2016 Snapshot: Shane W Smith

Interview by Marisol Dunham.
Shane (2)SHANE W SMITH is an Australian graphic novelist who has been writing since he could hold a pen. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, and a number of published graphic novels, including the Aurealis Award finalists Peaceful Tomorrows and The Game, and the Shadows Award finalist Undad. His oddest achievement is getting a comic published in a refereed academic journal in 2007. He is currently editing All The King’s Men, an anthology of comics and prose featuring two dozen sci-fi writers from around the world. Follow Shane’s writing misadventures at facebook.com/ShaneWSmith.Author/
Undad is a unique take on the zombie genre. How many more volumes are you working on?

In its blurb, Undad Volume Two claims to be the explosive conclusion to the saga; I see that as a commitment, and am bound to that promise. I’m one of those nuts who believes that a story is only as good as its ending. I want all of my books (Undad included) to go out at their peak, and I think we achieved that goal.

Besides, writing it was a quick and dirty excavation right down to the darkest depths of my personal shortcomings as a husband and father. I’ve got a lot of fresh mistakes to make in real life before we’ll have enough material for another Undad story.

Many people talk about Indie books, but not as much comes out about Indie comics. Why are indie comics important to the community?

Indie publishing in general is an incredibly important movement, but I think it’s especially important in the comics world. It’s an industry that has been held hostage to a publishing duopoly for nearly eighty years, a duopoly that produces titles pretty much exclusively within a single genre: superheroes. Only very recently have non-superhero books begun to really compete commercially, and it’s largely due to the slow long-term growth in publishing houses that started out as independent labels many years ago.

Diversity of content – and of creators – is what indie publishing achieves, and it’s something the comics industry still needs more of, desperately.
It’s pretty grandiose to claim any of this as of any particular importance to the community at large, but the power of comic books is growing aggressively through other media. Comics franchises are raking in record box office takings, year after year. Even if readership isn’t high, comics are well and truly part of the cultural zeitgeist. Having a more diverse and representative pool to draw upon can only improve the depth and quality of that zeitgeist. Recently, the zeitgeist has expanded from Batman and The Avengers to incorporate The Walking Dead; it’s my fond hope that one day, it will expand far enough to include titles with significant literary merit as well.
All the King’s Men is coming out late 2016, which you’ve edited. You’ve mentioned it feels appropriate given the current global humanitarian crisis. Care to elaborate?

All The King’s Men is an anthology that begins with a ship full of refugees becoming marooned in deep space with no hope of rescue.

We’ve seen in the twenty-first century a strong revival of fearmongering politics, a discourse that dehumanises and demonises the ‘other’. The ‘other’ is not always divided by cultural or international boundaries, but that’s certainly one of the primary pillars of the strong right-wing in most first world nations. Fanning the fires of hatred in this way is by no means a new phenomenon, but it’s experiencing a vigorous resurgence. It’s a historically-predictable response to unprecedented global displacement of refugees, but ultimately the result is that the suffering of millions is aggregated and simplified into a hideous us-and-them equation, and their humanity is forgotten in the process.
When you’ve got so many people who have lost everything and who linger indefinitely in limbo with no place willing to welcome them, that fits my definition of a humanitarian crisis.
All The King’s Men is, if nothing else, a reminder that underneath the politics of fear, and underneath the anonymity of distance and statistics, real human hearts are beating in ongoing misery. People with histories, with thoughts and feelings, dreams and goals. The people on board this marooned ship pass the time by sharing stories of their lives, but the stories they choose to share often have nothing to do with the circumstances that led to their present situation; their lives are so much more than today’s misery.
For people who want to read comics digitally (and keep it portable), what are their best options for optimal viewing/purchasing?

Portability is something that comics still struggle with. Prose novels adapt with relative ease to different devices, as reading apps can automatically reformat text to fit the needs of an individual reader. Comics, of course, aren’t nearly as flexible, as the flow from panel to panel is as much a part of the language as the image/text relationship.

I personally struggle to read digital comics, and I can’t do it on anything smaller than a widescreen monitor (not so portable). But there are plenty of people who swear by Comixology, which is sort of a one-stop shop for most of your big titles (and quite a few indie titles too). Their app has been designed to keep the panel-to-panel flow going, as much as possible.

For purchasing, Comixology and Amazon are the big dealers in digital comics. These sites require you to use their specific apps to read the books, so your mileage may vary, depending on your app preferences. Failing that, you can generally find PDFs of comics from smaller vendors (or individual creators), though this is a “Google it and cross your fingers” approach.
What Australian work have you loved recently?

In comics, Ryan K Lindsay recently had a four-issue miniseries published by Dark Horse called Negative Space – it’s a fascinating and exciting character study and examination of depression through the lens of a Lovecraftian horror landscape. I also recently re-read Bruce Mutard’s 2009 brilliant graphic novel The Silence, which is a deliberately-paced treatise on art and the people who make it.

In novels, my favourite Australian author is probably Max Barry. His latest novel, Lexicon, won an Aurealis Award in 2014, but my favourite title of his is Jennifer Government, a look at a terrifying dystopian future that is only one absurd step removed from our current absurd reality.

And a book that impressed me deeply and resists categorisation is J W Clennett’s The Diemonois. I don’t think I can do this one justice with a brief description, sorry.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Tough question! I decided to eschew the mercenary opportunities offered by people working in my current field, and go instead for Margaret Atwood. Even though I don’t think she’d have a particularly high level of respect for my work, I’d love to spend a few hours soaking in her experience and wisdom. Her writing is so rich and deeply layered, to levels that I can currently only dream of, and she’s had such an amazing career. I also love that she was the first author to submit a book to the Future Library Project, a book that (in all probability) no one alive today will ever read – the very idea is electrifying.

Close second: Stephen King.

So many of my favourite writers are long dead, Shakespeare, Dickens, Steinbeck and Asimov among them. But I don’t think I’d like to sit next to a dead author on a long plane trip.

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