SDCC 14: Jeff Smith Spotlight, the Head of Comic’s Cool Table

By David Nieves
If you’re a lifer, comics have always been the cool thing. Certain people personify what’s “out there” and distinct about comics more so than any other industry; and at the very top of that list is Bone creator Jeff Smith. On SDCC Saturday afternoon, moderated by his friend Tom Spurgeon(The Comics Reporter), Jeff talked about all things Jeff Smith during his spotlight panel.

Opening with the news from Scholastic, Bone vol 1 will see a special Scholastic Anniversary edition of the book with colors and an eight page poem about the Rat Creatures alongside a whole bunch of pinups from Scholastic artists like Kate Beaton. Scholastic is set to release it in the Spring of next year.

You could tell by Jeff’s laid back demeanor and rocking back and forth in his seat that Tom held the opening talk with Jeff as if they were just having lunch together looking over comic books.  Jeff enlightened his buddy, along with the room 9 audience in attendance, about off-the-wall character design, getting older in comics, and meeting a larger age ranges of fans.

Jeff praised about the Rasl sculpture that was at his booth. A group of art students 3D built it for him, they took the little hints in the darkness of the engines to build something that resembles a Tesla Coil and an alternating engine. Seeing the final piece astonished Smith because he himself never knew what the inside of the engines never looked like because they were always draped in shadows, only showing hints of what was inside.

Smith was asked if SDCC was a better place to present your projects than when he started? “it’s a very different landscape then when I came into it. In 1991 there was only two kinds of comics; the mainstream Marvel and DC, then there were the alternative comics,” Smith explained. He defended the extravaganza known as Comic-Con for its potential to attract new readers.

His latest work, TUKI, is out first digitally with a print version available shortly after. What’s great about the print version is that it’s still read horizontally true to its digital roots. Unlike other digital to print books that have to crop pages in awkward ways. Jeff took the simple notion of keeping things the way they were meant to read.

One question he hears a lot was asked during this panel. Other company owned characters he’d like to do?
DC Comics said he could come do the second half of Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil whenever he wants but has no plans to do so in the near future. Unless he gets, “really bored or really broke.” The Rocket Raccoon 1 cover was also shown and he chalked that one up to it simply being, “up his alley.”

A fan asked Jeff, “when did he decide to make Bone more epic?
According to the cartoonist, the moment happened organically when he decided to turn the jokes it was based on into story. Particularly the stories he liked such as the works of Tolkien. It was a time where he couldn’t hide behind the Donald Duck style comics purely laced with jokes and running gags. In his words, “he had to come out.”

The last question was about how Smith transitioned Bone from college comic strip to real comic book. He had opportunities to bring bone to publishers but it would have required him changing or eliminating things like the Rat Creatures and selling his copyright. Before that time he’d never been inside a comic book store and during his first time inside one, saw that there were people self-publishing their own comics. It gave him the epiphany to create his own company and all the stories he’s done in his career.

With that the panel came to an end. You can listen to the full spotlight below (note: delay at beginning starts at 0:09) full of all Smith’s quips and insights about the industry. You can find Rasl, Tuki, and all things Bone on his website


Bone gives Shades of Grey a run as one of the 10 Most Banned Books of 2013

If you were to guess what the 10 most banned or challenged books in the US in 2013 were, you might guess 50 Shades of Grey for its class-consciousness tinged bondage romance; or John Green’s Looking for Alaska with its classic themes of coming of age and the required drugs and sexuality. And yes both those books are on the list, released today by the American LIbrary Association. But also on the list? Jeff Smith’s Bone series, which we’re told by the CBLDF, has been cited for “Political viewpoint, racism, violence.”

Racism? Is this that anti-Rat Creature party we’ve been hearing about? Or the Rockjaw Defense League?

While Bone is a bit of a shock to be on the list, the first one is also odd because it’s so clearly a kids book: Captain Underpants. I mean sure kids shouldn’t be exposed to underpants, unless they are being told to put on a clean pair because it’s Tuesday already, but…honestly don’t the censors of America have better things to do?

Here’s the complete Top Ten:

1) Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.)
2) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.)
3) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
4) Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James (Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.)
6) A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit.)
7) Looking for Alaska, by John Green (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.)
9) Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya (Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
10) Bone (series), by Jeff Smith (Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence.)

According to the CBLDF,

This is Bone’s first appearance on ALA’s annual list of challenged books, but it isn’t the first time it’s run affoul of censors. In 2012, it was banned in Texas at Crestview Elementary and moved to the junior high library because it was deemed unsuited to the age group. In April of 2010, a Minnesota parentpetitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library, when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and CBLDF.

On the Scene— Jeff Smith at CCAD/MIX: Avoiding Garfield

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by Christian Hoffer
As part of the Columbus College of Arts and Design’s MIX Comic Symposium, Tom Spurgeon (of Comics Reporter fame) interviewed Jeff Smith at the college’s Canzani Center Friday evening. Smith was the keynote guest of the two day academic symposium, which featured a variety of panels, workshops and presentations about the art form, and had participated in a panel about alternative comics earlier that day. Spurgeon had also participated in a panel discussing the growing Columbus comic scene moderated by local creator James Moore.

The event was attended by a standing only room crowd of about 400 art students, local creators and fans of Smith’s work.  For two hours, Smith discussed his past works, including Bone, RASL and Captain Marvel and the Monster Society of Evil, the challenges of self-publishing, and his upcoming Tuki Saves the Humans webcomic, before taking a few questions and signing books.

Spurgeon opened the interview by asking about Smith’s ties to Columbus, and how the community influenced his work. Smith discussed how the rolling Appalachian foothills outside of Columbus was his favorite type of landscape to draw, and how Old Man’s Cave from Bone is actually located at Hocking Hills, a state park located outside of Columbus.  When visiting the cave as a child, Smith’s imagination would run wild, and he pictured a Tolkienesque fantasy unfolding at the cave.

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Smith discussed his early influences in comics, how he used to read comic strips like Peanuts and Uncle Scrooge as a child, and how his father used to read Mad Magazine to him as a kid.  Mad Magazine was influential in helping Smith understand the pop culture landscape in the 1960s, which was filled with bad television and even worse commercials.

Smith credited his wife, Vijaya Iyer, for supporting and encouraging him while researching and working on Bone.  When asked about his decision to self-publish Bone instead of pursuing more traditional outlets, Smith discussed his frustration with the newspaper comic syndicates.  He recounted an incident in which an editor asked Smith to have his characters talk in thought balloons instead of word balloons, because “Garfield talks in word balloons.”  That spurred him towards self-publishing, as he didn’t want to ask for permission to write the story he wanted to write.  Of course, Smith mused, he still needed to ask for his wife’s permission.   He also mentioned that Mark Askwith, the developer of the Canadian magazine show Prisoners of Galaxy, was the first person to reach out to him as a fan of Bone, and sent him a video tape of Neil Gaiman praising the series on a recent episode of the show, which blew him and his wife away.

Spurgeon and Smith also discussed the subversion of traditional fantasy tropes in Bone and Smith’s use of story beats and strong characterization to advance his story.  Spurgeon added that he thought that Smith was underrated as a scriptwriter and as a designer, and pointed out several examples from both Bone and RASL on how Smith excels with dialogue and panel design.  In particular, Smith stressed that logo design is critical, and pointed out how Bone’s logo was designed so that the logo would stand out even if the rest of the cover was obscured.

The conversation ended with a discussion on Tuki Saves the Humans and Smith’s exploration of webcomics and digital publishing. Smith mentioned Kate Beaton’s Hark a Vagrant, Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time and Sam Alden’s Haunter as webcomics he was currently following.  He stated that he was intrigued by digital publishing and added that the world was moving towards digital distribution and publishing.  With Tuki Saves the Humans, Smith hoped that he could find a distribution model that could help other cartoonists make money off their webcomics, and pointed out how First Second Publishing handled Faith Erin Hicks’ webcomics as a potential model to follow.  He also added that he still planned to collect and publish the Tuki Saves the Human eventually, and that he saw computers as a way to facilitate art, not to create it.  While both coloring and lettering are done digitally, Smith still draws and inks his comics by hand.

Smith finished by thanking students Christopher Castorano and Tyler Crooks for building a lifesize sculpture of RASL, complete with mask, dimension hopping engines and a discarded bottle of Maker’s Mark.  The sculpture accompanied an exhibit of original artwork from RASL.  After the keynote ended, Smith stayed to sign books, including the recently released RASL color hardcover, for a lengthy line of fans and admirers.

The Beat Podcasts! – Heidi interviews Jeff Smith!


Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.

In a More To Come interview special episode,  Heidi talks with acclaimed indie comics creator Jeff Smith about his Eisner-winning kids’ fantasy epic Bone, his adult sci-fi tale RASL, the advantages and difficulties of being your own publisher, his new Paleolithic webcomic Tuki Save The Humans and much, much more on this episode of Publishers Weekly’s graphic novel podcast. in this podcast from PW Comics World.


Now tune in Fridays at our new, new time for our regularly scheduled podcast!

Stream this episode and catch up with our previous podcasts through the Publishers Weekly website or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes

VIDEO MOMENT: Bone test animation

Cartoon Brew showcases some just for fun test footage for a cartoon version of BONE by animator Andrew Kaiko. Amid Amidi takes the occasion to suggest that Bone would look better in 2D:

Jeff Smith himself recently told a crowd that he would have preferred the film to be hand-drawn except that nobody was willing to put up the money if it wasn’t CG. It’s a pathetic state of affairs when a cartoon creator, who understands his work best, is denied the technique of his choice because of unfounded beliefs about the financial performance of one particular animation technique over the other.