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Inside the Inktank – All About Cartooning with Barry Smith

Just about anyone can dream, but it takes a truly dedicated and enthusiastic individual to actually seek out and strive to live his or her dreams. Like many artists, Barry Smith has loved drawing and doodling for as long as he can remember and after years upon years of schooling, various jobs in and out of the industry, and enough to make even the meekest art fanatic run screaming from his drawing board, he now finds exactly what he’s always dreamed about online. Having produced his signature comic strips Angst Technology & Weak-End Warriors for the past four and three years (respectively) without any signs of slowing down in the near future, it’s pretty much a given that even during such successful times for someone who still considers himself a part-time cartoonist, this is only the beginning of what we have to expect from the think-tank of Barry Smith…

Scott Sevener, Just Laugh’s Editor-in-Chief, managed to slip the elusive cartoonist a few questions, which he was kind enough to answer in his “free time”. Enjoy!

How did you first get interested in cartooning?

I’ve been into drawing and doodling since I was but a wee lad. I used to have a shrine to Peanuts (the comic strip) on my bedroom door. Oddly enough I never really considered “stripping” (doing a strip cartoon) until around the time I started Angst Technology in 2000. I was heading towards a career in art, but was more animation focused.

Which comic artists, print or online, do you admire the most?

Currently I am enjoying the style of the Rose is Rose strips. A bit too saccharine for my tastes, but some great four panel work there. And Keith Knight’s K Chronicles for his slashing wit and funny true stories. Online I am always seeking out new strips and Wapsi Square continually blows me away with it’s simple, but VERY expressive style. I also enjoy the biting wit of Penny Arcade and enjoy seeing Gabe flex his artistic muscle every now and then. I love to see what Checkerboard Nightmare is up to since Kris can always be counted on to just go off in some wild direction and somehow make it work consistently.

What do you enjoy the most about both drawing Angst Technology and Weak-End Warriors, and running in general?

I would have to say the readers. It’s a great way for me to flex my creative muscle, but knowing that there are people out there who stop by daily to see what the characters are up to really puts the icing on the cake. To know that people identify with the characters, and that they email and interact with me is a real thrill.

If you had to choose a favorite, which of your creations would it be?

That would be Angst Technology. It’s my first born and is constantly a source of fun. Sometimes it gets slow and the ideas don’t flow as easily, but that’s part of the challenge. It’s almost a constant exercise in improvisation where I just take the characters and say “Let’s go camping” or “What if one of you was evil.” Then I just go with that and let the characters tell me what to say.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in starting a web comic?

Be consistent and stick to a schedule. The biggest hurdle facing most new web comics is that initial burst of enthusiasm. They want to do a daily strip in full color and get merchandise up there right off the bat, but after a while they get behind and it gets harder and harder to get caught up. Too many sites have “sorry for the delay” postings and not enough of the funny.Figure out a schedule you can keep, whether it be five times a week or once a month, and stick with it. Even better, aim a bit lower and see how the work load is. Readers are much happier to have an artist go from three times a week to five times a week. They tend to be more put off by going from daily to just once a week.

And be consistent in the quality of your work and always strive for improvement. Don’t fall back on “templates” and stale punchlines. An audience is much more forgiving of poor artwork than they are of poor wrting.

Tell us a little about Rocketbox…

Rocketbox is just an idea that a few of us online comic artists had. We are always looking to learn more about how people do what they do and as the web comic medium matures (slowly), we realized that there was a growing wealth of information that could be shared amongst the community. Instead of taking a “Let us tell you how it’s done…” approach, we opted for a“Here’s what we’ve done so far. What do you do?” slant. It’s more of a community where, while hosted by some web comic guys, everyone has a say. Lots of good ideas and solutions and feedback is tossed back and forth in the message boards. We post some news bits, post folks to some good resources, and try to write articles about the right and wrong things we’ve done so far in the creation of our strips. Teaching my example as it were. But the nice thing is, no one is there to say “No, no, no! Do it THIS way!” but to share and learn from each other.

Other than web comics, what other sites do you frequent online?

Ahhh, you mean other than web comics and PORN SITES, what other sites do I frequent. Well, I am usually in my own message board, joking around and messaging with the readers. I typically hang around Everquest boards and sites. I peruse the typical gaming sites and gaming news sites. I use Google a lot. Plus I’m always looking for repositories for weird and interesting sites/pictures/artists for spotlighting on the site.

What was your life like before the Internet came to be?

I had a HELL of a lot more free time, that’s for sure. Other than that, I’m not sure exactly. I guess I went outside more, hung out with friends, but then again, I’m not sure how much those changes can be attributed to the Intern net and how much is the fact my friends and I live in different towns now and I don’t particularly like where I live, so I’m not inclined to go outside and hang out. But were working on that second part though with plans to move and buy a house in a few months.I also hadn’t really considered my artwork a viable source of making a living. I mean, it would be nice to be syndicated, but I had no practical cartooning experience. Now I have proven to myself that I can maintain not only deadlines, but come up with a joke everyday (although I’ve dropped my schedule to weekdays only recently to allow myself time to pursue other creative endeavors). Plus my artwork has improved over the years, so I’m growing as an artist MUCH faster than if I didn’t have the Internet “pushing” me.

You mention briefly on your site that you spent a number of years working at Sierra. I’m also a huge fan of Sierra’s big three – King’s Quest, Space Quest, and of course, Leisure Suit Larry! Can you elaborate a little more about your role in the production of these games? Which was your absolute favorite and why?

Well, I worked on over fourteen games for Sierra in my six years, with credits on nine of them. I was initially hired out of art school to come work as an animator on Kings Quest 5, and then worked on the re-release of Leisure Suit Larry. I’d done everything from pre-production work, to animation, to eventually becoming an art director for The Realm (I ended up leaving before completing the project though). The Leisure Suit games were always fun to work on, but the most fun I had was working with Bruce Balfour on the Dagger of Amon Ra game. It was a blast and Bruce is a good friend as well as a great game designer. Plus I had a great time shooting the “behind the scenes” video for the special anniversary edition of Space Quest. You get some creative folks in front of a camera, and you’re bound to have a good time. =)

You also made note of being a voice actor for the company – care to shed any light on which character(s) you’ve represented?

Ahhh, yes, the voice work. Let’s see. In King’s Quest 5, I was King Anthony (the ant) and the leader as well as Prince Alexander. Plus I animated myself in as the toymaker’s son (and did the voice). In Police Quest 4, I was video captured as a news camera man. Plus I’ve done other various odd character voices that were uncredited. Just bit parts here and there for random background folks.

What was the funniest thing you’ve seen on the Internet in the last week? How about in the last year?

I just about peed myself seeing the aftermath of when the Something Awful Forum Goons (a typically raunchy bunch) invaded Sony Online’s live “Dating Game.” Some of the most twisted and funny questions and answers were thrown about. Classic. As for last week? I’d have to say it was the Peep Research site. They really put those little yellow fellows through the wringer in endurance tests. From vacuums to microwaves, the scientific method has never been so much fun.

What makes Barry Smith laugh?

My wife. Myself. Plus I tend to have a catalog of comedy albums and bits all stored on my computer – way more than I have music. I can put on a playlist and just let it run while doing my cartooning. I can listen to Dave Attell’sSkanks for the Memories album over and over. Same with David Cross, Eddie Izzard, Billy Connley, etc…

What DOESN’T make Barry Smith laugh?

Someone kicking me in the plums. My balls bruise easily.

What do you do in your “spare time”?

Technically, since I have a full time job as a webmaster, I do my cartooning in my spare time. But in my spare-spare time I play computer games, paintball, watch movies, and generally try to go outside and do stuff whenever possible. I’m even getting into Civil War re-enacting…with other people mind you, not just by myself. I learned early on that having other Civil War re-enactors around you at the park helps to prevent that inevitable “escort off park grounds” by park rangers.

Who would win in a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Queen of England?

I would have to go with the queen. She’s smaller, nimbler, and while the T-rex may be more powerful, she has better reach since he only has those faggy little arms.

And lastly, is there any final message that you would like to send to the readers of Just Laugh magazine?

Do as the magazine tells you – just laugh!

Just Laugh magazine would like to thank Barry for taking the time to answer our questions and provide our readers with an inside look at one of the web’s most prominent comic authorities! If there has ever been an artist as devilishly creative, devastatingly handsome or even simply as dedicated to his craft as this guy, we certainly haven’t crossed paths just yet!

Click on the links below to check out both of Barry’s strips, along with Rocketbox Comics, a wonderful resource for aspiring cartoonists created by himself and several other online comic creators…

About Scott Sevener (580 Posts since 2001)
The Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Just Laugh, Scott writes about the random things in life that amuse him - from the miracle of childbirth to the bologna sandwich he just ate for breakfast. He currently resides in Tampa, FL with a girl, a baby, and a dog that never shuts the hell up.