TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine & THE EERIE DIGEST recently attended the Baltimore Comic-Con to dive into another world of writing and art. This involves the world of graphic novels, and it is of great interest to many of our readers.
On the second day there we ran into professor Greg M. Smith from the Georgia State University, who was displaying some of his work there. Professor, we have many students of the Arts who use our publication as a learning tool. Please tell us about your formal education that prepared you for your present work.
GMS- My college degree was in computer science, and I worked in that field for several years before deciding to go back to grad school to study film and television. At the time (the 80’s) the move from computers to film seemed to make no sense to anyone. Now it seems like a brilliant choice! My master’s (at UNC-Chapel Hill) and Ph.D. training (at Wisconsin-Madison) were increasingly focused on narrative, and that’s been the backbone of my work.
TAEM- Please describe the present courses you teach at your college and the subjects that are involved.
GMS- I teach a wide range of courses at the graduate and undergraduate level about the history and theory of media (including film, television, computer games, and comics).
TAEM- You have also written a number of articles in relation to your work. Please tell us all about them.
GMS- All? ALL? Yikes! I’ve written a bunch. My central focus is on narrative/storytelling and aesthetics in media, and so I’ve written about things from Seinfeld to Steadicam. Lately I’ve been very interested in how we do long-term serial storytelling, both in television and comics. A good bit of my work deals with how film evokes emotion, relying on the increasingly detailed picture of the emotions that we’re getting from cognitive psychology and neurology. I’m also interested in creating readable materials to encourage students to think critically about media. You can find most of my articles on my academic website: http://www2.gsu.edu/~jougms
GMS- My most recent books include What Media Classes Really Want To Discuss: A Student Guide (Routledge, 2010), Beautiful TV: The Art and Argument of Ally McBeal (University of Texas, 2007), Film Structure and the Emotion System (Cambridge University, 2003).
TAEM- You are the first professor that I know that not only teaches about graphic novels, but produces them as well. What importance does graphic novels have within the world of the written word ?
GMS- Well, there aren’t a lot of us (Leonard Rifas and Will Brooker come to mind), but there are a few. The world is a lot bigger than the written word these days. It’s a world of images (moving and still), sounds (digital and analog)), and words (online and in print). Graphic novels occupy a relatively small corner of this world, though their importance gets magnified for the larger culture when they are adapted into film and television properties. For those of us who read and love graphic novels, they’re a little bit of handmade art that circulates within mass culture. Though most mainstream comics are made by multiple people, still there are fewer hands (and a lot less money) involved in making them than film or television. And so there’s still something very personal about comics, even industrially made ones. The lines of a comic, the traces of a human hand, help to give comics a very personal feel. You can feel the touch of Gil Kane or Frank Frazetta or Art Spigelman when you read a comic in ways that’s more immediate than feeling the presence of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino in a film.
TAEM- What are your favorite genres within the realm of graphic novels ?
GMS- I read comics as a kid, but I returned to them as a grownup in the 1980s, and horror was particularly important for me in discovering what comics were capable of doing. These days I’m loving all the wonderful autobiographical comics that are coming out. Again, it’s relatively inexpensive in comics to capture a very personal sense of someone’s voice and experience, so comic memoirs are a favorite.
TAEM- When we met at the Comic-Con in Baltimore, Maryland you were displaying some of your work. Please tell us about it, and the genre it is in.
GMS- Haunting Refrain is a ghost story within a ghost story within a ghost story. It’s a 104 page graphic novel published by Committed Comics.
TAEM- We understand that you had written Haunting Refrain . Please describe the theme behind it and the main protagonists in your story.
GMS- Bongo Brasher is a drummer who thought he escaped his small town upbringing, but a family tragedy lures him back. He becomes caught up in small town life (lots of drinking!) and particularly in the town’s foremost ghost story. As his obsession with the local haunted house deepens, he discovers that what happened in the past is much more horrific and dangerous than any campfire tale.
There are several themes woven into the comic. It’s about history, about how the past still exerts a power on the present. It’s about finding the father you need, rather than the one you were born with. It’s about finding purpose through work.
GMS- The penciler for the book is Ulises Carpintero, an Argentinian artist I met online. It’s been a very 21st century experience. We’ve never met! I shipped script pages to him, and he sent back digital files of his art. I looked through lots of online portfolios before I found Ulises. I needed someone who could draw not only the contemporary world but also the world of the 1880s, where some of the action takes place. I wanted both timeframes to have a different look but to come from the same hand, and Ulises was one of the few who could handle both. Plus he’s terrific at drawing spaces, and it was so important for this haunted house story to have a detailed sense of place.
TAEM- Who is the publisher for this, and what steps were needed to produce it ?
GMS- Committed Comics is a small independent comics company out of Washington. I met the publisher at the San Diego Comic Con, and he liked my pitch for Haunting Refrain so he put it under contract. There are very few publishers who are crazy enough (pardon me — visionary enough?) to take a chance on physically publishing a 104 page color comic by an unknown comic writer. I ended up doing much of the lettering on the comic, and my editor really helped me learn about that craft.
GMS- Haunting Refrain is a one-shot graphic novel; there isn’t a follow-up planned for these characters. It’s on the shelves of fine comic stores right now, or you can purchase it directly from the publisher at http://www.committedcomics.com/store.htm It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, too: http://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Refrain-Greg-M-Smith/dp/0982673515/ref=la_B001HMRSIC_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380803478&sr=1-6
TAEM- What other projects do you plan to work on in the future, and how can our readership apply for your college courses ?
GMS- I’m currently working on an academic book about the importance of the line in comics. I’d love to try my hand at making comics again, too. Georgia State has programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. levels, and you can find out more about them at my department’s website: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwdcm
TAEM- Greg, I want to thank you for your time in your interview with our publication, and I know that there are may of our readers who would be interested in learning the finer points of graphic novel writing and publication. I want to wish you much luck in all that you do, and I sincerely want you to keep in contact with us to keep us all abreast of this exciting field. I know that this is also a great interest to my son, who does most of the photography and IT work for our magazine.
GMS – Thank you!