Jeff Smith is one of the most prominent players in the independent comics industry. His critically-acclaimed comic book BONE, released in 1991, has been published all over the world and continues to excite and enthrall comic readers. He recently wrapped up work on RASL, his latest project. RASL is different from BONE in every way, but contains all of the fantastic artwork and expert storytelling readers have come to expect from Smith. He also founded Cartoon Books, an independent publishing company that releases all of his titles. A few months back, we published a review of BONE, which can be found here: http://lytherus.com/2011/10/03/graphic-novelcomic-book-review-bone-is-a-thrilling-fantasy-for-everyone/
Below is an exclusive interview with Jeff Smith. Hope you all enjoy it!
Lytherus teems with comic fans eager to discuss and evaluate the latest comic books. Now that we are nearing the end of your critically-acclaimed RASL series, is there anything you want readers to come away from the final issue feeling or thinking about? What kind of impact does finishing the series have on you?
I hope they come away with a sense of fun. And I hope they want to reread the story to follow the twists and turns.
Was RASL created with a certain theme in mind? What did you want to convey to your audience when you first started planning and writing the comic?
The comics website Bleeding Cool described RASL as a “little desert drive-in movie”, and I’d say that was pretty accurate. It’s a hardboiled tale with a sci/fi twist. Of course I stuffed it full of goodies… conspiracies, metaphysical and philosophical quandaries, cutting edge science, love, sex, betrayal, and lots of action. The same kind of sweets I layered into BONE, because that’s what I like.
You have quite an impressive resume. BONE was an international best-seller loved by both readers and critics, and Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil won big among superhero fanatics. RASL marks the third genre you’ve covered with your work. Are there any genres you would like to explore in the future?
Sure! But I don’t think in terms of genres as much as I try to dream up characters to work with, then find an appropriate story to put them in. I’m working on a new character now, and I like this guy a lot, but heaven help me if I can tell you what kind of genre it is.
For years, you’ve been promoting the independent comics business. What appeals to you about indie comics? What do you think sets them apart from mainstream books?
Simply put, indie comics are the work of authors. Indies are – - for the most part – - written and drawn by a single cartoonist with a voice and a vision. As much fun as Spiderman and Superman are, and they can be fun, they are corporately owned, controlled, and created by a team of employees. And, of course, the indies are the underdog, and I have to go with the underdog.
You founded the independent publishing company Cartoon Books. What is the most difficult part of self-publishing?
Worrying about the money side of things. It’s one thing to do the comics, and that’s hard enough, but you find yourself engaged with an industry made up of other creators, printers, distributors, retailers, show promoters, and journalists, all who make their living in this field. Understanding this interlocked beast we call comics is crucial. Mess up one piece of the puzzle, and you’ve got a problem.
BONE was first published in black and white, and you continue this trend with RASL. Is there a particular reason you publish your work without color?
When I started BONE, back in 1991, that was the predominant trend, a standard set by guys like the Hernandez Bros., and Dave Sim. Black & white comics go back to the underground comics in the ‘60s. In the pre-web comics days, the only means for getting our work to the public was in little stapled pulp magazines, and costs were a factor. Printing in color is less expensive these days, but the cost of a colorist or the time to do it yourself still makes black & white attractive. The truth is, I kind of like the black & white. But I like color, too, so it’s personal preference.
What is it like working with Steve Hamaker? What does he bring to your books?
Steve is a cartoonist in his own right, and understands storytelling. He applied that to his color work on BONE. He also has a natural sense for creating a mood, and he knows how to use color to direct the eye. Color for Steve is always in the service of the story, and that’s why it works.
A lot of work goes into writing and drawing a comic book and getting it onto store shelves. What part of the creative process do you find most taxing?
Deadlines. 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. I doubt I’m the only cartoonist who goes through that. In fact, I know I’m not!
Your love for comics is evident in your work, but in your free time, what comics do you read? Do you have a favorite super-hero?
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read a super hero comic in years. The trend of the last decade or so to have big events, and interlinked titles is too much for me. When I was kid, I liked Batman and Spiderman. Joe Kubert’s run on Tarzan was one of my favorites. Right now, I’m reading a lot of indie comics, small press and ‘zines. If I had to name a recent good one, it would be Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton.
Many of our readers know of your success as a self-publisher and look to you for inspiration. What information and advice can you give them about self-publishing that will help them succeed in their endeavors?
It’s a rocky road, filled with surprises, just ask anyone who’s tried it. And it hasn’t gotten that much easier after twenty years. But it’s worth it. If you can keep your focus, and stay quick on your feet, you’ll get to draw the comics you want, the way you want, when you want, and in any format you desire. For some of us, that’s the best thing in the world.
Hope you all enjoyed the interview! Big thanks to Jeff Smith for giving such fantastic answers!