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Interview: August 22, 2008

August 22, 2008

Artist and author Jeff Smith is the creator of the Bone series, which has been hailed as one of the 10 greatest graphic novels of all time.

In this interview with's Contributing Editor John Hogan, Smith recalls some of the early roadblocks he encountered while attempting to get his work published and muses on the appeal of the series to a wide range of audiences. He also explains how --- with its overall story spanning 1,300 pages --- he was able to keep his plot lines straight, discusses the inspiration behind some of the characters' kooky names and shares what he's working on now that the Bone epic has been completed. When did you first come up with the idea for the Bone series? What was the inspiration behind it?

Jeff Smith: I made up the Bones in kindergarten. I always loved cartoons as a kid --- reading them, watching them on TV --- and so I decided to come up with my own. And that's when I thought of Fone Bone!

BRC: Bone tells a sprawling tale, with your characters traveling all over a strange land and becoming involved with all kinds of people, monsters and fantastical creatures. Did you have a personal map you used to keep the storylines straight?

JS: Yes --- I had a notebook where I kept a lot of my notes, and I'd often refer back to them to make sure I wasn't getting too off track.

BRC: What inspired your characters' names? From Fone to Phoney to Gran'ma Ben, they all have fun and interesting names. Is there a story behind them?

JS: The Bone Cousins all looked like cartoon dog bones, and so their names were set up to rhyme. And the way Thorn got her name --- I thought if this were a Disney movie, her name would probably be Rose, so I thought to make it funny I'd call her Thorn!

BRC: You modeled the city of Atheia, which TREASURE HUNTERS is set in, on Kathmandu. How did you make Atheia come alive, both in your storytelling and in your artwork?

JS: When I visited Kathmandu, I took lots of photos and kept a sketchbook in which I would draw little scenes --- a chicken walking across the street, or a dog taking a nap, street vendors --- little 'slice of life' thumbnails that helped me form what I felt the medieval-looking city would look like.

BRC: In the years between starting the series and finishing it, how differently did the story end up than what you envisioned when you began?

JS: Some things changed a lot. When I first wrote the outline for Bone, Bartleby was going to be a bear cub instead of a Rat Creature Cub. But by the time I got to that part of the story, it seemed to make sense for Bartleby to be a Rat Creature Cub, since I hadn't drawn any bears! And the ending stayed exactly the way I originally wrote it.

BRC: Are you surprised that this series appeals so broadly to both adults and children?

JS: A little. I guess I shouldn't be because it's the kind of comic I always wanted to read when I was young. But as an adult writing it, I'm careful because I didn't want it to be childish.

BRC: Throughout Bone, you combined epic adventure and fantasy with cartoon imagery and humor, yet it's also incredibly thrilling, even at times violent and frightening. Still, Bone found its audience almost immediately and that audience grew even more along the way. But even so, was it hard to explain Bone or sell people on the idea of it, since it didn't fit conveniently into any one category?

JS: Yes it was difficult! In fact I wasn't able to sell Bone to comic strip publishers because the idea of mixing cartoon characters and humans seemed strange, even though it made perfect sense to me. So that's why I went out and published it myself!

BRC: Do you miss working on Bone? You must be swamped with requests to continue or add to the Bone story. Do you ever consider it?

JS: I do miss it a little, but since we've been working with Scholastic coloring it for four years, it seems like I'm still working on it. I do get letters from kids all over the world wondering if I'm going to keep going (which I'm not). But there are other stories in the Bone universe that will be coming your way soon!

BRC: What were some of your favorite epic fantasies when you were growing up? How old were you when you decided you wanted to write an epic fantasy yourself?

JS: My third grade teacher read THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE to us out loud, which was fun. Later in high school, I read The Lord of the Rings, but I think my favorite fantasy of all time is Star Wars, the first three Star Wars movies.

BRC: What have you been doing since finishing the Bone series? What are you working on now?

JS: I'm working on a series of comics for grown-ups called RASL, which is a science- fiction murder mystery!