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

The CartoonistDo you like Jeff Smith?

Okay, go buy this.

Wait, I have to write for 485 more words? Got it.

Really though, that is what this documentary comes down to. They are not lying to you when they titled it, The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone and the Changing Face of Comics. They deliver exactly that.

Bone remains a comic phenomenon to this day, and this documentary covers every aspect of that history you could think to celebrate. It traces the life of Bone, from inception to today (well, 2009), and everyone that effected. The film brings out Scott McCloud, Terry Moore, and Colleen Doran, important comic figures in their own right, to discuss. To a lesser extent we see figures like Paul Pope and Harvey Pekar too. What have all these comics greats come out to say? Nothing less that how Bone changed the face of comics.

It’s a reality that most of us have lived with for so long, we forget how revolutionary it really is. Arguably, there weren’t children’s comics before Smith shifted the market. They weren’t successful independent creators. If you wanted to publish a comic, you worked for the Big Two, or maybe you risked your work with that new upstart Image.

At the center of this entire upheaval? A happy-go-lucky Jeff Smith. A good portion of the documentary is him talking about Bone. Smith is quietly passionate about his creation. All of his interviews are very conversational. He sits back and tells you about influences, or points to stories he loves, but the focus is always kept on Bone. More often than not, if the questions ask more of, “about Jeff”, he’ll start chuckling and give some anecdote that proves what a gamble working on Bone was. He generates a self-deprecating sense of humor that tries to minimize the man, and keep the focus on the book in the forefront. He would rather step back and let the books speak for themselves.

The documentary does their best to facilitate that. By providing a mostly chronological presentation of the Bone story, the viewer is treated to a host of images. There are in-progress pictures, shots of Jeff in his studio, and even comics from Jeff Smith’s childhood that features the Bone characters.

The sprinkled commentary from the friends and family of Smith are great additions. Where Smith focuses on the work and its process, his contemporaries can focus on Smith. It is from their perspective that the enormity of Jeff Smith’s accomplishment is unveiled. They help evoke a time when comics were either superhero, or small time. Then came the force that is Bone that redefined the entire concept of comics.

This documentary is more than just a report of what happened. All of these voices have come together to celebrate Bone and the man behind the creation. Given everything that Jeff Smith has accomplished, it feels a fitting tribute.

The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone, and the Changing Face of Comics
Mills James Productions, 2009
directed by Ken Mills
76 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: Not Rated
Related to: Bone by Jeff Smith