JEFF SMITH ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Jeff Smith really needs no introduction. He is the creator of Bone, one of the most charming and endearing comic book series’ in the history of the medium. Bone has been translated into thirteen different languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. It is currently in development as a feature film, and the collected comic book editions continue to capture the imagination of readers of all ages.
After completing Bone, Jeff moved from fanciful to gritty by writing and drawing Rasl – a comic book about a thief who is able to jump dimensions. The final issue of the series went on sale August 1, 2012.
Fans are now facing the panic of withdrawal. It will be sometime before Jeff embarks on his next series, but at least we can all take comfort in the fact that his fertile imagination will bear fruit again.
A gallery of Jeff’s charismatic art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Jeff Smith: My love of comic strips and animation, as well as the visual language of films, all pointed me toward the potential of comic books. Comic books, with their plastic panel formats and longer page counts, offered me a chance to tell a really long story in a medium that I took to like a fish to water.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
JS: I used to study the comics of people I liked. There was really no training for comics back in the wild days of the 70s & 80s. And I practically got chased out of art school after a couple of months.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
JS: That’s a broad question. But here are the guys that wrote the language we all still use: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, and Milton Caniff.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
JS: A narrative composed of drawn panels; the second panel of any two given panels builds on the action of the previous one.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
JS: Limitless. I doubt anyone would suggest anything was beyond the possibility of either films or novels, and comics combine the power of both.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
JS: Oof. I don’t know. I guess he or she just has to know how make a comic, and have the stomach to see it through.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
JS: I outline the entire project in my notebooks then I approach each issue individually. I write the script as a little thumbnail comic then I start working on 14”x17” two-ply bristol boards. I always do the lettering first then pencil the whole issue – usually five or six pages at a crack. I ink the faces first, because it’s fun, and also that’s where the acting is, and it needs to be right. As soon as the issue is complete, I consult my notebooks, and start writing the script for the next one.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
JS: It varies [according to] whether or not I’m working on Cartoon Books business or writing the comics. The last two weeks before a book has to go to the printer is brutal. I’m out of time, the fun part is over and – without fail – I end up with mere hours to grind out what should take weeks to draw and ink. Those are twenty- hour days.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
JS: I’m a self-publisher so, yes, it was a struggle. And still is. Twenty years later, I’m constantly worrying whether a new work will find its audience.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
JS: Probably solidifying the Self-Publishing Movement in the 90s. I met many friends and colleagues that got me through the early years, and who are still friends today.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
JS: The same thing that inspired me as a kid: comics, movies and books.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
JS: Mostly good. I believe they are finding new comics readers every day, but the money part isn’t worked out yet. The cartoonists need to be getting a bigger piece of the pie.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
JS: I would convince the market that graphic novels are the wave of the future, that if they were to restock them the way a music store restocks albums, they would create a dependable profit center with higher profit margins, then I would seek out new distribution channels outside of comic shops and into libraries, bookstores and schools. Oh…wait…I already did that. No, I guess it’s pretty good right now.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
JS: Have to be Walt Kelly. I’d love to hang out with him after work in a smoke-filled bar.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
JS: I always wanted to do a comic that was more open visually. Something that evokes the power and beauty of the early Sunday comics pages of Raymond and Foster. I can’t draw like either of them, so I don’t know how it would turn out, but I’d like to give it a go. Maybe I’ll get on that.