Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Comics: Bone: Coda (and my nemesis, Jeff Smith)

Bone writer/artist/creator Jeff Smith has always been my nemesis—although he doesn’t know it! I think his comic book Bone is a true masterpiece. It shows a level of craft and creative vision that is rare in any medium. It’s funny, scary, suspenseful and joyful, all wrapped in a package of cartoony goodness.

Bone: Coda is one final story of the Bone cousins, as they make their way across the wastes to their home in Boneville, after having a grand adventure in the uncharted Valley. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone are travelling home with their baby Rat Creature Bartleby in a rickety old wagon. Being the Bone cousins, the trip does not go smoothly. Of course they crash their wagon, run low on food and are scooped up by a giant vulture as a potential meal. The story is fresh and funny and belongs in every Bone fan’s library. The rest of this small paperback also contains a commentary on the Bone phenomenon by creator Jeff Smith, as well as comics historian Stephen Weiner’s Bone Companion, a critical treatise on Bone and its history and influences. It’s a fun and informational package, packed with photos and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

So why is Jeff Smith my tongue-in-cheek nemesis? I keep trying to meet him at conventions, and he stymies my every attempt! It began years ago at the Mid-Ohio Con held in Columbus Ohio, where Smith lived at the time. I took the first few issues of Bone for Smith to sign, then found him on a Saturday afternoon at the con. Smith and his lovely wife Vijaya were sitting alone at their table. Smith was reading something. I thought I was lucky, catching them with no one around. I asked if he would sign my comics. He didn’t look up from his reading material. Vijaya politely told me he was finished signing for the day, I’d have to come back tomorrow. I thought this was strange—the con had hours to go and he was just sitting there. Why did he come, exactly? I explained I would not be there the next day—I only had a few books. She basically said too bad, and Smith never looked up. That’s okay—no artist owes a fan time, a signature or anything else. I did get a bad vibe from being ignored, but not the end of the world.

Cut to a few years later at Mid-Ohio. A beautiful new Bone package had just been published. It was the single-edition, color Bone book. It was gorgeous and I seriously considered buying one, even at the outrageous price of $150. Smith was at the front of his booth, signing for a long line of fans. I got to the end of the line to at least have him sign my regular comics, the same ones I had brought years ago. I stood there a few minutes, considering the purchase of the new book. One of the booth assistants approached me. He told me the signing line ended with the fan in front of me.

“Is Jeff taking a break?” I asked.

“No, he is finished signing for the day after this group.”

“It’s 1:00 in the afternoon, that’s a little early, isn’t it?”


I thought that was weird. I’m not sure Smith did many convention appearances, especially in the Midwest. He sure didn’t seem to like signing books.

“Can I still buy one of the Bone color single-editions?” I asked.

“Yes. They’ll be for sale all day. They are $150.”

“Would he at least sign that for me?”

“No. He is finished signing for the day. You can come back tomorrow if you want,” I was informed.

“This is my only day at the con. So if I buy a $150 book, and the author is right here, signing books, he won’t sign the book for me?” I asked.

“No,” came the reply. “He is done signing for the day.”

“What if I buy it and come back later to pick it up—I could come back at the end of the day.”

“No. No more signing today,” the worker informed me, and walked away.

Again, this is America. If an author wants to put out an expensive book, come to a convention to sign it and meet fans, then refuses to sign anything or meet fans, that is definitely his prerogative. But he shall not have my money or patronage! You know, unless he comes back to town again. I still don’t have a copy of that cool Bone color single-edition. But if I ever buy one, and Jeff Smith comes to a local convention—I guess I need to get in his line really, really early! Or, perhaps I’ll wait in line for an hour, step up to Smith with my new book and he’ll say, “Sorry, done signing for the day. Come back tomorrow!”

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