Exclusive: JEFF SMITH Goes DIGITAL

Jeff Smith on BONE 20th Collections

 

Jeff Smith's Cartoon Books, one of the most successful independent publishers in the industry, has joined the growing list of comic book creators going digital thanks to the iPad and comiXology.

Bone and RASL, Smith's award-winning indie titles, are both now available through comiXology on the iOS, Android and web.

"This is the first time Bone and RASL will be available on the iPad," Smith told Newsarama late yesterday of the best-selling titles, which he both writes and draws. "We had Bone available for handhelds in the past, but it was very small. This is a whole new thing. And it's just gorgeous. The iPad experience is... it's comics. Before it was just kind of a novelty, to tool around on an electronic device.

"But using the iPad, this actually is a comic," Smith said.

Bone, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, has sold millions of copies worldwide under Smith's Cartoon Books imprint. Combining humor and an epic conflict between good and evil, Bone is optioned for film by Warner Bros. RASL, the black-and-white sci-fi noir story that Smith began in 2008, and its film rights were picked up by Lionel Wigram's production company.

Both comics will be now have their own dedicated apps, and they will be available on the Comics by comiXology app. "We're self-publishing it, although comiXology is distributing it," Smith clarified. "There aren't that many individual titles that have their own apps, so I'm excited about that."

The Bone release will be in color, which Smith said looks "outstandingly good" in digital. Smith said the digital version of RASL will be in its original "noir," black and white format, although he added that he "never says never" about someday coloring the comic.

Smith is also making himself available to his fans this evening from 4 to 6 p.m. on Reddit.com, to mark the digital release and the 20th anniversary celebration. "It'll be like a chat room situation," Smith said. "For two hours, I'll be on live online and absolutely anything that anyone wants to ask, I'll be there."

The cartoonist said he has always struggled with how much smaller his artwork becomes when it's published, particularly on handheld devices. But he thinks the iPad fixes that problem.

"The iPad is a particularly good device for comics," Smith said. "I don't feel like I'm compromising the reading experience. You can experience exactly the way I intended. It's not shrunk down, it's not broken up -- it's the page. And it looks really good, and I like the way you can zoom in. The quality's good. I'm pretty excited about it."

The cartoonist said he's been working with comiXology on the launch of the apps since December 2010. "They're the main guys in digital right now," Smith said.

But Smith said that although he recognizes electronic media as a "new frontier for comics," he does not think it signals the end of print anytime soon. "For the 20th anniversary of Bone, I couldn't be more involved in making a giant, tactile, collectible book," he said with a laugh, indicating the drool-worthy, slipcover color collection he's releasing this summer.

 

"There's no question digital delivery is brand new and exciting, and I'm not sure where it's going yet," Smith said. "But it's not going to replace books for a long time, because platforms change so much. I think we're still in the early days of what that's finally going to look like.

"Just look at how much the industry has changed in the 20 years since I did the first issue of Bone," said Smith, who was among the earliest successful indy publishers in the 1990s. "Twenty years ago, comics were just periodicals that were available for one month, and as soon as the next issue came out they were taken off the shelf and were never seen again unless you wanted to pay collectors prices. Think how different comics are now. There are collections and graphic novels, and there is digital delivery. There's webcomics. It's changed so much in 20 years. It's amazing."

Bone is translated into multiple languages thanks to the success it experienced when children's publisher Scholastic marketed digest-sized color editions to kids, selling millions of copies worldwide. "I just got my new copies of the Turkish version of Bone and the Israeli version," Smith said. "RASL is also in two or three languages. With digital, the delivery will be so instant. I'm curious to see what happens with this."

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