From Ohio State Student to Comics Sensation Jeff Smith’s Artistic Journey


Jeff Smith’s path to becoming a renowned cartoonist and the creative genius behind the “BONE” comic book series is an inspiring tale of following one’s passion against the odds. In the realm of art and comics, where the road to success can be as challenging as it is rewarding, Smith’s journey is a testament to the value of pursuing one’s dreams.

The Early Years of Passion

From a young age, Jeff Smith’s love for comics was evident. He vividly recalls being a four-year-old, sitting at the kitchen table with his dad, poring over the Sunday morning cartoons—this early fascination with the art of storytelling through visuals planted the seeds for a lifelong passion.

As high school graduation approached, the daunting task of choosing a career loomed over Smith. During this critical period, he confided with his favorite art teacher about his aspirations. In a pivotal moment, he shared his intention to apply for a graphic arts position at Disney, one of the world’s most extensive entertainment conglomerates.

However, the response he received was unexpected. His teacher, the only one with whom he didn’t have a “combative relationship,” gave him advice that would change the course of Smith’s life. “You would never make it at Disney,” he asserted.

Smith was taken aback, fearing that his dreams would be crushed. But his teacher quickly clarified that the comment did not reflect Smith’s talent. On the contrary, he believed that a corporate environment like Disney might stifle Smith’s imaginative spirit. This perspective successfully convinced Smith to reconsider his application to Disney.

Looking back, Smith expresses gratitude for the teacher’s guidance. He believes that this twist of fate ultimately led to a far more fulfilling life and career.

From Ohio State to Comic Stardom

At 63, Jeff Smith fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a successful cartoonist and gained widespread recognition for his iconic “BONE” comic book series. The journey to this creative zenith was rooted in his college years, particularly as an Ohio State student.

Smith’s artistic prowess was cultivated during his five years of creating comic strips for The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. The characters he brought to life during this period would inspire the creation of the beloved “BONE” series.

To celebrate the origins of his artistic journey and the roots of “BONE,” Jeff Smith recently launched “THORN: The Complete Proto-BONE College Strips 1982-1986” on Kickstarter. This unique project allows fans and aspiring artists to explore the original designs and ideas that would later blossom into the iconic comic series.

Challenges in Pursuing Art

Despite the success stories of artists like Jeff Smith, the path to artistic success may not always feel attainable for many college students pursuing careers in the arts. Data USA reports a significant contrast in the number of degrees awarded across various fields. While health, business, and liberal arts and sciences degrees see high numbers, visual and performing arts degrees are cited far less frequently.

E.J. Westlake, Chair of the Department of Theatre, Film, and Media Arts, attributes this disparity to the practical values deeply ingrained in American culture. The arts have often been perceived as unnecessary and unproductive, which deters students from pursuing these creative paths.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that studying the arts provides many transferable skills. While rooted in creativity, problem-solving, and empathy, these skills are highly valued by today’s employers and corporations.

Laura Lisbon, Chair and Professor in the Department of Art, underscores the transformative power of an arts education. She believes art encourages a unique approach to problem-solving, fosters empathy, and widens perspectives, qualities essential for effective leadership and creative inquiry.

A Lifelong Passion Unleashed

Jeff Smith’s journey from a high school student with a dream to a celebrated cartoonist is a testament to the resilience and determination required to succeed in the artistic world. After spending approximately four years exploring various jobs, he found his true calling at Ohio State, where he embraced the opportunity to create comic strips for The Lantern.

Crucial to Smith’s artistic development was the mentorship of Lucy Shelton Caswell, the founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Her support and the resources available to students interested in cartoons expanded Smith’s horizons and introduced him to the professional world of comics.

Despite the growth of resources and opportunities for aspiring artists, the stigma surrounding careers in the arts has not entirely disappeared. Jeff Smith and Lucy Shelton Caswell acknowledge that art-related career paths remain undervalued.

Shelton Caswell suggests that one reason for this is the lack of accessible arts education, often leading individuals to underestimate their artistic abilities. The idea that one cannot draw or create art without formal training deters many from pursuing an art degree.

Encouragement to Aspiring Artists

Despite the challenges and statistics that may discourage aspiring artists, Jeff Smith’s message is unwavering encouragement. He urges young artists to pursue creative careers, provided they are willing to invest effort and determination.

“Don’t give up until you try,” Smith advises. He recalls his early aspirations, believing that simply sending out a comic would lead to instant recognition. However, he emphasizes the importance of genuine effort and taking bold steps to reach one’s artistic goals.

Together with Lucy Shelton Caswell, Smith has played a pivotal role in creating the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an entry-level comics festival now in its tenth year. This festival offers young artists and cartoonists valuable opportunities to make professional connections and secure book publishing opportunities.

The message is clear: for young artists willing to make sacrifices and take risks, there is the potential for success. Passion and hard work can pave the way to fulfilling artistic dreams.

In conclusion, Jeff Smith’s artistic journey is an inspiring reminder that creative success is achievable despite challenges and doubts. The world of art and comics is a realm where imagination knows no bounds, and creativity can lead to extraordinary achievements. It is a world where passion, dedication, and resilience can transform a lifelong dream into a reality.

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