Saturday, June 23, 2007

Second of two parts

Jeff Smith, owner of the comics publishing house Cartoon Books and the creator of Bone, continues to open up to Zadzooks about his life, the world of sequential art and Billy Batson’s alter ego.

My favorite comic-book artist: Carl Barks, the guy who drew the really good Duck stories and created Uncle Scrooge. I loved his pacing and the way he told stories. He could make you care about the characters … and, the way he placed them in the panel, make them move. It was exciting for the readers. He did that better than anybody.

My first comic book: It was a Jack Kirby Fantastic Four, I think issue No. 56, and I would love to see that again. Marvel actually had a big, fat black-and-white reprint, and I saw the issue a while ago. It was one where Thing was dating Alicia.

My impression of comic-book movies: I thought the “Spider-Man” movies were really good. Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and “300” are also particularly notable to me because of the filmmakers’ respect for the original material.

“Bone, the Movie”? I am very interested in movies as an art form and would like to see Bone as a film, but I do not want to see it as some kind of schlock. I just have not met the right filmmakers yet. I have talked to a million of them. Frank Miller waited until the right guy knocked on his door, and I will wait just as long. I’ll know when I meet the right person to do it.

What is right about the comic-book industry? The emergence of graphic novels and the shift to longer and more substantial stories. You can go into a bookstore or comic-book shop and find a great variety of material. The quality of the cartoonists is also way up there.

Someone described it as the perfect storm. We have interest from the general public, the marketplace is interested, and we have a crop of cartoonists who are excellent. We have folks like Alison Bechdel, whose “Fun Home” Time magazine named the book of the year — not the comic book of the year, but the book of the year. This is an excellent time to explore and be in comics and, overall, the art form is perched to go forward.

Kids, comic books and the popularity of manga: There is a huge market waiting to be fed. Look at manga. What manga really says to me is kids want comics — they just do not collect them, but they really read them. I will often go to gatherings and hear publishers bemoan that manga is taking over, and I say, “Hey, man, they are just selling comics to kids.” I refuse to believe that Marvel or DC could not get into that market if they wanted to.

Next project: I was mapping out a science-fiction story back in 2000. A guy from a dimension just ahead of ours comes to warn us that religious fundamentalists are going to blow up buildings in Lower Manhattan. Then a year later, 9/11 happens, and I dropped the story. I am still going to do the series, but I am, obviously, changing it.

Why I worked on the Shazam series: Right around 2000, I got a call from DC Comics, and they asked if I would take over Captain Marvel. I think they were originally interested in me writing and drawing a monthly comic, but there was no way I could commit to that, maybe bimonthly. I was not interested in a long-term gig, but I liked the graphic-novel approach — a beginning, a middle and an end.

I also thought Shazam was an appealing character because he had not been updated since the 1980s, when heroes became gritty and full of angst and sorrow.

Instead, he has been pretty much frozen in a iceberg since World War II and much the same way he was in his heyday, when he was outselling Mickey Mouse magazine and Superman as one of the most popular superheroes ever.

It interested me to look at this character from the golden age of comics and see what made him so successful. I found it was a little bit of corniness and old-fashioned superhero that made him so charming. A little boy with a magic word can fly, and stop bank robbers, and this character is just so connected from 2007 back to his golden age.

How I relax: I travel a lot and get invited to comic conventions all over the world. So when I get to a place, go to Europe, I enjoy really good food and wine.

My favorite image: In “Casablanca,” The opening shot of Rick, playing chess with himself and smoking a cigarette at the bar.

What is right with the world: I do not spend much time on things that really make me angry in the world. What I find is good, among my travels, is when I sit down with anyone from any other culture, it is really clear how similar we all are. And you know what, everybody really likes Americans. They might get upset from time to time with what our government does, but they do like us.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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