Viral Instagram sensation Tess Smith-Roberts has transformed her popular dating comics into a full-length graphic novel, Disaster Dates and Lucky Escapes. We caught up with her to learn more.
Anyone currently navigating the choppy waters of online dating will tell you that it's rough out there. Whether you're being ghosted, catfished or lovebombed, there are plenty of amusing awful date stories swirling around. And there's also an enormous appetite for these disastrous tales.
That's what illustrator and author Tess Smith-Roberts discovered when she started drawing dating comics in September 2020. After going on her fair share of bad, socially-distanced dates, her friends encouraged her to transform them into a book. And that's exactly what she's done with Disastrous Dates and Lucky Escapes, her upcoming book telling the story of a regular girl and serial dater named Olive who is looking for love.
Brought to life with Tess's unique and colourful style, Disaster Dates and Lucky Escapes is a gross, relatable, and laugh-out-loud tale about dating in the digital age. Will Olive ever find the one? And will they be everything she's looking for? You'll have to read the book when it's released on 26 October by Octopus Books to find out.
As well as being cathartic for readers, Disaster Dates and Lucky Escapes sounds like it has been a healing process for Tess as well. "Dating was so brutal!" she tells Creative Boom. "I'm pretty sure one time I was reciting a story of a terrible date, and my friends said I should turn them into a book. Because I had so many tragic stories."
The idea of a book seemed too daunting for Tess at first, though. So instead, she started by asking her 191,000 followers on Instagram for their stories, too, which she would turn into comics. "I was too scared to draw my own stories at first, I think," she explains. "It was also just very entertaining reading all of these ridiculous dating stories from strangers on the internet.
"Anyway, I got sent so many stories! It was crazy! And it was so great to read them all. I felt relieved that other people were also having a terrible time dating. And boy, are there some weirdos out there!"
Once the stories were in, Tess would start going through them and drawing them. "It was so cathartic and just so much fun. It's been a great personal project when my other work is slower. I can't believe it's been three years now! And the success of each comic post is astonishing; people love them! I get sent dating stories all the time. It's wonderful."
After a year of drawing these stories, Tess started teasing the possibility of a book in the captions under her comics, partly as a reminder to herself and a hint to any potential publishers that she had a larger project in mind. It was a hint they picked up on.
"In April 2022, I was contacted by two publishers at the same time?! To make a book! Like, one is crazy enough, but two?! I was in shock. I went with the lovely Samhita at Kyle Books, and we had the best time making this graphic novel."
Given that Tess's other comics are based on people's real-life stories, is it fair to assume that the character Olive is based on her? "I guess she is kind of based on me in some ways… apparently we look similar according to my friends, but that was not intentional," Tess laughs. "But Olive is also based on everyone struggling with how tragic dating can be."
Despite dating being a universal struggle by the sounds of it, it seems like there's an endless demand for related stories. And Tess thinks that's because even though it can be so awful, it can also be so funny. "Dating stories are the best," she says. "It's so great to know other people had a shit time with it too. It's so funny to hear about all these weird and ridiculous stories. Some people are just so weird! I also love making people laugh with my work, so silly dating stories are how to do that.
"My dating comic Instagram posts are always an instant hit. I think people love them because they're relatable and ridiculous. Something light-hearted to read and enjoy. But also relatable for all of us who have been on and will continue to go on bad dates.
"It makes you feel less alone in that sense, too. I was single and fed up with dating when I started drawing them, but the response I got once I posted them made me feel better about my tragic dating life. It was great to know that I wasn't the only one."
Making a comic is one thing, but expanding the concept to a full-blown graphic novel requires a different approach. "I found out I got the book a few months before I was about to travel for six months," Tess reveals. "I was planning on not working for that time, but I couldn't say no to this.
"I bashed out the story and the first rough copy of the book before I went in the space of about six weeks, and then I did most of the editing and colouring on trains/buses/planes/cafes etc! Planes are so great to work on. No distractions at all. I was so productive on those flights.
"Usually, I do the sketches for a five-panel comic super fast. There isn't much thinking, more just doing. I use the story I've been sent as a rough base and just go from there. With the book, I had to plan properly! Lots of thinking! And writing. I didn't think I could write a book that would be published, but it turns out I can?!
"Also, the Instagram comics are based on other people's stories, mostly already written. The book included these stories, but it has a narrative that I came up with and wrote. It's just about one girl with all these tragic dates, feeling pretty lonely, and her journey with those feelings."
We've got a sneaking feeling that Olive's story might mirror Tess's, as the author herself is now happily in a relationship. As for the eternal mystery of why there are so many weirdos on the dating scene, does the book or its author have an answer? "No, but I wish I did!"
Disaster Dates and Lucky Escapes is available from Octopus Books on 23 October.