Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

2008 was a good year for me, both personally and professionally. Hope you all had a good year, and here's hoping 2009 turns out even better.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Another year and a lot to give thanks for, even as I race to finish another issue of Mirror's Edge. Tomorrow morning, the dog and I will be hopping into the car and heading down to my parents' house where we both plan to gorge ourselves on turkey and mashed potatoes. A plate full of food AND a comic book to draw. It's a good life.

Hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving. I suspect I'll be passed out at my art table by the end of the night. A huge helping of turkey and late night drawing marathons usually don't mix well.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On The Nightstand

by F. Paul Wilson

I've long been a fan of F. Paul Wilson, especially the novels that make up his Adversary Cycle, the first of which -- THE KEEP -- I was lucky enough to work on when FPW adapted it into a graphic novel.

In recent years, FPW has been working on a new series of books featuring his hero Repairman Jack, who first appeared in THE TOMB and plays an important part in the Cycle's final novel, NIGHTWORLD.

These new books bridge the gap between THE TOMB and NIGHTWORLD, forming a very long prequel of sorts to the final showdown, both setting up the events in NIGHTWORLD and charting some new territory for Jack, a 'fix-it-man' who finds himself continuously drawn into a battle with the dark forces waiting in the shadows.

To be honest, the Adversary Cycle has had a profound influence on the development of the Fade stories, and my plans for the Fade novel. I studied Paul's intricate plotting closely, trying to understand how he can balance smaller self-contained stories with the larger narrative unfolding in the background. I'd never try to recreate it, but his technique suggested a few possibilities that I hope to include in my own work.

Having said all that, I get a huge kick out of the Repairman Jack books, purely as a reader. They're thrilling, fun, and highly entertaining. My only complaint is that he only does one a year, an unbearably long period of time between books, especially as he brings this part of the Adversary Cycle to a close. There are only a few new RJ novels in the works, all leading to a heavily rewritten version of NIGHTWORLD.

This latest installment -- BY THE SWORD -- brings another one of FPW's novels (BLACK WIND) under the umbrella of the Adversary Cycle. BLACK WIND is a sprawling historical epic set before, during, and after WWII. It's always been connected to the Cycle in subtle ways, but now in BY THE SWORD, those connections become more obvious and important, as Jack has to deal with the long-simmering after-effects of the events featured in BLACK WIND.

BY THE SWORD is thoroughly enjoyable whether you've read BLACK WIND or not (though I would recommend reading all of the Repairman Jack series in order). But for me, the most impressive thing is that it made me want to go read BLACK WIND again. It would at least give me something to do while I hold my breath, biding time until the next Repairman Jack book comes out.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Up and Running

After working out a few bugs, we've finally got the gallery page up and running on my website, We put up some examples of my recent work from SUPERNATURAL:ORIGINS and MIRROR'S EDGE, along with some older pieces from projects like STORMWATCH:PHD. There are also a few pieces from some of my personal projects that haven't been seen until now.

We'll be updating the page from time to time, so keep an eye out for new pieces. And there's a new 'stories' page, where we'll be posting a few of the early FADE stories, just as soon as we format everything so you can actually read it. In the meantime, we set up a 'links page', where you can visit the websites of some of my publishers and friends.

As usual, this flood of content is brought to you by the talented Claire Stancampiano, who has used her considerable skills with the computer to help put all of this together. A big thanks to her, and to everyone who has emailed asking where they could go to see more of my work.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Now Playing

by Big Finish Audio

I'm hard at work on the third issue of MIRROR'S EDGE, and running out of things to keep me entertained. I've already listened to all the audiobooks I've stored in my computer (including delightful recordings of two Christopher Fowler mysteries I discovered on iTunes), so it was time to hunt out something new.

I'd heard that Big Finish Audio was doing new radio shows continuing the long-running (and recently returned) British television show, Doctor Who, but I've never listened to one before.

Anyone who talks to me for more than a few minutes probably knows that I have two great nerdy pleasures -- old radio shows and Doctor Who. The combination of the two was too hard to resist, so I downloaded the first story Big Finish produced, THE SIRENS OF TIME.

I'm about halfway through now and loving every old-fashioned minute of it. I've always enjoyed the rigorous demands of telling a story with only dialogue and sound effects. It's tougher than you would think, but the team behind this production has it well in hand. I suspect I'll be downloading the next story as soon as this one is done. Since Big Finish has produced more than 75 Doctor Who stories, I should be well-entertained long after the six issues of the MIRROR'S EDGE mini-series are completed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

On The Shelves


The first issue of the Mirror's Edge mini-series hit the shelves this week, with a beautiful computer rendered cover from one of the artists at EA Dice, who produced the game this comic is based on.

The script is by video game writer Rhianna Pratchett, and the colors are by Jim Charalampidis. I just got a sneak peek at Jim's colors for issue #2, and they're looking really sharp.

Much like SUPERNATURAL:ORIGINS, the ME comic is a prequel, setting up the game while telling a stand-alone story at the same time. Rhianna's scripts have been quite good, with more subtext and characterization than a lot of comics out there. I've been pretty lucky with writers throughout my career, but Rhianna is definitely a stand out.

Here's the official blurb from the DC Comics website:

MIRROR'S EDGE #1 (of 6)

Written by Rhianna Pratchett; Art by Matthew Dow Smith

Coinciding with the release of the highly anticipated new Electronic Arts game Mirror's Edge comes an adventure unlike any other! Faith is a Runner in the city – a courier who delivers sensitive cargo by traversing the rooftops of the city's skyscrapers. But how did she come by this unique black market trade...and what secrets from her past may affect her future?

Written by famed game writer Rhianna Pratchett and illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith (SUPERNATURAL: ORIGINS), this new book presents an adventure that'll further flesh out this incredible video game world!

Wildstorm | 32pg. | Color | $3.99 US

On Sale October 29, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On The Nightstand

By Gregory Mcdonald

I've always meant to read the Fletch books, but never got around to it. With their tight lean prose and colorful main character, they've always seemed like my cup of tea.

A few weeks ago, I found out that Gregory Mcdonald had died. So I went to the ubiquitous and ordered the first Fletch book. As anyone who has ever worked in a bookstore knows, the minute an author passes away, there's a sudden rush to buy his books. It's an odd phenomenon, but not a bad thing. At least people are reading.

Needless to say, the first Fletch book turned out to be out of stock, so I ordered one of the later books in the series, instead. It was so good that I immediately went back and ordered everything Mcdonald had every written that was still readily available. 19 books in all. They came in dribs and drabs, and in no particular order. And each one was as good as the next.

I have to say, I wish I'd read these earlier. I might have learned a lot from Mcdonald's prose style. He approaches the written word in much the same way I try to -- direct, no nonsense, very few flourishes.

Gregory Mcdonald wrote two series that you can find fairly easily. There are the Fletch books (which are far more interesting and layered than the Chevy Chase films I used to love before reading the source material and wondering why they couldn't have just filmed the books as written and not tried to make it silly), and the Flynn books, which spin out of CONFESS, FLETCH. Both characters are fascinating and worth following.

So, of course, the last book to actually arrive was the first FLETCH, which in the end, is the fourth book in the series. Mcdonald ended up writing 3 prequels. It's good. Very, very good. My one regret is that we won't see any more Fletch books, at least not from the painfully talented pen of Mr. Mcdonald.

I've torn through all 19 books in record time, (19 books in 3 or 4 weeks is fast, even for me). They're quick reads, but full of shockingly well-written prose. I'll be turning them over in my head for a long time, taking them apart to see how they tick. And they all tick. So quietly and smoothly that you never notice how quickly Mcdonald is steering you through the plot. Even the weakest of the bunch -- THE BUCK PASSES FLYNN -- is head and shoulders above most books out there.

Now I may have to hunt down some of his out-of-print books, or at least badger his publisher to bring them back in print. If they're up to the Fletch and Flynn standard, I would really regret not reading them.

On the Borderlands

Come January, I'll be attending the Borderlands Press Boot Camp for writing. This will be my fourth, and probably last, time through the gauntlet of razor sharp critiques from my fellow "grunts" and our star-studded lineup of instructors.

It's a crazy experience. You spend a weekend at Towson University, talking about writing, taking stories apart, and staying up all night working on one of their infamous "secret assignments", which usually involves writing a new story from scratch to be read aloud on the final day, just to show much you've learned.

I attended the very first Boot Camp*, and I've tried to attend every session since then. So far, I've only missed one due to my workload. Still regret it.

This year, the instructors include two big shot New York editors, Gary A. Braunbeck (whose Cedar Hill short stories are well worth hunting down), and Thomas F. Monteleone (editor, writer, and one of my favorite people I've met in the business so far).

For those of you who don't know, Borderlands Press is a small publisher that specializes in Horror and speculative fiction. They've done beautiful editions of F. Paul Wilson's Adversary Cycle, as well as a number of other classics in the genre, including an upcoming edition of Whitley Strieber's THE HUNGER that I designed the cover for, my first real book cover.

They get good people for their Boot Camps. F. Paul Wilson, Douglas Winter, and David Morrell have all taught at the Borderlands Boot Camp, and their thoughts and notes have had a huge impact on my writing.

Last time, I brought a Fade short story**. This year, I'm bringing the Fade novel. I'm nervous about showing it to people, since it's such a personal project for me, but I'm excited at the prospect of getting some good feedback. I've never come away from a Boot Camp without a stack of notes that will help me make my story -- and my writing -- better.

I've said it elsewhere, but anyone who is serious about their writing really should attend one of these sessions. It's intense, tough, tiring, and one of the most rewarding things a writer can do. There are several of us who have attended multiple Boot Camps, and each time I see one of them, their writing is better and sharper.

This week, I started reading the other submissions for this year's Boot Camp, making notes to give my fellow grunts. Looks like a good batch this year, and I'm looking forward to meeting everyone. Have a lot of reading to do between now and then, though.

As I said, this may well be my last session. Between drawing comics full-time and writing on the side, time gets to be a bit of an obstacle, especially if you spend as much of it reading as I do. But I've gotten a lot out of each Boot Camp I've gone to. There's always something new to learn and you never run out of room to grow as a writer.

For anyone out there who might be curious about their program, or interested in attending, visit the Borderlands Press website and see what other people have to say about the experience. This year's session is already closed, but if we're lucky, there's always next year...

* An annoying personal side note -- one of the other benefits of these sessions is getting to meet other writers who take their craft seriously. I've met a number of people I keep in touch with fairly regularly, and a few who have become close friends, including the annoyingly talented Daniel Waters, who took his Boot Camp submission (GENERATION DEAD) and sold it to Hyperion Press. They published it this year to a flurry of good reviews, including a spot on Oprah's recommended reading list. It would be easy to hate him if it wasn't for the fact that he's such a nice guy, overflowing with talent, and endlessly supportive of my own writing.

** Yet another annoying personal side note -- I wouldn't be writing a Fade novel now if it wasn't for the Borderlands Boot Camp. At my second session, F. Paul Wilson (who had seen some of the Fade comic book stories) said he was disappointed that I hadn't brought a Fade prose story to be critiqued. Never one to question Paul, I wrote one and brought it the next time. It went over well enough that I found the courage to finally start a full length Fade novel. We'll see how it goes over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On The Nightstand

by Ian Rankin

I've been buried under work for the last few weeks, but I've still found some time to do a fair amount of reading. Having been on a bit of a mystery kick lately, I decided to read the first few John Rebus mysteries by Scottish author Ian Rankin.

My parents are both voracious mystery readers and love the Rankin books. Come to think of it, I suspect I've bought them a few as presents over the years.

The best part of having readers for parents is that they'll often loan you the books you gave them after they've finished with them, which is how I came to read some of the later books in the Rebus series. But I've never read the first one, KNOTS & CROSSES.

Rankin's mysteries are always interesting and complex, driven more by the characters than the twists and turns of the plot. And I've always enjoyed the descriptions of Rebus' crumbling home turf, Edinburgh. But while KNOTS & CROSSES has plenty of atmosphere, Rankin is obviously just starting to master his craft.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good book, with a lot of great characterization and atmosphere, but it doesn't have the same polished prose as the later books in the series. Still, John Rebus is a fascinating character, and he appears here nearly fully formed. My only complaint is that Rankin's technique gets far smoother over time, which really isn't much of a complaint at all.

I've already set the next two books in the Rebus series on my nightstand. Deadlines permitting, I'm hoping to dip into them very soon.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Last Days

When I Left Los Angeles in the fall of 2000, the first thing I did was go and find myself a day job. I'd been working in comics for 6 or 7 years by then, and while projects popped up from time to time, they never came regularly enough for comfort. So I went looking for something that I could do at the same time as my comic book work and not steal too much of my creative energy. Being a voracious reader, I of course applied to every bookstore in the area, and ended up as a bookseller at Borders.

I've worked for them off and on ever since, with some time off in the middle for my stint at Crossgen Comics in Florida. Eight years, more or less, which has always amused me since one of the other bookstores I applied to didn't hire me because they thought I wouldn't hang around for very long.

Now, with the new project DC/Wildstorm under way, and the novel still in progress, I had to finally give up my position behind the information desk. Today was my last day. It's a strange feeling, knowing I won't be coming back, at least not as an employee. And I'm not sure how I will handle not having a day job to get me out of the house and interacting with people on a regular basis.

Working out of your house seems like a great thing, but you soon learn that it's far too tempting to work all the time and forget to go outdoors and spend some time away from the art table or the computer. Working at a bookstore was the perfect excuse to get away from deadlines for a little while and meet interesting people.

I could tell horror stories about difficult customers, but I can also tell you about helping someone find a new author or a book they've been trying to find for years, but couldn't remember the title. I've often said that my head is filled with useless information. It's a useful thing, especially when you work at a bookstore. You'd be surprised how often something you remember from a documentary on Post-Modern composers helps you find a piece of music for a customer.

But today is also the last day for the Borders I started at, eight years ago -- Borders #35 on Wolf Road in Albany, NY. I didn't plan it that way, but that's how it worked out. I haven't worked in that store for years, but I have fond memories of it and the people I worked with there.

So to all my friends at Borders #35 and #389, thank you for your kindness over the years, and the hours of interesting conversations about books and movies and music, not to mention your help keeping a roof over my head in between projects. But I think what I'll miss most of all is coming into work and seeing all the new books waiting to be shelved. There's nothing like putting away a stack of books and finding something interesting buried between all the romance titles and the Stephen Kings.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Coming Soon... Really

More than a year ago, I purchased the space for my own website, At the time, it seemed like a good way to promote myself and give fans and editors a place to come and see my work. So I dropped a ‘coming soon’ sign on the site, sketched out some ideas, and promptly got buried under art and writing projects.

Now, with the help of the talented and patient Claire Stancampiano, the site is almost ready for visitors. We’ve created a gallery of my artwork, a short biography page, links to some of my friends, and a space for me to post short stories. The stories will be coming later, though hopefully sooner than it took me to get the rest of the site together.

We've got the new homepage up now, along with a few links. The rest will be online over the next few days, including some never-before-seen pieces from FADE, as well as samples from the upcoming MIRROR'S EDGE mini-series and several of my past projects like STORMWATCH:PHD and SUPERNATURAL: ORIGINS.

Thanks to Claire for all the help getting the site together. Without her, that 'coming soon' sign might still be there.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Now Playing


A number of my writing friends like to play music when they’re working. And for some reason, most of them listen to a lot of heavy metal at high volume. They claim it helps blot out the outside world so they can focus on the interior world they’re trying to put down on the page. It sounds plausible to me, but I’ve never been able to do it. For one thing, I’ve never been a huge fan of metal, but mainly it’s because I have a hard time writing while listening to anything with words in it. I end up listening to the music instead of working.

When I’m drawing, I can listen to anything, though I tend to like podcasts and books on CD. They help pass the time while you’re sitting at the art table, and the words don’t seem to knock me out of the creative space we all create in order to work. But I can’t do it when I’m writing.

These days, I tend to put on some jazz or minimalist classic music when I’m writing, especially the ‘modern’ jazz of the 1950s. Love that stuff and the mood they create helps me sink into the emotional landscape of the book I’m writing right now.

All of which brings me to Radiohead. I never really got into their work, though many people I love and respect are huge fans. So when they put out a ‘Best Of’ collection, I thought I’d pick it up and listen to it in the car or something, get to know their work a little better. The collection had a number of songs I’ve heard and liked, if never enough to run out and buy the albums they were on.

Yeah... now I have to go out and buy the albums all those songs are on.

For years, people have been telling me how interesting and unique this band is, but I’d never listened to any of their songs enough times to pick up on all the layers they create in the music. I’ve always been a fan of English New Wave, and Radiohead builds on that tradition, adding in the distorted dissonance of American bands like Sonic Youth and some new elements I’ve never heard anywhere before.

I have to say, the music is just breathtaking. And the music geek in me just loves listening to it. I wish I could do things like that with a guitar, but I could never be that daring.

But the best part... I can actually write with Radiohead playing in the background. Something about the haunting and indecipherable vocals is just right for maintaining the delicate balance between creating a mood for me to work in and actually doing the work. We’ll see if it has any effect on the emotional landscape of the book. If anything, their music might influence it for the better.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Heroes & Influences

At some point in nearly every interview I’ve ever done, the interviewer will ask about my influences. It’s happened enough times that I have a little list in my head that I can throw out there whenever the question comes up -- Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, Terry Gilliam, Mike Mignola, and the Danish comic book artist Teddy Kristiansen. It’s short and to the point and usually satisfies the interviewer's expectations, though I keep waiting for someone to ask why there are so many authors on the list.

I can go through the names and explain how each one of these people influenced either the way I draw, or the kind of material I like to draw, or the things I write when I’m not drawing. But it’s not a very complete list. I’ve been influenced by just about everything I’ve ever seen or read. Or at the very least, I’ve learned something about storytelling from every book, piece of art, movie, or play that I’ve seen. It’s just the way I’m wired. I like to take things apart to see how they work, even if they aren’t working all that well.

For me, the really interesting question is “Who are your heroes?”. It’s a fun one to answer, because you get to talk about the artists or writers or directors you really admire, and it’s a little more revealing than the usual list of people who have influenced your work.

You might be asking, “What’s the difference?”. Well, let me use an example. Nothing against Neil Gaiman, but he’s an influence of mine, not a hero. His SANDMAN series got me interested in comic books after a long time away, and there’s no way I would be drawing comics if it hadn’t been for his work. And while I’ve enjoyed his projects outside of the comic book field, I don’t have a framed picture of him or a signed first edition on display in my office. I do, however, have a signed copy of Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING that is among my most cherished possessions.

And while my heroes have all influenced my work to various degrees, they have taken on a special legendary status in my mind that makes me go a little weak at the knees when I see them at conventions. I do my best to hide it, of course. No one wants to see me faint from fanboy excitement. It's not a pretty sight.


One of the really nice things about my life is that I’ve met most of my heroes* and all but one of my influences at some point or another. I’ve worked with a few of them, gotten to know others, and while I can’t say that we’re friends exactly, I sometimes get to trade emails with a handful of them every once and a while. And yes, I do get weak at the knees when I see their names in my email inbox. Can't help it.

Of course, now that I think about it, I DO have a signed copy of Gaiman’s MR. PUNCH, one of the truly great graphic novels of all time, sitting in my office. And I think I’ve got a signed first edition of CORALINE somewhere, too. So maybe it's time I finally added Mr. Gaiman to the list...

*At least the ones who are still with us, though I did meet Frank Herbert at a signing a year or two before he passed away. There's a photo of me at age 12 or 13 looking like I might pass out as Mr. Herbert signs a copy of HERETICS OF DUNE for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On The Nightstand


Peter Straub has written two of my favorite books of all time. The first is probably his best know novel -- GHOST STORY. It was such a huge bestseller that I think Peter Straub is probably tired of signing it by now*. The second is SHADOWLAND, a book that had a profound effect on me when I was a teenager. It’s one of a handful of books that inspired me to write and draw, and whenever I look at one of my very first attempts at writing -- the short graphic novel WALK THROUGH OCTOBER -- I can’t help but notice how strongly SHADOWLAND influenced the imagery in that story.

So it came as a bit of a surprise that I’ve had such a hard time getting into some of Straub’s other novels. I’ve read a number of them and while the level of writing is always undeniably high, I haven’t always gotten sucked into the narrative. But after reading Straub’s introduction to a collection of Stephen King’s non-fiction called SECRET WINDOWS, I felt like digging back into some Straub and settled on FLOATING DRAGON, a book I’d read in college and enjoyed, though not as much as GHOST STORY and SHADOWLAND, both of which he’d written before DRAGON.

Reading it again, I have to admit that I didn’t get it the first time around. The book is far more complex than I’d ever realized. On the surface, it’s the story of a classic haunted town, with a long history of bad things and an ancient evil waking up to wreck havoc. An excellent setup for a horror novel, but Straub added in a whole other level to the story, involving a “thinking cloud” made up of a dangerous chemical that may or may not be driving the town slowly crazy. The first time I read the book, I thought the two threads didn’t come together well, but now I realize that was the whole point. There’s an ambiguity to what’s happening in the town that even the main characters can’t help but notice. Without that ambiguity, FLOATING DRAGON would be a decent enough supernatural thriller, but Straub went for something a lot more complicated and interesting. I just didn’t notice it at the time.

Now I’m tempted to go back and read some of the other Peter Straub books I hadn’t liked as much. I suspect there are a number of interesting things I missed the first time through.

*Random side story: My friend Daniel Waters (an unbelievably talented writer in his own right -- check out his excellent GENERATION DEAD) brought a copy of GHOST STORY up to Mr. Straub at a convention and the author joked that no one ever brought any of his other books to be signed. When I finally worked up the courage to ask Mr. Straub for an autograph, I made sure I brought my battered copy of SHADOWLAND for him to sign. Not sure if I won any points, but it is one of two books I still have from my youth. The other is an extremely battered paperback copy of F. Paul Wilson’s THE KEEP, probably my favorite horror novel of all time. Still haven’t worked up the courage to have FPW sign it for me.

Introductions & Welcomes

I recently did an interview for a French publisher who asked me to introduce myself to the French audience. The only thing I could think to say was “My name is Matthew Dow Smith. I draw comic books for a living. And when I’m not doing that, I’m usually writing.”

It’s the best I could come up with at the time. But in retrospect, about as accurate as I could be without being long-winded.

I could have said, “My name is Matthew Dow Smith and I’ve been drawing comics for almost 15 years. I’ve worked for almost every major American comic book publisher and more than a few of the minor ones. It’s a crazy way to make a living, but it’s the thing I dreamed of doing ever since I was a little kid.”

Also accurate, but a little more long-winded.

If I’d really wanted to bore people, I could have said, “My name is Matthew Dow Smith. I’ve drawn a bunch of comics, but most people know me from some short stories I did with Mike Mignola for HELLBOY, and a NIGHTCRAWLER mini-series I did a while back, and this comic book I drew based on the show SUPERNATURAL on the CW network. And every once in a while, someone knows me from the short stories I do with my own character, Evan Fade, for the NEGATIVE BURN anthology.”

Slightly more long-winded, but also more or less accurate.

I also could have added, “I’ve recently begun experimenting with prose. I’ve written a couple of short stories featuring my Evan Fade character and now I’m working on a full length novel.” But that’s the point where I would expect them to roll their eyes and decide to interview someone far more interesting.

The truth is, I really don’t like talking about myself. I LOVE talking about comics, or novels, or music, or the things I’m working on at the moment, but not about myself. I love the creative process and there’s nothing I like more than talking about it with someone who’s a ‘process junkie’ like myself. I’m the kind of guy who reads the little author’s notes in short story collections. Sometimes, I like the anecdotes about the stories more than the stories themselves. But that’s a whole other issue.

When I decided to start a blog, I thought about how I should introduce myself. So far all I’ve got is, “My name is Matthew Dow Smith. I draw comic books for a living. And when I’m not doing that, I’m usually writing.”

And if you happen to be reading this, it’s nice to meet you. Welcome.