Todd Oliver’s brilliantly bonkers Boxes comic was one of our favourite discoveries of last year, and so we were delighted to discover, when we met Todd at True Believers (way back in February), that his worm man character was going to get it’s own book! Well that book, Smedley, is finally about to be unleashed and so ahead of it’s launch at ELCAF we asked Todd about his weird and wonderful wormy world!
For people who might not have picked up your work before, how would you describe Smedley and the adventures he goes on?
Todd Oliver: Smedley is the story of a worm-shaped man called Sid. It starts out with an overview of the things Sid has to deal with in his day-to-day life: trying to hold down a job, the monotony of his life, his vices! Things gradually go downhill for Sid although I’d like to think there’s quite a few laughs along the way. I’d describe it as fun, silly, a little unusual and dark-humoured.
Your stories take you in some very weird and wonderful directions, how much of it is planned out meticulously and how much do you just see how things happen?
TO: I’ve had a couple of different approaches to writing that depend on what I’m writing for. With Boxes, which consisted of several short stories, I could afford to just write as I went along. I’d still thumbnail out pages in advance, but when it came to drawing the final artwork, I’d still be making some fairly major alterations. It didn’t matter as there was little risk to destroying any kind of continuity.
With Smedley, I had a loose outline of where I wanted to go; a couple of checkpoints. However, it wasn’t until I thumbnailed it that I made sense of it all. I’ve tried just writing a script the traditional way, but it comes out too dry. It’s not until i start sketching the thumbnails that the best ideas starts to hit.
You aren’t afraid to go to very dark, strange and outlandish places with your humour – plus there are lots of poo jokes in here – do you have a limit of where to draw the line, or do you like to push things as far as you can? Or is that just your sense of humour?
TO: Thanks! I take all that as a compliment! In my opinion, you can never have too many poo-related jokes. It’s kind of become something my friends joke about; that if I’m in conversation with someone long enough we’ll eventually get to the poo anecdotes. I know it’s infantile and isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s me. It’s got to be hard-wired.
When I write and draw, I don’t really think, is this too far or too much, as I’m writing for myself. I do what I find funny. I’m all for pushing boundaries and overstepping lines, but be clever or original about it. Being offensive just for the sake of it is a little too try hard and attention grabbing if you ask me.
Who are your influences as a writer and artist? We can see a bit of Mike Judge in there and also Garbage Pail Kids and 80s comics like Toxic or Oink?
TO: Spot on with both Mike J and Garbage Pail Kids. GPKs and Beavis and Butt-Head were a massive influence on me growing up. I was really little when GPKs were released, at one of those hyper-absorbent periods of your life where you’re super-impressionable. They definitely have a lot to answer for if you find my sense of humour a bit on the weird side.
As a teenager, Matt Groening’s “Life is Hell” definitely opened my eyes as to what a comic could be. It was funny, smart and cynical but had really nice heartfelt moments too. I found Terry Gilliam’s animations from Monty Python’s Flying Circus equal parts fascinating and terrifying. It’s ugly and fantastical but funny too. A lot of 90’s comedy on TV played a big roll in my sense of humour too, stuff like The Day Today, Alan Partridge, Fist of Fun, Big Train and Bottom.
Is this your first longer form story? How does it compare to writing the shorter sketches that we are used to with Boxes? Did you pick on the job based format as a way to allow yourself some chapter breaks?
TO: Smedley is 60 pages long. Before that, I think the longest story I’d done was 6 pages. I’d heeded the advice I’d read time and time again online: when starting out in comics, don’t be too ambitious and start out small. Like 1 page small. Which is what I did with Boxes.
I would be a liar to say that completing a book that was 10 times longer than anything I’d done before was easy, but it wasn’t too bad either. There was always the odd day where I really didn’t want to draw, but because I’d gradually built up my stamina with Boxes, and also equally importantly, because I had a consistent timetable of when I was able to draw that I stuck to very strictly, I managed to find the light at the end of the tunnel eventually.
You’re debuting at ELCAF (where you’ll have a table, albeit briefly on the Friday!), what are you looking forward to most about the day and what do you think the ELCAF crowd will make of Smedley? Are you doing many cons and festivals this year?
TO: If I’m being honest, the best bit for me is getting some kind of validation for my work. That even if I only sell 1 copy, that someone else out there gets it. I appreciate my work caters towards a niche that’s already a niche itself, but I’m not willing to compromise on what I do. I’m just too lazy to do something I don’t 100% buy into.
The only other confirmed convention I’ll be at this year is Thought Bubble.
Is Smedley planned for an ongoing series or is this just the first part of a mini series? And any plans for more Boxes soon?
TO: Smedley will probably be a 3 part story. I’m having a lot of fun thumb-nailing part 2 at the moment. It’s early days, but I reckon it’s going to take me a year to complete at the rate I work.
After that I’ll need to decide if I want to carry on straight away with part 3, or do something else. I’ve got tons of ideas for at least a few more issues of Boxes, but now I’ve had a taste for writing something a bit more long-form I want to keep that going.
And finally if you had to choose would you rather be a man shaped worm or a worm shaped man?
TO: Good question! You know, seeing how Sid’s life as a worm shaped man is panning out I’d probably try the man shaped worm thing as an option. Pooping in people’s garden and them being pleased about it for once actually sounds quite appealing.