“Giant Rabbits House Parties Siblings!” We explore the unique world of Rachael Smith and Artificial Flowers

Artificial FlowersIn Artificial Flowers, the follow up to her critically acclaimed book The Rabbit, Rachael Smith has brought back fan-favourite character Siobhan from the brilliant House Party to take on the London art scene instead of drunken house guests! For those of you who are new to the world of Rachael, Artificial Flowers is the perfect start point so we got her to tell us about her work, from giant rabbits, to drunken artists via phone-box dwelling timelords!

AF 02Your new book is Artificial Flowers, what can you tell us about it and the inspirations behind it?

Rachael Smith: Artificial Flowers is a graphic novella about a young woman, Siobhan, trying to start a career as an artist in trendy East London. She’s desperate to land an exhibition at a cool gallery but none of the curators seem interested in her paintings. When her little brother Chris’s anti-social tendencies resurface, he’s sent by his parents to stay with her as part attempt at rehabilitation, part banishment.  Soon the two discover a way in which they can help each other; they just need to keep it a secret from their parents, Siobhan’s girlfriend and the London art scene…

Am I right in thinking it features characters from your previous book House Party? What made you choose to do that and how was it revisiting old characters? Was it always a plan to bring harm back in some way?

RS: Yes that’s right! I knew that I always wanted to tell more of Siobhan’s story, especially as she seems to be most people’s fave character from House Party! It wasn’t until I had the book roughly mapped out that I decided to make Chris (from my mini comic I Am Fire) the little brother.

Are any of Siobhan’s experiences in the London art scene based on yours (or your friends) and what made you decide to set your story in that world – is it one you are familliar with or one that you thought would be rife for good story ideas?
RS: I did fine art at uni – like Siobhan did, and I did live in London for a while after finishing my MA – I’d pretty much given up being an artist in any way at that point though, and I got an admin job at a gallery for a couple of years, before realising how unhappy I was. The art world at that point, for me, did feel very elitist and impenetrable. Also I hated living in London, but went along with it because that was what I felt I was supposed to do. Siobhan is different to me in that she kind of thrives on the energy of London and has a lot more confidence that I did. We share a lot of the same flaws though, so I guess I have put some of myself in her.
Artificial Flowers - Madison

“I wish I’d had books like The Lumberjanes to read when I was a kid instead of just being told the same boy meets girl story over and over”

How important was it for you to make Siobhan’s love interest into another woman? And how important do you think it is to represent diversity in comics in this way?

RS: Oh it’s incredibly important! I wish I’d had books like The Lumberjanes to read when I was a kid instead of just being told the same boy meets girl story over and over. I’m not sure that’s why I chose to make Siobhan’s love interest a woman though…I don’t remember choosing it at all actually! It came about very naturally I think. I’m also super proud of Madison’s character design…I don’t think she’s what people were expecting.

One of our favourite little details we noticed was that Siobhan’s parents were reading the Bath Chronicle – as a former Bath resident it really made us chuckle and gave us such an idea of the type of parents she must have!! What made you choose to have them live there?!

RS: You’ve kind of answered this yourself! I wanted to give an idea of the type of parents Siobhan had with some little details – I didn’t have loads of pages to play with for this book, so I had to get things across in small ways that would build up the world they lived in. Bath is a really beautiful place I think, and it was important to get across that Siobhan’s parents were pretty well off, and that meant that Siobhan was kinda used to the finer things in life.

After the critical success of The Rabbit, how do you follow that up? Is there added pressure to do something similar or do you choose to go in a different direction deliberately?

RS: I was super humbled and happy with the reception The Rabbit got, especially its British Comic Award nomination! I didn’t feel like it changed my mind on the next story though, which I’d started writing at around the same time. It is a very different kind of story I guess – but still very heavily character driven.

cover 01

“The hardest thing about the Doctor gig is that I have to get so much on one page – I’m used to having a lot more room to tell stories!”

You’ve also been working on Dr Who comics, how does that compare to working on your  personal/emotive indie books? 

RS: I love the Doctor Who stuff! I do one page every three weeks so it makes a nice change from my longer, personal projects, so actually, having a mixture of jobs works for me as it gives me different challenges and forces me to flex different creative muscles. The hardest thing about the Doctor gig is that I have to get so much on one page – I’m used to having a lot more room to tell stories!

We mentioned you in our recent DC indie creators list, would you ever consider working on a mainstream superheroes book if offered or is Dr Who the closest you’d like to get to that?

RS: I would love that! Batgirl would be a dream! I think if I could pick anything like that I’d love to tell a short story about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I picked up Hellcat when I was at ECCC recently too – which has a similar fun energy. I really like the new, more lighthearted, vibrant stuff Marvel is doing lately, so if I can jump on that wagon I definitely will!

You’ve also produced some work for David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly last year, how was that experience and what was it like working in landscape for a digital only publication? Are you a fan of the medium?

RS: Aces Weekly was one of my first gigs! I loved it – I made a 32 page story about a girl lost at sea who meets a giant turtle. It’s called Clara’s Shadow and is in volume 7. I didn’t find working in landscape too hard but I think I do prefer portrait, it just feels like to can divide the page up better to tell more story. I appreciated the challenge though!

What can we expect from you after Artificial Flowers? Any big plans?

RS: I want to get back into my webcomic, Bess, which I put on hiatus to finish the new book. It’s about feminism, ideals of beauty, and Japanese mythological monsters who run a supermarket. You can read the first 20 or so pages here: http://besscomic.tumblr.com/ I’m hoping to get it started again in June. I have a few other things cooking but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about them! Sos!!

And finally, if you had to describe a Rachael Smith book to a new reader, what 5 words would you choose?

GIANT RABBITS HOUSE PARTIES SIBLINGS!

Artificial Flowers will be available from Avery Hill Publishing from May 7th and you can pre-order if here now. You can find out more about Rachael’s work, buy her books and commission her via her website www.rachaelsmith.org/

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.