A Chat with… Darrell ‘Big D’ Smith

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!

 

Back ‘The Axeman Cometh’ on Kickstarter here

Follow Darrell on Twitter: @des2v1

Follow The PxD on Twitter: @thepxd

Listen to The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy podcast here

Check out The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy website here

Like The Mailman’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy on Facebook here

 

 

The Teen Takeover is Nigh…

After a distressingly long absence of more than three months, I have finally returned to fill the neglected pages of this blog with Random Lunacy once again.

I have to say, dear reader, it feels great to be back here crafting a new rambling for your reading pleasure, but before I get too ahead of myself allow me to fill you in on what I’ve been working on during my blogging hiatus.

As regular readers may recall in February this year myself and three other young writers started studying for a Gold Arts Award via Writing West Midlands; an 18 month course that allows up-and-coming creators to learn about and experiment in new areas of the arts as well as gaining practical experience in their chosen medium by working with industry professionals.

For the second Unit of our course my three fellow students and I were given the opportunity to work alongside the team at Writing West Midlands to organise and run our very own mini fest as part of the 2016 Birmingham Literature Festival. We were handed control of an entire day at this year’s festival and told to fill it with the best events our collective imaginations could concoct as long as we followed the first rule of event-organising, ‘Stick to your budget.’

So with our heads full of ideas and our notebooks overflowing with scribbled concepts, we went about constructing what would become the first ever Teen Takeover.

My personal role in the creation of this innovative mini fest was that of Teen Takeover Programmer, which in short means I’ve spent the last few months eloquently pestering a multitude of writers, poets and artists to come and be a part of our new literary extravaganza, as well as shooting back and forth to Brum for numerous creative meetings with lots of windswept and interesting people.

For weeks upon weeks I have been buried under a pile of emails, word counts and deadlines and the hungry wordsmith in me has loved every minute of it.

So when all my eloquent author-pestering had been done and the Teen Takeover schedule was complete it was time for the good folk at Writing West Midlands to publish the Festival’s programme brochure which they distribute annually to the booklovers of Brum and beyond. This year the launch night for the aforementioned brochure was held at the Birmingham branch of Waterstones, and they only went and invited me, didn’t they?

As the Teen Takeover programmer, I was very kindly asked to go along and say a few words about our mini fest. I have to say dear reader, public speaking really isn’t my forte and to be honest I was crazily nervous, but when they asked so nicely how could I refuse?

So there I was at a posh literary soirée in the city’s best-known bookshop, silently memorising my speech as the finest wordsmiths in the region were chatting over red wine and nibbles and the BBC’s cameras rolled. I’d already watched four speakers do their turns and just as the nerves were about to kick in, my programming mentor Abigail Campbell introduced me. And with my trusty fedora atop my head I drove my chair forward and took the floor.

I’m glad to say my speech went without a hitch and it was a true honour to speak on the same bill as former Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy McFarlane who I deemed the Midlands answer to Gil Scott-Heron as well as author of The Black Country Kerry Hadley-Pryce and many more local talents. I also met the wonderful poet Marianne Burgess author of Amateur Grammatics and had a laugh with my ever-anarchic mate Olly MacNamee. It wouldn’t be a Writing West Midlands event without the legend that is William Gallagher, but this time I had the pleasure of meeting his wife and fellow scribe Angela. Lovely lady. Not to mention catching up with another one of my mentors Joanne Penn, her other half Paul and everyone from Room 204.

It was a great night but the best part by far was perusing the Teen Takeover section of the brochure. To see all those events that began as seeds in our minds in print and realise they will soon be part of a professional production was mind-blowing.

We’ve put together what we hope will be a diverse and entertaining day of events that will appeal to people of all ages. We’ve got the ‘Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs’ event where Y.A. authors Juno Dawson (Being a Boy, This Book is Gay & Mind your Head) and Nicola Morgan (Blame my Brain & The Teenagers Guide to Stress) hold an open-minded and uplifting discussion about young people and mental health.

Followed by a panel proving that modern comics are far from two-dimensional kids books, by showcasing the vast amount of creative diversity that can be found within the medium today.

Join our guests Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten & X-Men) Leah Moore (co-writer of several acclaimed comic book series and creator of the Electricomics app) and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison (The Spiral Cage & Muscle Memory) to find out exactly why graphic novels are smashing their way into the mainstream.

 

Then Mike Carey will be putting on his M.R. Carey hat as the bestselling author discusses his novel The Girl with All the Gifts and its film adaptation that was shot on the streets of Birmingham. He’ll also be talking about his latest haunting prose tale Fellside and its future on the silver screen.

Internationally renowned poet Hollie McNish will bring the Teen Takeover to an explosive close with a little help from Birmingham’s own BeatFreeks in this unmissable evening of spoken word.

So now you know what I’ve been doing over the past few months, there are only three things left for you to do.

Check out this link to the full Birmingham Literature Festival programme, come along to the Teen Takeover on the 9th of October and help us blow the roof off Waterstones Birmingham.

Tickets for all of the Birmingham Literature Festival – Teen Takeover events are available below.

Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs with Nicola Morgan and Juno Dawson

The True Identity of Comic Books Revealed with Mike (M.R.) Carey, Leah Moore and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison 

Creating Comics: A Workshop with Leah Moore and Al ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Davison

In Conversation with Mike (M.R.) Carey

An Evening of Spoken Word with Hollie McNish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Lunacy Hits the Airwaves

On Thursday the 19th of May my new prose piece ‘The Creative Yin and Yang’ had its world premiere on the latest episode of The MailMan’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy. A podcast hosted by my friend and fellow writer Darrell ‘Big D’ Smith that focuses on raising mental health awareness by opening up a frank and heartfelt conversation about a topic that society continues to treat as a taboo.

As regular readers of Books, Films and Random Lunacy will know, Big D has supported my work for quite some time now, and I listen to his show avidly. As I noted in an earlier post about the show, I think it’s truly inspirational how candidly Big D draws upon his own struggles to prove to his listeners that they are not alone and offers an array of coping tools and strategies to those in need of support. I believe The MailMan’s Survival Guide to the Galaxy is a vitally important forward step in the journey towards bringing mental health issues out of the wilderness and breaking the walls of misunderstanding that surround such conditions

In the second half of the show our esteemed host likes to as he puts it, ‘bring the mood up’ by broadcasting a creative offering from an audience member or friend of the podcast. So when he kindly asked me if I’d create a piece of writing specifically for the show I was more than happy to get involved.

I wrote ‘The Creative Yin and Yang’ as an exploration of not only my own mind, but also the minds of many artistic people. I’ve always been equally fascinated and troubled by the number of creative individuals (myself included to be honest) who sporadically experience an inner darkness. Musicians, actors, comedians and their various talented kinsfolk operate on such a high mental plane whilst crafting their work that it is surely quite logical to assume that an air of melancholy will engulf them when their imaginations inevitably come back down to earth.

I wanted to write a piece that would give not only the reader but myself a deeper insight into that aspect of the human psyche; and what better platform to do it on than one that specialises in the deepest darkest corners of the mind?

Right, that’s enough rambling from me. Have a listen to Episode 24 featuring my piece here.

http://mmsurvivalguide.podomatic.com/entry/2016-05-19T10_04_52-07_00

Check out the MailMan’s Survival Guide website here

http://mmsurvivalguide.weebly.com

Like The MailMan’s Survival Guide on Facebook here

https://www.facebook.com/mmsurvivalguide/?fref=ts

Follow Big D on Twitter @des2v1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts on The Birmingham Comics Festival 2016

On Saturday 23rd April, 2016 Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium was transformed from a cricket fan’s paradise overflowing with knitted jumpers and test match memorabilia, into a vibrant sea of cosplayers and graphic novels as the Birmingham Comics Festival hit the venue.

The second annual Birmingham Comics Festival promised to be an outstanding convention after the success of its debut in 2015. Organisers Steve Tanner, Paul Birch and Victor Wright had their work cut out to recapture the same rampant fanfare as the previous year. It’s safe to say they outdid themselves by staging a multitude of comics-related events that started to pop up in various locations throughout the city in the lead-up to this colourful crescendo which featured some of the biggest names in the British comic book industry.

As soon as I went through the Stadium doors I was engulfed by a wave of pop-culture, make-up and costumes; a hundred Harley Quinns and Jokers buzzed around like painted bees with various collectables in their grasps.

The air vibrated with the hum of a thousand like-minded people gathered in one place to celebrate and rejoice in a unique counterculture of their very own, this was what a good con should be.

The festival offered countless things for people to sink their teeth into throughout the day, as the patrons strolled from hall to hall.

There was a wide array of panels including, ‘Classroom Comic Capers’ that discussed whether or not the humble comic has a place in education or if it should remain within the realms of entertainment and ‘Must be Something in the Water’ which cast a light on the large number of creators from the Midlands and the internationally acclaimed work they produce.

As well as the panels, there was a body painting station where highly skilled artists airbrushed mere mortals into superheroes and a cosplay competition for all those who sported a guise in Birmingham; from Caped Crusaders and Mega City Judges to a giant Lego figure, they could all be seen on the day.

For me the highlight of the event was how strongly it actually centred on comic books. It’s surprising how many so-called comic conventions are mainly focused on the cinematic side of the industry selling toys and posters from the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster; whilst the writers and artists selling their four-colour wares get overlooked.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case in Brum, as independent comic creators sat behind tables next to some of the best scribes and illustrators this side of the Atlantic; from Ian Edgington to D‘Israeli and Leigh Gallagher to Lew Stringer, Laura Howell and Hunt Emerson to name but a few.

I spent a big chunk of my day there checking out the work of those individuals and discovering other creators. I had a chance to speak to the artist behind ‘Psycho Gran’ David Leach and picked up a copy of his fantastic book ‘David Leach Conquers the Universe… So You Don’t Have to.’ I talked to the wonderful co-founder of ‘Time Bomb Comics,’ Steve Tanner and purchased his latest release ‘Flintlock,’ an anthology that will take readers from the high seas to the reign of the Highwayman. I also caught up with some more familiar faces in the form of ‘Bleeding Cool Magazine’ journalist Olly Macnamee and Alex Fitch of the ‘Panel Borders’ podcast and updated them about a new project I’m working on. Great guys.

In the course of our chat Olly introduced me to the author of ‘The Forgotten Child’ Jason Cobley another cool guy, and David Hine whose latest graphic novel ‘The Man who Laughs’ is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic that perfectly captures the spirit of the highbrow tome whilst demystifying it’s narrative.

As the day drew to a close, I dashed over to see my old pal ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Al Davison and his extremely talented protégé Yen Quach and purveyed all their art whilst Al sketched me a picture of a Victorian skeleton complete with top hat and monocle, in less than 15 minutes might I add. No sooner had I said bye to Al and Yen than I spoke to legendary ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ writer and one of my biggest influences Dan Abnett about his 2000 AD strips and an upcoming project I’m part of…

The 2016 Birmingham Comics Festival was a great event full of talented people and outstanding work that championed all that is unique and inspiring about this anarchic medium.

I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comic Book Review: ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ issue 4 by Madius Comics

Madius Comics are back with lead writers Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook at the helm, as they weave wacky words of wonder alongside a trio of incredibly talented illustrators to bring us the latest instalment of their anthology series ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ issue 4.

The first story in this comic is a tale oddly inspired by the rock band Marillion called ‘The Forebearer,’ written by Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook and illustrated by the extraordinarily skilled Madius newcomer Darren Smith.

The strip follows Hogarth, a barbarian travelling through an ancient wasteland on a blood-chilling quest for revenge.

From the opening we are transported into a realm of fallen warriors and fierce beasts by the power of Darren Smith’s pen. It would be easy to assume from the fantastical monochrome artwork and foreboding narrative that the reader will be treated to a dark fantasy adventure from the pages of a gothic poem. But the false sense of security is soon broken as the narrative is sharply injected with a dose of Madius satire.

Jones and Sambrook have pulled off a marvellous stunt in creating a story that could have easily been a standard two-dimensional fantasy yarn and enhanced it with a third dimension of humour that makes us laugh all the way to its absurd cliffhanger ending.

 

The second strip in this title ‘Fight of the Valkyrie’ is a dystopian thrill-ride from the creative minds of Jones and Sambrook with artwork by Jim Lavery.

From its first pages the post-apocalyptic story bears a striking resemblance to the movie ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and could be easily interpreted as a smart parody of the 2014 blockbuster and it’s lack of backstory.

However a less analytical reader might see it as Madius’s version of a bad-ass action comic with all the cars, motorbikes and profanity that any Vin Diesel fan could wish for. Jones and Sambrook’s irrepressible comedic timing is perfectly complemented by Jim Lavery’s outstanding art that would be at home within the pages of 2000 AD.

Whether ‘Fight of the Valkyrie’ is a delightful Mad Max pastiche or a dystopian thriller remains to be seen, but either way Sambrook, Jones and Lavery have left the reader hungry for the next instalment.

 

In the final tale of this issue the reader is thrown headfirst into the chaotically hilarious world of the ‘Profits of Doom.’

The reader catches up with the lovable group of daft druids as they plan a strategy to bring down their demonic enemy, with the help of an idiosyncratic bookshop proprietor who has a vast knowledge of black magic.

This instalment is a well-written and exquisitely drawn strip that showcases all of Madius’s unique qualities as the backstory grows. The amount of hilarious dialogue to be found in nearly every panel is consistently memorable as the plot moves forward to its next quirky arc.

The latest ‘Profits of Doom’ yarn shows that Sambrook, Jones and Smith know these characters inside out and have calculated each twist and turn within this wacky saga.

 

Congratulations to Rob Jones, Mike Sambrook and their many collaborators on creating yet another diverse issue of ‘Papercuts and Inkstains’ that will continue to keep readers amused and enthralled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Ronnie Corbett

I’m truly saddened to hear about the death of Ronnie Corbett. One of the last from an elite and unforgettable number of comedians to leave this mortal realm. Whether you loved him or hated him, Ronnie Corbett was an undisputed titan of British entertainment, who alongside the late great Ronnie Barker made a genius contribution to the landscape of comedy. I grew up watching The Two Ronnies with my Grandad and the memories captured whilst viewing those iconic sketches will stay in my heart and mind forever. From ‘The Ice Cream Parlour’ sketch and ‘The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town,’ written by the legendary Spike Milligan to the immortal ‘Fork Handles’ has influenced every British comedian who has followed them directly or indirectly.

I know that the duo’s humour has influenced my writing consistently which is inescapably apparent in one of my upcoming projects. Today a nation of comedy lovers will mourn the passing of a great, but we will also be thankful for a vast body of hilarious work that we can chuckle at for generations to come.

What better way to pay tribute to Ronnie C than with one of his ingenious wandering monologues that brought us so many laughs.

I leave you with ‘The Parrot Joke’

Ronnie you will be missed…

It’s good night from me… and good night from him.

1930 – 2016

https://youtu.be/94MHFI-Cztg The Parrot Joke

Going for Gold with Gold Arts Award

Ah, dear reader how I’ve missed you. The last few weeks have flown by in a blur of ink-stained notebook pages and crisply typed emails, and to my chagrin, the blog has been deeply neglected.

In the time since a rambling last hit the virtual pages of Books, Films and Random Lunacy, I’ve been writing up coursework and collected everything I’ve created or read, as I’m studying for my Gold Arts Award. A course designed for young people aged 16 to 25 who want to extend their knowledge and practical experience in the arts. The course caters for all aspiring creatives from writers and filmmakers to dancers and musicians, offering a range of ways they can gain a deeper insight into their chosen medium. From organising arts-related events to working alongside industry professionals Gold Arts Award is a colourful training ground on which to grow creative talent. To find out more about Gold Arts Award and all the finery that comes with it follow this link.

http://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=67

This wonderful opportunity was given to me by the good folk at Writing West Midlands, an organisation that has helped me develop my writing skills through countless workshops and outlets over the past few years. Since joining one of their truly invaluable Write On! Young Writers’ Groups, they’ve supported me consistently, from my first publications to a writing mentorship program with everyone’s favourite biscuit-loving tech-scribe William Gallagher.

They’re very nice people. Here’s a link to find out more about what they do, give it a click if you so wish.

http://www.writingwestmidlands.org

 

The course has two units comprised of a multitude of assignments and exercises to challenge participants artistically and develop their leadership skills. Over the next 18 months my fellow Gold Arts Award students and I, (shout out to Lucy, Lydia and Trish) will be working with our Gold Arts Adviser Joanne Penn and The Writing West Midlands team on all of this as well as running an innovative group project that will bring about the long-awaited destruction of mankind.

No, no, I jest of course. But it will be very cool, so follow me on social media to stay updated on that.

As you can imagine, dear reader an opportunity like this takes a lot of dedication and my time will be limited and blog posts may be less frequent for a while as I explore both my creative and academic mind.

I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this and look forward to all the inspiration I can absorb and all the writing wisdom I can collect.

 

It’s going to be fun.

Wish me luck…