This Saturday 13th May is Hamilton Zinefest at Creative Waikato – so we’re meeting some of the makers behind the zines! Today we meet Izak Smells, a tri-weekly webcomic team that blend dark absurdity and wry tragedy – with a bit of cute stuff thrown in for good measure. The creators of Izak Smells (Izak Flash, Becky Hunt and Kristof Haines) have been known on occasion to emerge from their creative lairs to attend various zinefests, comic book stores and witchcraft trials.
What do you make?
Together we (Becky, Izak & Kristof) make a tri-weekly webcomic called Izak Smells (IZS for short). Some of the best individual strips end up in printed zines – we’ve got two volumes out at the moment – and some of the more visually striking ones have been given the colour treatment by Becky and are now mini-posters. We’ve also got posters and stickers that riff off of the themes and characters found in Izak Smells.
What are you trying to communicate through your art?
As a collaborative webcomic, we’re all bringing something a little different into the comic and trying to communicate our own ideas. Izak wants to show people that no matter how much life sucks we can still have a laugh. Becky looks for the moments that happen when we least expect and wants to teach people to look for the small things that happen on life’s edges. Kristof tries to convey that in spite of how cruel and soulless our world can be, there is still beauty to be found even in the darkest of corners.
What does ‘being creative’ mean to you?
On a grand level being creative is approaching ideas from a whole new direction, in a way people aren’t expecting. On a granular level though, being creative is just finding the energy each day to pick up your pen and doodle something. It sounds like work but we really couldn’t live without it. It’s a purpose.
What’s your favourite piece from your back catalogue?
Izak is particularly proud of his Blobby series, yet to be printed. It’s a childlike world where love and relationships are explored in a very raw, naked way.
Kristof is fond of his Reaper and Shovelman short story, which Becky illustrated. It’s written as an ancient origin myth, dealing with the concepts of Death and Decay in a fresh way. This short story will soon be available to read on the IZS website.
Becky is so hard on her work that it’s hard for her to decide if anything is worthy enough. But she’s proud of the posters she’s created for IZS and the fact that she’s stuck with the project so long.
Who are some other New Zealand artists who have influenced or inspired you?
Murray Ball is right at the top. Izak and Becky were both deeply influenced by his strips when they were kids. Toby Morris has been doing some great work recently that’s highly relevant to New Zealand, giving our generation of Kiwis a voice. Ross Murray has a really clean, professional style and plenty of interesting ideas and emotions to explore. Kelly Sheehan has helped us so much and is really proactive in helping people get into making comics. He helped foster Becky’s goal to create a comic when she was young. He’s the kind of person that the New Zealand comic scene desperately needs.
Tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on.
IZS is a comic with wildly differing ideas and themes, ranging from crassly hilarious or downright cute, to poignantly tragic. The reason for this variety is so that the three of us can pump out three comics a week and still remain interested. Each of us take it in our own direction and that keeps it fresh for all of us.
Why do you do what you do?
It scratches an itch. We all have a deep need to be creative. We’ve tried different mediums but none of them have fit us like comics have. The collaborative nature of comics is definitely a huge plus, as you gain new perspectives and really raise the quality of your art when incorporating visions different from your own. There’s also the fact that we’re deeply in love with stories, and being able to tell stories adds another level of immersion which just consuming them doesn’t offer.
How did you get to where you are now?
Becky started drawing because of Dragonball Z. She kept going and learnt how to draw her own style before eventually meeting Izak, who drew Trunks all the time when he was a kid.
Izak started IZS when he was desperate to do something with his life while waiting for the bus. He’s where he is now because the other two have pushed the concept so much further than he could have by himself.
Kristof sort of harassed Izak and Becky until they let him in. He’d written bits and pieces before getting involved in Izak Smells but had always wanted to collaborate with others on a creative project.
How has your practice & work changed over time?
Kristof hadn’t written for comics before this project so it’s been a real learning curve in discovering what the medium is and is not capable of. His scripts have far less text in them now than they used to and he’s embraced the visual nature of comics.
Mostly we’ve been ironing out how we collaborate and communicate with each other. Learning to meet each other’s creative needs like an old married couple.
What’s your workspace like?
Becky’s is messy, with art supplies all over the desk. The walls around her are covered in art from both IZS and other artists she’s met.
Izak’s is full of gaming stuff but mostly tidy. A drawing tablet sits on top of a cutting mat in front of his monitor. Because you never know.
For Kristof the workspace doesn’t matter so much. He might bang out a quick script at his work desk, or sitting at his gaming PC at home, or just on his phone.
What are some of the recurring themes in your work?
We all have a pretty immature sense of humour, so farts, ballsacks and penises are all fair game. In our more serious strips we explore tragic circumstances from a poetic standpoint – usually via characters yearning for something else, something better, but knowing it can never happen.
Most of our strips take a slant-eyed view of the world and are sort of saying “Yeah, things are pretty messed up but let’s have a chuckle about it.”
What project are you looking forward to doing next?
Becky is excited to work on an illustrated short story called ‘The Girl, the Ghast and the Blessed Bridge’, a gothic medieval tragedy which Kristof wrote. On top of that Becky is planning to write a comic about depression.
Izak is just about to get down to illustrating ‘The Stillness’, a two page science fiction comic project. He also has a longform Blobby comic in the works.
Kristof is currently trying to wrap his head around a short story triptych called ‘Scourge’, which follows creatures from mythology that were sent as punishments by vengeful gods.
What are you looking forward to most at the Hamilton Zinefest?
The people! Meeting all the awesome creative people and getting inspired by them. We never would have been able to meet cool people like Zee Southcombe, Ross Murray and Kelly Sheehan if it wasn’t for zinefests.
You can catch up with Izak, Kristof & Becky at the Hamilton Zinefest this Saturday 13th May, or if you can’t make it to ‘the Tron’ then head over to their website, izaksmells.com, and stalk them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.