To my mind, there can never be enough all-ages comics. By all-ages, I mean comics that resonate and entertain folks of, well, all ages, not just children. So I was intrigued to learn that writer Dave Scheidt and artist Jess Smart Smiley launched a Kickstarter campaign for an all-ages horror/comedy collection of three stories, Spooky Sleepover.
Scheidt and Smiley were more than happy to explain their love of all-ages storytelling.
Tim O'Shea: Dave, what about Jess' art made him a good fit for the project? Jess, what about Dave's script made you want to collaborate on this?
Dave Scheidt: Jess has this beautiful mixture of childhood wonder and heart in his drawings, not to mention this insane-but-subtle approach to physical comedy in his cartooning. I feel like he captures what drives my writing: nostalgia, finding humor in the supernatural but still finding comedy in the funny, quiet, every day moments. He makes my jokes funnier and brings so much more to this book than I could have thought of. It's so fun to look at it.
Jess Smart Smiley: Dave's stories are hilarious! He knows his horror tropes so well and he wields them expertly, which brings a lot of tension and drama to these otherwise-funny comics. It's a great balance of light and dark, humor and horror. It's childhood, with all its fears and joys. Just when things start to get hairy, Dave throws in the perfect joke to lighten the mood! Dave's writing is like Dave himself: The more time you spend with it, the more you want to stay and hang out.
Did the two of you consider doing four stories, or were you always set on making it three?
Scheidt: Well, with the length of the stories three worked out perfectly fine. The way these stories came together I'm honestly so happy with I didn't want to write a fourth story and end up hating it or not liking it as much as the others. That's very important to Jess and I, both for Spooky Sleepover and other stuff we do. We want to make stories that we would love to read, and I hope that comes across with this book.
Smiley: We're really happy with these three stories. They pull together as a solid collection in a way that both early and seasoned readers can enjoy. There's a great cast of creatures, and the comics are packed with wildly haunting and hilarious situations, and the page count ends up being a good, readable amount. Did we mention that this is a book? Seventy-two full-color pages!
In hearing you all talk about all-ages, you clearly do not mean "safe for kids" -- you mean something that works on a level that clicks with folks of all ages. How important is it to both of you?
Scheidt: So important. I think it's really easy to rely on stuff like violence and funny swear words and super-serious stuff. I love all that stuff too, but as a writer I am way more interested in creating something that people can share, an experience. I wouldn't be here talking to you right now if my dad and brother didn't feel comfortable letting me read their comics when I was little. Comics are something we shared and still do today.
We are living in an amazing time for all-ages stuff with comics like Tiny Titans and Itty Bitty Hellboy and all the rad stuff BOOM! is putting out. TV like Regular Show and Gravity Falls where you can watch with your kids or by yourself or with adults and still get a good laugh out of it, and I think that's great.
We want that. We want to make everyone laugh and not be ashamed that they are reading a "kid's comic." We want adults to feel like kids again, and we want to scare little dudes with our killer toilet and make them laugh with a garbage-eating werewolf.
Smiley: Dave said it perfectly. On top of that, I might add that these stories have no use for violence or strong language or graphic content. Adding any "adult content" would not just water down what Dave has done, but it would turn the book into a marketing move to appeal to a different crowd. Who wants to think about marketing when there are awesome comics to be made?!?
How challenging or easy is it to mix with comedy and horror?
Scheidt: Not at all for me, just because I feel like that's just how my brain is wired. I grew up watching monster movies with my dad and brother and sister, and I've always been able to make my friends laugh, so it's a pretty natural combination for me. Since we're gonna have early readers too with Spooky Sleepover we obviously couldn't make it too scary, and this book is still very funny but we combined those two in a way that just clicked. This sort of book really just plays to our strengths, I think. Luckily.
Smiley: It would probably be more difficult for me to separate the two! I was just thinking about the Ghostbusters movies, and how they did such an amazing job marrying comedy with horror. Even Jurassic Park to an extent. When it's done well, the comedy makes the horror better and vice versa.
Are there certain all-ages creators that influence your approach to storytelling?
Scheidt: I love anything that Art Baltazar and Franco do. Those guys are just out of control. Itty Bitty Hellboy, Aw Yeah Comics. Essential stuff like Carl Barks and Jeff Smith, of course. Recently First Second has been putting out such amazing all-ages stuff: Battling Boy, This One Summer. I mean, I am inspired by so much stuff outside of comics too, like John Hughes movies and The Simpsons and MAD Magazine, and my own strange childhood growing up.
Smiley: Absolutely! I've learned so much from Doug TenNapel, Aaron Renier, Luke Pearson and so many others. They put out fantastic books and they've each created all-ages comics that speak to me in so many ways. Theirs are great stories. Call them comics, call them all-ages, call them cartoony, or whatever, but I call them great stories.
Some Kickstarter projects set the goal pretty high, but $5,000 seems fairly attainable. How did you two arrive at that level?
Scheidt: I think we wanted to be modest and realistic with our expectations with our campaign. Jess is an already-published author, but I'm kind of a nobody, so we wanted to reach a goal that's not unrealistic but still let's make a really nice looking book.
Smiley: $5000 is a lot of money! It's definitely lower than a lot of other comics and books projects I've seen, but it's our bare minimum for printing and shipping the books and for fulfilling all the rewards. Our Kickstarter is all about printing this book we've worked so hard on and getting it into people's hands before Halloween.
Dave and I talked through the actual production of the book before we even launched. Because we knew what size the book would be, how many pages it would have, the quality and finish of the pages and covers, we were able to get a quote from PrintNinja, which gave us our $5,000 bottom line.
What are some of the Kickstarter rewards you were most pleased to be able to include?
Scheidt: I have to prank-call my parents soon because as part of one of the perks people dared us to do funny stuff. We also have to eat a bunch of circus peanuts; that's going to be awful! We have to reenact a scene from Monster Squad; that'll be fun. I'm just really excited to get this book made. I can't wait to hold it and get my greasy pizza hands all over it.
Smiley: Dave has to prank his parents! Hahaha! I'm dying to hear that phone call. We both have to eat as much candy as we can in five minutes, and I guess we're acting out a movie scene? Sucks to be us!
We also have these custom comics levels and a face time reward. Face time with me, and Dave gives you 30 minutes, where we can talk about writing and drawing comics, the best pizza in Chicago, your own comics, or whatever. The custom comics levels gets you a two- or four-page comic commission, written by Dave and illustrated by myself. Oh! And we have shirts! Check out our shirts!
Was there a big debate on what to name the project, or was that one of the details that you settled upon fairly quickly?
Scheidt: That came up pretty quick. Originally I thought I would think of a better title, but the name stuck with me. I think it invokes the feelings of being young again. I Don Drapered that title!
Smiley: It's funny, because the book title is Spooky Sleepover but the Kickstarter project is called "Spooky-Silly Comics." I guess the idea is that if you are on Kickstarter, checking out projects, then "Spooky-Silly Comics" tells you right away what our project is. If you like comics, or you like comedy or horror, you'll check it out. If we called our Kickstarter "Spooky Sleepover," then you would have to know what the project is beforehand, otherwise the title might not be enough to go on.
If response is strong enough, would you consider collaborating on more projects after Spooky Sleepover?
Scheidt: Jess, please draw more comics for me? Seriously, though, I would love to. This has been such a fun thing to work on, and Jess and I are actually already talking about working on more cool stuff in the future. Stay tuned!
Smiley: Absolutely! (Dave's gonna owe me a lot more pizza, though.) We've had a really great response so far, so it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the project works out. Will our book be funded on Kickstarter? Will we become hunky movie stars and travel the globe in our private submarine? Back the project and find out!
In making the Kickstarter video, I love the moment when Dave's cat causes him to be distracted. When did the two of you realize "Awww, we have to leave that in the pitch"?
Scheidt: His name is Ted. He's the coolest dude ever. Most of my life people have found my awkwardness and weirdness endearing, so I just sent Jess a bunch of bloopers. Believe me, there were a lot. Jess could blackmail me with them one day.
Smiley: Oh, the blackmail! Mwa ha ha ha! Maybe I'll sell off all Dave's footage to cover the rest of our printing costs. I love that Dave is just chilling at home in his Dracula cape. He's so serious, and then Ted decides to hog all the attention. We should do a spooky Ted comic.
Anything else you want to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Scheidt: I just wanted to thank everyone for the amazing support and believing in Jess and I and this project. It's been an honest to goodness treat to work on this book and to have people excited about it is crazy and the best feeling. Thank you so much.
Smiley: Thanks for taking the time to share our excitement for a really fun book! Dave and I are spooky-touched by everyone that has shown their support for us and our comic by spreading the word and/or backing our comic. STAY SPOOKY!