Smart and the (not-so) Average Bear

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“He’s Bear, he’s Bear! He’s made of human hair! You push his nose and his head grows! He’s Bear, he’s Bear, he’s Bear!”

Think Paddington Bear crossed with Milk & Cheese. That’ll give you a pretty good idea of what Jamie Smart’s disturbingly cute and violently amusing series Bear is like. Jamie stopped by the Broken Frontier this week to talk about his series, his inspirations, plans, and even answers the burning question that has been on everyone’s minds since Bear #1.

Broken Frontier - Starting with some easy questions: who is Jamie Smart and what did he do before making comics?

Jamie Smart - Evenin'. I started as an illustrator when I left college, mainly for magazines and a lot of greetings cards. I was always making comics but the idea never occurred to me to actually do something with them, so I finally sent a few things to Slave Labor. I still did the other illustration work alongside doing Bear, it still comes up every now and then, to me it's all drawing and if I’m doing that, I’m happy.

BF - For the poor souls that may not have heard of your comic, could you clue them in a little on what they're missing?

JS - Bear is a fuzzy slap in the face which mixes cuteness, profanity and doe-eyed violence. Which personally I think are all the things that are best about comics, so hey why not just condense them into one. It’s about a toy Bear who lives with an inept owner and his psychotic cat. Bear is intelligent and sarcastic, but being only twelve inches high the world constantly seems to crush him underfoot, add to this the demented designs of a bastard cat with access to the cutlery drawer and it turns into an onslaught of running around and shouting. Carnage. I dunno, what other words can I shoehorn in. Destruction. Full-on pie-driven head-squeezing fun. How’s that?

BF - So essentially, Bear is really a pretty seriously twisted comic. Is there some sort of great emotional trauma in your past that messed you up?

JS - Ha. Yeah. Loads, all of which are suppressed and I can never quite remember. So instead they seep out into this comic which gives far too much away about my inner psyche. I say yes to suppressed torments, they bubble up and crack me.

BF - What inspired the concept for Bear?

JS - As I say I’d been doing a lot of greetings card work, while I love doing it I’d been doing about 300 cards all with flat, pastel colours. All very safe and 'nice'. I needed a little release, to drag myself to the other extreme so I started doing some canvas paintings, canvas being something new to me. They were strange things, fat babies, children being savaged by
monkeys and one of a teddy bear looking creepy. After doing the bear painting I went out and got drunk, by the next morning everything about the concept and story seemed to already be in place.

BF - What do you do when not dreaming up ways for Looshkin the Cat to torture Bear?

JS - That's pretty much all I do. Most of what I do is work, I didn't do much work for about a month when I moved house recently, partly due to moving house and partly laziness, and it really affected me. I got quite down at not having this stuff to do. So I think doing Bear keeps me sane, I have to keep drawing for fear the demons will creep back in if I give them space to. But it's not just bear, I’m working on a coupla things with cartoon network, I do other strips
for the Sunday times and the dandy, and there's this new comic idea I’m gently hammering out ideas for. So there's always something that needs doing. Around it I’ll watch TV, play ps2; I dunno all the normal things I guess. Eye up sharp implements suspiciously. That kinda thing.

BF - Where does the passion or inspiration to create comic books come from for you?

JS - I’m not sure. I’ve never been a believer in talent, I think you're the sum of your parts and the things you like to do are learnt throughout your life, so it's probably a lot of the TV I’ve watched and things like that, they're what makes me want to make my own things. Some strange need to constantly purge this stuff out of my head, and knowing that there is a
market out there who finds the same things funny that I do.

BF - What can someone who picks up future issues of Bear expect to see?

JS - Well Bear #10 is out in December, and then a second trade paperback next year, and after that I’m putting Bear on hold for a bit. Partly to make sure it doesn't get old and takes a break while it's doing okay, and partly so I can work on a few other things. I love doing Bear and will miss it, but I’ve been doing it constantly for about 3 years so I need some time off from it to keep it, and maybe me, fresh. But issue 10 is shaping up real well, Bear finally succumbs to his fate but this still is no respite for him from his torments. There’s also an aircraft turbine. I try and fit as much carnage, and in as many different ways, as I can into an issue, and this one is no exception. I’m pleased with it so far.

BF - So there's now Bear comics, t-shirts and plushies: A) Did you ever expect that your comic would develop such a strong following?  2)  What was it like seeing your creations immortalized in plush?  And iii) What form of cross-merchandising do you want to conqueror next?

JS - A) Hell no. you can't go into it expecting something like that, because you have no way of knowing. Likewise you can't go into it expecting to be rich, because even if you're doing well it's still not a high earner. You do comics because you love comics, and if you had to do it for free you'd still do it. 2) Oh yeah it was crazy, having something you've drawn made into a toy is the weirdest feeling. The great thing is Bear the character is a twelve inch high teddy bear, and so the toy is exactly the same. It’s not like having your own toy version of Bear; it's
like having your own Bear. It’s not something I ever planned like that when I started the comic, but it's worked out really well. iii) I have ambitions for most things, but it's to Slave Labor as to what kinda things they want to put out.

BF - Besides Bear, do you have any other comic projects in queue?

JS - Thing is, I did three issues of a new series I proposed to Slave Labor around the time Bear issue one came out. 72 pages of art already done, but time got ahead of me and I couldn't commit to finishing the next 3 issues (it was going to be a 6 issue series), so I’m just sitting on it right now. It seems a shame, but other things have taken precedent. Maybe it'll come out in some form at some time. Other than that, I have plans for a new series but I’ve yet to show it to Slave Labor yet. It’s a very different beast to Bear, using different mediums and materials, and I’m so damn excited about it. I just need a little time to work on it, is all.

BF - If you could pick any "mainstream" comic book character to work on, which one would you like and why?

JS - God I wouldn't want to, much as I like artists doing different takes on a character I wouldn't want to piss on someone else's creation, certainly not one I admire. I’d feel like a blasphemer.

BF - You've been doing Bear for a few years now. What has Bear, Karl and Looshkin taught you about the world and yourself?

JS - I first started drawing Bear at the beginning of 2002, so it's been a long ride up till now. Have they taught me anything? Hmm I’m not sure, probably. And probably at some point it'll occur to me what. Doing comics though has taught me a lot, it's brought me in contact with a lot of people I’d never otherwise have met and really changed most things in my life. With the
support Bear gets I’m totally humbled to the people who read it and get in touch, and incredibly appreciative. It’s a job I never even thought about doing, but now I am it's incredibly fulfilling.

BF - What is the best thing about being a comic book creator?

JS - A lot of the above. Also there is the incredible freedom you get to draw whatever's in your head. Slave Labor let you just run with your own stuff and present them with a finished issue every three months, so it is very therapeutic. It’s obviously a very solitary career, and you have to discipline yourself to sit at your desk and get enough done every day, but once you get into the groove it's not so bad. And while you're drawing it's a real solace, you go into yourself and play around inside your own head. It’s great and/or borderline dangerous.

BF – Finally, a question that I’ve been dying to ask since issue #1…why is it only the nice cats get run over and the bastard cats get to chase small bears with animal corpses?

JS - I dunno, the nice cats do survive. Round near us there's a cat which seems to be half horse, it's a monster. But our cat is so damn cute. Except when it lunges at my face. Cats on the whole I think are surly and mean, but my opinion on that is changing as I seem to be surrounded by them more. I’ll never draw a cat as pleasant and well-balanced though. They’re all still demented.

Bear is a quarterly title from Slave Labor Graphics. Issue #9, B*stards, is in stores now (as is Bear: Immortal TPB, collecting issues #1-5).  For more on Jamie Smart and Bear, surf on over to www.sixtyfootmonkey.com and www.bearfoo.com.

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