Some thoughts on Jeff Smith, Bone, Indie Comics, and Columbus

The fam took a mini road-trip to Columbus, Ohio Friday and Saturday mainly to see The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone, and the Changing Face of Comics. I personally am not a particularly big fan of Bone and/or Jeff Smith, but the complete Bone is one of Will’s favorite books, Annette is teaching it this spring in a class, and I generally like comics, though I think I like them more in theory– that is, what they mean in terms of visual rhetoric, teaching with images and words, etc.– than I do as a fan. Though the movie made me think that Bone might be something I ought to give another chance.

One of the highlights for all us was Will getting his complete Bone signed:

Jeff Smith signing Will's copy of "Bone"

Smith was super-duper nice to everyone waiting to get stuff signed, and he chatted a bit with Will, noting that his copy of the 1300+ page well-worn book had obviously been read.

The movie itself was pretty good/kind of so-so, mainly because it was essentially a Jeff Smith love-fest/puff-piece. But I thought it was interesting in a lot of different ways. Smith had an extensive background in making animated television commercials, and that definitely had a major influence on his approach to comics and Bone in particular. Bone began as a self-published comic, and I suppose it still is self-published in the sense that Smith and his wife (and his wife seemed to be the real business brains behind the scenes) still run what appears to be a pretty lucrative operation.

What I didn’t realize before this movie was that lots of the independent/underground comics sold in places like Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor are self-published, though obviously not on the scale of Bone. Which made me wonder why this hasn’t worked in conventional “words in a row” publishing; I mean, self-publishing a novel or a collection of short stories or poems is pretty much a good way to not be taken seriously, and while I know that’s changing a bit with some web sites, you’re still not likely to see a lot of self-published books even in locally-owned and independent book stores.

I suppose the same is true with academic writing and publishing.

Some of the difference seems to be in the materiality of the comic and the collecting fetish. There were many geeky 30 to 50 year old men waiting in line with Will to get signatures from Jeff Smith, only they were holding stacks of the individual issues of Bone or other Smith comics. In the movie, Smith and some of the other featured comic writers (including Scott McCloud, BTW) spoke a couple times about the physicality and “object-ness” of comics in a way that just isn’t the same with words-in-a-row books, IMO. Interestingly though, one of the ways that Bone caught on and one of the main ways comics continue to be promoted was/is the Internet.

As for Columbus proper: we didn’t get to see much, unfortunately. We had so-so Ohio “Mexican” food in a place in the Short North area, which looked like it would have been a fun place to hang out but which probably involved more “adult” entertainment (e.g., bars and stuff) than might have been fitting for Will. He did have fun in the hotel room though:

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And now it’s back to a “working holiday:” stuff around the house today, commenting/grading on papers tomorrow.

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