Aside from being the co-creator of “Aqua Leung” and “The Amazing Joy Buzzards,” Mark Andrew Smith has been a frequent contributor to a number of anthologies published by Image Comics. Among those anthologies is “PopGun,” the mixtape-like compilation of veteran creators and up-and-comers. Now Smith is launching a new graphic novel borne of his “PopGun” contribution, ”The New Brighton Archeological Society,” illustrated by Matt Weldon. The pair spoke with CBR News about the book, its characters, its influences and inspirations, and his goals for finding an audience.
”New Brighton Archeological Society” centers on a group of kids whose parents are the most famous archeologists in the world. “It's a wild and wacky story about some fearless tykes that unravel a magically wondrous yet dangerous world through their parent's archeological findings,” Weldon told CBR. “Overall, it's a very wholesome storyline. Also there's a great deal of action also so it's something that people of all ages can appreciate.”
The four children of “New Brighton” are those of two families that have for generations been friends and worked together, one Chinese-American and the other Irish-American. After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, the kids discover the truth of their parent’s secret lives as adventurers, discovering hidden worlds, mystical artifacts and mythical creatures.
“The children are thrust into a conflict that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries over a great library of magic,” Smith explained. “Stepping up to fill their parent's shoes, they immerse themselves in a world of magic and adventure. The New Brighton kids soon find themselves in a race to gather all of the books of magic before their parent's adversary, Galomar, beats them to it. The learning curve is steep, and action and hilarity ensue along the way as they struggle to find their footing.”
Characters include Cooper, who Smith says is the troublemaker of the group. “He's very boastful, and he likes to scare people and make things up,” the writer said. “When he tells you a story, you've got to scale it back about ten times to find the level of truth from what he's told you. Whereas Benny is the voice of reason in the group Cooper is the voice of haphazard and daringness. If there's trouble or a shortcut he'll take it despite any consequence. He's funny and very animated. He's usually the devil's advocate among the kids. He's very good at machines and fixing things. His sister is Joss, and they have a bit of a rivalry between them but they also get along well. His background is Chinese American.”
Then there’s Benny, the “straight man” and voice of reason in the team. “Benny rises to challenges and he's the rock of the group, with a sense of fairness and ethics,” Smith explained. “He's a problem solver and very patient. Benny's someone you can always depend on to keep his word. When he grows up you could imagine him being a policeman, service man or a private eye like Phil Marlow. He's got a good sense of humor as well and gets along with everyone. He's Irish American.”
The tough, sarcastic, and independent girl of the group is Joss, who Smith describes as a one-girl wrecking crew who kicks a lot of butt. “She's pretty but she can also outrun all of the boys and put them to shame,” he remarked.
Lastly there’s Becca, smart with numbers and the most well read. “She's a bit of a ‘princess’ and the most vulnerable of the group,” Smith said. “As the youngest of our adventurers, she scares more easily. She also has a mischievous side to her as well. Benny is her brother and he's very protective of her.”
Mark Andrew Smith’s family was the primary inspiration for “The New Brighton Archeological Society, and he even named some of the book’s characters after his siblings. “They're a very important part of my life. In particular I have two younger brothers, Benjamin and Cooper (ages 8 and 9), and a lot of cousins and nieces that were the largest inspiration for my target audience,” Smith said. “When I travel home to visit, I get to hang out with them go to soccer games, read to them and sometimes tell them my own original bedtime stories. The characters are all modeled from the kids in my family. So it makes them very easy to write because I know what they're like down to their very mannerisms and facial expressions. Doing that was a great anchor for the world and made the writing of these characters very easy and natural for me.”
The project is also informed by the works of Norman Rockwell and Bill Waterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”). “[They] were huge influences for the characterization and tone of the book, and I wanted to channel a lot of the things that I really enjoyed from ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ -- including the tone and the mood of a classic era. I set out to do a very action-packed book that's also wholesome and fun,” Smith explained. “So in some spots the story is moody and mysterious, in others it's pulsing with manic energy. Overall, the stories are charming and fun, and that's a good mixture.”
Of his artistic partner, Matt Weldon, Smith has nothing but nice things to say. “He captures the mood of the characters, the expressions, and brings the personalities to life on the page through his artwork. He's incredible, a real gentleman, and a class act,” Smith remarked. “I'm beaming over working with him and I probably have to stop short for fear of sounding like his grandmother in my praises of his talents, strong character, and abilities.”
Smith found Weldon when the artist submitted a pin-up piece for an art contest in another of Smith’s books, “Aqua Leung.” “He usually draws in another style but he changed it up,” Smith said. “I was really impressed with this little foot style dug what he did with it.“
“I spend a good while just sitting about visualizing over Mark's scripts,” Weldon said of his initial reaction to the book, “and I still do. My mind really wanders when I read through the scripts he sends me. They really come to life for me and the best part about working with Mark is he tells me all the time that if I feel impressed to take creative liberties then just go for it.”
Asked how he approaches the artwork on “New Brighton,” Weldon explained, “At first I spent weeks of concept sketching and consideration on how I should approach the style and to be honest, it's still evolving. I'm finishing up the last 30 pages on the first volume and they're worlds apart from the first couple dozen pages I produced for this storyline.”
“New Brighton” began as vignettes in the Image anthology “PopGun,” but the longer form of an original graphic novel was always in mind as Smith and Weldon’s eventual goal. “The stories we did for ‘PopGun’ were a great way to warm up and us to get comfortable and settled in with the world and the characters,” Weldon said. The ‘PopGun’ shorts will be online soon for people to enjoy if they missed them and included as part of the graphic novel as well.”
Smith and Weldon have a broad audience in mind for “The New Brighton Archeological Society.” [The project] is an olive branch book in every sense of the word,” said Smith. “You can give it to anyone and I think that there's something they'll enjoy and take away from reading it. I wanted to create something that I felt comfortable handing it to anyone. My parents always want to hand off some books to the neighbor kids so I wanted to have something on hand for them to do that. I wanted to make something that my grandfather would be proud of and that I could hand to him that he'd get that wouldn't be quite like my other work. It’s written with a wide audience in mind. If you have children and you want them to get into comics you can buy this for them and not be worried about the content. Women and teenage girls will also enjoy it -- there are a lot of great characters for the female audience. It's also a book that librarians, bookstore owners and teachers can get excited about.
“Often times you'll hear the cry that we need more comics for kids to read. We're the ones that actually did something about that and threw our hats into the ring. We hope the book draws in new readers.”
Will there be further adventures of the New Brighton Archeological Society, sales willing? “Originally, the idea was to create a comic book kid's chapter book series,” Smith revealed. “So by that logic, there should be many more adventures. It depends on how ‘New Brighton’ is received. Ff the reception is positive then we'll hammer out as many original graphic novels as we can. There are more planned, it's a matter of when, and how to proceed when we have more information.”
“New Brighton Archeological Society” hits the stands November 19 from Image Comics.