Jeff Smith is an American cartoonist best known for his comic book series Bone. His current series is RASL. The series follows the art thief RASL who jumps to parallel universes to steal paintings. In this panel, Jeff talks about creating the worlds of BONE and RASL.
Jeff gave a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how he created the world of Bone and RASL. His goal is to create a world that is believable in his comics.
He wanted to anchor Bone in the real world. A lot of the settings in Bone are based on areas in Ohio. There is a real Old Man’s Cave in Ohio. It is 40 miles from where Jeff grew up. Bone is set in a pre-technological era. To make that real, he researched how farming was done in the past. He put that in Bone. The second part of Bone takes place in the city of Atheia. He based that on Kathmandu in Nepal. He also put standing stones on the Dragon Stairs. He got the idea from seeing standing stones in Scotland.
He also wanted Bone to follow the structure of other story genres and mythology. For example, he had threshold guardians who try to stop the hero from starting an adventure or quest. The rat creatures and the Red Dragon are threshold guardians in Bone. Star Wars used the same concept. The denizens in the Mos Eisley Cantina try to stop Luke from getting off the Tatooine. An old symbol of storytelling is water. Water represents the fantastic. In King Arthur, anything fantastic happens near water. In Bone, he has the Red Dragon popping up in wells. Jeff also uses the Red Dragon to represent the invisible.
Jeff did not want a stereotypical castle that you would see in a Disney story or King Arthur story in Bone. He used the architecture in Kathmandu to create Atheia and the castle. All the architecture you see in the background of Bone is from Kathmandu. You can also see prayer flags hanging in the background in certain panels in Bone. Again, this is something you see in Kathmandu. He also used the same postures he had seen in the prayer shrines of Kathmandu for his prayer shrine of Bone.
For RASL, he wanted to create a hard-boiled noir and science fiction comic. He set RASL in the desert so he went to Arizona for 2 weeks to research the environment. He also studied string theory to understand the science behind parallel worlds. He spent time researching the Tunguska explosion in 1908 and the Philadelphia Experiment. He made sure he knew how to draw WWII ships. The technology in RASL is based on the Philadelphia Experiment.
Finally, he likes to have something represent the invisible in his stories. In Bone, it was the Red Dragon. In RASL, it is the spooky little girl.
After the presentation, Jeff answered questions from the audience.
Someone asked if he purposely created Bone for an all ages audience. He did not. He wrote bone for 20 – 30 year-old comic fans since there were no girls and kids in comic shops in the 90s. It was only after collecting Bone into trade paperbacks that kids got to read it. The libraries began to stock them so kids had access to Bone.
Jeff was asked how you would convey the rules of the world he created without exposition. Jeff said that you should first know the rules. If a rule is important, make sure you demonstrate it early in your story. Create a scene that illustrates the rule.
Another person asked what Jeff thought of the change in the comic industry in the last 20 years. Jeff loves it. He was certain that a massive audience would love comics if they could see it. Comics needed to get out of comic shops. It was also said that kids today will never read comics because of video games and DVDs. Manga and the graphic novels published Scholastic has proved the critics wrong. He loves the internet and all its possibilities. However, he still cannot make any money from digital comics. Maybe the iPad will change that.
Jeff was asked which actors he pictured his characters from Bone to have. He said he never did that.
Colouring Bone was not an option for Jeff back then. Someone asked he wanted to work in colour for Bone? Jeff answered that he grew up with black and white newspaper strip and loved it. He has no problems with black and white comics. Back then, it was also too time consuming to colour Bone. When Scholastic wanted to publish Bone in colour, he was OK with it since he considered it as a relaunch of the series.
A person asked if Bone was made into a movie, does he want it to be animated or live action. Jeff said he would want it fully animated and all hand drawn.
Someone wanted to know how long it takes for him to create one issue of a comic. He said he needed a solid 4 weeks to do 22 pages. After completing each issue, he needs some time to recovery.
Jeff was asked if he could steal a character, which one would it be. He said it would be Popeye from the 1930s comic strip.
Finally, someone wondered if Jeff has seen the TV show Fringe. He has not. He knows it is about parallel universes and will probably watch it when he is finished with RASL. He noted that RASL started before Fringe.