Barney Smith has led quite a life, from Art School to the Peace Corps to Doctors Without Borders, this cat has truly lived an international existence. It gives him a unique vision to bring to his artistic creations. He’s the dude behind Kookaburmaster Studios. Living in Nigeria right now he’s still a world citizen. We had a recent chat on a Saturday morning.
First, who are you, where are you from and where do you live now?
Who am I? I guess you can say that there are many incarnations of myself over the years. The first identifiable one, is the fine art/ cartoonist one. That is where I met Dale. We both went to Webster together. I got my BFA there.
My original plan was to be a children’s book illustrator. I stumbled upon a brochere for the Peace Corps my senior year in college and on a whim I applied. I got in and ended up joining the peace corps in Niger.
I stayed there over 4 years. I fell in love with helping people, so after I left, I got a Masters degree in International Education so, for a long time I spent a bulk of my energy geared towards international humanitarian work.
So far I’ve worked in Pakistan, the Phillipiness, Darfur, Ssouth Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Libya, Tunisia, and now i’m in Nigeria. Right now I work with Doctors Without Borders, as of the past year, I have now decided to combine my two passions, of comics and humanitarian work into one thing… I have always loved drawing, and I keep doing it. Recently I taught myself website design and decided to put up all my old comics I’ve done in the past to share them with the rest of the world.
Sounds pretty amazing, you’ve lived quite a life, you say your original plan was to be a children’s book illustrator. Who were some of the major influences on you as an artist?
So illustrators I’ve always liked? Tony Diterlizzi has always been on the top of my list Red Grooms too. There was also one childrens book I always read when I was younger that I fell in love with… I can never remember the name of it, but it showed the life of trolls, and how they lived. Also this book: Gnomes. I always loved the pseudo-scientific look at mythical creatures. There is also a point in the evolution of an artist, that you give up trying to mimic other artists, and fall into the fact that your style is your own. I didn’t realize that until well into my art school days, I think it’s apparent in my comics on the website. The Tadman drawings were in high school and the 2 Years works was post college.
When did you decide to form Kookaburramaster Studios and publish your stuff online?
I always wanted to do it, since my direction in life took a turn to humanitarian work, I never gave myself the time, plus a hard addiction to World of Warcraft for 5 years ate up a lot of time too. Now that I FINALLY got bored with online gaming I had time to focus on my comics again. I tried a few times in the past to publish them online with wordpress type free websites but since I finally taught myself Adobe Dreamweaver and actually forked up the bucks to buy the software, I kinda commited myself to do it with weekly updates.
So to answer your question; I always wanted to do it just never found the time before.
Where did the idea of Tadman come from? The comic is well written for a high school kid.
lol. It was based off of originally of my friends named Tad and Jim I drew them while we were bored in class, then photocopied them and passed them out. The world around the characters evolved over time, you will see soon that they were never really that good once I put out a re-worked issue 1 in a couple weeks. I read comic books like a fiend in highschool, so I had tons of inspiration during that time also, I think that the height of creativity is during that age, I was just lucky i had an outlet. 2 Years had a slightly different bent to it compared to Tadman, Joseph Heller wrote Catch 22 because he was frustrated and shocked over his time in the military…
My outlet of frustration was making that comic book, it is obviously geared towards a specific audience, but I tried to generalize the story enough that it would be read by more people.
I imagine your time in the Peace Corps shaped your outlook on life as evidenced in 2 Years. I like the Martian analogy. What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corp that influenced your cartooning?
I think before I joined the Peace Corps, I had assumptions of perceptions of other view points based of what I saw on televison or read in comics. The Peace Corps allowed me to expirence other perspectives from a first person view also, I was transformed from being naively optimistic about life, to being cautiously optomistic about life.
The last tale on your website is a story called Stag Gem. What’s the deal with this one?
This was also one of my high school projects. I wrote a 300 page novel featuring all the characters created when I was in elementary school, I had the idea of combining all of them in a grand adventure together. After Peace Corps and during grad school, I re-discovered it in a pile of journals. I then re-edited it and started putting them up, chapter by chapter on my Myspace page back in 2005.
Well as you are aware, Myspace shit the bed, and then I started doing more overseas work. I knew I wanted to re-publish them once I had this website launched. One of the critiques I recieved when I posted them on Myspace was that there should be illustrations with it,
so with this website, I decided to do that for each chapter. I’ve been trying to give it a bit more audience for it, and slowly I’ve been getting increased hits on the Stag Gem part of the website.
It’s interesting that many of your ideas are from that earlier period, I too, used most of my childhood creations when I put together Force Galaxia. I think you’re on to something about youth and creativity. I am curious, where does the name Kookaburmaster come from?
Kookaburramaster came from my first e’mail address back in 1995 when hotmail first came out as the premire free web based e’mail site.
I randomly picked a name from the dictionary as my email address, I landed on Kookaburra. That name was taken, so out of spite from the random guy who had that address, I added ‘master’ to the end and for 17 years it has been my email address. When I decided to go for the website, I needed a ‘neutral’ name for this site that was seperate from all of my works, this was my choice, and I knew the address would not have been registered.
Now, that’s crazy, here I was thinking it was some sort of Nigerian word that meant “Comic Animal” or something. So much for my knowledge. Do you have any other upcoming projects?
I do, 2 Years, is only a 12 issue series, once that starts wrapping up, I’m going to continue John’s journey in the humanitarian worker world, the comic will probably be called INGO.
Well, thanks for a fun interview. I look forward to reading more Kookaburramaster Studio’s stuff in the future.
Andre Owens has been hiding in Los Angeles for over 15 years, a former Director of Photography, he now writes and publishes the cosmic comic, Force Galaxia. He is currently writing and plans to produce a webseries, The Psychedelic Detective. In his free time he enjoys long form television, sushi and a celebration of all things 420. His name’s not Supergreen!