We talk to cartoonist Jeff Smith about the 20th anniversary of Bone

At Comic-Con, io9 had the opportunity to catch up with Jeff Smith, the creator of beloved fantasy epic Bone and the scifi noir comic RASL. Smith reflected on Bone's auspicious beginnings and gave us updates on the pending cinematic adaptations of both comics.

When you first began Bone, did you ever expect the comic to become as big as it is?


Oh no, my big hope was just that I'd be able to pay for my print run. When I first started, my best hope was just to make it through the first year because I had promised my wife that if it didn't work out in the first year — if I didn't have some reason to believe it would make money — I would actually give it up and go back to my day job as an animator. So I'm very grateful it worked out.

When did you know you could keep going with the series?

The first issue of Bone shipped 20 years ago this month, so this is our twentieth anniversary. I think it was really when we made the first collection of Bone in 1993. And that's when I came to San Diego, I had a table and one assistant and we were surrounded by a mob of people. I had never seen anything like it, everyone wanted this book!

Literally, people were sticking their hands over other people's shoulders with wads of cash. And my assistant was taking the money, I had no idea how he was keeping track. It was an amazing thing I had never seen before, so I knew at that moment something had changed.

Has anyone ever tried to stage The Great Cow Race (from the second volume of Bone) in real life?


Yes, actually. In the late Nineties, I was invited to Pogofest, which is in a little town in Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp. They actually staged the cow race, they got a local actor to dress up like Gran'ma Ben and a couple cows. It didn't really work out too well because the cows didn't really run. But there were real cows, and there was someone dressed up like the Mystery Cow. It was a lot of work to get the cows to do anything, but it was a lot of fun.


Word on the street is that you recently saw some Bone footage you liked.

I was at Warner Bros. a month-and-a-half ago, and they showed me a four-minute short they had made. They used stand-in voices for actors, but they showed the Bones walking through the desert, and they used a bunch of lines from the comic. It was very funny and all in 3D — it showed them looking down cliffs and canyons and the dragon. It was very exciting.


We absolutely love RASL at io9. It's such an idiosyncratic book with its parallel universes, art thievery, Southwestern motifs, and secret Tesla experiments. How did this all come together?


The real glue is physics, but it's also noir. And noir has requirements for the genre, and that is "man in a desperate situation, usually of his own making." Traditional noir takes place in the cities, but I thought that a desperate situation could also be in the desert.

So I went out to the desert with my ideas about Tesla and string theory and parallel universes. I wanted to go to the desert to really play up my characters. That's when I discovered the folk tales of the Native Americans, the idea of the man in the maze. And the maze is like noir, with complicated paths and choices.


In RASL, the parallel universes are only minutely different from each other, whereas other universe-hopping scifi tends to focus on sweeping changes. Why this limitation?

I wanted the parallel universes to be similar enough so that I could go with the idea that [RASL] could be a thief, that he could go into parallel worlds and steal things that would be pretty similar. It also seemed like a theory of parallel universes that was more believable.


I thought that if there are parallel universes half an electron away from us, the changes would have to be pretty subtle — maybe certain decisions, like Bob Dylan not using his [real] name.

RASL is being considered for film as well. Any updates on that?


I talked yesterday with the guy from Wigram Productions. They are still in the process of hammering out the shape of the movie, and they pitched an opening to me that's very exciting.

RASL is approaching its final arc. What's coming up next for you?

I have a character and I have his name, but I'm still at the point where I'm working things out — I still have a year on RASL.


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