“I also wanted my fans to feel like they were a part of the process. This is their book, too.”
Following the success of her mental health-themed autobiographical comic Wired Up Wrong, Rachael Smith is crowdfunding an extended edition, featuring 100 pages of new content. We talked to her about the responsibility she feels to her readers, as well as what she’s working on next.
Josh Franks: The isn’t the first incarnation of Wired Up Wrong. Why have you decided to expand on your original piece, and what does this deluxe edition include?
Rachael Smith: The original Wired Up Wrong was a little 40-page book that I kinda just did as a bit of fun. I wanted a new book out for Thought Bubble 2016 and I thought some people might get a kick out of my diary comics about living with depression and anxiety. I only did a small print run and the books sold out, like, super quick. People told me that the book had made them feel less alone and had been inspired to reach out for help with their own mental health issues. I realised that this book was way more important that I had thought! I needed to print more, obviously, but I thought, rather than simply reprinting the same 40 pages, I had the potential, and the audience, to do something much more special… So that’s where the new, deluxe version comes in! I’m reprinting the original 40 pages, but with 100 brand new pages added in, as well as a new cover.
JF: Why does the medium of comics lend itself so well to personal storytelling, particularly stories about mental health?
RS: I find comics a really good way to communicate ideas that might be difficult to put into words. Drawing my depression as a black dog who gets bigger depending on how bad I’m feeling has been useful to explain the physical aspects of the condition. Sometimes, depression can feel like a weight on top of you, or something making it impossible to leave the house, and drawing a huge dog on top of me or blocking the front door seemed to explain those feelings very well.
JF: How did the idea of depression as a black dog come about for you? Were you influenced by people like Winston Churchill and Samuel Johnson?
RS: Oh, for sure, it isn’t an original idea – but one that a lot of people recognise. Mine is a little different I guess in that he has a name (Barky) and changes shape and size depending on how bad things are. He talks to me in the comics too.
JF: What impact do you think crowdfunding is having on the comics industry right now?
RS: I think it’s making the industry a lot more diverse. Creators that are getting turned away from the big publishers are finding an audience for their work through things like Indiegogo and Kickstarter and I think that’s great!
JF: You’ve both self-published and gone down the traditional publishing house route before. What have the differences between the two approaches been in your experience, and why is self-publishing right for this particular project?
RS: I self-published my first few comics, which I think is always a good way to start. It means you get a feel for all the different jobs involved in getting a comic out into the world: drawing it, getting it print-ready, sending it to print (or printing it yourself if you’re super clever!), distributing it to shops, fulfilling web sales, PR, marketing, then if you do decide to approach a publisher, they know that you’re serious and know what you’re doing. My last two books have been put out by Avery Hill Publishing and I guess the biggest difference was being able to spend more time drawing the comic and less time on all the other jobs that my publishers were now handling!
I guess I decided to crowdfund Wired Up Wrong because it’s a very personal book. If it failed I didn’t want that on anyone else. Luckily, it hasn’t failed! At the time of writing we’re 120% funded, so the book is definitely going to be a reality! I also wanted my fans to feel like they were a part of the process. This is their book, too.
JF: Crowdfunding raises interesting questions about content ownership and fan involvement. How much of an influence have your readers had on what you create, and how much of a responsibility do you feel to give them “what they’ve paid for”?
RS: The fans have funded and inspired the book because they let me know that there was a much bigger audience for it than I thought. It totally wouldn’t be happening without them. The actual content of the book is all by me, though. They’re diary comics, so it would be weird if someone else was telling me my own experiences! As for responsibility to give them what they paid for… of course! Kickstarter is all about accountability! I’ve run a successful Kickstarter before and obviously this isn’t my first graphic novel, so I’m expecting a pretty smooth ride. I’ll be certain to be honest with the backers if we run into any problems, though!
JF: Tell us about your process. Do you draw digitally, by hand or a mixture of the two?
RS: I draw by hand with blue col-erase pencil and kuretake black ink brush pens, then scan in the page and colour in on Photoshop.
JF: You’ve also done some work on Titan Comics’ Tenth Doctor series. How much creative freedom did you have compared to working on your own comics? Did you have to adapt your style at all?
RS: Style-wise, not really. They hired me because they liked my drawing style after all. The biggest difference for me is that with the Doctor Who stuff I have to tell a whole story in one or two pages, so the pages are really dense sometimes! Otherwise, as long as I stay away from Daleks (they’re under a different copyright, so we can’t use them) and anything overly violent, I’m usually OK.
JF: What’s next for you? Are you going to continue Wired Up Wrong after the deluxe edition is published?
RS: Like a webcomic? No, the book will be the finished project. I have two other books that I’m working on/pitching right now. I have two more Doctor Who comics before December and then I’m not sure what’s happening on that front. I keep begging my editor at Titan to let me draw the 13th Doctor so we’ll see!
This interview has been edited for clarity.