Comics Interviews

INTERVIEW: Rachael Smith, Creator of Bess

Having recently produced such comics as One Good Thing, I Am Fire, The Rabbit, and Artificial Flowers, artist/writer Rachael Smith is now returning to her much-beloved webcomic BessReleased through Tumblr, the comic delves into the sexism that seems to span across every timeline and setting. Now seeking support through Patreon, Smith is doing everything she can to ensure that the comic continues to be released and read by those who have grown so fond of the story. Check out what she had to say about the comic itself as well as her methods for creating it!

AP2HYC: What’s particularly fun about Bess is the fact that it reads like an old-school serial. Most comics these days release an entire issue every few weeks, sometimes every few months, but Bess gives readers a small snippet every few days. What made you decide to take this route?

Rachael Smith: While I agree that most serials from the bigger comic publishers work on an issue per month, I don’t think Bess is that unusual in the webcomic world. Most webcomics that I’m aware of update with one-three pages per week. The reason I wanted to make Bess a webcomic rather than a book was that I wanted the writing process to be a little more organic. I wanted to be able to focus on different characters and veer off into fun tangents, without worrying about fitting into a page count.

AP2HYC: There seems to be an emphasis placed on aesthetics rather than dialogue/text, with many of the panels not needing anything other than an image to get a certain message or feeling across. How do you dictate what is necessary to move the story forward? (i.e. when a panel is strongest with/without text?) 

Smith: A lot of the time when I write a script I put way too much dialogue in, I over-explain everything. When I come to draw it I realise I’ve made the words obsolete: I don’t need to explain what’s happening when you can see it happening. For example, when Lyndsey is looking at her body critically in the mirror there’s no need for her to be saying ‘Oh golly, I wish my body looked different!’ because it’s kinda obvious. I suppose I try to show rather than tell. 


AP2HYC: Though Bess hasn’t been updated in some time, I assume that the story is one that has been planned-out and ruminated over for a while. What are your methods when it comes to coordinating the actual creation of the comic with posting it? Is the entire arc storyboarded in some capacity and drawn on a weekly basis, or do you build up pages so that you can get them out in a timely fashion? 

Smith: Bess hasn’t updated in some time because I got a lot of paid comic work through and I couldn’t justify spending the time on it, which made me sad as it was really popular when I released it and my fans warmed to it right away. I really, really want to start it up again – hence starting my Patreon to try to fund it. I have written a good few pages of dialogue and have some ideas of where the story will go, but as I said before, I want it to be a more organic process than when I’m writing a book, like when I wrote The Rabbit, or Artificial Flowers, I want it to be a lot more open. Some pages will be vital to the story, whereas some will be stand-alone, little snippets of life that will help us understand the characters on a deeper level. Some pages will probably just be stupid jokes.

AP2HYC: The story of Bess itself isn’t one that I think most people would expect to see, due large in part to the fact that it seems to fuse two tales into one. How did the idea of combining a story of modern-feminism with one of mythological Japanese monsters come to be? 

Smith: If you’ve ever read, or ever get the chance to read any old Japanese stories you’ll find that a lot of them are pretty darn sexist. A lot of the time a scorned woman will turn into a terrifying beast and then get slain by a heroic man, the actual source of the problem never being explored. I thought it would be cathartic, and fun, to take a look at some of these (otherwise quite wonderful) stories through modern, feminist eyes. I think to say anymore might be a bit spoilery…


AP2HYC: Just in looking at the first few pages, and being introduced to Lyndsey, it seems that Bess is a comic that could potentially resonate with a lot of female readers in particular. Is this something that you have consciously thought of through the writing/drawing process? If so, what specifically is your intention with highlighting these real-life issues and insecurities and fusing them with a tale that simultaneously focuses on Japanese monsters?

Smith: I’ve maybe kinda answered this as much as I can without spoiling anything, but I guess Lyndsey doesn’t really feel like she fits in with the world around her, and as the Japanese monsters (or Yōkai) are introduced to the story, she realises that, in a way, they feel the same. Lyndsey and the many different Yōkai carve out a strange and fascinating relationship based on this shared feeling of being outisiders.

AP2HYC: It seems that crowdfunding comics, particularly through sites like Kickstarter and Indie GoGo, is the new way to simultaneously fund a project and market it towards a specific audience, whose support is already indicative of their interest. What is it about Patreon specifically that made you think it would be the best way to ensure that Bess continues to be produced?

Smith: Kickstarter and Indiegogo are sites which collect money from interested folk, then give it to the creator all at once. I chose Patreon because it means that people can pledge as little as $3 per month to the project to keep it going indefinitely, which works better for a webcomic, I feel. I also wanted to start a Patreon because I want to start doing diary comics again, and I thought offering them as an exclusive reward to Patrons would kick my arse into doing them!

To clarify how my Patreon will work in terms of Bess:

If my Patreon support reaches $300 per month then Bess will resume updating once a week.

In order to reach this monthly goal, I will be offering three different monthly rewards:

1) For $3/per month: Patrons will get access to my brand new, Patreon-exclusive diary comic which will update three times a week. I will also post behind-the-scenes photos, brand new comic pages, and info about when I’m working on new projects. Patrons will also get to see regular updates such as Ask Flimsy before anyone else does.

2) For $10 per month: Patrons will get everything in the $3 reward tier PLUS a brand new Rachael Smith-designed postcard, with an original sketch and message on the back, sent to you in the mail every month.

3) For $50 per month: Patrons will get everything in the first two reward tiers PLUS an A3, original, signed comic page by me will be sent to you in the mail every month. These pages may be from a completed project, i.e. The Rabbit, Artificial Flowers, etc, or they could be from a project I’m currently working on, i.e. Doctor Who.

Be sure to head over to Rachael’s Patreon to support the comic and check her out on social media for any and all updates! Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and follow her Bess, Ask Flimsy, and One Good Thing projects. Find out more via her website here too.

Are you supporting Bess on Patreon? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen