In the long awaited return of the ‘A chat with…’ segment on Books, Films and Random Lunacy, I’m joined by writer, podcaster, mental health awareness campaigner and collaborator Darrell ‘Big D’ Smith.
Hello Darrell, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me today here at the eccentric head quarters of Books Films and Random Lunacy. Before we start, could you tell the reader a bit more about yourself and your various works?
First off, it’s an honour to do this interview, and I would like to thank you for inviting me. Lets start with the most important roles I have, I am a husband and father of three. After that, I would say I am a writer, podcaster, and former mailman. Since losing most of my eyesight, I concentrate on my writing (as I can enlarge font to the size I need) and podcasting. I feel fortunate that I have been able to stay productive despite these issues. As for writing, I have written several comic reviews in the past, but now I spend most of my time writing comics, and blogs for my mental health podcast.
Let’s talk about ‘The Axeman Cometh’ the brand new comic book by your good self and veteran indie comic artist The PXD. Could you tell us a bit more about the project and the inspirations behind it?
‘The Axeman Cometh’ is a 28 page Southern Gothic/Noir comic collaboration between Pete Davies (The PXD) and myself. It follows the story of Robert Flint, a down on his luck private investigator from Chicago. Southern debutante, Virginia Westmire, hires Flint to solve the murder of her family in New Orleans. The case takes Flint and his partner from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi, as they grow ever closer to catching the killer.
As for where the idea came from, the comic is somewhat based on a story I started writing about 15 years ago. I didn’t care for the direction I was heading, and ultimately it was scrapped. When I started writing again, the story had evolved in my mind, and I really feel like I got it right this time.
The Kickstarter campaign for ‘The Axeman Cometh’ is in full-swing and I can confirm from seeing snippets of both the artwork and script for the story that it is sure to be a blood-chilling and beautifully-crafted comic, but for those who haven’t had a sneak peek why will they love this gloriously gruesome independent release?
That’s a great question. I think the answer is two fold. First, I believe the strength of the story lies in the blending of genres, and the mixture of originality and homage to the great films of directors like Alfred Hitchcock. I don’t recall having seen a story that combines Southern Gothic and Noir, and I feel this comic fills a little unexplored gap (especially Southern Gothic) in comics and stories in general.
Secondly, Pete Davies (The PxD) is knocking it out of the park on the illustrations. I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. I think he captures the exact feel of the story, and the teaser posters he produced for the Kickstarter were phenomenal. Now, when you couple that with the amazing lettering from Rob Jones, it sent the look of the comic over the top. I think readers are in for a real treat, and if we meet our stretch goals, it will take the comic to a whole other level.
You’ve written across several genres and mediums in the last couple of year’s including forays into journalism and short fiction. Is there a particular form of writing you feel most confortable in or do you enjoy working in multiple areas?
Honestly, I enjoy writing across different mediums. I think it helps challenge me both mentally, and as a writer. I hate to admit it, but I get bored quite easily. Mixing up genres, mediums, and styles really keeps things fresh for me’
As well as your writing you also run a weekly podcast dedicated to raising mental health awareness entitled ‘The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy.’ For those who might not know what inspired you to create the podcast?
I’ve been a lifelong sufferer of Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, and anxiety. I spent many years of my life untreated for these issues, and feeling utterly alone in my condition. Once I started getting treatment, I threw myself into studying and learning about psychology, disorders, effective tools to cope, and the statistics on untreated mental illness.
At the same time, I was helping my nephews with their podcast (Games and Graphics) and I thought maybe I could use the medium of podcasting to talk about my mental health. Initially when I launched the cast it was mostly a form of therapy, and allowed me to get some things that were bothering me “off my chest”. I never really thought many people would listen to the cast, but surprisingly it struck a chord with folks. Once I realised it was having an effect on others, I decided to change the focus from just myself, to how I could help others and share the tools and knowledge I had gained.
As regular readers will know Darrell has kindly broadcasted a number of my prose stories on ‘The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy’ as well as interviewing me on an episode that aired in August. I’ve always admired how honest and brave you are on your show by openly discussing some of yours and your family’s hardest struggles and creating something positive in your darkest hours. Out of all the topics you’ve covered on the show what has been the hardest to discuss?
Wow, that’s a tough one to answer. I think if I had to break it down, I would say there are two subjects that have been the most difficult. Both are things that have greatly impacted my life.
The first one would be finding out my father-in-law had terminal brain cancer. I talked about the impact that the discovery, caring for him, and his subsequent death had on my family and myself. At the same time, my mother was battling breast cancer, which made the situation that much harder. It truly was one of the saddest times in my family’s lives and I still think of it daily.
The second would be the degeneration of my eyesight, which led to me having to leave my job as a postal worker. I didn’t talk about it for a long time because I didn’t want listeners to “feel sorry” for me. Eventually it was having such an effect on me and my family’s lives that I decided to share it. I have had to change many things in my life because of it, and unfortunately as there is no treatment. Its something I’ve really had to come to terms with.
You’ve been both host and guest on several podcasts in your creative career and as your multitude of listeners clearly proves you thrive on that platform. Why does podcasting hold such a special place in your heart?
I think it’s the ability to reach others, and touch lives. I never thought that I was very good at speaking, and I have always been a bit socially awkward, but podcasting allows me to open up, yet stay hidden behind a microphone if that makes sense. I really just have a desire to help others as corny as that may sound, and podcasting gives me that ability. Or, I am just a frustrated radio host wannabe…you decide.
As the author of a bloodthirsty murder mystery and the host of a frank mental health awareness podcast the reader could assume that you’re somewhat of a dark brooding character, but beneath the more serious layers there lies a deep rooted love of comedy. You are the co-host of the anarchically zany ‘Bro-Rons’ podcast with your brother ‘Little R’ and have penned countless sketches for the ‘Games and Graphics’ podcast. Where did your passion for humour come from and when did you start writing comedy sketches and characters?
Man, everyone knows I am just a big goof. I get that from my dad. The passion for bad jokes, silly puns, and making goofy faces comes directly from him.
As for creating characters and writing sketches, that came from being a lot younger than my siblings. I played by myself a lot of times, and so I made up crazy characters in my head. Also, we had an old tape recorder, so I would make up fake news stories, find ways to do audio effects, and do character voices for my “radio shows”. Maybe I am just a frustrated radio host wannabe…Damn it, I knew it!
Thanks for your time today Darrell, before I let you get back to your keyboard and/or microphone what various creative works can we expect from you in the near future?
Thank you again for talking to me. I have a couple of things in the works right now. One is a short story for a comic anthology. It’s a mind trip, and I hope people enjoy it. I am also working on a vastly different comic with Saad Azim. I think this is going to hit people out of left field, and really allow he and I to showcase our humor, and his incredible art. Be on that look out, 2017 is going to be a crazy year!