Born in Pennsylvania, raised in Columbus, Ohio, Smith grew up from an early age with an interest in cartoons and comics, most notably the work of Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Chuck Jones, Carl Barks and E.C. Segar. As he got older, he got a taste for the narrative complexity found in literature and film, most notably The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Star Wars and Moby-Dick, which is Smiths all-time favorite book and is referenced constantly in Bone.
After graduating from Ohio State University (where he wrote and drew Thorn, a sort of first-draft comic strip version of Bone), he co-founded Character Builders, an animation company that specialized in commercials and credits openings. In 1991, he founded the comic book house Cartoon Books and that same year began to self-publish Bone, to critical and commercial success. He completed the 1,300-page epic in 2004 and released it all as one book, commonly referred to as the brick. That next year, Scholastic approached Smith with rereleasing Bone, this time in full-color.
Smith has also crafted other books, including Stupid Stupid Rat Tails and Rose, two supplemental books in the Bone universe, RASL, a Fantastic Noir about a universe-hopping art thief, the light-hearted Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, the childrens book Little Mouse Gets Ready and the paleological adventure book, Tuki Saves the Humans.
Tropes Associated with Jeff Smith include:
- Beat Panel: Both Played for Laughs and Played for Drama.
- Body Horror: As light-hearted as Smith's stories are, they occasionally have intense moments of these, like the devolution of Kingdok in Bone, the effects of radiation in Rasl or the monster transformations in Shazam!
- Cast of Snowflakes: Has a remarkable skill for creating unique, specific character designs.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Invokes it incredibly well. Hes even admitted that he designed Bone from the beginning to start out rather fun and get increasingly dark over time.
- Chekhov's Gun
- Copiously Credited Creator: Creator, writer, penciler, inker and publisher of comics that span multiple genres.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bone has the biggest offenders, but all his works have at least one.
- Decoy Protagonist: Bone and Shazam are the best examples.
- Doorstopper: Bone is the biggest example at 1,200+ pages, while Rasls 400+ pages arent anything to skimp about either.
- Fantasy Americana
- Fantasy: Tropes and elements from the genre are Smiths bread and butter. Theyre usually paired with elements from other genres, like comedy, film noir and Superheroes.
- Genre Roulette:
- Bone is a comedy-drama set in a High Fantasy world with a comic book equivalent of the Roger Rabbit Effect.
- Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails is a Slapstick comedy and Rose is a dark, fantasy drama, both set in the Bone universe.
- Rasl is a sci-fi noir with elements taken from Native American culture and real-life historical events.
- Shazam is a light-hearted Reconstruction of Golden-Age Superhero tropes, with elements of political satire thrown in.
- Little Mouse is a short, comical childrens book.
- Tuki is a historical adventure book with humorous elements about a stone-age wanderer trying to leave Africa.
- Genre Throwback: While liberally mixing moods and genres, Smith's work harken back to older forms of cartooning, genres and entertainment.
- The Hero's Journey: His stories often follow it very well, Bone most notably.
- One-Word Title: Bone and Rasl. While they do have surnames, Shazam! and Tuki are usually referred to as such.
- Production Posse: Most of his books are colored by Steve Hamaker, his business is managed by his wife Vijaya Iyer and the books that are only drawn by him are written by Tom Sniegowski.
- Reconstruction: Most of Smith's works qualify, as they tend to sincerely and masterfully use the tropes of his favorite genres and tones, like fantasy, noir, superheroes and golden-age cartooning, while also giving them more narrative complexity and mixing them together.
- Running Gag
- Scenery Porn: His lushbrush work, luscious landscapes and great character design are examples of such, with Steve Hamakers color as the cherry on top.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Firmly on the Idealistic end, but Rasl is fairly cynical.
- Sliding Scale of Visuals Versus Dialogue: Somewhere in the middle, but leans more towards visuals at the end of the day.