BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Mix the Old West with Animal Planet and you'll get the Adventures of Dexter Breakfast, a wombat cowboy keeping the towns safe from rough and tumble hombres ... or at least Vernon Smith's precocious creation is trying to do just that.

THE PULSE: Why did you want to tell the adventures of a wombat and why set them in the Wild West?

VERNON SMITH:
Why a wombat cowboy? The wombat part came from a dog I got when I was 12 named Champ. She was a mix of almost every dog you can imagine and was just all-around awesome. A friend of my parents said she looked like a wombat. I remember looking up in the dictionary and encyclopedia what a wombat looked like. I didn't see the resemblance but thought they were cute (which probably had something to do with my fondness for Australia. And Deeohjee, Dexter's canine sidekick, is an interpretation of my current dog: Jackie). Anyway, many years later I'm just sitting around sketching and this odd looking bell-headed, pointy-eared creature starts popping up. I think he kind of looks like a bat. No, a WOMBAT! I hop online and search for images and sure enough, there's a resemblance (certainly more than Champ had to these little creatures). So yeah, he sort of just came to me and said: "I'm a wombat!" Who was I to argue, right?

Why the Wild West? I've always been a fan of the Westerns. Before my place in New Orleans got flooded I had a bunch of Old West comics and movies, I've been to Tombstone, Arizona. It's just an era that I've always liked and it seemed the right place to put a wombat who carries boomerangs in his holsters.

THE PULSE: For our readers who don't watch the Animal Planet channel regularly, what IS a wombat?

SMITH:
A wombat is an Australian marsupial, 2-3 feet in length, burrowers, with a good bit of reserve strength. They're cute (depending on your taste, I suppose) but not particularly friendly.

THE PULSE: How long had you been working on this concept before you decided to get it all on paper and introduce your creation to the masses?

SMITH:
He originally popped into my head sometime in 2004. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with him (especially as far as genres go), but after a few months, and several hundred sketches, it was clear that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. I spent about a year figuring out what, exactly, I wanted to do with him. I'd make little 1 or 2 page comics here and there exploring different ideas, I had him in a supernatural comic, in an adult-oriented comic, in something where he couldn't really speak and was hanging around this kid who found him (that lasted about 5 minutes until I was like: "Lilo and Stitch much?"), and then decided to go with an All-Ages Western book. Now all I had to do was come up with a name. Once I got that I sat down to write it. I began around mid 2005, strictly part-time. Then Hurricane Katrina hit and I found myself in Birmingham, Alabama for a couple of weeks where I worked on it some more, then wrapped it up once I relocated to Mississippi. Once it was done and I had another issue or so worth of pages done, I presented it to Diamond Comic Distributors to see if they wanted to carry it. Several weeks later I got a call from them saying they were interested.


THE PULSE: Why did you name him "Dexter Breakfast"? We've seen another diminutive Dexter in comics and cartoons, but your character seems his polar opposite ....

SMITH:
His name is the one element of this whole project that took the longest. I remember going through phone books and dictionaries trying to come up with something that fit, that had a good ring to it, a hook. I originally wanted a name that was one syllable for the first name, two to three for the last, like Bat Masterson, Tex Avery, Luke Skywalker, Kim Possible, et cetera. I spent weeks coming up with various combinations and even printed up little mini-flyers at a local indy convention with his picture on one side saying something like "Give me a name!" or some such. But nothing seemed to work. My friend Meagan suggested "Dex" which I was occasionally trying to fit into the 1/3 syllable thing but nothing really stuck (I was really wanting to do "Bat Something" since it would fit doubly as a cowboy name AND a self-description of sorts, him being a womBAT and everything). I'm not really sure when but eventually the Breakfast surname came to me and it just seemed to click: Dexter Breakfast. Nice flow and a bit catchy.

THE PULSE: Who or what are some of the things that influence you the most when you were creating The Adventures of Dexter Breakfast?

SMITH:
Influences? Hmm, quite a bit...and none really having much to do with one another. Independent/small-press creators like Terry Moore, Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, Eastman & Laird influenced me in certain areas, then major-label creators like Keith Giffen (his early-90's Legion work) and Will Eisner influenced me in other ways, the Star Wars franchise, Disney cartoons, and Pixar movies also had a hand in the book. The main idea with this is to create an All-Ages story that is truly ALL-ages, meaning I wanted to make something that not only my friends would like, but also their kids, and their parents, just on different levels.


THE PULSE: How did you decide the look for your characters? What influenced you the most?

SMITH:
For the human characters I originally was leaning more towards a cartoony/caricature look. Around the third chapter though I'm pretty much away from that, leaning towards (I hope) more realistic looking figures, it's what I'm more comfortable with and it provides a contrast to the cartoon animals. For the two main characters (Dexter and Deeohjee) I wanted something simple, something I could whip up easily and that just sort of...flowed. I've seen a lot of anthro comics of the last 30 years and I'm sure Dex has little trace elements in him from here and there. For Deeohjee I was going more for the cartoon look of the 30's and 40's.


THE PULSE: What are some of the adventures Dexter will be having with each new issue?

SMITH:
His future adventures (though they won't be on an issue-by-issue basis since I see the series told more in story arcs than stand-alone issues) include struggles with the main economic force of his new home (which leads to a clash with the entire town and a severe loss to our wombat cowboy), eventually facing off with a character who will stop at nothing to see all life destroyed, more conflicts with the local lunatic responsible for killing the previous sheriff, an outside invasion who's sheer unlikelihood catches everyone unprepared, a Civil War that tests various levels of dedication, internal and external quests for "bigger answers", tests of loneliness, and a life-long betrayal.


THE PULSE: It's tough for the self-publisher to fight for shelf space in this day of Wars and Crisis and Countdowns, what do you do to make sure retailers know of The Adventures of Dexter Breakfast? How do you give Dex a fighting chance?

SMITH:
To let retailers know, I use e-mail and postal mail. I send out e-mails letting stores know about the book, introducing myself, summarizing the story, providing a link to an online preview, and telling them how and when they can get the book (What issue of Previews it will be in, order code and page number, and when it will ship). For conventional mail I send out postcards and press releases. It can get expensive and time consuming but every time I ask myself if it's worth it, I always answer back: Of course! As far as gaining customers, I do a couple of conventions when I can and follow the "Just be yourself" rule. I've seen people at conventions who seem to hate being there and hate all the people walking by. They're in the wrong line of work then. Without fans, creators have nothing.

THE PULSE: How can PULSE readers get their own copies of The Adventures of Dexter Breakfast?


SMITH:
Issue 1 (the preview issue, explained in further detail in the next question) shipped through Diamond last February. But anyone interested can also get it through my website: http://www.VernonX9000.com or through http://www.comixpress.com

THE PULSE: When is the next issue due in stores?

SMITH:
Well, after doing a bit of market research and talking with my Diamond Representative, I've decided to go strictly Trade Paperbacks for this series (as that seems to be the way the market is going these days). The first issue is more of a teaser/preview/intro comic than anything else. The trade paperbacks will come out every six months and be about 130 pages in length (though the first book is 150 pages). The first book will be listed in the May PREVIEWS catalog for ordering and will be in stores July of 2007.

THE PULSE: When you're not working on Dexter, what's your "day job"?

SMITH:
I work on the comic Monday through Friday and wait tables at a restaurant in New Orleans Friday through Sunday.


THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?

SMITH:
Pretty much just Dexter Breakfast. I have another comic that I work on occasionally as a side project called Typical Black & White Indy Comic, an adult-oriented story that's looking to be around 180 pages. I just finished Book One (of Two) about a week ago, I believe it came in at 92 pages. I'm printing up some copies through ComiXpress (a great Print-On-Demand company that I highly recommend, especially to beginning self-publishers) and will see what folks think about it.