In Comic Relief, Paste chats with some of the most influential writers and artists in sequential art to discuss the work that inspired them as well as their own contributions. This week features indie icon Jeff Smith, the writer and artist behind the epic Bone saga and hardboiled sci-fi thriller RASL, which concluded earlier this month.
In early 2008, Smith pivoted from the whimsical, high-fantasy tone he’d established in his 55-issue Bone title to focus on an alcoholic, womanizing scientist named Rob who also happens to steal art from parallel dimensions. The wildly inventive, high concept RASL spun such influences as noir, sci-fi and south-west spiritualism into an addictive chronicle of science gone bad on a colossal scale. With final issue #15 out, Smith was happy to discuss his influences and approach for plotting his sprawling tale of a modern Icarus. He was also kind enough to lay a few hints about his next humorous project and give updates on the movie adaptations of Bone, currently tied to Peter Pan director P.J. Hogan, and RASL, which was optioned by Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes producer Lionel Wigram last year. A massive Spoiler Alert for those who are currently reading or plan to read any of Smith’s work.
Smith: It was the first issue of Bone.
Paste: Would your work on the Thorn strip you created for Ohio State’ student newspaper The Lantern count?
Smith: Well, I suppose it would. It was a test run on Bone. It had the same characters and setting, but it didn’t have a story. It was more just silly, slapstick fish-out-of-water stuff. Here are these crazy Bones who come from somewhere where they used to have computers and telephones, and now they’re stuck in a medieval fairy tale forest.
Smith: Boy, that’s a good question. It was probably an Uncle Scrooge comic.
Paste: Was it one of Carl Barks’?
Smith: Oh sure, those were the ones that really got me.
Paste: I wonder if he still tours around all of the comic cons doing sketches like he used to.
Smith: You’re thinking of Don Rosa, the artist who was his successor.
Paste: You’re absolutely right.
Smith: Carl Barks was alive in the nineties, and he might have done tours, but it was really Don Rosa, heir apparent, who used to come to Mid-Ohio Con all the time. In fact, Don Rosa still sends me chili peppers. He grows crazy, crazy chili peppers in his garden and sends me boxes of them every now and then. They’re fantastic.
Smith: I’m going to have to say Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye by E.C. Segar. That’s a comic strip, and probably the gold standard. There’s also Krazy Kat and Pogo. For favorite comic book, when I was a kid Joe Kubert did a run on Tarzan that just knocked my socks off. I still look at it sometimes. It’s an amazing thing.
Smith: Which is pretty much all of them (laughs). Well, recently I’ve read a lot of small press comics, and probably have four that I could run off the top of my head. One was Goliath by Tom Gauld. Another was Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. And Jerusalem by Guy Delisle. That’s the kind of stuff I’m into now.
Smith: I’m gonna role old school and say it was the first Superman movie, the 1978 one. That still holds up, man. That’s a gorgeous film.
Smith: (Laughs) Oh my, I have so many. Yeah, I’m just going to pass on that. I can’t say that out loud.
Paste: Is there a truncated, PC version?
Smith: Well, there was a woman who got me to draw a Ted the Bug for her. She was going to tattoo it. And then she came and saw me at another signing, and there were hundreds of people there lined up to get their Bone books signed. She waited in line, and she got up to me and asked, “You want to see the tattoo?” I said “yeah,” and she started to take her pants off, and we all went “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!” (Laughs) There were all these kids there. We all laughed really hard.
Paste: That seems fairly good-natured if a little unorthodox.
Smith: Yeah, I can’t think of a dangerous one off the top of my head.
Click over to Page 2 to read about Jeff Smith’s extensive research, hints on his next project, and his tendency to “write comics that are just incredibly hard to adapt into movies.”