Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interview with Comic Book writer, Don Smith

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing my friend, Don Smith. Don writes comic books, and he has made me a fan. Right now Don has a column on InvestComics.com,
as well as the New Jersey Patch

BROOKE: I've read several genres of your work; articles, reviews, fiction. You have a real talent for writing. How did you narrow down your writing skills to comic books?

DON: First, thank you so much for the kind words about that. I really appreciate it.

However, with writing skills, I tend to have one view on writing and that is just to keep it simple as possible.

For me, I find if I spend my time wanting to over do my writing or go into directions I do not need to, I tend to ramble.

With comic book writing, what appeals to me as opposed to say fiction, is getting right into the action. Instead of saying, "It was a dark and stormy night and he felt his heart beat faster. It was just thunder, he thought, as he heard the rumble."

BROOKE: As a comic book writer, what are some of the stressors you typically encounter?

DON: Much of what stresses me is meeting deadlines. To be 100 percent honest, I have a major deadline due towards the end of September and right now as I write this I have a pit in my stomach.

I call it a tightening and I think there may be some anxiety issues here.

Simply, at the risk of sounding like some sad person dealing with self-esteem issues, I have been a newspaper reporter but my real love has been comic books, and now that I acutally write them I am waiting for "the man" to come in and say, "Mr. Smith, there is a mistake. You need to go back to data entry!"

But a lot of my stressors are more personality inflicted and that comes from me never learning how to deal with personality conflicts and the like, but for the record, I have been reading and talking to some real smart people and learning how to do it.

BROOKE: What sorts of conflicts does your particular work group encounter? Do you always agree with the way the artist portrays your work, does the artist always agree with your story line?

DON: Oddly, the biggest conflicts I have are intnernal (see the previous question). I still can't believe I get to do something I love and a lot of it coming to terms with that.

However, I will say that biggest issue I find in this industry is jealousy.

There is so much about the entertainment industry that is a crap shoot (comic books especially). A guy who has been slaving in his comics for years will go unnoticed, but some kid comes out of left field and happens to be the son of the landscaper for the president of Marvel Comics and boom, this kid gets a comic like SPIDER-MAN.

(For the record, this did not happen, but I use this as an example).

The old-timer begins an underground backlash of the kid's success (whether deserved or not).

While I get the old man's frustration, and I get the promotion and nepotism that has been going on since the beginning of time, the old man needs to realize, we all have different paths.

I find I end up meeting the dumb old guy.

That can be very, very disheartening.

Now regarding artists, a lot of times, I have a "Let the artist do the job" sort of thing. To me, they are very, very important, so I almost do not want to make waves.

Also, some of the comic stuff the publisher has the final say in the artist and I don't. I hate to say that I have been known to "Grin and bear it," but I have too.

Sometimes I voice my concern, other times I don't. It depends on the time and place.

BROOKE: You’ve written some political comics, which are incredibly deep for what people would expect from comics. Do you ever run into problems from the editor/producer?

DON: Actually, right now my experience has been very positive with the few editors I have worked with.

If something needs to be changed, I tend to go along with it.

BROOKE: Do you ever experience writer's block? How do you deal with it?

DON: Writer's Block is interesting. Some days the words come flying out of my fingers to keyboards like I am taking Supernatural Dictation.

Other times trying to get the next word on to the page is like squeezing out that last bit of toothpaste. Or better yet, it's like getting that last sip from a soda at the bottom of a cup of ice.

The best way to deal with Writer's Block I find is stepping away from the computer. I have been known to go and lay down for a half hour, not sleep, but not think about anything. I meditate, I call it.

Recently, I have found that going out for a walk and not thinking about it helps.

In the HITCHHIKER'S TO THE GUIDE GALAXY series, Douglas Adams said that the best way to fly is throw yourself to the ground and think about something else. Your mind will be so used to the idea of you hitting the ground it will be distracted and you can levitate up.

In an odd way, writing is like that. Writer's Block even more so.

You know when people say they do their best thinking in the bathroom, it's the truth. Without getting too graphic, people go in the bathroom to either shower or...well...um...we all saw the movie DUMB AND DUMBER (thank you, Jeff Daniels and a bottle of Super Lax). But the point is your mind is so wrapped up in the story or the problem that you need something to take you outside yourself and all the synapses that were not connecting, connect.

Same principle.

I try to think about something else, and usually that refocuses me on the writing problem.

BROOKE: Part of the writer’s life, is dealing with unemployment. How do you deal with the ups and downs of this industry?

DON: You know, I wish I had some massive answer to say, "I let go and give it to God."

But some days are harder than other.

Right now, I am learning to surrender things over to God. I don't mean one of those "I give up!" sort of deals, but a full blown, "I offer God control of this situation."

Some are easier, and some are harder. I am dealing with some stubborn issues right now, that as I said, are ingrained in my core, so I am praying this gets lifted.

Not the thing causing me stress, but learning what my real worth is.

As much as I love comic books and being a writer, if something should happen where I stopped doing this (here I mean like a disease or something that stops my brain from working) I want to be defined by myself inside not because of people's views of me.

Make sense?

BROOKE: Absolutely. What is your best outlet for stress?

DON: I find a lot of time just walking away and going "I can't deal with this. This is to big, God I give this to you" and then focus on something else tends to help.

I would love to say, "I burn off my stress with jogging or racquet ball " but none of that is me.

I will admit, I do walk a lot, and I tend to do that when I feel more stressed and that really works wonders, but most of the time, I look for the cause of the stress and eliminate it.

It makes things so much easier.

BROOKE: Is there a particularly funny story involving stress on the job that you experienced, please feel free to share?

DON: Yeah, I have one.

In my comic book POLITICAL POWER: RUSH LIMBAUGH, I wrote myself in as narrator (which is the custom of the comic series). For the heck of it, I wrote in my cat Banjo to bring the narration some more life.

BROOKE: Oh yeah! I heard that!

Anyway, when the comic came out in May of this year, a caller called into Rush Limbaugh's show. The reader was some "genius" from Ohio who said, "Well, Rush, did you have a cat named Banjo?"

You see, I admit I am a big guy, and the artist drew me similarly to Rush. However, if he had read the comic he would see the narrator say, "I am Don, this is my cat, Banjo."

Well, on national radio, it was great for Rush to talk about the comic, but it was inaccurate. My goal was to be as accurate as possible, because I thought Rush really did get the raw end of the deal on a lot of media.

Thank God I did speak with one of his producers Kit Carson and told him what I was about and what the comic was about. He told me that the people he spoke with had responded positively to the comic, so I was happy.

But several months later, THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article about Bluewater Comics (the publisher of the Rush Limbaugh comic) and they brought up the Banjo incident.

All I can say is considering THE NEW YORK TIMES is putting the details of the United States Terrorist Surveillance Program and done with an erudite manner, I am not surprised.

But still I will say, "Don Smith, whose work has been featured on the RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW and in THE NEW YORK TIMES, has a new comic book coming out."

Either way, it works out.

BROOKE: Indeed. That’s quite a feather in your cap.

Brooke, thank you for this chance. I really appreciate it and am grateful for it.

c. 2010


  1. Great interview, Brooke! It came out really well.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed the topic!! I'm a self taught cartoonist and I've learnt that in cartoons it isn't so much the drawing but the writing itself that counts - a painful discovery! This morning from Don Smith "keep it simple as possible" is a very helpful reminder of what I'm trying to achieve in my work. Thanks for that!

  4. thank you adam & sabrina for reading & commenting!! so glad you enjoyed it! LiMeng, thanks so much for the insight from inside the comic world! i can't imagine a comic without writing or drawing, so both count A LOT! so glad you enjoyed it!...b