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Mark Smylie Interview

Creator, and Westfield customer, Mark Smylie burst onto the scene this past year with the mini-series Artesia published by Sirius. This month, the mini-series is collected in a trade paperback. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor, Roger Ash, recently spoke with Smylie about the present and future of Artesia

Westfield: For those unfamiliar with Artesia, how would you describe the book?

Mark Smylie: The simple truth of the matter is I really have no idea how to describe my own book. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it might be best to say that it's an attempt at epic fantasy in comic book form. It's a long, drawn out fantasy story coming in little bits and pieces.

Westfield: What can you say about the story?

Smylie: It follows a woman named Artesia who is a captain in the service of the king of a Highland Citadel. She used to be the king's concubine, and she's also both a priestess and a magician. She's somebody who is traveling a lot of different roads all at once. The first mini-series deals with her having to make choices about where these different roads are taking her. In specific, the king, having grown wary of her power and jealous over her hold on his warrior companies, joins forces with outsiders who belong to a different cult, worship a different god. So the first series deals with the consequences of her actions and the king's betrayal.

Westfield: It's obvious from reading the series that you've put a lot of work into creating a complex world for Artesia. How long did you spend on this before you were ready to sit down and start work on the story?

Smylie: Actually a couple of years. A friend of mine used to work for a role-playing game company and he had called me up, knowing I was into this kind of thing, and asked me whether or not I was interested in trying to come up with a world for one of their games. I started working on a world based on stuff from fantasy books I had read and role-playing games that I played, plus a lot of reading in ancient and medieval history and mythology - my own personal interests from 15 years of doing that sort of thing. Unfortunately, my friend quit that company after a year or so, leaving me with this big mass of material. I had already made one attempt at a comic book - unfortunately it went nowhere - and this stuff I had come up with seemed perfect for a second attempt at a comic. I'd already begun to pick out certain storylines and certain characters that I was interested in, and doing a story based on Artesia was the obvious next step for me. Before I ever sat down to put pen to paper and draw the first page, it was about 2 years of development on the world, but it's still constantly changing as I figure out new details.

Westfield: As you said, this is the first part of a longer story. Do you have plans for where this will all go?

Smylie: There is an extended plotline that should take many series to develop and come to fruition, to the point that I hope it comes to. Obviously, some of that depends on whether there are enough readers to sustain interest over a long period of time. And I also know that most such plans fall apart pretty quickly. But, yes, there is a much broader and longer storyline that is out there.

Westfield: One of the things that I like about Artesia is that it has a unique look. What medium do you work in?

Smylie: After the pencils, watercolor goes down first, then I come in with ink and colored pencils on top of it. That's a reversal of how I started it. The first issue was actually mostly done in colored pencils - I would ink first, then come in with colored pencils and a bit of watercolor on top. As I've gone along, the emphasis has been more on the watercolor than on the colored pencil. If people look very closely, or maybe it doesn't take that close a look at all, they can see there are shifts and changes in the art style. I'm still learning. Oddly enough, I can't guarantee that the next series will look exactly like the art in the first series. Hopefully it will be better.

Westfield: Past this collection, what can people look forward to?

Smylie: My intention at the moment is to continue doing Artesia as a series of limited series. But each individual limited series will hopefully stand as a complete story, in the sense that each will come to some sort of climax or end, but at the same time, each will be one in a chain, leading inexorably to the next. Unfortunately, I don't know if it'll be the kind of thing where you can read one and not the others. There should be a six-issue series coming out next year, and hopefully there'll be another one after that on down the line.

?Hopefully each limited series will be followed by a stand-alone 'annual' with shorter stories, background info, and letters for the letters column, which I haven't had space for in the actual series itself. The first annual should be out in November.

?The next story, which should be out next year, is about Artesia and her company descending from the Highlands into the Middle Kingdoms and their first encounter with the invading Thessid Empire and their entry into the war that's going on down there. Unfortunately, it also means that there are lots more characters that are going to be introduced. Hopefully I can keep it all under control.

Westfield: Are there other things you'd like to do in the comics industry, or is Artesia enough for you?

Smylie: Artesia is it. There are probably other books and other characters that I would be theoretically interested in, but given the way the industry is going right now - there's an enormous amount of talent, and books constantly appearing and disappearing, so the competition seems pretty fierce - and also given how much time I have to spend doing the book - the watercolor process is not just labor intensive, but time intensive - it doesn't give me a lot of time to be considering side projects. Unless something that really stood out came down the pipe. But at the moment, I'm expecting Artesia to be the sole project that I'm engaged in for quite a while.

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