I didn’t know who Jake Smith was a month ago. Then I clicked a link that took me to a Kickstarter page and now I know who Jake is and a bit more. Like a lot of us, he got into comics when he discovered his father’s old collection of Marvel Comics. A lifelong love of drawing saw Jake recreating his favorite panels and surveying different artists from those old Uncanny X-Men and Star Wars comics. A thought creeps in, one that’s simple enough: “Hey, I could do this.”
With a little help from his grandfather, Jake self-published his first comic at the age of 13. It’s online and he’d advise you not to go looking for it but it might be worth it just to see how much he’s developed as an artist in the seven years since. Jake’s currently in his junior year at SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design) and credits the teachings of his professors for helping him grow past the point he could teach himself. You can see the influence of Jamie Hewlett, Tony Moore, and James Harren on his art but the effect of Mike Mignola can’t be understated as Jake is in the middle of the Kickstarter campaign for This Off Beat Town #1. Like Mignola before him, Jake is doing his level best to create his own “universe” that will allow him stretch his creative muscles as a cartoonist with no direction being off limits.
Jake reached his Kickstarter campaign’s goal within 24 hours of launching his campaign and was gracious enough to put up with me asking him a bunch of questions about his comic and his campaign.
You reached your funding goal within the first 24 hours of launching your Kickstarter campaign. How did that hit you? Did it give you a rush of confidence or even anxiety knowing that these were people kicking in money to produce your work?
Jake Smith: Yeah, both of those! Getting the funding so fast and having people messaging me telling me how cool the book looks really pumped me up. I stayed pumped for the next few days, but now the pressure is starting to kick in, because now I gotta finish the rest of the book and all the commissions and stuff! It’s gonna be fun, but a lot of work.
Has there been anything in your experience that has prepared you for the hustle of running a crowdfunding campaign?
I’ve taken a few classes at SCAD that have taught me what people want to see when pitching an upcoming project, and I knew that if my comic was worthwhile people would know it from the samples I showed. I just know as a fan of comics myself that people want to see what the book will look like before they decide if they want to support it, because the art really is most of it. I can’t sway people with a really good plot summary and no visuals, it just doesn’t work.
What is it about the setting of Nero, the fictional city of This Off Beat Town, that makes it so compelling to you as an artist and a writer?
First of all, I wanted a city that would be interesting and fun to draw over and again. My favorite types of environments to draw are urban/sci-fi type environments. The more run down and sleazy the better. And literally any type of story can happen here. That was the point really, to have a backdrop where I can draw anything I want to and write any story I want to.
You have work relating to This Off Beat Town on your blog from at least two years ago. How long have you been working over the concept and the characters? And was there any hesitancy about pushing forward with it now?
I’ve had the name This Off Beat Town for a while, tied to a bunch of different comic ideas. But I started working on the characters and story for the one I’m Kickstarting about a year ago. I drew Felix (the monkey guy) in my sketchbook and thought he looked really cool, and I just kept drawing him over and over again and knew I needed to put him in a story. I don’t really have any hesitancy about pushing forward with it, just because I know that if I don’t push it now I might lose the passion I have for it and want to move on to something else.
We’ve seen some serious self-publishing success stories in comics with books like Copra. What made betting on yourself and self-publishing the right move for you right now?
I’m 20 years old, so I’m not an established pro by any means, so why not? I’ve got nothing to lose. A lot of my favorite comic artists self-published when they were my age, like Tony Moore and Jim Mahfood, and I thought that it would help me learn a lot when it comes to making comic books.
You know, I let out a horrified gasp upon learning you’re 20. Do you feel any pressure as a younger artist breaking in?
Yeah a ton! But really I see it as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes early so I can be a better artist later in my career.
Should you successfully fund the second and third issues, what’s the logical next step for you? Continue with crowdfunding/self-publishing or maybe pursue work with comics publishers?
I’m gonna use the finished books for my portfolio and show it off to different editors and try to get work. If that doesn’t pan out then I’ll continue to self-publish until I can get work at a bigger publisher. It all really depends on what comes along.
I always find it interesting when family members work together on a project and you’ve got your brother doing a back-up on this first issue. Have you asked him to revise and resubmit his work a few times or any other brotherly hazing?
I never ask him to revise, because the stuff he gives to me is always hilarious. His comic strips are definitely the funniest I’ve ever read, so when it came time to make the backup strip for this book I just let him do whatever he wanted, because I knew the results would be absolutely hilarious.
Jake Smith’s campaign ends Thursday, March 3rd. For $10+, a contributor will receive a signed print copy of the 26-page This Off Beat Town #1 that is expected to ship to backers in May of this year.