I love comic books. Anyone who’s met me is either surprised or impressed by the wide range of comics I’ve read, sometimes both. But it’s not just the caped crusaders of Marvel and DC or the innovations from Image and other indie publishers. I’ve been reading comics since I was young, starting with newspaper strips. And one of the cartoonists that have stood out is Jeff Smith. I read his genre-bending Bone in high school and was blown away by the sheer talent on display, and later sought out his Shazam! work on the recommendation of a friend.
So, of course, I leaped at the chance to attend “A Conversation With Jeff Smith” during Emerald City Comic Con. The panel would feature Popverse editor-in-chief Chris Arrant and Smith discussing his work…though it got off to a bumpy start. Smith was doing a signing at another part of the convention center and was running late, so Chris asked the audience what their favorite works from Smith were. Many shared fond memories of his first major creator-owned work, Bone, and recent works, including RASL and Tuki.
Finally, Smith arrived to a very rousing “Welcome To Boneville!” (This was on behalf of Chris, who came up with the idea.) Smith took it all in stride; during the panel, I noticed that he was very open and friendly. The conversation started with Smith recalling the origins of Bone. It originally started as a comic strip, but Smith could not sell it to the local comic syndicates. In a bit of irony, Bill Watterson was also pitching Calvin and Hobbes around the same time and eventually got picked up.
Undaunted, Smith and his wife/manager, Vijaya Iyer, decided to turn Bone into a full-fledged comic. “I said I’d give myself a year,” Smith said, and it looked like a year was all he’d have. Sales on the first three issues slowly declined, but positive word of mouth from Will Eisner and Neil Gaiman helped boost interest. While discussing the genesis of Bone, Smith said the idea came to him when he was five years old and was inspired by his love of Peanuts. He even said that the Bone family is more or less “Snoopy without the ears.” And if Bone hadn’t become the success it is today, Smith would have gone into animation — he even owned an animation studio at the time!
Continuing his talk about influences, Smith said he wanted to write something that gave him the same feeling as Star Wars. So in the vein of George Lucas, he turned to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. That led him to mythology, specifically The Iliad and The Odyssey. And all that goes into Bone, which manages to strike a healthy blend between epic fantasy and animated antics. He also said that RASL came about due to his interest in parallel universes.
The floor opened for fan questions, with Chris & Smith asking each attendee to deliver their favorite sound effect alongside their question. One attendee asked why the Rat King in Bone loves quiches, to which Smith wryly responded that it was a response to a book he read in college titled Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. He also revealed that Phoney Bone’s love of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches carries over from his real life. And when another attendee asked what compelled him to expand upon Bone, he simply responded: “Because I love them.” “Them,” in this case, is the characters.
Finally, the panel wrapped up with Smith talking about the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival he hosts in his home state of Ohio and his love of ND Stevenson’s Nimona and The Girl From The Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag. He even revealed that later in 2023, he’d launch a Kickstarter for “complete editions” of all his comic work. When all is said and done, Jeff Smith is one of the most interesting creators I’ve had the pleasure of being in a room with.
You can purchase Bone and Smith’s other works at his official site.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.