The British comics scene is in one of the healthiest places it’s ever been right now, with new projects coming from all angles, and new creators breaking onto the scene. Among them is Rachael Smith, who came to attention last year after publishing a series of mini-comics including How We Write, and I Am Fire. But for her latest project she’s decided to up the ante and put out a graphic novel, called House Party.
To do so, she’s taken the project to Kickstarter, where she’s already hit her target goal. With the news that she’ll subsequently be publishing the book with Great Beast comics, I spoke to Rachael about the idea for the story, her creative process, life in Leicester, and what people can expect from the story, were they to pledge to the project.
And at one point she also writes a short play.
Steve: What’s the premise of House Party? What is the book about?
Rachael: House Party will be a 92 page graphic novel where three lost 20-somethings Michelle, Neil, and Siobhan are feeling disillusioned after being shoved into the real world since feeling like superstars at university. In an attempt to get their carefree composure and happiness back they throw a massive house party, just like they used to. Instead of reconnecting them with their younger selves, however, things go a little differently and the three of them must decide how to move forward in lives that none of them really asked for.
Steve: This is your first graphic novel, having previously worked on several shorter stories like “I am Fire” and “How We Write” How did you find the process of scripting House Party in comparison? Was it daunting to take on such a bigger project?
Rachael: Amazingly so! It was a story I really wanted to tell though, so I ploughed on in regardless. My process didn’t really change that much from when I was writing the shorter stories…but obviously it did take a lot longer, and I had to work a bit harder to make sure to keep the characters consistent throughout.
Steve: How did you get involved with Great Beast, who’ll be publishing the book?
Rachael: Well, Marc Ellerby and Adam Cadwell (co-founders of GB) had both been giving me advice over Twitter and Facebook on how to make it as a comic book illustrator. Once I got to the stage where I was able to quit my day job and start spending a lot more time on comics, I think they started to pay attention to my work bit more closely. Then when I tweeted the cover image for House Party, Marc immediately told me to keep them in the loop about it – which lead to me pitching it to them as a project when I had 5/6 pages done. The rest is HISTORY!
Steve: What’s been your experience so far of the British comics scene in general? The last year was essentially the year you ‘broke in’ – have you found it to be pretty welcoming as a community?
Rachael: Oh my goodness it’s been SO welcoming! More so than any other creative industry I’ve ever experienced. People seem a lot more eager to share information and help each other. Last year I asked so many creators for advice and they ALL answered me – I was expecting to hear from maybe 20% of them. Like, honestly, since writing that last sentence I’ve been sitting here for 5 minutes trying to think of a time when someone in the industry was mean to me and I can’t (and I’m pretty sensitive, I cry at adverts and stuff).
Steve: The various comics published by Great Beast have all been, to various extents, rooted in their specific setting – Blood Blokes, Chloe Noonan, and so forth. Where is House Party set, and how did you decide on that setting?
Rachael: House Party is set in Leicester, where I went to uni and now live. I decided on Leicester because the story is, in parts, very autobiographical – I did Fine Art at uni and then worked at a coffee place for a while – just like Siobhan. Also, my friends get a real kick out of being able to recognise the campus or other scenes – and I think it lends them a reality that I don’t think I’d be able to give the scenes if I was just making places up out of nothing.
Steve: House parties in general – they’re a bit rubbish, really, aren’t they? Especially when they’re at YOUR house in particular.
Rachael: Haha! Yes I suppose so – although I have been to some pretty good ones, and if they are at your house at least you don’t have to shell out for a taxi home? And often people bring too much booze with them and then leave it so you’ve got leftovers for a nice night in…I’m going to stop answering this question now ‘cause I think I’m coming off as WELL STINGY.
Steve: What made you want to make this your first graphic novel? What about the story or characters was it which you first got invested in to the extent that you settled on this to be your next big project?
Rachael: Hmm…well it was the first idea I’d had which I knew was going to be too big to fit into a mini comic. I had also been feeling pretty despondent and unappreciated at my full time admin job (which I was actually able to quit in December – yaaay!) and so a story about a group of ex-students feeling like they had nothing to put their creative energy into anymore was probably inevitable.
Steve: Where did you first start when you actually sat down to write the story? Is your main focus typically on character or on narrative?
Rachael: I started writing ‘House Party’ when I was still at my day job – I’d take my laptop in and sit with it on my lunchbreaks. My stories usually start with a situation, rather than a character. For I Am Fire the inspiration started when an ex-colleague told me how he’d been at work and they’d had a particularly awful fire drill.
House Party was inspired by a friend telling me an anecdote about a house party he’d been to himself that involved a baking tray. If I tell you any more than that I shall have to kill you.
Steve: Do you plan out a skeleton of a story, with a start and end, and then fill in the middle? Do you approach things as a stream of consciousness, of sorts, where you know the start and you see where things take you? What kind of approach do you take to scripting?
Rachael: When I’m at the writing stage, I will write 750 words a day until I’ve got a sort of a story. Sometimes I won’t be in the right frame of mind to write a scene or a piece of dialogue – so I’ll just pick a character and write 750 words about who they are – what do they want? What are they afraid of? How would they react if they were stuck in a lift? Etc. Or I’ll pick two characters and write 750 words about how they feel about one another.
Once I feel like I have enough stuff to construct a story I’ll print the whole thing out (sorry rainforest) and I will literally cut it up and build a rough script on my bedroom floor. All the character stuff I’ve written will become reference material. Then I’ll type it all up again and edit it and start adding proper dialogue and page breaks. I’ll constantly be looking at Dan Harmon’s story circle structures throughout this process to make sure I’m telling a story and not just writing stuff until stuff stops happening.
I’m a bit embarrassed I’ve just told you all that now. It sounds crazy. Is it a crazy way to write a story? Probably. If I’m gonna write anything bigger than House Party I’ll have to move into a bigger bedroom.
Steve: As writer/artist – and also colourist and letterer – do you find that when you’re writing the story, you’re writing with an eye to interesting visuals or specific images? Do you try and write pages which’ll challenge you as an artist to keep trying new stuff?
Rachael: I always put the story first. If I really feel like drawing a horse I won’t shoe-horn a horse into a scene in a bar. I hate drawing cars, but unfortunately they do exist in the world I’m writing about so they tend to crop up. So, yeah I don’t think ‘I’m really bad at drawing this thing so I’ll put it in a story’ – but I won’t try to avoid it if it does need to be there. Does that make sense? I kind of want to draw a horse now.
Steve: Who’re your influences as an artist? If I were to make a comparison, it’d likely be to people like John Allison?
Rachael: Kate Beaton was the first comic book artist I found online that actually made me want to give it a go myself. Her stuff was just so hilarious and different from anything I’d seen before. So she’s a massive influence. After that it was Bryan Lee O’Malley, Marc Ellerby, and John Allison who I looked up simply because people kept comparing me to them. And they’re all rad so that was awesome.
Steve: You’re involved in basically every aspect of the creative process for the book. What’ve been the most challenging parts of making House Party?
Rachael: I’d like to answer this question in the form of a play:
‘Trapping’ – a play by Rachael Smith, aged 29
Marc Ellerby: Thank you for these pages Rachael, they look great. Are you trapping them as you go?
Rachael Smith: …
Marc Ellerby: Do you know what trapping is? Should I have asked you this before you’d finished the first two chapters of your book?
Rachael Smith: *sobbing forever*
Nb: Marc was actually amazingly supportive of my ignorance of trapping and had three pretty intense Skype conversations with me about it. Thanks Marc!
Steve: Now I need to go find out what ‘trapping’ is myself!
You’re remarkably prolific – last year you released I think three comics as well as being featured in Aces Weekly. What else do you have coming up, aside from House Party?
Rachael: At the moment I’m struggling to see a life beyond House Party as it has swallowed up so much of me since last September, but I would like to start writing something else soon. I’d quite like to go and see what Jenny has been up to since I Am Fire…but we shall see. I’ve also got Will Brooker’s script Towards the Moon, which is a beautiful story he wrote for me to illustrate. I’m only two pages in so I need to get on that.
Steve: Where can people find you online? Do you have any last words to encourage people to check out the Kickstarter, and perhaps pledge to it?
Rachael: YOU CAN FIND ME ONLINE AT THESE PLACES:
Oh my gosh you guys, it’d be so awesome if you could take a look at the Kickstarter and pre-order House Party. There’s a well cheesy video on there with me, Marc, Adam, and a bunch of my friends AND my cat that you can laugh at. The project has been funded now, but we’re in the process of putting together some PRETTY EXCITING STRETCHGOALS to make this book actually amazingly beautiful and something that all your friends will be jealous of when you show it to them.
…too much? I don’t care, I’m shameless. Just click here already: