A Talk With Andy Smith
by Will Allred (01/26/2000)
If you've picked up very many comics in the last decade, chances are you've run across the name Andy Smith. He's been lending his pencil to a bevy of familiar characters from Acclaim to Marvel since getting his start almost 8 years ago. I first ran across his work on my favorite character Quasar several years back. Since then, he's lent his pencil to Green Lantern, Thor, the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, and X-O Manowar, to name just a few. He had a scant few minutes when he wasn't chained to his desk to talk about how he got started, some of his past credits, and what he's been up to lately.
Allred: Let's start at the beginning. How did you get your start?
Smith: That's an easy one. I went to the Joe Kubert School in upstate New Jersey and basically met Bart Sears when I was in my third year. He and I became friends, and I became his assistant. I drew some backgrounds for him on Justice League Europe…buildings and stuff like that. In return, he would really help me out with my work and tutor me on the side. I would do sample page after sample page as well as assignments for the school and show them to him. And, Bart's one of those guys who will really go that extra mile for someone. That's basically what he did. He would take me up to DC Comics, show me around, and introduce me to editors. I think the second time I went up to DC I got a job, so I actually got a job three months before I got out of school. I was lucky because it was an inventory issue, so there wasn't a deadline or anything. I think I started that assignment the day after I graduated, and I've been working ever since. The funny thing is, it never got printed. It was an issue of Suicide Squad. About three and a half years ago, I actually got a box back from DC that had my originals in it…never inked, never lettered, nothing. The book got canned, so the story never saw print. It's sealed up in that Fed Ex box. One day I'll open them, but not for a while probably.
Allred: How long were you at the Joe Kubert School?
Smith: I did all three years.
Allred: Do a lot of comic artists come out of there?
Smith: Yeah, a pretty good amount. I mean, I wouldn't say a lot compared to how many people go there. Out of my class of thirty that graduated, I think that I'd be safe saying that I'm the only penciller still doing it even though quite a few of them got into comics. For instance, I know a guy from my class that did one issue of Sensational She-Hulk, and that was it. That was his only job. He could have had more work, too. I mean they offered him more work, but he couldn't stand the way the inks looked, and he hated the way the color came out, so he just stopped doing comics. He's a Disney animator now, so you know his stuff is fantastic. I remember telling him, "Look, it's your first job. My first job was inked like crap and colored like crap, but until you're somebody, you can't really care.'
Allred: So how long were you at DC?
Smith: I was at DC for probably a year. I was the regular artist on Justice League Quarterly. They were eighty page issues broke up into 12-page stories. I did the Global Guardians for issues 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. I also did Green Lantern Annual #1 which was the Eclipso crossover. Now that was really intimidating, and not just because it was my second job. Well, I guess it was my third job, but I never count the Suicide Squad, because it never got printed. So, if you count Suicide Squad, the Green Lantern Annual was my third job, and it was intimidating as hell for the simple fact that it was 56 pages. Today, if I had 56 pages due, I'd be like OK, whatever. I wouldn't even think about it. Back then, though, the Suicide Squad story was the longest thing I had ever done, and it was only 22 pages. Then suddenly I'm handed a single job with more pages in it than my total output at that point. I couldn't get over how big that seemed, but it turned out all right. Now, I look at 22 pages and think, "eh, 4 weeks…3 weeks, whatever. Sometimes, I'll catch myself on page 20 and think, "Wow, it's almost done." I don't even realize it anymore. It's just automatic.
Allred: After Green Lantern, did you jump over to Marvel?
Smith: Pretty much. I had been showing my samples as well as my published work over there when I was still doing Justice League Quarterly. Some of the editors there liked my work and gave me a fill-in issue of Dr. Strange to do. I actually only did 12 pages of the story because I got the offer for the monthly Quasar book, which I of course accepted. As for the Dr. Strange story, they said just hold off and work on it during my down time. Funny thing was, six months to a year later, that editor called and said the he needed that Dr. Strange story. I basically told him that I was doing Quasar monthly and hadn't really had any down time to work on it. I suggested that they get someone else to finish it. I think they actually had Alfredo Alcala ink the 12 pages I had done and finish the rest of the story. Unfortunately, Alfredo is a real heavy-handed inker, so the artwork that I did on it doesn't look like me. It looks like Alfredo. The only clue that I pencilled those first 12 pages is the layouts. Other than that, it looks like Alfredo.
Allred: You mentioned Quasar, the coolest character in existence. What can you tell me about working on the series with the late Mark Gruenwald?
Smith: When they offered it to me, I was excited because it was a monthly book, but I also liked the character, as well as his visual. My first issue was actually the last half of issue 40. I guess Steve Lightle was falling behind because the editor called me up and asked me if I could do 12 pages of issue 40. Originally, I was supposed to start with issue 41. I agreed but let him know that he was really putting me behind the 8-ball right from the start.
As for working with Mark, he was a fantastic guy…really great to work with. I could call him at home or the office anytime I wanted to. He'd let me have some input into the story, if I wanted it. It was great because he would always call me when he got the pages in. He'd tell me what he thought, which was always very complimentary. Mark was one of those guys whose opinion I really respected, and, to top it off, his scripts and plots were easy to work from. He was just a really good guy. He was the one that got me back into Marvel right before he died. Mark also went out of his way to make sure I got a good page rate even though I had been gone from Marvel for a while. He helped me get situated, and then, about a month later, I heard about his passing. I was still living in New York at the time, so I went down with some other comic guys to New York City and attended his big memorial service.
Anyway, back to Quasar. I basically pencilled issues 40 through 50, except for numbers 45 and 49. Issue 50 was a double-sized issue, so I really did 2 issues at once with it. Oh, and then there was issue 59. It was an inventory job. Grant Miehm was suppose to draw it, but couldn't. That's actually when I first met Ron Marz. He really liked what I had been doing on Quasar, so he wanted me to draw it. The editor gave it to me as another "just to have for whenever there was down time between issues" jobs. I started doing full pencils on it, but it got placed on the back burner because of my workload. So, of course, I got a call from the editor a bit later saying that he needed it. I said all right, but that I could just do breakdowns on the rest of it, so I switched over to breakdowns. Ralph Cabrera didn't do a bad job doing finishes, but I could tell the difference from my full pencils. Basically, it turned into more of a coloring book when Ralph did the finishes because I had been doing lighting and stuff toward the beginning. Toward the end, he was basically just following what I had done with breakdowns. And, breakdowns are just breakdowns. They're just outlines. Actually, after my work on Quasar, I was supposed to do this thing called StarBlast, I think. It had Quasar in it. I even did an ad for it. However, I went out to lunch with Mark Gruenwald and Mike Rockowitz, who was another editor at Marvel. We talked about StarBlast, and then I got the chance to do 3 issues of the Silver Surfer for this Blood and Thunder crossover, so I took it instead. It's not that I was sick of Quasar. I mean, I wanted a change, but I didn't really want to draw these characters that were in StarBlast, either. Plus, Ron Marz was writing it. So, I took the Surfer job. Ron being the writer really tipped the scales. We had become real good friends. I really love to work with him. In my mind, Ron's the plotter that I like to work with over any other. With his plots, everything's there, but it's not too much. Everything's broken down real nice, and it's easy to work from. From an artistic standpoint, I had a chance to work with Ron and do different characters or do StarBlast. Honestly, I really didn't think StarBlast was going to go anywhere, so I chose the Surfer.
Allred: Did you stay at Marvel after finishing the Silver Surfer?
Smith: No, a few things happened. Right after the Surfer, I had been talking to Erik Larson, and I got in at Image by doing an issue of Vanguard for him. I think I did that down here in Florida. Originally, I come from Florida and moved back here right after I graduated art school. I'm pretty sure I did the Vanguard issue down here. Anyway, while I was working on it, I went up to Syracuse for a visit. That's when the whole Ominous Press thing came about. Basically, Bart asked me if I wanted to be an art director…blah, blah, blah. It being Bart, I said, "Sure!" This entailed me moving back up there. I think I ended up finishing Vanguard up there. After Vanguard, I worked on the Deadly Duo for Erik while I was working on the Brute and Babe for Bart.
Allred: It sounds like you were working yourself to death.
Smith: No, not really. The Deadly Duo work didn't really have a deadline. Erik wasn't really too concerned when it got finished. He wasn't pressuring me to get it done. I think I was doing maybe 3 or 4 pages a week, even though I was working a 9 to 5 job for Bart where I went into a studio everyday. He was really cool about it. He basically said, "You know, even though your coming in here everyday, feel free to do your regular work." So, I was driving to his studio to work where I had a desk and office and stuff. I was drawing Deadly Duo for Erik and doing art directing at the same time. I didn't have to work a 9 to 5 job and then come home at night and draw, too. The art directing…well, I don't know a good way to explain it. I spent some of the day looking over the color, making sure it was looking good. I basically just checked over the coloring and all aspects of art. I would also occasionally ink some stuff, too. We had other guys working for us at the studios, too. At that time, we were also doing toy designs for Toy Biz, as well as the Ominous Press work. We got pretty good at designing toys since we had so much of it to do. We had 2 other guys come into the studio to help out. I was basically in charge of all the toy design stuff. Once the designs were done, I would take it to Bart, so he could basically sign off on it. He might occasionally look at a design and see a couple of things that he would want fixed or redrawn, like a face, but not usually. We did a boat load of designs, including most of the X-Men figures back in '94 and '95. Also, I think we did the Silver Surfer figure, and I've got that Guardian figure that Wizard did, which I'm pretty sure is based off a design that we did. Actually, designing toys was a lot of fun. It was basically drawing a 3-D view of a figure; front, side, and back. Then, we'd do the same thing for the head, but we'd draw it really big so you could see the detail. Unfortunately, it didn't last too long. I think it folded in August of '94.
After Ominous went down, I did an issue of Green Lantern. Then Acclaim and X-O Manowar came along. We had Ron on board as writer, and Bart and I were the X-O team. I think I did over 10 issues. Bart and I both were actually suppose to work for Acclaim for 3 years, but comic industry was getting worse, and they were trying to mess with our contracts since we were exclusive with Acclaim. Things kept getting worse, so we got out of our contracts a year and a half early. We both went over to DC. I did the Superboy Plus that had Captain Marvel Jr. in it. It was about 38 pages, and I pencilled and inked that whole thing. I just remembered…I did X-O Manowar/Iron-Man right before I left Acclaim. That was actually the last thing I did for those guys. It was an absolute blast, and I still love that stuff. It was great because I got to redesign both armors. It was cool because I got to design an X-O armor. But, what made it really cool was getting to design a new Iron Man armor. I mean, he's the prototypical armored hero. Those designs only showed up in that issue, but I still had a blast. After that, I ended up at Marvel. I was supposed to do Supreme/Gladiator, but something happened. Anyway, I did Strong Guy Reborn with Todd DeZago, and it was great. Todd's probably my second favorite writer next to Ron, but it's very close. Todd's stuff 's just a joy to work from, too. He let me have a lot of input into it, so it was a blast. I love Strong Guy. He's one of my favorite characters. I love goofy stuff. Don Simpson's Megaton Man is one of my favorite characters. I really like guys like that. So, getting to do Strong Guy was fantastic. I actually had to do samples to prove to the editor that I could draw cartoony. Sometimes editors can be so lame. It wasn't like they called up and said you're our first choice, cause I wasn't. They had me do 10 or 11 pages of Professor X and the X-Men #18, the last issue of that book. They said to cartoon it up more, so I did. They said, "We love this! We didn't know you could do this blah blah blah." I couldn't believe it. I'm an artist, I can draw whatever style you want. I'm versatile and can draw in a number of different styles if need be. It doesn't matter. Strong Guy Reborn went over real well, too. After it, I did an issue of Spider-Man, as well as some X stuff. I did part of Uncanny X-Men #350. Once I had done it, I was supposed to be the regular X fill-in guy. Whenever any of the X-books needed a fill-in, I'd get it. This led to an issue of X-Force and a couple of issues of Generation X. That's when my old editor on Superboy Plus quit DC and came to work for Marvel. One of the first things he did was offer me a job doing this 48-page Wolverine, Sabretooth, Maverick book. They weren't my favorite characters, but those guys sold. Plus, it was a 48-page deluxe format. I couldn't really say no. I told Mark Powers I couldn't do the X-Men fill-ins because of this new job. This is around Christmas time last year. I got the plot, and the editor basically said, "Don't work on it yet. Just go do your Christmas break because I've got to get some revisions from the writer." Eventually, I asked what was going on. The editor gave me the good news bad news scenario. He said that he had the revisions, and the good news was that I didn't have a deadline anymore. The bad news was that the powers that be think that they're doing too much with Wolverine when it comes to specials, so this book is just going to be a 48-page inventory job. Now my enthusiasm's gone. I'm not hip on the characters in the first place, and now it's not even a special thing anymore. Plus, if I don't have a deadline, I get lazy. That was the beginning of last year, and I drew 20 pages. I only drew 20 pages because that's all that was ever written…20 out of 48. I drew those 20 pages in about 4 months. I was just so unmotivated. I love the way it came out, but I was just so unmotivated to do it. Since then, the writer has moved to Texas and has a real job. The editor quit just a couple weeks ago. His assistant, Jason White, was a victim of Marvelcution. So now, the original editor and his assistant are gone. This job is never going to be finished. Vince Russell was doing a great job inking it, but I bet he probably still has pages that he hasn't finished yet. Anyway, I had to do something last year to supplement my income, because 5 pages a month just doesn't cut it. I inked some Captain America stuff for Ron Garney. John Beatty and I split an issue. I also inked some X-Men stuff for Chris Bachalo. Basically, it was just little things here and there.
Then I got a chance to do another Strong Guy story. The only difference was that this was going to be in X-Men Unlimited instead of being Strong Guy #2, even though that's basically what it is. Todd wrote. I drew it. The original team was basically back together. I even got a better inker on it. That's not to say Art Thibert is a bad inker. He did a great job on the first one, but it wasn't the book I had wanted. The guy who inked the second one almost made it look like I inked it, which was fantastic. That book came out the day I got married, so my wife and I are actually in the story. We interact with Strong Guy, and the story takes place at our wedding. It was the most fun I've ever had on a job. I got to design a new costume for Strong Guy. Right now, I'm working on Web Spinners. I'm inking Keith Giffen for issues 4, 5, and 6. Issue 4 came out a few weeks back, but Keith screwed up the deadline, so he got fired. So, now I'm inking and penciling issue 6. I'm also writing a "how to draw comics" book. It will be going out nation-wide in real bookstores once it's published.
Allred: You're certainly keeping busy. What's a typical work day like for you?
Smith: I can pencil and ink a page a day now. Whereas, before, I was just pencilling one a day. Now that I've been working, I think I prefer to ink my stuff. That is, unless they tell me Mark Farmer is inking for me. If not, I just prefer to ink my stuff because I can either turn around a page of pencils in a day, or I can pencil and ink one in a day. At the point where I start to finish my pencils, I can just go pick up the ink and finish it that way. It's a lot more fun, plus I actually get paid more. Anyway, a typical work day would start around 8:00 and finish up around 4:30 or 5:00. I try to keep it like that because my wife has a regular job. I figure if she has a regular job, I'm going to try and work the same hours so we actually get to see each other. I still can't believe that this year on May 15 it will be 8 years since I've started drawing comics. That's just amazing to me. If somebody asks, I can say, "Oh yeah, I've been doing it for almost a decade." You know, I feel like I just started yesterday.