I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan Smith at this years Phoenix Comic Con. Seated humbly at his booth, he had that look. You know the one that reads “give my comic book a shot”? The decision to stop wasn’t a hard one, seeing as how he was easy to talk to and his art work was fascinating, but what struck me was the voice of the book and how it asked questions that so few “mainstream” comics ask. Lightening Dog is more modern art than comic book. Weighing in at fifty two pages, the book is filled with outstanding art, but here’s the catch…no dialog. Albeit he’s not the first to attempt this, having done so, it speaks volumes about his determination to engage his audience on another level and he’s done just that with Lightning Dog.
MITNG: What got you into comics?
NS: To be honest, I wasn’t into comics for a very long time. Growing up, I thought comic books were all about macho superheroes in spandex, and I really couldn’t get into that. I remember, at some point, going to my local Borders and discovering the Flight anthologies, the Hellboy series, and a few other books that showed me comic books didn’t have to be about characters with tight suits and capes, and made it all much more interesting for me. When the time came that I liked my own style enough to illustrate a story of my own, I immediately began drawing a comic, and it turned into my first story: Lightning Dog.
MITNG: I likened your work to modern cave drawings, would that be a good assessment?
NS: I think the comparison’s appropriate and exciting! I very rarely use text in my stories. Hearing friends and strangers summarize what they see on each page as they’re going through Lightning Dog or any other of my comics is always really fun because everyone sees something different in what I’ve drawn. The coolest thing about cave drawings to me is imagining what a prehistoric person must have been thinking and experiencing while they were drawing the things he or she was drawing. Was it for posterity? Was it just for fun? Was it part of a ceremony? I love how what persists about cave drawings are the feelings of the artist. You don’t need to know the artist’s name or why the piece was made, but you’re able to connect to the past with it. If I even remotely connect to people in that way, I consider myself very fortunate!
MITNG: What prompted you to write Lightning Dog?
NS: It was initially based on a single, incomplete doodle that I made of this insane looking dog just kind of plummeting through space. It didn’t initially mean anything, but I loved the energy of it, and, when I decided to make a test comic to see if I could make something that I thought looked good, I created the first two pages of Lightning Dog, not even knowing that it would become the 50-page story that it is now. I received such positive feedback about how it looked from my friends that I decided to run with it, and, inevitably, my fascination with physics and cosmology helped quantum mechanics become the theme for each character and their interactions.
MITNG: You speak about “entanglement” in the epilogue of Lightning Dog. Are the characters in this book, meant to be, more like atoms and quarks, than actual Gods?
NS: Exactly! I mean, far be it from me to tell anyone what the story is “really about,” because I really like when people interpret it for themselves, but, in my head, the various characters are definitely interacting with each other the same way subatomic particles do. A lot of my comics, secretly, are scientific metaphors.
MITNG: Do you consider yourself a spiritual man?
NS: In a sense, I do. My current employment is working as a research assistant in an astronomy lab at Arizona State University en route to obtaining a graduate degree in systems engineering, so my worldview tends to be fairly scientific. It bothers me, however, when pragmatism replaces imagination, and I think it’s very important to not get caught up with being so “scientific” that you can’t let yourself dream up fantastic, unrealistic things. In that sense, my “spirituality” is an exercise in opening myself up to thinking outside of the box, and I believe this has helped me be a more successful science researcher.
MITNG: What comic books are you currently reading?
NS: Ever since I started self-publishing, I’ve really gotten into the books from smaller publishers like Koyama Press, Breakdown Press, and many more. I love to follow artists like Michael DeForge, Joe Kessler, and others because I really like what they put out regularly. I most recently picked up a science fiction / fantasy themed series of comics called Ovoyyamar by Alan Brown. He also makes wordless stories and has a really cool style!
MITNG: Having looked at Lightning Dog, I can say, with all certainty, that it’s one of the most abstract comic books I’ve ever read and required me to lean on my limited knowledge of mythological tropes to decipher some of it’s meaning. Did you intend for it to be an exercise in transcendentalism?
NS: I wouldn’t say that I try, per se, to make a particular story hard to grasp, but I do attempt to create an interesting looking story that has some hidden depth to it. Each of my comics has some underlying themes, or “truths” in my opinion, that I made them to explore. Because each story is so self-consistent, I think readers can often see that there is something connecting each and every page, and, when they finally put their finger on it, it tends to be something different than another person. In that sense, my comics are an exercise in transcendentalism for me because, even though I tend to want to explain to people what I intended the story to be, I find my interactions with people on the matter to be infinitely more interesting when they tell me what they got out of it and I stay quiet about my intentions. I personally think it’s valuable to realize that what you or I think of as a “truth” is not something that another person thinks of as a “truth,” and a wordless comic is my way of exploring that.
MITNG: What’s next for you?
NS: Well, despite having just explained how interesting I think abstract stories are, my current project is a comic where I’m experimenting with dialogue, written exposition, and some different drawing and framing techniques. I’ve been posting that and my other projects on my website as I complete them. I’m also a game designer and had a great experience publishing my first game this past spring called Animallum, so I’m continuing that type of work as I develop two more table-top games – an RPG and a strategy game. I’ve also been considering different ways to tell stories beyond comics and games, so who knows what I’ll be putting out over the next year!
MITNG: Any films this fall you really interested in seeing?
NS: The new Hobbit movie, The Zero Theorem, Coherence, and Interstellar.
MITNG: What music are you listening to right now?
NS: I’m really hung up on Disasterpiece’s soundtrack to FEZ…so cool! Also, Daikaiju, of Montreal, Good Friends Great Enemies, and B’Kao Caerp have been looping through my headphones.
MITNG would like to thank Nathan Smith for allowing us to pick his brain. If you’d like to know more about Nathan Smith and his wonderful comics, we’ve enclosed several links to his work below.