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An adult conversation with Wells Thompson over SMUT

Wells Thompson makes a return to the Yeti Cave to discuss his latest project, SMUT, with Inteviews Editor, Andrew Irvin


(Ed. - This title is NSFW - Not Safe For Work - the imagery may not contain explicit nudity, but this interview deals with subject matter concerning sexuality, concepts of taboo, and topics discussed herein may not be considered suitable for all audiences given the sensitivities around this subject.)

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Wells, glad to have you swinging back through the Yeti Cave on the topic of your latest project, SMUT. How’s everything going?



WELLS THOMPSON: I’m exhausted and my tummy hurts. Oh, you mean with the comic. Yeah, it’s great. The response has been really enthusiastic and we’ve gotten nothing but support from the community, so I’m feeling really good!



CBY: That's good to hear (except for the tummyache). Before we hop over to chat about Smut in greater detail (which has cleared its initial funding goal, so congratulations!) I thought it’d be worth talking about the choice of crowdfunding platform. With all the options afoot, what made you decide to go with Kickstarter this time around, and what choices did you make with this project based upon your ample experience with prior campaigns? 



WT: I’ve experimented with other platforms, but so far Kickstarter has been the best fit for me overall. I try to learn something from every campaign and improve every time, without doing anything to damage what works. For Smut, we tried to refine our ability to give backers bang for their buck. For example, at an entry level, you’re not just getting the comic, but also a bundle of other indie books to read. We added “starter kits” with some of the add-ons at discounted prices to encourage picking up more cool stuff and at the highest level we’re offering bigger discounts and cooler potential rewards for those fans that want to drop a large dollar pledge on the project.



CBY: So Smut is your latest project, a story of twenty somethings living independent lives, and the various scenarios they find themselves in. You’ve got a creative team including your spouse, Brianna Thompson, Bianca Milanez as artist, Eileen Widjaja and Elisa Romboli as Cover Artists, DC Hopkins as Letterer, Brenda Snell as Designer, and Christa Harader as Editor, With such a grounded setting, how did you create these characters and build out this story with all those involved?



WT: I usually start writing stories when I have either a strong image in my head or some characters with big personalities that need a home. With Smut, it was the latter. I wrote the first 10 pages, the scene in the coffee shop where they lay out their problems and try and figure out what to do about it, and everything just grew out of that. Brianna and Christa helped me mold the story and get all the details right and Bianca and DC brought it to life, adding their own flourishes and really selling what we were trying to say with the script.


But yeah, the characters and their relationships were always there as the starting point. They’re a little bit how I see myself in various stages of my life and relationships and a little bit of my friends and loved ones, but largely they come from the sort of relationship dynamics that I see in my day to day and how each of them manage to create a healthy communication style. Dakota, who’s story takes up most of the first issue, is a bit immature in some ways, but wants to start opening herself up and becoming more vulnerable in relationships, even if that’s not how she would phrase it. She’s also used to accepting anything that’s thrown her way, so one of the fun dynamics of her date with Lance is seeing how she reacts when a guy actually treats her right. What was the question?



CBY: I think I should note, from the preview pages I’ve seen thus far, most of the dialogue is very grounded, relationship-focused, and portrays a conversation on the characters’ approaches to power dynamics and dating practice. If not for the visual representations of the moments of intimacy serving as the subject of the characters’ conversation, it hasn’t dipped into any sexual territory outside the Overton Window at this stage (despite a noisy minority of reactionaries trying to claw heteronormativity back to a position at a narrow center of acceptable behavior). What led to the decision to ramp up the physicality of the sexuality on the page to take it beyond a “slice-of-life” romance that all audiences could conceivably read (i.e. - scrolling innocuously in a SFW setting)?



WT: I think sex in comics gets a bad rep. There’s definitely a lot of shallow uses of nudity and sex that winds up being objectifying, but when you approach it as subject matter worthy of exploration, it can tell you a lot about characters and be really revealing, rich territory for storytelling. It inherently puts characters in a lot of emotional peril and strips away whatever front they put up. It takes some level of vulnerability to have sex and showing what it takes to get there, how the characters act before, during, and after, and how they choose to express that vulnerability I think can express a lot more than we give it credit for.


Also, people have sex in real life (rather a lot) and I don’t think we talk about it enough in a way that’s healthy or productive. My life changed drastically for the better when I started having very open, non-judgemental conversations with my partner about what they liked and what we could be doing better. Perhaps not surprisingly, that exercise works outside the bedroom too, but it’s a good place to start because if you want to get anywhere, you have to learn to be vulnerable. I think part of the project of Smut is to allow people to experience that.

Either way, I’m making a high action book about yearning and romance without much in the way of sex already, so I really wanted this book to explore the opposite. Can you make a story that’s thrilling and tense and satisfying with no action except for intimacy? I think so.



CBY:  Two references you mention on the Kickstarter pager are Giant Days and Sunstone. I have yet to read either, so for our readers at home, can you provide some insight into these stories, how you came to know about them, and why everyone should set the stage for Smut by giving them a read?



WT: I became aware of both books through the indie comics community, particularly The Comics Collective Podcast, which I highly recommend. They’re very different books, but both are brilliant in their own right. Giant Days is a highly animated, over the top, slice-of-life comic about a tight knit group of friends, and while we didn’t go as far into the sometimes goofy territory that it very successfully navigates, I was inspired by the strong personalities and friendship dynamics and the way they shine through every aspect of that story.


Sunstone is maybe the best comic about sex ever written? It uses the prospect of high spectacle BDSM relationships and lesbian bondage to lure in an unsuspecting reader and, while it does deliver on that promise, the real pull of the book is the burgeoning relationship between the leads. You come for the sex, you stay because you love the characters, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do with Smut.



CBY: Nice - from what I've read, it seems like that's clearly the trajectory you're on with this story. As of writing these questions, you’re coming up on the $10k stretch goal, which includes a bundle of digital comics including Spirit of the Dragon #1 by Lamont/Costa/Gunther and Black Bishop #1 by Dupree/Shrivastava/Martinez, as well as a five-comic bundle at the $1 pledge level. Can you tell us a bit about these titles and how you ended up packaging them with Smut?



WT: We got a really overwhelming response when we asked the community for titles for the indie bundle, so it was really hard to choose. Ultimately we chose seven titles, five to put in the original bundle which spread across a number of genres (though all featuring a more mature tone) and the other two because they somewhat matched the cheeky nature of Smut as a NSFW property. 


Black Bishop is a really cool spy thriller that leans into the stylish, sleek look of those kinds of books with just a hint of cheesecake. Spirit of the Dragon is an over-the-top martial arts comic that reads similarly to a lot of fan-service manga, which is sort of the opposite of what we were doing with Smut, but that’s one of the cool things about the NSFW genre--there’s a lot of diversity in how it can be done and that’s part of what makes it great.



CBY: I know you’ve run a number of successful crowdfunding campaigns for your previous titles. You’re working with Comix Well Spring as the printer on this book. When did you start working with them, and what made them the right choice for Smut #1?



WT: We started working with them after our second crowdfunding campaign due to some issues with our original printer and they’ve proven to be the best printing partner for our needs across the board. They’re reliable, they’re dedicated, and their materials feel great in the hand, which was important to us as fans of comics. There’s nothing worse than a great book that’s printed on crappy paper, so we were really diligent in making sure the experience was going to be good for our readers from beginning to end.



CBY: Mentioning this being a #1 release, you’ve made it clear Smut is meant to run three issues in total. What can you share with our readers without giving up any spoilers around what’s in store for Dakota, her friends, and her new paramour, Lance?


WT: Each issue focuses on a different member of the group, that way each issue tells a full story and can somewhat stand alone. Dakota and Lance’s story will be fully wrapped up by the end of issue 1, although there is a fun epilogue at the end of issue #3 to tie everything back together. Issue #2 focuses on Jess and her long-term girlfriend Alejandra and their comfortable (if a bit more extreme) relationship dynamic being challenged. Issue 3 is about Rita and her crumbling relationship with her long-term boyfriend Kyle, how they’ve fallen into bad routines and don’t communicate as well as they should, and whether or not they can remedy that.



CBY: “Smut” is a bit of a loaded term in the world of fiction. NSFW comics date back to the Tijuana bibles of the early 20th century, and there’s a long history of pornography and comics intersecting. I’d personally place the term “smut” alongside “pulp” and “schlock” in a continuum of the sordid material that would not be viewed as suitable for general audiences. Language is obviously very important in appealing to the appropriate audience - how did you pick the title and what sort of impressions do you hope to convey with it?



WT: I wanted to take the opportunity to challenge the reader’s perception of what is and isn’t socially acceptable to read and talk about. This book does explicitly show sex, but that it’s a natural thing that most people engage in. Meanwhile, one of my other books, Frankenstein the Unconquered, shows pretty graphic violence that I don’t want anyone engaging in (and that I would honestly say is more explicit than anything in Smut), but that book is fine for me to display at a convention or promote on social media and Smut has to have a million caveats to talk about.

This book was always going to get labeled as NSFW or smut or erotica or, if someone’s feeling extremely uncharitable, pornography even though its aim is to talk about relationships, communication, and vulnerability in a really open and honest way that’s true to life. So, I figured, if I can’t escape the labels, lean it!



CBY: I think this is a very helpful title for bridging into those conversations and breaking with conventions tied to those labels. I mentioned the different approaches and departures from heteronormativity and traditional gender roles explored in the story of Smut. As an open-minded partner in an often collaborative and always communicative marriage, I can appreciate that you’ve written this with your wife, which is not necessarily the easiest way to enter a working relationship. In exploring relationship dynamics with a couple, how were you able to draw from your own experience to inform the various scenarios covered in Smut



WT: My wife and I have a really typical looking relationship in a lot of ways, but one of the very first really formative and vulnerable conversations in our relationship centered around her being bisexual and gender queer, how they were nervous that looking straight might be denying a part of herself and how worried she was that I wouldn’t respect those parts of her. I think in every relationship dynamic there’s a lot of nuance and individual pressures, but universally, what makes a relationship work or fail, is how well partners communicate with each other and make an effort to respect each other.


In some ways all of the couples in the book draw from our experience, both past and present, and in some ways they’re all a little foreign. The most important lesson I took from my wife, and the thing that made a writing partnership work despite our different ways of operating (and the fact that she’s a research scientist and I’m a pea-brained writer) is that you need to respect boundaries, make sure your partner’s needs are being met, and ask for what you want in a way that’s clear and honest. With that at the core, everything else was just set dressing.



CBY: Ah, as a pea-brained writer who has been pressed into research science, I can certainly appreciate how you've tackled the challenge of communicating through different modes of working - STEM and HASS thinking emerges from very different approaches. Wells, thanks for making time to chat. If there’s anything unrelated to Smut our readers should check out, we’re certainly open to recommendations on cool new comics and other media. What shouldn’t we miss?



WT: I’d love to highlight a few Kickstarter campaigns running right now:


Savage Wizard by Lesly Julien

Plume by K. Lynn Smith


I also recently read and reviewed All Against All and Black Cloak on my newsletter and I think everyone should go read those book immediately!



CBY: Thanks for the recommendations, Wells, and it's fantastic to have you insights into a range of topics that don’t always get discussed from this angle. Beyond the Kickstarter campaign, let us know what publications, portfolio, and social media links our readers should see.



WT: I have a newsletter called Comics, Cats, and Cocktails where you can see WIP pages, cocktail recipes and pictures of my many cats. You can also follow me on twitter unfortunately @wellsthomp and contact me through my website, wellsthompson.com. And if, for some reason, you want to meet me in person, I will be at Dark Tower in Logan Square in Chicago for Free Comic Book Day, so stop by if you’re in the best friggin’ city on Earth!



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