Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
When’s the last time a laugh or sigh echoed in your inner sanctum? Earlier this month, the work of Denton artist Jeremy Smith seized my attention in The Public Trust gallery’s latest exhibition. Smith’s work transcends the gallery in comic book form. He is a local cartoonist who portrays the wisdom from his own life along with humanity’s daily intrigues. He inks, letters, writes and paints his way through this vast human terrain. As he captures these corridors and borders of our daily landscapes, he offers bits of hope and pause:
Tina Aguilar: Tell me about your process. There is a profound familiarity in your comics.
Jeremy Smith: With my images, I usually have concepts of what I want in my head and it is a matter of sketching it and roughing it out. I like to keep it organic, spontaneous and keep the energy going. As I work each idea, most of the time some of my mistakes can be what makes it mold. What each thing symbolizes takes shape, and then as an artist you go along and see what works better…I want to steer away from being contrived.
T.A.: How would you describe your art background? Do you let things gestate?
J. S.: In the end, it’s all up to you and how much you want to put into it. The closest thing I have to a teacher is a few good friends; it’s like being told over the phone how to swim and then you go and try it. Also, I have tried some of the offerings from the Famous Artists School, originally created by illustrator Albert Dorne, along with other artists like Norman Rockwell. In my work, a character can go through changes over a couple of months. One example is the devil with his trident and the seated character in my painting Untitled in “The New Deal” show at The Public Trust. The character sitting in the chair was in my mind, and I knew how I wanted him to be. I had to get the pair and the room just right …if he was a tall, skinny form, it wouldn’t have worked the same. I want my characters to have form and weight, empathy and feeling. To me this helps … This helps communicate what I am thinking.
T.A.: Your content deals with the marrow of our day-to-day moments. Tell me about your comic book, Ropeburn.
J.S.: My paintings have been true obsessions. They represent so much to me. They deal with grey areas that I fell into and concerns of regret and guilt…how stupid you feel for compromising your personal integrity. Gershwin Philips is one of my Ropeburn characters, and he represents the naïve idealist. Nixon is the grumpy cynic. These characters represent the different aspects of me, and the war they have with one another. I aim for the images not to be perverted. I don’t want the experiences to go unused. I have worked in the service industry for a long time, and I use these encounters and my own feelings to show some positive.
T.A.: What else are you working on these days? How about current techniques?
J.S.: I am going to do a book project with Al Columbia, a person who gives me great inspiration and wisdom. With my painting and watercolor I like to experiment …to get it just right. I may try several ways and use different types of layers before I stop working a piece. Color is a bit of an anxiety for me, because I am colorblind. I tend to be my own strength and make these characters materialize, and I want people to get what I am doing.
T.A.: You are a 2007 Xeric Foundation Grant winner. What is the Xeric Foundation Comic Book Grant?
J.S.: The Xeric Foundation was created by Peter A. Laird, one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Awards are given twice a year and help cartoonists experience the self-publishing process. The Xeric Grant was a perfect fit, it felt right. You can’t compromise …you have to stick with your work. The whole process of making my work presentable in book form and learning how to source the necessary pieces of the puzzle was a true eye-opener. It was something I took seriously, and it validated my work and goals. You have to know how to sequence, write and be a storyteller, ink and letter. You are doing this in a vacuum, and you never really know how your work will be received. The project was empowering and fun.
T.A.: What cartoonists inspire you?
J.S.: My personal list includes Al Columbia, Chris Ware, Richard Thompson and Charles Schulz to name a few. There is a charm to their work, character and substance.
Jeremy Smith, when he’s not practicing his inking, is also working on a children’s book that is based on an earlier piece called The Circle of Blues. It is a romantic story about being accepted for who you are.