Interview: Mark Smith on the Comics Industry and “Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors”

Mark Andrew Smith is a graduate of The University of California, Santa Barbara. He has published several critically acclaimed and fan-loved comic books. Some of these comics being Amazing...

Mark Andrew Smith is a graduate of The University of California, Santa Barbara. He has published several critically acclaimed and fan-loved comic books. Some of these comics being Amazing Joy Buzzards, and The New Brighton Archeological Society – this title being selected as the “Best All-Ages Comic” by MTV in 2009. He is also the co-creator and editor of the anthology series, Popgun Comics.

The current series that Smith is writing is Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors. This series is advertized as “a top-secret academy for the children of the world’s greatest super villains to learn the trade.” The series follows the characters Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl, Martian Jones, Ghost Girl, and the infamous Skull brothers as they “unearth the School’s and their parents’ hidden past.” It is also one the most fun comic books currently being sold.

You can learn more about Smith from his homepage or by following him on twitter @MarkAndrewSmith

Nicholas Yanes: Your big break came when you were discovered by Savage Dragon creator, Erik Larsen, and Image Comics’ Executive Director, Eric Stephenson. As a result, were you required to have the image of Savage Dragon tattooed onto your body? Besides Larsen and Stephenson liking your work, what else did you do to get into the comic book industry?

Mark Andrew Smith: When creating a book at Image Comics, you are required to get a Savage Dragon tattoo. We roll like the Hell’s Angels. Each and every Image creator has one. My tattoo of Savage Dragon is on my belly, and he can dance. It’s popular at parties and is quite the conversation starter.

To get into the comic industry it only takes good old-fashioned hard work, and then more good old-fashioned hard work, pure and simple. Let’s just say there’s a lot of hard work. There’s no hidden handshake, no club, no comic book illuminati.

Yanes: You got a B.A. in Film Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara. How do you feel your education has shaped your approach to writing comics?

Smith: Ah, Yes. I miss those days at Santa Barbara. There was a sense that anything was possible. Oh, wasted youth!

It was in those halls, one fateful autumn day, that something would happen, something so profound, that it would change the very course of comics history…and the universe.

My film faculty advisor Joe Palladino recommended a book to me that changed my life, it was Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. I read it and became almost militant about comic books and their potential. Had it not been for Understanding Comics, and Joe Palladino, I would have never started doing comics.

And so they’re the ones responsible, indirectly, for creating the Smithenstein monster. The very same monster that’s on the loose, running amuck in comics today. I was also fortunate to have so many encouraging friends along the way that I could get feedback from.

As far as if being a film major has affected my writing? I think it has, because that’s where my vocabulary comes from to write comic books. It comes from what I learned as a Film Student and then reading every book about comics theory that I could get my paws on. Then blended with my own sensibilities.

Yanes: There have been a few recent court cases dealing with the comic book industry. As a freelance creator, have there been steps you’ve taken to protect your financial interests?

Smith: I think that the court cases are unfortunate, but to put a positive spin on it, everyone can

learn from those mistakes in the past and make sure they’re not repeated in the future.

The precedent has been set. These days, everyone signing a contract and doing work with DC and Marvel knows just what they’re getting into. That’s up to them, and most of them are more than happy to do work for hire. I’ve never done work for hire, but I would like to because I have a fondness for many of those characters.

I would argue that the deals offered by most ‘independent comic publishers’ are far more predatory than those at Marvel and DC. If you take a look across the board at what most independent comic book publishers offer, for what creators get, it’s disturbing and shameful. Most creators are giving up most of their rights just for being published.

Creators need to stand up for themselves and demand more. Unless you have a huge book company behind you like Random House, the only place that makes sense to publish at for an independent creator is at Image Comics.

Publishing with Image Comics is a great way to protect your financial interests because they believe strongly in creator ownership and creator rights and the company was founded on those principles. I would encourage everyone to publish with Image for these reasons and not to sell him or herself short.

For each book that I do, I own the rights with the artist, and if it’s adapted to film, games, or merchandise, I get to setup the deal from that and collect the rewards for my hard work. That’s how it should be done universally. In my opinion, Image is the best company to do creator owned work at.

Yanes: With the economy crumbling and there seemingly being an increase in the number of natural disasters, is it safe to assume that one of the students from Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is behind all this? If so, who is it and what do they want? (My money is on Kid Nefarious.)

Smith: I didn’t want to spoil the end of Gladstone’s, but Ironsides, who is their principal, is going to take off his mask and it’s going to be Rupert Murdoch. J I jest.

I don’t think the students at Gladstone’s would wish what is going on in the world right now on anyone, and it’s almost worse than any villainous plot.

Yanes: After reading and talking to other people about Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, I believe there are only two types of people in the world: those who enjoyed the series, and those who haven’t heard of it yet. How’s it feel to have a book that’s been enjoyed by practically everyone who has read it?

Smith: How does it feel? It feels great. I think this is the first book that I’ve done where I’ve heard back from readers regularly, and mostly it’s on twitter. That’s really pumped up our energy levels, and motivated us not to hold anything back and to do the best book we can. It’s a good feeling to hear back instantly. Thank you technology! I love you!!!

Yanes: One thing that I enjoyed about Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors is that I feel safe giving a copy of it to my niece and recommending it to friends with kids. Giving that the number of people buying comics has been declining, why do you think so few comics are being made for children?

Smith: It’s a scientifically proven fact that kids love to read comics. I repeat, kids love to read comics. Gladstone’s is really a gateway comic book for everyone. The thing that I hear the most is that Gladstone’s gets read twice, the first time by parents, and then they pass it on to their children. Which group is it written for? Both. And it works on each level.

I think there is a lot of good material that’s being made for children right now. I think the major problem is that comic book publishers aren’t willing to spend money to make money or to properly advertise like everyone else does. WHY ARE THEY SO CHEAP?!!!!

They advertise to shops and fight each other for the same dwindling built in fan base, but they don’t put up any coin or effort to expand beyond that audience to bring in new readers.

What would Coca-Cola or any company be like if they worked like the comics industry without spending money on advertising to expand? They’d be out of business. People would be drinking mud, because they wouldn’t know about Coca-Cola and just how delicious it really is. That is with sugar cane, not this corn syrup stuff that they add these days. Might as well be drinking mud…But I digress.

The real problem is that we’re not spending advertising dollars to reach new readers and engage them. The irony being also that I don’t have money to properly advertise, ha ha, wish I did, but I am doing my part to create a book that can bring new readers into comics and pave the way for our industry to survive into the future. So I think the old adage is true, that it takes money to create money.

The answer is simple: spend money to advertise outside of comics, to help comics. There, I’ve done it. I’ve solved all of the problems in the comic book industry. I should get an award for what I just said here. I’m a genius. Please let it be noted, on the record. Transcriptionist, please read that back to me.

Transcriptionist: “Mark Smith is a genius.”

Yes, very good, thank you.

Yanes: The trade-paperback for the first volume of Gladstone’s is coming out this November. Will this be the series only collection, or can we look forward to future installments of Gladstone’s?

Smith: There’s more planned, and we’re going for the monthly. Hopefully, the first trade sells well enough where it makes everything easier for us on the production side. It’s six issues for ten dollars. I repeat, SIX issues for TEN DOLLARS. That’s an incredible deal.

I think we’re going to sell a million copies. We might even sell a billion million. I hope we sell so many copies that they just cut down the rest of the rainforest and use it to print Gladstone’s. The lack of oxygen in your lungs will make it all the more hilarious!!!!

Yanes: Another aspect of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors that I like is that I can see it as a toy line, a cartoon series, even as a videogame. Beyond this series becoming a huge hit, is there a type of media outlet you’d like to see Gladstone’s adapted for?

Smith: I’m a huge fan of One Piece for animation and toys. I haven’t read the comic books. I’d like to get some toys created for Gladstone’s and also a Marvel vs. Capcom style battle game. I love that game! A cartoon series or a feature film would be fantastic. I see Ben 10 everywhere, and kids walking around with Ben 10 Gear. I want that to be Gladstone’s gear in the future. If Gladstone’s gets the right media deal, it has the potential to be the next Ben 10. In your face Ben 10! We’re coming for ya! Ya better run and hide!

I would like Gladstone’s to be adapted to every media outlet, because I’d like to add, ‘Mark Smith: Homeowner’ to my business card. That would be so awesome.

Yanes: Every comic book creator I know is constantly working. So what projects are you currently working that people need to look out for?

Smith: I’m always working on new projects. Gladstone’s is taking up a lot of time now, so these other things have slowed a little so that I can give Gladstone’s the attention it needs. Next from me is The New Brighton Archeological Society Book II– that’s out early 2012. I can’t wait for that book to come out! It looks great.

Yanes: Finally, if you could get your fans to falsify information on any Wikipedia entry, which entry would it be and what misinformation would you want them to spread?

Smith: I don’t know. It’s too much pressure to come up with something on the spot. It would have to be brilliant! Why would you ask me something so hard!!!

I CAN’T DEAL WITH IT!!!! Just kidding. I got nothin’.

Yup, I’m drawing a blank.

My mind is as clear as the blue sky. So tranquil. I can hear a hamster running on a wheel.

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