This year marks the tenth anniversary since Scholastic released the colored edition of “Bone,” and the publisher is marking the celebration with a brand new rerelease of “Bone,” with added content. Moderator Tom Spurgeon sat down to talk process and projects with “Bone” creator Jeff Smith during the cartoonist’s Comic-Con International spotlight panel.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of “Bone’s” full-color debut, Scholastic approached Smith about creating some new chapters for the tribute edition, an offer Smith declined. “Could I even get my mind back into that space?” Smith asked himself. “The innocence and the characters, could I draw [in a way that] would match it? Then I thought, that book is actually finished. I actually don’t want to mess with it and add a chapter.”
Instead, the edition includes a poem (by the rat creatures) written by Smith, some new artwork, as well as work by Smith’s fellow Scholastic artists, Dav Pilkey (“Captain Underpants”) and Raina Telgemeier (“Sisters”).
The enduring appeal of Bone has made Smith something of a celebrity, but the writer/artist has moved on from Boneville, creating vastly different award-winning projects, including “RASL,” which just the night prior to the panel, won the 2014 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album Reprint.
In discussing the challenges of working on second project after the success of “Bone,” Smith admitted, “‘Bone’ is going to be the constant. I don’t think I’m every going to get out from under that [shadow]. So I may as well enjoy it. I’m the Bone guy. Whenever I travel, I’m Jeffrey Bone Smith.”
“RASL,” a very different project from “Bone,” is a story Smith really wanted to tell. It was a challenge for him, one that caused him to grow as an artist. Smith said, “every time I drew any page in ‘RASL,’ I had to get reference. A dive bar in Tucson, what kind of car does Maya have? A Ford Focus? And so I would get a Ford Focus image from Google. What did we do before Google Images?”
Smith’s latest project is “Tuki,” the story of the first man to leave Africa. This beautifully illustrated comic is currently being serialized online at Smith’s website, Boneville, but a physical copy of the comic is in the works. Advance editions were available on the floor at Comic-Con.
Smith has primarily been a self-publisher his whole career, only periodically teaming up with publishers to release his work. In the beginning, Smith tried to work with the newspaper syndicates to release his comics. Unfortunately, the syndicates wanted to make story changes (i.e. eliminating Thorn, the dragons, and the rat creatures from “Bone”), as well as Smith’s copyright. Unwilling to compromise, Smith looked for other publishing options.
Thinking back, Smith said, “One day I walked into a comic store and realized there were self-published, underground comics. My wife and I worked together on a business plan and set up a little tiny company in my garage. But it was a crystalline moment of clarity for me, where I was no longer waiting for someone’s permission to start drawing a comic.”
Smith went on to create his own imprint, Cartoon Books, under which most of his work is released. However, self-publishing can be a scary place to be as a comic’s creator, even one as successful as Smith, leading Spurgeon to inquire, “How much of your career has been about those fear moments? There are things that you worry about that someone who works with a publisher doesn’t have to worry about.”
“Is the comic good? That’s the only thing that scares me,” Smith replied. “The rest is just work.”