Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Jeff Smith / Bone Commentaries

While researching his work-in-progress The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond, Dave Sim unexpectedly stumbled across 'The Jeff Smith Strips' reprinted in Rip Kirby Volume 2 ('Jeff's Taxi', 'The Whalebone Theater' and the 'Smiths of Dismal Point). Unable to ignore such a significant co-incidence, Dave Sim is currently posting his commentaries on his own role in cartoonist Jeff Smith's independent comic book sensation Bone. Support Dave Sim at Patreon to read more...

(from The Comics Journal, 1994)
...I began analyzing the market. Where do my dollars come from? Who pays for the books? Who is my end customer? And that is, of course, the retailer, the guy who owns the store. Not the reader who comes into the store and buys it off the shelf. To me this was a revelation. I know a lot of people who work in comics now for whom this would be news. The fan is not the customer. They are in the sense that you have to give them a story that will make them come in and buy it. But it’s a direct market where the comic books are sold non-returnable. Once I identified the retailer as the guy who’s got his or her checkbook open every month as they go shopping through the catalog, I started wondering how I could get through to this guy and get him to give me a chance. How can I get him to just try the comic? Because that was my big problem. That’s when I saw that Diamond and Capital, the two biggest distributors, put on retailer/publisher seminar expos, where a publisher can buy a booth -- hell, I’m a publisher. I got a booth. I took every bit of money I had and printed up more Bone #1s and I showed up at this thing. I brought enough comic books to give the first three issues of Bone to every single retailer. So with airfare, paying for the booth, printing up the extra comics, hotel rooms, it was a big gamble for me. This is it. Because the book was over, it had no numbers, nobody was buying it. So what the hell? And it was at this expo that I met Don Thompson. It’s also where Larry Marder introduced me to Dave Sim, who was sharing a booth with Martin Wagner. Dave ran Bone as a backup feature in Cerebus. Things finally started to click.

So the "overnight success" thing, yes, in terms of my having drawn only 15 comic books, is pretty miraculous, but when you think of all the things I’ve tried since 1982 to get the Bone characters into print, it doesn’t seem so overnight...

Rip Kirby Vol 2 (IDW)
by Alex Raymond
(from Patreon Update, 15 November 2015) 
...That’s very "Jeff-like". Larry didn't introduce him to me. Larry looked at the books at Jeff's booth and said "You HAVE to show these to Dave Sim." And then [my impression] having to explain who Dave Sim is. Jeff was a comic strip fan who had gone into animation. He knew virtually nothing about comic BOOKS, certainly nothing about independent comic except that it seemed to be a way for him to do BONE.

Martin and I had a huge line and the reason that we had a huge line was that our “premium” we were giving the retailers was a HEPCATS/CEREBUS print. The trick I came up with was that we would sign the print AT the booth, which meant the retailer had to come and see us. Other people were doing signed prints.

Across the way from us was Mr. T, the A-TEAM/ROCKY guy who was flogging MR. T #1. He was basically taking photos WITH the retailers and – as a TV star – was getting a huge line. Well, now, wait a minute. No one told me that I had to compete with Mr. T. All’s fair in love and war. I told Martin to SLOW DOWN and start doing head sketches on the prints and personalizing them to the retailers and “schmoozing” and getting business cards.

This actually became a huge issues at the Trade Shows. A Cap City rep would come by and ask us to speed things up. I’d say “Sure. No problem” and then keep doing what we were doing, roughly the same amount of time Mr. T was spending, just on doing sketches and personalizing the sketch instead of getting our pictures taken.

Don Thompson came by (COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE) and said “You guys have the biggest line here, next to Mr. T.” I just smiled and didn’t say anything. Martin thought about it for a second and said, “That’s ‘cause we’re the BEST!” I laughed but that presented a problem in itself. “Great shooting, kid,” I said, quoting Han Solo to Luke Skywalker, “Don’t get cocky.”

So, at some point, Jeff – obviously sensing the urgency in what Larry had told him – butted in at the head of the line and specifically said, “Larry Marder told me that I should give you these” and handed over the handful of comics. “Oh, okay. Thanks. I’ll look forward to reading them.” And threw them into the “loot pile” that you get at these things. Under the table or wherever any gift anyone gives you. Larry doing that was a big deal. Larry was the creator of BEANWORLD, but he was there in his capacity as Moondog’s publicist, the Chicago comics chain and was working on the Direct Line Group – a way for publishers and stores to work more directly rather than always “through the distributors”. Which the distributors -- rightly – saw as a threat. The Direct Line Group was basically the BIGGEST retailers, like Moondog’s had been a part of. The tour had been a good way for Larry to sharpen his publicity theories with the publicists Moondog’s hired. Here’s how you promote a signing to the mainstream media. So Larry and I were in constant communication about how to work these things to the benefit of self-publishing. So telling Jeff to give me his book and to specifically say HE had told him to was a definite “high sign”. The book was significant in the Big Picture, as Larry saw it, in the midst of his Moondog’s work. Which weighted the book heavily for me before I had even glanced at it. What had Larry seen?...

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (2008 to 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics, focusing on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death in 1956 at age 46 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette.


Steve said...

"That's very "Jeff-like"" is so very 'Dave-like'.


Bill Ritter said...

Despite some (somewhat) casual Google searching and reading Patreon & AMOC site info, I'm unfamiliar with these Jeff Smith Strips. Anyone able to provide a primer?

Tony Dunlop said...

I'm pretty sure it's just a bit character in Rip Kirby named Jeff Smith. But of course this Must Mean Something.

Unknown said...

It all means something, but not what you think it does.

Travis Pelkie said...

"And then [my impression] having to explain who Dave Sim is."

Or in other words, Larry Marder was introducing Jeff Smith to Dave Sim.

Admittedly, in Smith's telling, the implication is that Marder took Smith to Sim and said, "this is Jeff, here's Dave", but it can also be read that Marder was the first one to tell Smith who Dave was. Which is introducing Sim to Smith. And Smith was admittedly new to comics, but obviously (realizing that the retailer, not the fan, is the end customer and that he needed to market to the retailer) a quick learner. To realize that Larry Marder telling you to go see this guy Dave Sim because he can be helpful and going directly there is smart thinking.

Granted, I'm being overly fair here, but Dave is certainly implying that Smith's version and reality are nowhere near each other, and that's not necessarily so.

(I always found it amusing when Dave called out Jeff regarding that TCJ interview, his argument was basically "look at my thinly veiled autobiographical version from Reads and compare that to the interview Jeff gave -- my fiction is correct!" Regardless, if Jeff did claim to threaten to punch out Dave and then claim to have a good time after, Dave certainly was justified in some sort of retaliation.)

CerebusTV said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CerebusTV said...

You might find a "Bone" to pick with this:

Lee Thacker said...

I'm a fan of both Cerebus and Bone and the Patreon comic art metaphysics 'Bone Commentaries' are very interesting. However, I'm surprised to read Dave referring to John's the 'Book Of Revelation' as 'The Book Of RevelationS'. Is this a typo? I've always frowned upon any serious literary works that refer to 'The Book Of Revelations' as opposed to 'The Book Of Revelation' (as revealed to St John the Divine). There's no 's', it's the 'Book Of Revelation'. See also Mary Hopkin (and Dave Sim).