Remember when you were in middle school and bike riding was all about building sweet jumps (one cinder block and a piece of wood), hanging out with your friends, and having a little extra freedom? In short remember when riding your bike was just plain fun and exciting? Something that I have noticed lately in the biking world is that some people have forgotten how to have fun. The riding becomes all about gear ratios, or calories, or how to get from home to whatever destination the fastest. That is why I am so excited for a new bicycle comic coming out by our very own Jess Smart Smiley.
Jess Smiley is a great guy, a great guy with a vision. His vision is one of bringing the fun back to comics and doing it the best way anyone could, by using bikes. Jess is a full time illustrator living in Orem with his wife and two kids. Over the last few years he has done design and illustration work for a ton of companies and anthologies, not to mention album covers for local bands, a graphic novel coming out this fall, as well as his most well known project to date, Will Draw For Coco (Jess drew a picture of Conan O’Brien from each show for three months). On top of all the awesome work he has done, and the fact that he does what he loves for a living, Jess is also a really nice guy. Most of what I know about Jess came from talking to him for this interview so, as to not dull his work or character with my words, lets jump into the interview.
BikeProvo: So tell me about the Chain Gang?
Jess: Well, it is a project that started up last spring sometime. I was riding bikes a lot and started sketching bicycles. A lot of times I will sketch stuff and not realize that I have a good idea until a while later, but this project kind of spoke to me from the beginning. The comic is about a bunch of bikes who have been abandoned and so they are out for revenge. They ride around getting into to trouble while having all sorts of adventures.
BP: That sounds great! What was your inspiration for the comic?
J: I wanted to bring the fun back to comic books. It seems like you can not pick up a Batman comic or an X-men comic without there being some heavy undertone like gender issues or some other major social issue. I missed the days when you read a comic book and the good guy beat the bad guy and that was what it was about, it was fun. That is really what I hope people get out of this project is that feeling of things being fun, and exciting.
(It was here that we began talking about comics and the state of comics for some time. We dove all over the place and being a little bit of a comic book nerd I was impressed by Jess’s insight into the comic book world.)
BP: Ok, back to your comic. You said you were riding a lot when you came up with the idea for The Chain Gang, how do riding and drawing come together?
J: (Laughing) I know it may not have been very safe but, I actually used to draw while riding.
BP: (Laughing) Yeah that does not sound to safe. How did that work out?
J: It was actually really neat. I would have to draw the things around me or the things in my head while also watching for cars and red lights. It was definitely a different type of drawing, but I liked it.
BP: Do you print these comics off yourself? They have a definite Zine feel to them?
J: I do not print them off myself. They are printed here in Orem to help save on the time of printing and stapling. I do definitely want them to have a DIY feel about them. The comic is drawn by hand with a micron pen and then I just scan in the drawn images to the computer and send them over to the printer. That is also the reason I decided to make the comic a monthly subscription.
BP: How so?
J: I wanted to have more of a connection to the reader. I wanted to bring back the feeling I had as a kid of going into a comic book store every other week and picking up the new issue of my favorite comics. I also really liked the idea that people would be waiting for something cool to come in their mailboxes.
BP: As far as the drawing goes what is your process. I am assuming these are not drawn from the saddle of you bicycle?
J: No (laughs) they are not drawn from the bike. My process with this comic is actually a lot different than with any other that I am currently working on. Again, I want this to be fun for everyone, including myself. As far as drawing out the comic goes I will sit down and draw out each panel as I go. It is a panel to panel discovery. I have an idea of where I want the story to go and figure out the rest on the fly. I think this gives the comic that goofy sense of adventure and fun that I want projected.
BP: Now that we know about the ideas behind the comic can you tell us a little bit about the main characters?
J: Sure! First you have Poppa Wheelie he is the leader of the Chain Gang, then you have Stretch who has a slinky in part of his frame, then there is Rocket who is a super fast lowrider, and finally Spiderweb who is an old bike covered in spiderwebs he can also shoot the webs to catch things. There will also be a rotating cast of 25 other bikes that the Chain Gang will interact with for better or worse.
BP: What about some of the adventures the Chain Gang is going to have?
J: There is quite a few just in the first comic. Do you want me to go into all of them?
BP: How about you just list them off.
J: Ok. In the first comic the Gang; catches a cop in their web, runs over some kids, jumps fences, rides in a whale skeleton, beats an olympic gold medalist in swimming, runs into father time, and gets sweaty. I may have missed some but that is most of it.
BP: You were not kidding that does sound awesome! So how can we get our hands on a copy of the Chain Gang?
J: Get on Kickstarter and sign up for one of the subscription options. Then just wait until October when the first issue will be released and shipped to your mailbox.
A big thanks to Jess for giving us some time for the interview, and for using his sweet skills to make bicycles and comics fun again. During the interview I was able to thumb through the first issue of the Chain Gang and I can honestly say it was awesome. Head over to Kickstarter to check out Jess’s project and get yourself a subscription.