Jeff Smith's epic fantasy tale, Bone, is widely regarded as one of the best all-ages graphic novels, so it came as something of a surprise when an Apple Valley, Minnesota woman, Ramona DeLay, requested that the fourth volume of the series be removed from her son's elementary school library.
"That week was his DARE graduation week, and I was a little shocked that my son was reading a graphic novel that had illustrations and content relating to drinking and smoking and gambling," DeLay told the Sun Newspapers. She also alleged that there were "sexual situations between characters"
Smith was a guest of honor at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) when the news broke, and although his weekend included panel appearances, signings, and the showing of the movie The Cartoonist (a documentary about Smith), he took a few minutes to discuss his reaction to the challenge.
PWCW: How did you get news of this? Did you read it in the paper, or did someone tell you about it?
Jeff Smith: The guy who was doing a story for the Minnesota newspaper wrote and asked for permission to use the cover, and we were going to give it to them, but by the time we saw his e-mail he had already posted it. So we saw his article.
PWCW: Could you please address the allegations directly?
JS: [Laughs] I'm laughing because it doesn't seem like you could really find those things. To a degree. In general, the characters in Bone are all adults and there are not a lot of strange activities like that, but there are storylines, some of the unsavory characters will try to pull scams, try to rig bets and things, and it always goes wrong. So no one is rewarded for doing any unsavory behavior in Bone, and it's difficult for me to see how anyone could think Bone would encourage kids to do unsavory things. Also, none of the main characters do these things. My conclusion is that some people aren't smart enough to read comic books.
PWCW: Did you have any particular constraints in mind when you wrote Bone—were there things you avoided so the book could be kid-friendly?
JS: Not really. When I was writing Bone, I was trying to write something like a Sunday comic strip. When I got into comics, there was a real void in that kind of material, that kind of general audience, Bugs Bunny material. I was never trying to sanitize it for young readers or dumb it down. I was just trying to do a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The smoking in Bone, it's kind of like a time capsule thing. I started Bone in 1991. In 1988 there was a big movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and there was a baby smoking a cigar [in that movie]. So a cigar to me was like a Groucho Marx vaudeville prop, it was an anachronism. When I created the dragon, it was not the evil it is now. When I quit smoking in the middle of Bone, the cigarette just disappeared from the dragon's mouth.
PWCW: What sort of support have you received?
JS: I'm at a comic book show, so it's pretty good. A lot of comic book and cartoon people are outraged. Bone is seen as a pretty friendly, all-ages book. I don't mind if someone doesn't like Bone, but it's hard for me to get behind this kind of un-American idea of banning a book. Let the Nazis do that, not us.
PWCW: What do you think the outcome will be?
JS: Honestly, I doubt it will end up being banned. The article I read it in actually said that 20 books have been brought before them in x number of years and only two pulled from the shelves. If anyone actually looks at Bone, I would be very surprised if they saw any sexual content at all or anyone encouraging a reader to engage in any activity like this at all.