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INTERVIEW WITH JEFF SMITH

ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN 1996- by Andrew Goletz

Jeff Smithís story should be an inspiration to us all. As a child, Jeff created the Bone character during ordinary doodle sessions. Years later, the images of these creatures stuck with him, and when it came time to develop a cartoon strip, his characters were already there. From the strip, Jeff took Bone to self publishing, where he created Cartoon Books and published Bone, rather successfully, on a bi-monthly schedule. Eventually, the masses took notice of the work and the book became an independent cult hit, even sometimes rivaling the be all and end all of the self publishing world, Cerebus. With the industry in a state of uncertainty. Jeff had a golden opportunity to ensure Boneís continued safety and joined Image comics, making the entire industry take note.

AG: How did you come up with the idea for Bone?

JS: I first created these characters when I was a kid. I was always a big animation freak, and I also loved mythology and stuff like that. Iím a big Tolkien fan, and I loved The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to somehow join the two worlds together, so I took all of these ideas and created this amalgamation of different genres and styles. When I got to college and wanted to do a newspaper strip, I remembered that I had these characters that I created as a kid that had remained with me for so long.

AG: What appealed to you about the idea and getting into comics?
JS: I always loved cartoons and the Sunday newspaper strips. I enjoyed everything from Uncle Scrooge to Batman and everything in between. I got a scholarship to art school, but I gave that up when the professor basically told me to become more commercialized or to get out of class. See, there were basically two types of art we could do. There was Fine Art, which is throwing crap at a canvas and if you can write a term paper about what youíve created, then youíve succeeded. Then there was Commercial Art, which was art done for commercial purposes. The professor thought my art was too cartoony and wanted me to change my style and conform. I really couldnít wait for Modern Art to end and for the Post Modern Style to begin. Art is something that is inside you. Believe me, society doesnít encourage you to do what you like; itís more like they oppose you. A true artist finds his calling in himself.

AG: Who are your inspirations?
JS: There are too many to name, truthfully. Off the top of my head, a few do come to mind. Walt Kelly, Chuck Jones, Neil Adams, Carl Barks, Paul Hogarth and his anatomy book. And my inspirations donít just come from the world of animation and drawing. Iím a big fan of Charles Dickens, Tolkien and mythology and stories about Robin Hood and King Arthur.

AG: I heard you worked in an animation studio?
JS: We actually owned an animation studio, awhile back.

AG: Why did you leave?

JS: I sold my share to the other partners in 1992, when Bone really started taking off. The company was just entering the feature film market when I left. We did Rover Dangerfield and Ferngully, and now are at work on Space Jam.

AG: Any desire to do Bone: The Animated Movie?

JS: Yes. I would like to do a movie with the characters, but I wouldnít want to work on the animation myself. Iím working on a screenplay for it now.

AG: What do you think about the state of the comic industry now?

JS: The whole industry is in a state of flux. Self publishing is better now than when I entered it. There is now a larger accepting of self publishing, and I think it is easier now than ever before to get a book published. The industry as a whole used to operate like this giant bubble economy and the entire mess with the Speculation Boom was unreal, and then it finally imploded, causing the mess and confusion we have now.

AG: What prompted you to take Bone to Image?
JS: Bone was doing well in 1994. We were dealing directly with distributors and publishers. When the shit hit the fan and the bottom fell out of the Speculator market, a lot of stores went out of business and they simply never paid us. We were so small and they figured they could get away with as much as they could. Since Image is a more powerful entity than Cartoon Books, the distributors deal with them, and Image gets the money for me. While I know a lot of fine people at other companies and respected their offers to pick up Bone, I couldnít do it. I wanted to still retain creative rights and rights to what was mine. Now if Image hadnít offered me this deal, I may have had to stick it out by myself and hope for the best.

AG: So it wasnít the selling out that people claimed?

JS: I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that not everyone totally understands the concept of Image and how they operate. And no one knew what the consequences were of me going to them. I still self publish all of the related items like posters and trade paperbacks and I still control Cartoon Books and Bone.

AG: Would you ever work for Marvel or DC or do work for hire for a company?
JS: Of course I would work for hire. I donít believe that it is Ďevilí like many people think.  I believe thatís a stupid way of looking at it. Iíve done work for hire before in The Simpsons comic and did a story for Charles Vess. Iíve also done a pin up poster of a Sandman character. What I believe is wrong is when companies try to own creations. I would never create anything for someone else. And Iím sorry that Jack Kirby didnít get his due, but he was an adult, and he knew what he was getting himself into. Eisner got into this before him, and he didnít sell his rights away.

AG: A lot of creators have their ideas completely planned out. Do you know how Bone will resolve itself? How many issues it will last, etc?

JS: I have it set up basically as three acts. I know what each act is about, but by the time I get around to doing them, they may turn out to be longer or shorter than I intended. I perceive that it will last around 60 issues, but that can, and probably will change.  I think Bone is different from what Dave Sim is doing and what Neil Gaiman is doing in the sense that Cerebus is a characterís life in review and Sandman is an episodic with series that will tie together to form an entire story. Bone is a single story that starts and goes right to the end.

AG: And life after Bone?

JS: I know what I want to do for my next project and Iím looking forward to working on it, but Iím very happy with what Iím doing now, and Iím not ready to discuss that next project yet.

Copyright©2000 Andrew Goletz