HeroesCon: Jeff Smith & Alec Longstreth on the Indie Way

At a Friday panel at HeroesCon, moderator Dustin Harbin jokingly introduced Jeff Smith and Alec Longstreth as indie comics creators "from opposite ends of the success curve."

Smith is renowned for "Bone," the series he self-published for 13 years until it was eventually picked up by Scholastic. Lonstreth also self-publishes, though he said he "lost money hand over fist for years." Longstreth has also won two Ignatz awards, recently had a French publisher collect his works and is an instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

They spent the panel describing their similar routes into comics, the challenges of self-publishing and plenty of other topics.

Smith noted that he's nearly 20 years from his entry into comics with "Bone."

"'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' had come out and they had that huge success, and everybody started to do black and white comics, and then there was a black and white bust," he said. "And that's when I got in."

Indie comics at that time couldn't break into comics and weren't ever reviewed, he said. His goal was to make friends and gradually build a loyal fan base.

"I don't like using the word 'network,'" Smith said. "Just make friends."

Longstreth admitted he started with family.

"I started by giving it to my mom and all her friends," he said. "And then I sent it to cartoonists I like," which included Smith, who became a proponent of Longstreth's work.

Longstreth first did a mini-comic "Phase 7" and then moved onto "Basewood," which is still awaiting a third issue. After moving from New York City to Vermont to study at the CCS, he shaved his beard and hair off and said he wouldn't cut either again until the next issue was done. His face is now hidden behind an explosion of hair.

He turned to Smith. "You have nice, long hair. What kind of shampoo do you use?" he asked.

Smith quickly changed subjects, talking about the influences that have gone into his current series, "RASL."

Smith stated that he's been watching a lot of noir movies while inking at 2 a.m. "Humphrey Bogart has to be the coolest dude ever," he said. "Visually, noir is filled with angles, shadows and blacks and whites."

Smith also has an interest in physics.

"I'm fascinated by how far science is," he said. "The math actually implies there are other universes. What if you could go to one?"

His newest project is "Little Mouse Gets Ready," a children's book he wrote this spring. It's published by Toon Books, the imprint run by Frances Mouly and Art Spiegelman.

"Little Mouse was a character I made when I was a kid," he said. "It's just a silly joke. One week, I did the whole thing."

Longstreth remarked at that quick progress, saying that he did chart his progress to push himself along. In addition to working on "Basewood" #3, he also recently colored a graphic novel for Aaron Renier.

Smith said a key is having an isolated space for working. "I think it's important to have a space that's your space," he said, "just for you and comics. It's my temple to comics and characters and stories that I love."

Smith's advice for breaking into indie comics was to "Introduce yourself to your comics heroes," he said. "Most of them aren't jerks." He became friends with Frank Miller, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman and Charles Schultz, who insisted Smith call him "Sparky."

"Now the whippersnappers are coming to me," he said.

Longstreth protested, but Smith responded, "Dude, I'm turning 50 next year."

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