with the TV series, folks will get to meet Wynonna on a more global front, not only see her adventures, but get to know her through the great acting of Melanie Scrofano and the story guidance of Showrunner/writer, Emily Andras. The cast for the show is filled with some really great actors and nice people, Tim Rozon, Shamier Anderson, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Anna Quick and Katherine Barrell. I’m looking forward to meeting them all face-face, when I go to the set later this year.
Yanes: Without violating any non-disclosure agreements, could you speak to the process of getting your comic book adapted into a show?
Beau: It started back in 1996 when Ted Adams, then employed at Wildstorm Studios, not only thought Wynonna would make a great comic books series, but a fantastic TV series. Fast forward to now. Ted is now CEO/Co-Founder of IDW Publishing and IDW Entertainment. Basically, it was through Ted’s strong belief in the property that has put Wynonna Earp on the TV screen. His passionate belief that this was a character and a story born for a wide global audience is what has made this childhood dream of mine come true.
Wynonna is also backed by Rick Jacobs of Circle Of Confusion and David Ozer of IDW Entertainment, the three of them, plus all the great folks at IDW have gone full throttle to make this not only an exciting TV series, but one of the fastest sign ups ever. The process has been one of Ted always looking for the right opportunity to present Wynonna Earp to the right venue. He pulled the right team together and they set the comic book in front of the right people that were more than willing to invest their passion, finances and system into making this a very unique and entertaining TV program.
Yanes: You started your comics career in the 80s. How did you first get your foot in the industry? Do you think people could follow that approach today?
Beau: I got into the comic book business as a writer through being a writer of letters in the comic book letter columns. Back in the late 1970’s-Early 80’s, I was buying a handful of comic books a week. What I started to do was after I read each comic book I would write a letter of comment and send it to the editor(s) of that comic book. If I read 5 comic books, then I wrote 5 letters. I tried to make each one as constructive and respectful as possible, as well as entertaining. I signed my whole name Stephen Scott Beau Smith, no one else was doing that, I thought that would set me apart from other letter writers; even then, I was marketing and promoting myself. (No one else would dare.) I reckon I’ve had around 300 letters of comment published in comic book through those years.
What good did that do, you ask? Well, it made the post office a lot of money. Other than that, it got me known with the editors. While other aspiring writers were busy making friends with other writers, I was working hard to be known by the editors, the ones that can HIRE you. I attended conventions and got to meet those editors, they would always point at me and say: “You’re the guy with 4 names!!” My answer: “Yes I am!” Eventually those same editors starting asking me if I ever thought about pitching at comic book story, I said “Yes I have!” Soon they were taking my pitches, not all were buying them, but equally important, they were telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. That was priceless.
Around that time I also met Timothy Truman who was doing Scout at Eclipse Comics, Tim is a fellow West Virginian, we hit it off with shared likes in pop culture and Tim was instrumental in getting me into the business side of comic books. At that time I was working sales and marketing at a local audio/video store in Huntington, WV. Tim told me that Eclipse Comics was looking for a sales and marketing guy. He introduced me to Dean Mullaney, the publisher of Eclipse Comics, and it wasn’t long after that, I was their sales manager, hitting the road talking to comic book retailers and distributors. I was writing comics at Eclipse and selling comics at Eclipse, I was having my cake and eating it too. I made lifetime friends from that position, Tim, Flint Henry, Chuck Dixon, Dean Mullaney, Tom Lyle, Gary Kwapisz, John K. Snyder III, Steve Niles, Dan Brereton, Chris Pitzer, Tim Harkins, Larry Marder, and….Ted Adams. All worked for Eclipse Comics and all are still my friends today.
As far as should, could others follow my footsteps into the business today? Yes they could, with technology, they have the whole world at their finger tips, back when I got in, fax machines weren’t even invented yet, let alone the internet. We had a phone and a plane ticket – that was it. If I would’ve had the internet then I would either be the CEO of both Marvel and DC Comics (at the same time) or I would be in jail. There are no limits to how you can break into comics today, but my advice is not to completely lose sight of doing things the old school way, network and build relationships face to face and voice to voice. Send a snail mail package now and then, set yourself apart by being old school. It still works today.
Beau: By far the distribution system in the direct market. Twenty-eight years ago there were over twenty-five distributors, and each had at least 5 warehouses, that’s not even counting various single and micro distributors. It was a much better time for publishers, large and small to get their product in more outlets. Sales were topping out well over a hundred thousand for top ten books, and this was before the “false bottom” 1990’s era. Retailers also prospered from this as well because they not only got more detailed attention from their distributors, but they had choices as well.
Yanes: You periodically contribute to Westfield Comics Blog. What do you think journalists fail to understand about the comics industry?
Beau: Facts. With the internet, there are as many people writing with education in true journalism. They say they are journalist, but in fact they are doing opinion columns, they should state that. Even being opinion, they should still check their facts before putting things out there that are not true or misquoting. We’ve also seen the decline in educated editors. There is a craft to not only journalism, but comic book writing as well, both should be treated as such. Of course, with the internet, we have also seen the removal of surprises in stories; hard to keep an ending a secret these days.
Yanes: What are some big career milestones you are still hoping to achieve?
Beau: I would love to keep doing what I’m doing, writing. I love creating and I truly enjoy working with other creative folks. I miss two of my favorite co-workers, artists, Eduardo Barreto and Enrique Villagran every day. It was so great to work with them on so many fun projects. I’d love to work with my buddy Scot Eaton as well as Garbriel Hardman, Ronnie Del Carmen and Dwayne Turner. Maybe the future will open up a path for us.
Yanes: Finally, are there any projects you are working that people should look forward to?
Beau: At IDW Publishing I have the new Wynonna Earp series that starts in 2016. At dark Horse I have my turn of the century western, 200 People To Kill from Dark Horse Comics, as well as doing some TV writing work in character development and dialogue. As always, I have pitches in my saddlebags and will be shopping them around soon as well once artists are attached. I’m on Facebook, Twitter at @BeauSmithRanch and of course, my official website. Thanks for stopping by and talking to me. I appreciate it.