Recently, I had the opportunity to get a preview of Mark Andrew Smith‘s upcoming book, The New Brighton Archeological Society. Clocking in at nearly 200 pages, this graphic novel is a truly epic adventure, chock full of fantasy and action elements and a gripping tale that’s sure to entertain both kids and adults.
The premise reads like an heroic poem: After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, four children – Cooper, Joss, Becca & Benny – begin to unlock the secrets of their parents’ mysterious lives, discovering a hidden world of mystical artifacts, fantasy creatures and arcane knowledge. Soon, they find themselves drawn into a conflict over a great library that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries. Drawn by the adventure the children enlist to save an enchanted forest, the birthplace of magic itself.
I read through it twice – once by myself and once with my kids – which was a great exercise because my kids found messages and humor in parts I had missed. (And there are some wonderful bits of humor only grown ups will get, too.)
And that illustrated to me why NBAS is such a great book – it appeals to a really wide audience. And unlike some comic books targeted at kids, it doesn’t treat kids as fragile or unintelligent. All the main characters in New Brighton Archeological Society are very young, but also very capable.
After finishing New Brighton Archeological Society, available next week from Image Comics, I asked the book’s author, Mark Andrew Smith, some questions about the book, his writing style and why Paula Abdul might liquify his brain:
GeekDad: You haven’t been writing very long, but you’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success with the projects you’ve been involved with – lots of great reviews and critical acclaim. Aqua Leung was nominated for a Yalsa award and you won a Harvey award for Popgun. Do you feel like you’ve brought something new to comic writing that people find fresh and appealing? Also, can you address rumors that you were seen down at the crossroads working the hoodoo magic?
Mark Andrew Smith: I’ve been writing since 2004!!! It’s a short time by some standards but to me it has felt like a long time, a really long time. I’ve had a good career leading up to this, and yes, lots of critical acclaim, awards, and great reviews. Now, when I get very big in the world of writing I’ll be called an overnight success. I’ve put in a lot of work and long hours up to this point so that I could reach where I am. Here’s hoping that it lasts and I make the jump and have a large audience for my work very soon that’s up there with the best that literature has to offer!!!
I feel that the characters in my all ages adventure fantasy books should feel like old and familiar friends, relatives, or people you know, so that you can relate to them and root for them on their journey. It’s good to have a connection along the way while reading their story. The characters in NBAS are well rounded, fluid, they feel natural, are endearing with sincerity and warmth in their manner, and have strong personalities. In the book, of course, they are characters on paper but the moments must be real and they must feel like living breathing characters that you could engage in conversation.
In the graphic novel format there is such great potential for character development and pacing because you have so much room to work. The work feels natural because there is so much room to work in and the result is that I can create something that feels moment-by-moment and spontaneous as you read along.
The manner in which I hit story points and pace my story, these are some of the signature things that I do as a storyteller, and I do them well. I always hope that what I’m doing as a writer feels like it’s new and exciting, that hasn’t been done before, that it is something that people will respond to, and that it becomes infectious and word of it spreads like wildfire. We’ll see how I do with everything. The New Brighton Archeological Society is the real deal and it’s very well done.
Hoodoo magic eh? No, that must have been someone else who looked like me and had stolen my style and blues guitar. Where are these crossroads located? Very tempting, yes, very tempting indeed.
GD: Your cohort on New Brighton Archeological Society, Matthew Weldon, incorporated some anime elements for the illustrations in this book, while maintaining a very vibrant, unique look. Can you talk a bit about the decision behind the character design and what it was like to work with Matthew?
MAS: Matthew Weldon is a genius and a gentleman!!!
Matthew did such a great job creating a distinct style for New Brighton
Archeological Society. WOW!!!! His execution of the script and the delivery that he gives is superb!!!
I think the character designs he did in the book are very appealing and original and he does well in conveying the action and expressions of the characters from moment to moment. I told Matthew that I wanted the book’s style to be a blend of Norman Rockwell meets Calvin and Hobbes. It was important to me to have very lively characters with a lot of personality but in a classic/moody/mysterious setting.
Matthew hits each note in the script expertly like a top tiered orchestra conductor. He’s like the Danny Elfman of comic book artists.
It is incredible really that he has pulled it off the characters and art so fluidly and flawlessly.
The color to the book is also very fantastic and it pops his artwork out, gives it a lot more depth and dimension, and showcases it even more. Matthew is very professional, he has a great attitude, and it has been wonderful working with him on this series.
GD: New Brighton Archeological Society is a great adventure story, full of fantasy creatures – dragons and vampires, ghosts, goblins and fairies – it has huge battles, an epic quest and a wonderful, cinematic narrative that really keeps the story moving along. What influenced your writing on NBAS? Were there any books, movies or stories you drew on for inspiration?
MAS: Yes, I love all of that stuff and there are too many to list! Mostly I like Monsters and cool creatures a lot. I like the sci-fi and fantasy film genres a lot. Then of course, Tolkien is king but it’s a very walked down path.
I was a film major so I’ve seen a lot of movies and also read a lot of books. I worked at a video store in school for a few years and watched everything I could get my hands on. I like taking all of my favorite things from films and blending them into a mixture that I like.
I think it’s the same group of films and books that have had an effect on my style and not so much on an individual project basis but I definitely pulled this from here and that from there.
For the New Brighton Archeological Society I wanted to create a mystery adventure group that went through spooky castles and that dove into everything headfirst but with a heart to it and timelessness.
GD: NBAS is a graphic novel that has the potential to appeal to a very wide audience, both adults and youth. But at its core it is a fantastic book for kids because it treats the young characters with responsibility and respect – a characteristic that’s uncommon among the comic books offered to kids today. Were you a comic book kid growing up? Which books do you read now?
MAS: With the New Brighton Archeological Society I wanted to create a book that everyone could enjoy. I wanted to create a series that was fun and exciting for the reader no matter his or her age. My rule wasn’t to pander or talk down to do it, but to be the best and really go all out to raise the bar. I hope it will show.
Our story has two very strong female lead characters alongside our two male characters and New Brighton Archeological Society is a book that would be a great way to introduce women to comic books and I think they’d enjoy the book very much if they were to pick it up. It’s for the ladies too. If you’re a father with girls you should pick it up for them.
If you are a parent and reading the New Brighton Archeological Society
you will really feel for the kids in the story and where they’re going on their adventures. I’m also going to crack you up and make you and your children laugh aloud, big time!
Was I a comic book kid growing up? I was a huge reader growing up and I would read everything, including comic books. As a kid I was hugely into the Hardy Boys books and then Uncle Scrooge adventures along with Mad Magazine.
These days I don’t read much in the way of comics just because I have read so much of them in the past and I really want to expand my horizons as far as what other kind of work is out there. I got too heavy into one particular thing I liked and now I want to find something else I might like so I’ve hit pause.
I’m trying to read more and more books and go out of my familiar zone to expand by horizons, usually I will read things that friends recommend to me. I would like to read more historical biographies. I’ll also read young adult fiction here and there because it is interesting and a lot of them are better written than grownup fare.
GD: In the main characters, you’ve done a wonderful job of capturing a real youth-like sense of wonder and adventure. Did you have a relative or neighborhood kid in mind when you set about to capture that childlike voice?
MAS: I have a lot of younger nieces and nephews and two younger brothers who are very far apart in age. So these combined where good models for creating the characters in the book. They were a great inspiration for me. It was easy for me to get the mannerisms down for the characters from seeing them on the holidays. I’ve been very fortunate to have the family that I do.
GD: Do you anticipate New Brighton Archeological Society being a mini-series or something longer running?
MAS: I feel as though with the first book we were really just getting warmed up and now we can plunge in head first into the next adventures and introduce some new characters and have a lot of fun. I’d like to complete their adventures and really dig into the story for the long haul.
The books are a lot of work to create but we make it look very easy.
We’re still making up our minds on the format for new ones and waiting to see how we do on the first one to decide on doing some more.
GD: Your first job out of school was working for season one of
American Idol. While it’s pretty obvious what Simon’s superpower is, what special abilities do Randy and Paula have?
MAS: That was my first job out of college. I remember calling and telling my friends about the show. I said “This show sounds stupid, it will never last!”, but it’s okay to be wrong every now and then. But that’s one of my favorites. I mostly dealt with Simon on the first season and he’s a very nice guy in real life. His grumpiness is all an act for the show. I can’t mention Randy or Paula’s special abilities because they said they’d scramble my brain like eggs with their telepathic alien mutant ninja powers. Wait a minute! I just did!!!!
–The New Brighton Archeological Society will be in stores March 4th.