Jeff Smith brought a friend along to his “Spotlight” panel Saturday at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo. His pal, Mark Waid, in turn brought an iPad up to the table, which kicked off an hour of discussion covering digital opportunities for creators today, the doubts Waid had when he first saw “Bone” and what Smith thinks about the woman trying to ban the series in Minnesota.
“It just broke yesterday; I don’t know anymore about it than you do,” Smith replied when asked about a mother who demanded that her son’s elementary school remove “Bone #4: The Dragonslayer” from its bookshelves.
“She objected to the gambling, smoking and drinking and the sexiness,” Smith said. “I feel sorry for her son. He’s going to be really embarrassed, but you know, not everybody has to like my stuff. That’s fine. But I really can’t go along with this un-American concept of banning books. Let the Nazis do that.”
During the course of the panel, Smith and Waid touched on more than one historical note while discussing both “Bone” and “RASL.” In addition to bringing up censorships issues and comparing them to government policies in Nazi Germany, the pair bonded over a common appreciation for inventor Nikola Tesla, whose works has played prominently into “RASL.”
“There’s a lot of parallel universe theories that involve crazy conspiracy theories, fringe science, Nikola Tesla, the Philadelphia experiment,” Smith explained. “I found as I dug deeper into these theories that Nikola Tesla is the heart of all that stuff.”
“He’s the most influential and yet forgotten scientist of the 19th century,” Waid agreed.
The two friends also found common ground regarding the importance of color, even if Waid first underestimated Smith’s potential with “Bone,” thanks to an aversion to black and white.
“I loved the comics, but I remember at the time thinking, ‘Gosh, I mean I sure hope he has a back-pocket plan, because there’s no market,'” Waid said, recalling the time when he first encountered Smith’s comics. “I guess that shows how much I knew, but honestly, if I had to go back and live that day over again, I’d still think the same thing. I mean, you really beat the odds.”
In fact, Smith first adopted color for his “Bone” collections at Scholastic at the recommendation of another comics legend who won a Pulitzer for his work in black and white.
“When it was first suggested that it be done in color, it came from Art Spiegelman, not from Scholastic, so I took that little more seriously,” Smith explained. “Had Scholastic said, ‘We want to take ‘Bone’ and repackage it for children, we want color, we think it will sell better,’ I probably wouldn’t have [repackaged] it at all.”
“Scholastic didn’t care one way or another,” he said. “But Art Spiegelman was consulting for them, and he was just insistent that it be in color, so I OK’d it after about six months.”
Smith has had to warm up to other concepts as his “Bone” audience has expanded, including the 3-D modeling that Warner Bros. plans to use for the animated film that’s currently in development.
“I’d probably prefer a hand-drawn version in some ways, but that’s just not going to happen,” Smith stated. “No studio is going to throw a million dollars at [a hand-drawn film.]”
He suggested that if anyone wanted to see a hand-drawn “Bone” movie, they should just read the comics instead. Right now, he’s contemplating other applications for technology to his independent publishing strategies at Cartoon Books. In the year of the iPad, Marvel and other publishers have entered a race to find the right combination of distribution systems. Waid conveniently brought his iPad along to the panel to help encourage Smith.
“Right now, it’s a little bit dicey,” Smith said. “I haven’t really seen a good model for how money gets from the reader into the cartoonist’s pocket yet. The web is a very dicey place. You can get everything I’ve ever done and everything Mark’s ever written for free.”
“This is actually bigger than how ‘Bone’ is printed for the Scholastic books, so artistically – this the first time I’ve seen this – and I’m actually getting very excited,” he admitted. “It’s definitely possible, with the way iTunes and the iPhone has got the app situation set up so they do pay when you download it. There is a model here.”
Smith told the audience that he’s watching how the industry evolves, though, and he’s asking a number of questions as he looks ahead to the future.
“Does it steal a bunch of business from retailers?” he asked. “Is it just going to get new business from people who wouldn’t normally even buy a comic? We don’t really know.”