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Jeff Smith was born sometime in the early 1960s in Columbus, Ohio. Little is known about his early life, save that he enjoyed reading Peanuts, Pogo, Uncle Scrooge, and Moby Dick, and that he was born before Jack Kirby's Fourth World first came into print. One of his high school teachers pushed him towards art school, and he studied for a while at the Columbus College of Art and Design, but left because they didn't take cartooning seriously.

In 1982, Jeff was a student at Ohio State University, trying to choose between majoring in journalism or art. He started publishing a comic strip called "Thorn" in the student newspaper, "The Lantern", using characters he created when he was in kindergarten. At some point during the strip's run, he collected them into book form and sold about 2,000, physically carrying the collection to local bookstores. He talked with a couple of syndicates about taking the strip national, but the deals never worked out, as both he and the syndicates realised that his ideas won't work as well in the limited space and format a comic strip provides. He was also disillusioned by (and disgusted with) how the syndicate wanted to treat the strip, and he decided he didn't even want to show it to another company. The seed of self-publishing was planted.

Jeff eventually dropped out of college to enter the real world. In 1986, he and two friends (Jim Kammerud and Martin Fuller) formed the Character Builders animation studio. They were all self-taught, learning from books and experience. While in the business, he considered bringing his ideas to the screen.

"But as I got into the animation, as I learned more about the business, I learned that you need a lot of people to do anything animated -- even a short, let alone a feature film. And you need a lot of money. So you need to convince a bunch of people to do this idea, to let you be the director, and to give you millions of dollars, and I started to think, 'I don't know how feasible that is. It might make more sense to do it in print.'"
He decided to get back into the print medium. A trip to the local comic store got him interested in Ben Edlund's "The Tick", which was self-published. He did some more research into self-publishing, and decided that yes, this was the way to get his characters out into the world. In 1991, he formed Cartoon Books, his publishing company and the first issue of Bone finally saw the light.

-the bone years-

After about a year (and three issues) of self-publishing Bone, Jeff decided to take his work to a distributor conference to show it around. He met Dave Sim there, who loved Bone enough to include excerpts in his already popular Cerebus (#161), two reviewers with the Comic Buyer's Guide who gave the comic a stellar review, and through Sim he met Martin Wagner, Colleen Doran, and James Owen, and the five of them banded together to form something of a self-publishers collective of sorts.

Bone started to hit big in 1992, with fans in several countries, and even big-name pros like Neil Gaiman and Will Eisner supporting the book. He signed with Image for seven issues, but came back to his own studios.

He was approached several times about bringing Bone to the big screen. In 1999, he stopped writing Bone for two years to work with Nickelodeon on a movie treatment. Unfortunately, the movie deal didn't pan out, and in 2001 Bone came back to the shelves.

-why you should read bone-

Bone, in short, is a comic book about three cousins who leave home, get lost, and find themselves embroiled in a large-scale uprising. There's magic, there's intrigue, there're surprising plot twists, and there's all kinds of humor. This, however, is not really the place to go into much detail.

If you like Pogo or Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge, you'll probably like Bone as well. Smith's drawing style is extremely easy to get into; the Bones are very cartoony characters, and the humans are more realistic while still being 'simple', and the backgrounds are beautifully detailed. Fans of fantasy books (Lord Of The Rings and suchlike) will also appreciate it. Jeff himself describes the series as "Lord of the Rings mixed with Bugs Bunny".

Basically, hie thee to your local comic book store and read the first Bone trade paperback (Out From Boneville). Most people who do so end up hooked and read the entire series within a few days. You may want to talk to your local library about obtaining these books for their collection, as well.

-books to buy-

The Bone Saga:

  • Out From Boneville (collects issues 1-6)
  • The Great Cow Race (7-11, 13 1/2)
  • Eyes of the Storm (12-19)
  • The Dragonslayer (20-27, prologue)
  • Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border (28-32)
  • Old Man's Cave (33-37)
  • Ghost Circles (38-42, extra stuff)
  • Treasure Hunters (unknown)
  • issues still being published, but not for very much longer
Bone Stuff Not In The Series:
  • The Bone Reader: collects three hard-to-find issues, a Christmas story, and an issue originally published in "Disney Adventures" magazine.
  • Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails:The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero: written by Tom Sniegowski and illustrated 2/3 by Jeff Smith, 1/3 by Stan Sakai. Tells the story of the Bones' ancestor, and a short story based in the Valley.
  • Rose: a three-issue miniseries written by Smith and painted by Charles Vess. The story of Princess Rose. Anything more would be a spoiler.
-jeff smith himself-

Jeff Smith is one of the nicest comic book creators alive. Even at cons with huge lines, he'll take the time to talk to every fan there. He adds little sketches when he signs his books, talks about upcoming projects, all kinds of neat stuff. He doesn't come off at all as any big star, just your ordinary guy who draws comics and still seems to be genuinely suprised by the reaction, even ten years later. He has received several Harvey and Eisner awards, as well as many foreign awards. Bone is now published in at least thirteen languages.

I got the chance to meet him at the 2001 San Diego Comic Con. He told me about the Nickelodeon deal, told me the history of a piece i bought, and introduced me to Charles Vess, Tom Sniegowski, and Don Rosa (actually physically dragging Don Rosa over to meet me and add to the jam that he (Smith) started for me).

-for more information-

http://members.tripod.com/BoneNET has a lot of information on Smith and Bone and was the major source for the interviews which were, in turn, the major source for this writeup. They also give a list of what's coming soon, and where Jeff is appearing next.
http://www.boneville.com is the official Bone site.
The Onion interviewed him, in http://avclub.theonion.com/avclub3620/avfeature_3620.html
Call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK (266-4226(65)) to find the nearest comic book store.
Also please note that this Jeff Smith is not The Frugal Gourmet.

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