Rachael Smith Is Fire

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by English diary cartoonist Rachael Smith to see if I would be willing to share some preview pages from her new book, and her second piece of long form fiction, I Am Fire. It's a great comic about working, growing up, and realizing, sooner or later, that the only person responsible for your actions is you. Below, you'll find that preview and along with a brief interview; as you'll see, Rachael and I chatted over email. If you're interested, you can preorder I Am Fire here

Josh Kopin: Before we get properly started, can you give a brief biography of yourself?

Rachael Smith: Well, I'm Rachael Smith. I'm 28, and live in Leicester. I started doing comics properly last year when I started 'The Way We Write.' I'd been doing diary comics before that and short comic strips for newspapers - but only recently plucked up the courage to start writing full length stories. The other thing people might know me for is Flimsy the Kitten - a character I've been drawing for many years. She has her own Q&A blog nowadays which is pretty fun! Most recently, as you know, I've released 'I Am Fire,' so I'm quite excited about that.

JK: What's so exciting about "I Am Fire"?

RS: It's my most ambitious project to date. It's taken the best part of a year to finish, with me having a mini-breakdown about it roughly once a week. So I'm pretty excited that it's done with, haha! I tried to push myself a lot with this one too, I think my drawing and storytelling skills have come on a little bit since 'The Way We Write'. It's already had a couple of good reviews and the people I've shown it to have all reacted well - so that's really lovely (and a relief!). It's also the first thing I've ever released as a pre-order, so I'm excited to see how that goes too ^_^.

JK: Why did you decide to set it in Leicester?

RS: I wanted the story to be set in a department store. One of those ones that's been around forever. We've got one a bit like that in Leicester that specialises in toys and crafts. It appears to be run almost exclusively by friendly old women or grumpy teenagers. So I guess that must've planted a seed for the characters of Jenny and Joan at some point! Then in the comic I needed to reference the county council - so I thought it'd be silly to make it anywhere other than Leicestershire.

JK: As an American, I'm not quite sure I understand the difference between Leicester and Leictershire-- can you explain the difference? Are there other little details that you think an American like me might need explained to them? Will you cure my ignorance of those things? 

RS: Hehe! Sure, sorry! Leicestershire is the county that the City of Leicester is in. Leicestershire takes its name from Leicester City. I guess some of the language might trip Americans up a bit too, but hopefully the context in which it's said should help to explain. The story should hold up pretty well -- do school children usually do a couple of weeks of 'work experience' in America?

JK: No, not usually, or at least that hasn't been something that either me or my friends had to do Although its something that probably would have been good for most of us. What did you do for yours?

RS: You have like, 'Take your son/daughter to work day' don't you? Or is that just on the telly? For my work experience I worked in a little framing shop in this posh little town. It was quite boring. The owner wouldn't let me draw manga girls on the post-it notes or frame any of my Pokemon fanart. I still ended up getting a Saturday job out of it though. Somehow.

JK: I forgot about take your son/daughter to work day! But I don't think that it's about work experience for the children so much as it is a chance for the parents to goof off for a day while showing off their kids to other people. It's also something that parents only really do until their children stop being cute, probably around 10 years old. Sort of along the same lines, it seems like "I Am Fire" is really, about youth and age, or maybe about growing up. Did you set out to write a comic like that? Do you have anything in particular that you were trying to say?

RS: I don't think I set out trying to say anything grand or put across a certain feeling...I wanted to create Jenny as a character and built everything around her really. Other inspiration came from a story I heard from a friend about how he had quite an elaborate fire drill at his office. Apparently once the fire alarm started going off he was leading a whole bunch of people down the fire exit stairs and, unexpectedly, there was a member of the building management staff with a sign that said 'Fire.' Realising that this was a test from the management on how they would deal with a real fire, my friend turned and explained to the person behind him. Unfortunately other people who couldn't see the situation overheard him say the word 'fire.' Panic ensued. I don't think they passed the fire drill.

JK: And so you designed Chris to be that fire, basically?

RS: Yeah, I suppose, story-wise, (without giving too much away), I set Jenny up in her comfort-zone, where she can be a bit of a douche-bag - then put Chris in there to cause havoc and make her have a bit of a look at herself.

JK: As a last thought, I wonder if you could share the names and comics of some other British cartoonists you admire, or any influences you have (wherever in the world they may be from)?

RS: Sure! I've always been a massive John Allison fan - I think you can see his influence in my work. Also Marc Ellerby and Emi Lenox mainly for their auto-bio stuff. Bryan Lee O'Malley influenced me a lot too, I think he's the reason my stuff is quite slice-of-life-y but also quite bizarre and silly.

Rachael Smith's I Am Fire is out soon. You can preorder it here.

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