A Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Mark Smylie of 'Artesia'

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If you haven't yet heard of Mark Smylie's "Artesia," published by Sirius Entertainment yet, don't worry. The nominee for the Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition Eisner award intends on being around a while.

"Well, I hope that 'Artesia' is the beginning of an epic swords-and-sorcery fantasy war story," Smylie told the Comic Wire on Friday. "I've tried to create a realistic fantasy world influenced by classical myth and medieval technology, with all the conflicting mythologies and wars between empires that are a hallmark of the genre. The comics follow the adventures of a war captain named Artesia who was raised as a magician and a priestess by her mother. She's torn between the direction her mother wanted for her and her fear of her mother's fate (her mother was burned at the stake), so for the time being she has chosen instead to follow the path of war. This eventually put her into conflict with the king she served, and their fight was the focus of the first series, 'Artesia.' In the second series, 'Artesia Afield,' she led her army to aid their neighbors against an ancient imperial enemy while grappling with whether or not she had become a queen because of her actions in the first series. I'm trying to write 'Artesia' in the tradition of epic fantasy novels (Tolkien, Lewis, Howard, Moorcock, etc.), just in comic book form."

As one might imagine, Smylie was pleased to get the nomination.

"I don't know, I thought it was pretty cool," he smiled. "I haven't been sure of what to expect from things like the Eisners, given the semi-adult-oriented content and fantasy genre of my book, so I was pretty happy that they included me. I've been reading comics for years, so I've known about the Eisners for a while. I went to the ceremony two years ago, when I was nominated for the Russ Manning Award, so I saw Brian Michael Bendis win the category I'm up for."

Smylie's got some thoughts as to who will be taking home the award this year.

"Well, I met Jason Bone at the Chicago con two years ago when he was first pitching his book 'Solar Stella' to Sirius, and I've gotten to know him pretty well; it'd be neat if he won, and I think he's got a pretty good shot, particularly given that he hooked up with Oni as well. The other creators are mostly unknown to me, except Alex Robinson, who would probably be my pick for the eventual winner. 'Box Office Poison' has gotten a lot of great press, he's got great indie credibility being backed by Chris Staros and Top Shelf, and his comic pretty accurately reflects the lives of a lot of folks in comics, so I think he's the guy I'd put my money on."

Even if they haven't all found mainstream success as Bendis did, previous winners of the award (Tony Millionaire and Linda Medley, for instance) have gone on to find the wider audience the Eisner judges and voters thought they deserved. That sounds good to Smylie, but he's keeping his needs simple.

"Well, my only goal is trying to be able to keep putting out more 'Artesia' stories, so hopefully the nomination will serve to increase awareness of the book. My only real definition of commercial success is to sell more 'Artesia,' so anything that helps is great. I'm fairly well committed to putting out the first seven stories regardless of how well it turns out commercially, but we'll have to see if my finances hold up," he smiled. "I don't think I'm expecting the nomination to lead to increased sales, though; there's probably no magic bullet, unfortunately, so I'll be sticking to the slow-and-steady approach for the foreseeable future."

Couple that approach with ambitions for the series that fans of Dave Sim's "Cerebus" will recognize, and Smylie's prepared to keep "Artesia" readers happy for years to come.

"The second Artesia Annual will be coming out in September, and a three-part Artesia short story will be serialized in John Kovalic's 'Dork Tower' beginning in either issue 16 or 17. Hopefully Sirius will be able to put out the trade paperback of the 'Artesia Afield' series next January, leading to the third series, Artesia Afire, early next year. My intention is to do a total of 22 'Artesia' series, if I can live long enough, so if readers like the book there's a lot more to come."

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