Upside Down with Jess Smart Smiley
Jess Smart Smiley is ready to turn Upside Down for his big comics debut. It’s the story of a boy vampire who’s charming and a whole lot of fun. We asked jess to sink his teeth into some questions about the book.
Congratulations on your first graphic novel! What’s the story behind it?
Thank you! Upside Down has been a lot of fun to make, and I couldn't be happier that it's being published by one of my favorite comics publishers, Top Shelf Productions. The entire book started with a little scribbly doodle in my sketchbook, of a boy vampire going trick-or-treating. I couldn't help but draw some bats to go with the vampire, and then a witch, and a scientist…pretty soon I had an entire story and I decided to tell it as an all-ages graphic novel. The book took several months to write, rough, draw, and color.
How did you get into comics in the first place?
My dad has an extensive comics collection that he introduced me to when I was really young. I loved the hulking superheroes and bizarre mutants. I liked the mystery and battles of differing powers and abilities. The artwork and stories were fascinating, too, and I remember staying up late at night, attempting to re-create my favorite drawings of Wolverine and Leonardo. It didn't take me long to start making my own comics—especially after reading Maus and Bone for the first time.
How would you describe Harold?
Harold is a boy vampire. He's very friendly, and loves candy. His best friends are two trouble-making bats named John and Randy, and he lives with his parents inside of a scientist's piano.
Tell us a little bit about the plot for Upside Down.
Sure! Harold is the main character, and he ends up eating so much candy that he loses his teeth! Harold runs away with John and Randy, and ends up facing-off against Vermillion, the last witch on earth! It's all kinds do spooky-fun, and I'm so excited for it to come out just before Halloween.
Aside from Harold, who is your favorite vampire and why?
Talk about a tough question! I'm such a sucker for (get it?) Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula carries with him all of the intrigue and enigmatic qualities that we've come to love about and expect from vampires. Although Upside Down: A Vampire Tale is a far cry from the darkness of Dracula, it plays around with the notion that all vampires are sinister, brooding villains.
How many books do you plan to do in this series?
Ooh! You want the juicy stuff! Well, I suppose this is a great place to announce it: I am currently working on a sequel, and have written a third book, as well. The idea of a series of books belongs to Top Shelf. After reading the first book, they asked if I had other plans for Harold. If there was more story to be told. They pointed out the world I had created with Upside Down: A Vampire Tale, and asked if I would give it some thought. After some time, and several sketchbooks of doodling and brainstorming, I realized that there was a lot more to the story that I wanted to share. There are some big things in the works for Upside Down and I'm excited for the journey to begin with book one.
With kids becoming more and more sophisticated and worldly, is it difficult to write for them? Does it make your job, both as a writer and an artist, more difficult? How do you approach telling stories to them?
I guess I don't really make stories for children. I just make books that I want to read, and that are enjoyable and rewarding to make, and then I hope that there are others who will want to read the stories, as well. (Hopefully there are plenty of you out there, because I'm just getting started!)
Who are some of your influences as a writer and artist?
Boy. Another big question. I grew up loving everything from Bill Peet, Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake and Dr. Seuss, and their playfulness in writing and drawing is something that I connected with right away. I still love their books. Classic literature and fine arts are also deep loves of mine, and I read as many novels and biographies and books on painters as I do comics and graphic novels. I just love storytelling and visual language.
Who and what influenced your humor?
Oh, gosh. Well, I suppose growing up as a lanky kid with glasses and an overbite left me with a choice to grow cruel or to have a sense of humor. Now, of course, I realize that I can be both!
Do you plan to stay in the all-ages genre, or would you like to do books in other categories as well?
Creating all-ages books is a lot fun for me—it feels like an endless playground to explore and build in. I have more all-ages stories in the works, but I'm also working on projects for other age groups. I'm attempting my first novel, which will be much more appropriate for adults, and I'm working on a new comic for young adults, and a children's book.