Monday, October 12, 2009

The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE, and the Changing Face of Comics

The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE, and the Changing Face of Comics
Director: Ken Mills, Mills James Productions, 2009
Rating: Not Rated
Format: DVD

Jeff Smith never intended his Bone series to be read by children. His inspiration came from Moby Dick and Huck Finn and Star Wars -- he wanted to make something really big, something that started simple and then darkened and got really complex. Something Epic. With Symbolism. Something that could be read differently each time the reader came back to it. He began working on Bone in 1991.

Thirteen years and 1300 pages later, Smith had completed the Bone series. Every two months, he finished a comic book, which became a chapter in the total work. The amazing thing about Bone is that ONE person conceived it, ONE person wrote it, and ONE person drew every line in it. He wanted Epic, and he created it. He wanted Symbolism, and Bone's got it.

This documentary does a fabulous job tracing the roots of the Bone series. It is also an amazing glimpse into a life that has been fueled by one passion since childhood. We get to see some of Jeff Smith's earliest drawings and learn about the lessons of risk-taking and failure from his four-year stint as a daily cartoonist for OSU's student newspaper, The Lantern. We meet his cartooning friends and colleagues, and learn about the animation studio he started. We get to see Old Man's Cave in the Hocking Hills of Ohio, which appears in Bone. I searched for myself in the shots from Smith's conversation with Scott McCloud at Mershon Auditorium last spring, but though I was there, the camera apparently didn't find me.

Jeff Smith has had an amazing life in cartooning and will live on in the canon of great strip artists, which includes his heroes Carl Barks and Walt Kelly, and such living cartooning legends as Art Spiegelman, Scott McCloud and Harvey Pekar.


  1. My grade five students in my practicum love his Bone series. I have one kid who would rather sneak a read of that comic instead of doing his work. This might be a great way to inspire some of the students to start their own drawings and comics. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks so much for mentioning "Out From the Comic Shop". Obviously, I also really enjoyed this documentary. As a comics reader myself, I marvel at how fan-friendly comics creators are. Jeff's charisma make the documentary really entertaining.


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