Gary M. Smith is the creator of Finley, a comic about a field mouse that loses his job and has moved to the Big City to find his 426 brothers and sisters. Gary resides in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters. I caught up with Gary to discover the creative passion behind Finley and what it means to be a mouse discovering a new world around him.
David: Gary you have this great comic called “Finley” about a field mouse who becomes unemployed and moves to the Big City to find his brothers and sisters. Where did the whole idea for your comic come about?
Gary: Great comic? Thanks, David, I appreciate that. Finley is still a work in progress. Finley evolved from more typical mouse-like characters that I used to draw while making cards for my wife, BethAnn. I wanted him to have a very different look than the way mice are usually represented. Finley is now a strange mixture of mouse, rat, and, according to some friends, kangaroo. Finley was a field mouse in Marsh Field. A field mouse’s job is to run away and avoid being eaten by owls and other predators. Finley was very good at his job. In fact, he was so good that the owls almost starved and finally moved away. When the last owl family left, poor Finley was out of a job. With no other prospects, he decides to move to Big City (yes, Big, is the name of the city) to find his family. Finley has 426 brothers and sisters. In the rodent world, that is a small family. In Big City, Finley first finds his brother, Patch, a street-tough mouse with an eye patch, sideburns, a tattered ear, and leather accessories. They meet when Patch saves Finley’s life in the dangerous new world and introduces him to his other odd siblings. They all live under Big City in a surreal world with a lifestyle similar to humans. Now what was your question… Oh yeah, where did the whole idea of Finley come about? I’m not quite sure. The name Finley just popped in my head. The fact that Finley has 426 brothers and sisters? Well 426 just seemed like a good number. Will I ever introduce all 426 siblings? Probably not! The only rule is that the names of all of Finley’s relatives end in LEY. That’s how they know they are related. Patch’s real name is Barley. Then there’s Tetley, Pauley, Doc Nerdley, Aunt Tilley… well you get the idea!
David: What are some of the processes you go through, I guess mentally to get yourself in the frame of mine to write for your comic?
Gary: I run the ideas off my wife and two daughters. I used to draw a cartoon that I called Six Eyes Rolling. That meant when I got the three of them to roll their eyes at a cartoon idea, I went with it! Face it, most ideas pop in your head when you just let them. Forcing yourself to generate ideas is not productive. The best ones just happen. With a fulltime job and family, drawing the cartoons is often difficult. You have to find the time and you have to let the kid inside take over, which, according to my wife, is the easy part for me. I still laugh at how I draw Patch. No matter which way he faces, his eye patch, and heart tattoo on his arm is always showing. I’m still waiting for someone to point that out. In each panel, Finley always looks a little different, as do the other characters. I guess that’s my style. I have no formal art training, so I just do what I do. You know?
David: Has Cartooning been a lifelong passion and dream? How did you first became interested in comics?
Gary: Sadly, no. I just started cartooning a few years ago. I started drawing cartoons focusing on my friends, which became quite popular in our small circle. You know how things go. You want the circle to expand and grow, so I started drawing other characters. The first was Joe Woe, a spiky haired, middle-aged loser that had get-rich quick schemes that would, of course, always backfire. Alas, Joe Woe didn’t seem to catch on. I was also always drawing mice and other small creatures on homemade cards for my wife. The mouse eventually evolved into Finley and I started the strip. My inspiration comes from my uncle, Fred Smith, who is an accomplished painter in oils and watercolors. His passion is contagious and he still paints daily at 83. He and my dad were so proud when I showed them the first Finley in print!
David: You are also published weekly at Villadom.com. in New Jersey to about 56,000 readers, which is fantastic. Tell me a little about that.
Gary: Getting Finley in print was amazing. The Villadom Times is a weekly newspaper in North Bergen County, NJ with a fairly large circulation. I was lucky enough to have the right person see my work and make the introduction. Finley has been in print since January. While I don’t receive any money for publication, it is the greatest feeling to open up the newspaper every week and see something I created on the printed page. I remember my wife, BethAnn, remarked when the first issue arrived, “In print, it looks like a real cartoon.” To be honest, David, just getting my work out there is payment enough. It also makes you appreciate how difficult it must be to create 365 cartoons a year!
David: A last fun question. Who are some of your favorite cartoonists and have been the biggest influence on you?
Gary: My favorite cartoonist is Dan Piraro. Dan is the creator of Bizarro, which has been around since the mid 80’s. His artwork and unique style of humor put Dan in a class by himself. He is also very personable and has joined my Finley fan page on Facebook. My shining moment was when he commented on a cartoon of mine and complimented the “gag” and the character, Patch, Finley’s street-tough brother. Another influential cartoonist is Rick Stromoski, creator of Soup to Nutz. Rick and I went to the same high school years ago and he was very helpful when I started drawing Finley, giving me advice on sizing the cartoons and how to make them more effective. Facebook is a great place to make contacts with other aspiring cartoonists. There are also quite a few legendary ones who are willing to offer advice and, of course, inspiration. I encourage everyone to join Finley and the gang on Facebook at www.facebook.com/finleygms and please click the LIKE button to stay with us. Finley would sure like to see his family grow. David, thanks for the interview. I wish you success with your own cartooning and blog.
Thank you Gary. A pleasure to feature you on the blog and for you to show us Finley. Check out Finley by Gary M. Smith so you can keep up with Finley and watch as he flourishes, and keeps you up to date with the life of a mouse who hits the big city.