The documentary The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone and Changing Face of Comics tells a story many of us would like to believe could be true for everyone: Hard work and talent win out.
Now out on DVD — I received a copy as a Christmas gift (thanks again, Carole) — The Cartoonist relives Columbus-native Smith’s rise from creator of a handsome Ohio State University campus newspaper comic strip; to his work as an animator; to producing and distributing his own comic book (at least until he convinced his wife to take over as business manager); to Scholastic Books, publisher of Harry Potter, picking up Bone and giving it new life in vivid color. (Read my earlier post on Bone here.)
Talking heads along with Smith himself include Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar (who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, remember), Ohio State Cartoon Research Library curator Lucy Shelton Caswell (gosh, I haven’t seen her in years), Paul Pope and Terry Moore. (See my post on Moore’s Strangers in Paradise here.)
While the documentary is always chatty and entertaining —Smith tells of living in a cabin while filling orders and packing boxes to send sometimes fewer than a handful of comic books to stores — I would have liked a bit more discussion of technique and process. Smith’s work appears deceptively simple — think Walt Kelly and Charles Schultz. It’d be great to hear him talk about that. But probably the producers, Columbus production house Mills James Productions, was aiming for a more general audience.
Maybe next time. Otherwise, this is highly recommended viewing.