I love Jeff Smith. I can’t lie. I was in 10th grade when Bone #1 first came out. I was just getting into all the stories that shaped my creative life. Sandman, Cerebus, The Maxx and all the Image comics titles, and then my friend let me borrow his first few issues of Bone and told me to check it out. It instantly captured my imagination, just as it has SO many other people. But the more I got into the story, the more I got into the creator. Because I moved a lot growing up I had been in 9 schools by the time I got out of high school and I hardly knew anyone I graduated with. But I knew comic books and comic book creators. That’s a big part of the reason I became an artist and writer was because it was the only thing I could keep with me. When I got out of school, even though my art was not good by any stretch of the definition, I decided to become a comic book artist and writer.
My biggest influence when I first started my forray into making comics was Dave Sim and his absolutely amazing Cerebus’ guide to self-publishing. It was immensely informative and it got me started self-publishing and going to comic conventions. But it was Jeff Smith that made the dream come to life for me. Because it was his passion, personality and way with people that I connected with. I knew it was possible to be a nice guy and make comics you were passionate about. The more I’ve done comics though the more I’ve come to admire him and what he has done not only for himself but for the industry. He’s changed the way comics are made and read. He and his wife nearly single-handeldly drove us from the collectors market to the book market with his push to keep stories in print and in graphic novel format, something that is common sense now. He even pushed Comic-con in the late 90’s to create an area for independant creators, something I greatly benefited from when I exhibited for the first time in 2000. But he did it all his own way, with passion and vision and a burning desire from within.
The closer I get to beginning my own story, the more I’ve wanted to learn about how he made that transition. Where he developed his skills and his discipline, what drove him to do things the way he did. Its the same kind of study I’ve done with Chuck Jones and Charles Schultz, except Jeff is still alive and working. Last year I flew to Columbus Ohio on the spur of the moment to see his art show at the Wexner center at Ohio State just before it closed. I used almost every buck I had saved just to see it and ended up walking 20 something miles the entire weekend because I could barely afford to rent a cab. It was worth it though. It helped me break through a lot of my own roadblocks. Mostly it helped to see that there is no magic there. Just a lot of hard work.
SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON
The first time I actually met Jeff was at San Diego comic-con in 1997 during his infamous Trilogy tour with Charles Vess and Linda Medley. Seeing the giant tree and life-size characters from these stories just captured my imagination. And the thousands of people with wads of cash trying to buy a tiny little piece of it. I was too shy at the time, and intimdated by the crowds to actually talk to him. And ever since the crowds have been just as insane the dozen or so times I’ve seen him at shows.
But for whatever reason, this year at Comic-con, I just happened to walk past on preview night when no one was in line. I feel embarrassed to admit this publicly, but I actually started to shake, lol. I have not had a fanboy moment like this in my entire 13 years of going to comic conventions. Not when I met Jim Lee, or shared a table with Brian Stelfreeze or Matt Wagner, or when the Pini’s invited me to afterhours, not even when I got to go to dinner with Alex Ross. But I was shaking like a leaf this time. And I am thankful Amber had the thought to take pictures of the moment, because I hardly remember any of it. I thanked him for all the things you thank someone that helped shape your career, I babbled a little about my comic I’m working on and gave him a preview copy. He liked the art a lot, and gave some very flattering compliments, and even asked me to sign it.
That was ten minutes into preview night… I was ready to go home after that.
Jeff Smith’s first Panel was a discussion with Terry Moore, where Terry announced ECHO being sold as a movie, and Jeff announced 3 new Bone stories drawn by him and written by Tom Sniegoski, who wrote Stupid Stupid Rat-tails. It was a fascinating panel in that it was mostly the two creators interviewing each other. I wish I had a recording of the entire thing because it was so packed full of insight and humor. I kept wanting to ask questions throughout the discussion, but I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t already heard from the hundreds of interviews, panels and articles I’ve seen about the two. Finally I asked what their top three moments were in their career. I’ve had a lot of awesome moments in my career so far, and I’ve been blessed in that those big moments are constanlty getting bumped off the list by even bigger one’s, I can only imagine what would make their top list. The answers were very surprising. So small but meaningful. I guess those are the things that matter most.
The second panel Jeff did was a CBLDF class on the creation of a comic book page. He went through step by step the creation of a gag and a comic page, as well as all the tools he uses. It was very informative, especially on the crafting of a joke.
“How a character starts a scene should be the opposite of how they end the scene.” If a character starts a scene happy, he should end it very upset. Etc…
“Simplicity is crucial in telling a good story. You don’t want to complicate anything.”
The discussion reminded me of something I read in one of Chuck Jones’ biographies where he talked about “Its not about opening a funny door… its opening a door funny.” The best comedians keep it very simple and know how to draw it out humorously.
On Writing stories…. “I think in words and pictures so I write in words and pictures.” This is so helpful. Artists who write stories should not be tied strictly to a script. When I was in Columbus for the art show at the Wexner center I sat on a couch in the lobby to rest from all the walking, and found an article cut out of the local newspaper where he mentioned writing all of his stories in thumbnails. Little gestures with the scripts in word-balloons. I think I had seen a process tutorial like that years ago too. But I lost that little lesson somewhere in my years trying to collaborate (and failing miserably) with other writers on a comic. Writing in script format has never felt comfortable to me. And since I switched back to writing in pictures its been so much easier.
2-ply Bristol plate – smooth finish
Windsor Newton Series 7 sable hair brush Size #1
Pelican Black ink
White Cel vinyl paint (acrylic based paint for animation)
Always front loads the brush – Keep ink towards the tip, never on the barrel.
Starts off by Loading ink onto the brush on a separate piece of paper
So that’s my Jeff Smith Experience from San Diego comic-con 2009. I went to about 15 panels over the entire weekend. Most of which were about writing or making comics. Its been a long time since I did panels, and I’m feeling really inspired from the experience. I can’t wait to get back to work!