Fans of ’90s video game magazine Super Play may recognise the name Wil Overton, or at least recognise his artwork as he was the man behind their iconic Manga inspired covers. Well now Will is turning his artistic talents to the world of comics, with a new video game themed comic anthology/magazine called Smart Bomb!! We caught up with him to find out how he powered up this new collection.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Smart Bomb!!, and what you hoped to achieve when you started putting the first issue together?
WO: I’ve been a comic fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up with UK anthology weeklies, whether they were funnies like Whizzer and Chips or action titles like, er… Action, Star Lord, Warlord or 2000AD. I’ll even lump Marvel in with that as their UK titles were basically the same format. I definitely had a Mighty World of Marvel childhood so I guess it was obvious that I’d want to emulate the same kind of comic if I did one myself. Although I was bit too young for it, the old ‘60s TV21 was also something I really admired for the way it presented the Gerry Anderson shows as if they were happening in the real world. All I really wanted to achieve was to have a comic that I could hold up and say “hey, I did this! Well, with a little help”. I’d also like my son (he’s 12 at the moment) to have something to keep that he remembers his Dad loved to do.
How did you assemble your team of writers and artists and who did what on the first issue?
WO: The first issue of Smart Bomb!! isn’t actually this one. I did a No.1 when I was working at Rare [UK video game developer] a few years back. We were in-between projects and I just sent a mail around the other concept artists asking if anyone wanted to contribute to a small press comic. The reality was that I really wasn’t confident enough to tackle the whole thing myself (always been my problem) so I figured that if I had some real talent around me it’d give me a bit of support and the impetus to get it finished. At that point it still wasn’t themed (although I knew that was something I wanted to do) so I just gave them all carte blanche to do what they wanted. In the end, the video games wrapper was obvious as it covered pretty much anything anyone wanted to write and draw and allowed me indulge myself in what I love. Each artist wrote and drew their own strip and I did everything else.
I really enjoyed doing that first issue but I didn’t, in my mind, quite hit what I wanted to achieve (especially my stuff) so there was nothing else to do but try again. Some of the guys were happy to contribute again and the amazing Neil Roberts came on board after he bought the first issue at a con in Birmingham. Alas, changes of jobs and life got in the way and I just left it on the back burner for ages. I tend to have a lot of self-doubt about my stuff and it wasn’t like the first issue where I was working the same place as all the other contributors. Once I was working on it just on my own I tended to convince myself that I just couldn’t do it.
You mix comic strips with magazine style articles and pages, why did you decide to go down this angle and not just go for a straight anthology comic?
WO: For me it was far easier to create a ‘world’ for all the strips to exist in by having all the editorial pages. Because all the games in it are imaginary (I didn’t want to do just a fan-service comic) by having charts, letters and even fan pages I felt they all tied together better than just a series of very disparate (artistically and stylistically) stories. It also let me explore a lot more ideas (and what, eventually, turned into lots of gently acerbic commentary on the games industry) than I’d be able to do strips for and, lastly, it let me indulge my graphic design bone. Oh, and it makes it a much longer (and, hopefully, satisfying, read).
There are a lot of video game and video game magazine influences in the first issue, which games and consoles are your favourites and which have characters inspired you the most?
WO: Having worked on games magazines in the ‘90s, that period (Super Nintendo, Mega-Drive, N64 and the first PlayStation) is still very special to me but I was also a massive fan during the ‘80s micro era so I guess the mag is a mix of all those. I wanted the comic to be very colourful and eclectic in its design so I guess it was obvious that it was going to take cues from the those classic mags of the age. As for my own work, although I’ve tried to move away a little from the straight anime-esque stuff I used to do it’s still a heavy influence so I’ve learnt to just live with it. I didn’t set out to ape any of those old games mags but I guess, to a certain extent, that’s my style when I get to do what I want.
As for my personal preference in games. I imagine that most people who know me think I’m just a Nintendo fanboy but actually I love all those 8 and 16bit consoles. If I’m a fan of anything it’s the colourful mascot characters like Sonic (actually, Sonic, The Comic is another big influence on Smart Bomb!!) and those classic Tatio games like Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands.
How are you releasing Smart Bomb!! and what are the aims and goals for the comic? Will you be releasing it on sites other than Gumroad and why did you choose to release it digitally rather than in print first?
WO: Smart Bomb!! will be digital and a physical comic. The reason it was digital first was just because I was a bit impatient once I’d finished it and also because I thought I could offset some of the print run costs with digital sales. Gumroad seemed like a good choice for digital because it’s relatively cheap, people can get an immediate download (in as many file formats as you care to upload) and it has good analytics. I have submitted it to ComiXology but I’m not sure they’ll be that interested. If anyone else has any good alternatives to suggest I’m all ears. Comicsy is a great site and lets me show page previews (which I can’t seem to do on Gumroad) and eventually the physical comic will be available there.
I’m not sure I have any real aims for Smart Bomb!! I would like to do another one (I still feel there’s loads of room for improvement) and, ideally, I’d love to be able to pay the other artists/writers for the strips in it but I’m realistic about that kind of thing and I don’t suppose it’ll make anything like enough to do something like that. So, I’m content if people just say they enjoyed it. Once I have printed copies I’d love to do some comic cons and get to know some of the other small pressers and be part of the ’scene’. For me, comics are the perfect blend of words, pictures and graphic design. That’s what I love doing the most and I’d love to do more of it
If you could bring one classic game character into the world of Smart Bomb then who would you pick and why? And how would you like to see them interact?
WO: I kind of think it would break the comic’s own little alternative universe if a real game character were to gatecrash the party but if I’m pushed to choose I think I’d go for Q-Bert. He’d be running the whole games universe in Pulsar Crash, but he’d be very erudite, well spoken and wear a top hat.