Today is the homecoming parade at the Ohio State University. What does that have to do with Jeff Smith, you might ask? Well, the obvious reason is that the Festival of Cartoon Art was just here this weekend, and Jeff was lurking about there (more on that later).
The real reason that this is significant for me is that when I was younger I attended an OSU Homecoming Parade. It must have been in the early to mid eighties. I remember walking through the Drake Union and somewhere on campus we picked up dinner. I’m pretty sure we parked at the Kappa Sig house where my dad belonged.
However, I have etched in my memory of that day picking up a copy of the Lantern (the OSU student newspaper) and being drawn to a strip there entitled “Thorn,” drawn by Jeff Smith. I was struck by the cartooniness and fun that the strip promised just from a few panels. It was clear that this guy could draw and it seemed as if he drew his inspiration from the same comics that I liked: Carl Barks and MAD (correct, I was later to find out, and also some Pogo influences thrown in.) And the guy could obviously draw better then the other hacks on the comics page.
The drawback of all this was that I had no easy access to the Lantern like I did the Dispatch. Not having any internet at the time, Jeff’s comic existed in the realm of what might have been for me. I’m confident, however, that at some point the seed was planted in my mind that one day I would like to draw cartoons for my school newspaper, which ended up being the Lantern as well. Two and a half years of “Box of Trees” (don’t ask) and I had quite a legacy to be proud of.
I am amazed at what Jeff has accomplished since. He basically took a big gamble and spent years of his life publishing Bone with the hope that it would take off. Of course it did, so much so that even the kids in my sister’s fourth grade class were infatuated with the Bone books and were excited to know that I had met him when his show was at the Wexner center.
I was able to see Jeff again this past weekend at the Festival during the Speigelman lecture. I’m not sure he wanted to be approached, but I wanted to tell him that I appreciated the picture that accompanied an article about him being a food and wine lover (he was holding a bottle of Mad Dog). He serves as an inspiration to a lot of cartoonists and I’m in awe of all his work.
Here’s a cool little biography I found online: