Jeff Smith and Bone: Lessons of creativity

During my recent trip to the San Diego Comic-Con I sat in on a panel that featured a wide variety of people who have created Graphic Novels for children. Jeff Smith, the creator of the amazing graphic series Bone, was among them.

An example of Pogo by Walt Kelly

I’ve been a huge fan of Bone for years, attracted initially by its art style, reminiscent of legendary Pogo cartoonist, Walt Kelly. Kelly was the cartoonist’s cartoonist, an old school guy who rendered each panel of his strip in glorious detail and who made tremendous use of black and white contrast to make his strip pop off the page. Clearly, Jeff Smith felt the same way I did about Walt Kelly. But Bone quickly became more than artwork to me. His sense of graphic storytelling is powerful and engaging, two qualities I would like to strive for as I set out to create my own Webcomic.

Here are just a few creative tips that impacted me while recently watching the documentary about Jeff smith called The Cartoonist.

1. Take a risk. Smith left his day job as a co-founder of an animation studio and gave himself a year to try and make Bone successful. Bored by the constant grind of commercial work, Jeff and his wife decided together to take a leap of faith. Jeff Smith faced the fear and took the chance.
2. Have a Plan. Smith put together an actual business plan, with set goals and a definitive sense of making his dream viable creatively and financially.
3. Do the research. Jeff immersed himself in learning to tell a story. He did this by reading Huck Finn, Moby Dick and books by J.R.R. Tolkien. His intent was not to emulate but rather to learn the art of narrative storytelling. I might add J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis
to that list if I were doing the research today. Learn from the Masters.
4. Find your own voice. For Smith it was in his three protagonist characters, each reflecting a different part of his personality. Be authentic, not opportunistic. Don’t try to create something because you think it might sell. Create something because you love it, and quite frankly, don’t care if anybody else does. Authenticity like that resonates with people.
5. Do the work and Don’t give up. In the case of creating Bone that meant working often seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day. Nothing great is birthed easily. Think of the creation process as labor pains.

For more on the fascinating world of Jeff Smith and Bone visit his great website at



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