Suspended Animation

Michael Vance   Mark Allen   Michael Vance Books
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Jeff Smith Interview  
     Jeff Smith is the creator of Bone, one of the most successful independent comic book properties, ever. So successful, in fact, that the collections have been picked up by Scholastic Books, and are a very popular seller in schools and libraries all over the country. Jeff's also a busy guy, and we're very appreciative of his taking time out to answer some questions from Suspended Animation.

     Mark: Who are some of your biggest artistic influences?

     Jeff: My early interest in cartoons was started by watching animated shorts on TV. So a key influence was Chuck Jones. Later on, I really got into comic strips, so I read lots of Charles Schulz and Walt Kelly. I also really liked the artist who drew Uncle Scrooge in the old Walt Disneyís Comics & Stories, Carl Barks. In terms of pure comic book storytelling goodness, he was the master.

     Mark: How would you describe Bone to the non-comic-reading public, in order to "entice" them?

     Jeff: I would say itís a story about growing up, if you were short, bald, had a big nose and no pants.

     Mark: I commented in a 2004 review of Bone that it was a mixture of Dungeons and Dragons, Disney, and The Lord of the Rings. Every review being largely opinion, did any of these play a part in the inspiration of Bone? If not, what did?

     Jeff: Disney and The Lord of the Rings certainly did. As a child the great Disney animated features like Snow White and Bambi were dreamlike experiences for me. They looked just like the pictures in my imagination. It was like the artists had reached into my head and put the images in my head up on screen. Maybe itís me, but hand drawn animation looks very similar to how things appear in my dreams. The Lord of the Rings was instrumental in showing me the way a fully formed world could be brought into existence, creating a place for your ideas to run loose. A playground for your thoughts, almost. I tried to create that kind of playground in Bone.

     Mark: Talk about life before Bone; what other works do you have "under your belt?"

     Jeff: I have none. Before Bone I ran a small animation studio in central Ohio where my partners and I cranked out commercial material. Bone was my first attempt to do personal work in a public arena.

     Mark: Do you have a "favorite story" from the Bone run? One during which you believe, artistically, and/or as a writer, you were at your best?

     Jeff: The story that runs in the fourth book, The DRAGONSLAYER, is my favorite. Itís about Phoney Bone using peopleís fears to hold them together for his own personal power and gain. I wrote that story in1995, ten years ago, but unfortunately, itís one of those themes that never grows old.

     Mark: Are there any tales you didnít get to tell that you would like to? And, are we likely to see them in the future?

     Jeff: There were abandoned plot lines, but usually they were abandoned because they werenít interesting enough, or didnít push the story in the right direction, so they probably wonít get told. One idea that I might flesh out one day is an exploration of Smiley Boneís curiosity about the workings of science. It might be fun to see what happens when you mix the least academic Bone with quantum physics.

     Mark: How did the deal with Scholastic come about?

     Jeff: It all started with the librarians. In 2001, after years of trying to get our books into bookstore distribution systems, like Ingram, and having the door slammed in our faces (because Bone was a self-published comic book), one day, Ingram called us. They wanted to start carrying the Bone books. When we asked why, they said their librarians were insisting on it. Apparently, Bone was one of the most requested graphic novels in libraries across the country. By kids! Now, if youíve followed my career in comics, you know Iíve fought against Bone being labeled a childrenís book. Mostly for marketing reasons (todayís comic book readers are mostly adults, and a kidís comic wouldnít survive long), but also because I wasnít writing for kids. I was writing for the same audience I perceived those old Disney animated films were aimed at: the movie going public.

     Anyway, the kids found Bone and claimed it. They got enough librarians looking for it, that Ingram called us. And when trade magazines like Library Journal, and Publisherís Weekly began reporting on the high circulations of Graphic Novels and teachersí discovery that kids actually were reading them, big publishers like Scholastic took notice. Since most of the articles either featured Bone or at least mentioned it, the people at Scholastic gave us a call and in short order convinced us they understood what Bone was and that they could run with it. Now, a year and five hundred thousand books sold later, I think they were right!

     Mark: What is the current outlook on any incarnation of Bone to the big screen, or television screen?

     Jeff: I get offers constantly, but Iím waiting for the right filmmaker and the right proposal. I hope it will happen. I obviously love animation, and I think it would be great.

     Mark: Now that Bone is finished, the obvious question is, "what next?"

     Jeff: Iím currently working on a four issue mini-series for DC Comics called ďSHAZAM: Monster Society of EvilĒ that could come out sometime this year, and I have started working on my next independent project which for now has the working title ďBIG BIG.Ē

     Mark: Why do you believe there are so many people who are only too anxious to get to the comics section of the newspaper, but would never even consider buying a comic book, even considering them childrenís fare?

     Jeff: Well, just a few years ago, I would have said the reason was a ridiculous stigma that has been attached to comics since the 1950s, but now Iím not so sure thatís really the case. People are anxious to buy graphic novels. I think we're on the new threshold of a new adventure!

     Review by Mark Allen


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