‘Scurry’ Through The Post-Apocalypse With Artist Mac Smith [Back Pages]
In a post-apocalyptic world where only animals remain, Mac Smith's Scurry follows two mice as they attempt to keep together and stay alive through the most dangerous landscape imaginable. It's a terrific series that has been running as a webcomic since January, with each page fully painted by Smith.
Scurry is a blockbuster success; with the launch of a Kickstarter to bring the series to print, Smith has seen his modest target of $8,000 blown out the water. At the time of writing, the Kickstarter has received almost $70,000 in pledges! The series has hit a chord with readers, so Back Pages spoke with Smith about how the project came together, why he brought it to Kickstarter, and just what readers can expect if they back the comic.
ComicsAlliance: What’s the basic premise of Scurry?
Mac Smith: Scurry is a story about a group of house mice struggling to survive a very long and strange winter. The humans are long gone, the sun is rarely seen, and a cold, dark rain befouls everything it touches. They are living in a post-apocalyptic world without fully realizing it.
The mice, long dependent on humans for food, stubbornly cling to their old ways, looting the nearby abandoned houses for any scraps they can find. Once, there was plenty to eat, but now the scavengers return empty handed, or not at all. Food is scarce, but danger is everywhere, in the form of poison, traps and --- worst of all --- cats. This gang of feral predators relentlessly hunt the mice whenever they leave the safety of their nest.
As supplies run low and many mice fall ill, desperation creeps in. With the colony at a breaking point, rumors of a wrecked truck filled with food give them hope, but it lies far beyond the forest, where even the cats won’t go.
Now the colony’s best scouts, including the young and brave Wix, embark on a dangerous journey to save the colony, but beyond the lawns and fences of the neighborhood lurk far worse things than stray cats…
CA: How did you build the central world of Scurry?
MS: It started out as a fairly simple tale of a mouse (Wix) going on an adventure into a dark forest, but as the story grew and more settings and characters were introduced, I realized I needed another character (Pict) to take on some of the story. Eventually, they became co-stars, and that allowed me to tell a more complex story than if it only followed one character.
The post-apocalyptic setting actually came a bit later. The mysterious disaster serves as a great catalyst for the events in the books, and sets a dark tone for the story. The exact nature of the disaster is revealed later.
CA: What kind of characters are Wix and Pict?
MS: The first book serves mostly as an introduction to them and their world.
Wix is a brave, capable, and slightly overconfident scavenger who loves nothing more than exploring new places with his rat pal Umf in search of “loot”. Wix is very adept at dealing with the dangers he faces on missions, and has little desire to change things. This blinds him to the reality that he won’t be able to do it for much longer.
Pict’s problems are a little more complex: She is being groomed by her father to lead the colony, and as a strong voice in their meetings, she struggle to keep the mice unified and calm. She also tries to convince them to be more self sufficient since the humans are gone, but with little success. To make matters worse, a scheming mouse named Resher seeks to take control and blindly lead the mice to the city in the hopes that humanity is still there to provide for them.
Pict is envious of Wix’s carefree attitude and feels saddled with the responsibilities of helping to govern the colony. She has little experience or knowledge of the dangers lurking outside the colony’s house, but she knows she must convince the others to adapt.
CA: Why choose mice as the central species for the story?
MS: For a few reasons, but mostly because they are really small! Everything is gigantic and terrifying to a mouse. Other animals are kaiju-like monsters to them (though they aren’t all bad guys). Being able to show that scale difference is really fun and makes for some powerful images.
They are also very expressive little critters with little humanoid hands and feet. Their bodies are like little blobs that can be stretched and squashed into any shape, so they are fun to draw and paint. It’s no wonder that they are often depicted in animated movies like Secret of Nimh, An American Tail or The Rescuers. They must be an animator’s dream.
CA: When did you start writing and drawing Scurry, and what prompted you to start?
MS: The idea has been in my head for a few years. It slowly formed over time while I worked on other things. About a year and a half ago, I began designing the characters in my spare time, and six months later I finally started drawing page one. I finished about 30 pages before I started putting them online in January.
I’ve always wanted to tell my own stories and create my own worlds, but as a production concept artist, I’m always working on other people’s (or company’s) ideas. I got a little bored and frustrated working on the same old things, so I started writing and designing my own stuff as a creative outlet. A couple of years ago I left my full time job and moved to Portland, Oregon to start making Scurry, while continuing to do enough freelance work to survive. It’s been a great decision so far, though it hasn’t always been easy to make ends meet.
CA: You fully paint every page. What's your artistic process for the series? Is this done digitally?
MS: It’s almost entirely digital. I sketch out some very rough thumbnails on paper and keep a sketchbook for character doodles, but the rest is done on a computer. To paint it traditionally would take years, and probably cost a fortune in art supplies. Plus, I really love the freedom to experiment that working digitally provides. I can always make big changes late in the process if I feel like it, which would be very difficult if I was painting on a canvas or something.
CA: Do you feel like you can see a clear artistic progression across the course of your run with the comic so far?
MS: Yeah I think so. My process changes a lot since I’m still kinda learning how to do this, and that has altered the look over the course of the book. Sometimes I’ll go back and tweak things if I learn a better way to do something, but I think the style changes a bit from start to finish. That doesn’t really bother me, though. I figure it will become more consistent as I work on the book.
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
MS: I’m not sure how else it could exist. I haven’t tried reaching out to any publishers, and I’m not willing to give up any control or rights at the moment, so Kickstarter was the best choice. I’ve tried to grow a social media presence over the years, and the online art and comics communities are very supportive of independent projects like this, so I knew I could count on some help to get it made.
CA: Is it difficult to transfer a webcomic to print? How did you decide how it would be set out? The format of the print, and so on?
MS: It was planned as a traditional comic from the start, but I wanted it to be easily readable on phones, so I decided to go with big panels and a larger font size. The episodes are roughly a comic book in length (except the first one, which is 32 pages). The first book combines the first three episodes, plus about twenty pages of extras. The page sizes are the same proportions as a U.S. comic, but the book will be 8” by 12”, so quite a bit larger than a normal comic book.
The larger font means I have to be very economical with the dialogue, but I think this has helped by forcing me to explain more visually (showing, not telling) and it also keeps the pace moving, as this is a very action packed book.
CA: How much of the comic is already completed?
MS: The first book is finished. I wanted to make sure it was done before launching the Kickstarter so backers wouldn’t worry if I would flake out before finishing. There is some page layout work left to do, but I’m working on that now. The story and art are finished.
The entire story is roughly written. I’m putting the finishing touches on book two now, and I hope to start the artwork as soon as the campaign is over. It really gets into the meat of the story, and I’m really excited to get it going!
CA: If you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
MS: February, but there is a chance it could come sooner. I wanted to give a cushion in case their are any delays with printing and shipping, but I don’t foresee any problems.
Scurry will run on Kickstarter until 5th October 2016, having already annihilated the funding target of $8,000. To find out more, check the Kickstarter page here!