From the TCJ Archives

The Jeff Smith Interview


GROTH: Apparently Garry Trudeau was a pretty substantial influence on you, especially in terms of your timing.

SMITH: He’s pretty recognizable in my style in that I’ll put three or four panels one right after the other that are nearly identical. They’re not actually identical; I don’t photocopy panels whole cloth, and neither did Garry Trudeau. But there are panels where the only change is the twitch of the mouth or of an eyebrow. That really pushes you to focus on the acting. That’s why I like it. You have to make your drawing emote, or the equivalent of, in print work. And I actually think you can get stronger character reactions from that kind of a joke. I’ve gotten letters from people who think I’m being lazy. They just don’t like that at all.

GROTH: But unlike Trudeau you actually do your own drawings.

SMITH: I think he did his own drawings for the first few years.

GROTH: Yeah.

SMITH: And in fact now since he’s come back from hiatus, which has been 10 years now, I haven’t really enjoyed the strip as much because he abandoned that technique of the four identical panels. The only thing that beat those early ones was Pogo, by Walt Kelly. I actually learned stuff — not just about drawing, but about life — from Pogo and Doonesbury.

GROTH: I was curious as to whether Vaughn Bode was an influence.

SMITH: Not really.

GROTH: Did you like his work at all?

SMITH: It was OK. I read the National Lampoon back then, but no, I wasn’t that into him.

GROTH: I actually thought that your work bears a closer resemblance to Carl Barks in the sense that it’s a rousing adventure strip and of course the long Barks stories that were published in the Disney One-Shots were these great 64-page adventures.

SMITH: Yeah, when I was a kid, I did read those and I did really love them. If I was at the grocery store and I flipped one open and recognized that style, I’d buy it. I loved them, and I think they soaked in. But he wasn’t in my head, he wasn’t up there like Kelly or Trudeau. Probably he was but I didn’t acknowledge it until after I started the comic book.

GROTH: Maybe it was too buried in your subconscious to remember.

SMITH: I think it comes out in the work, but I never thought about him again really until I started doing comic books. Another person who I love now, but I didn’ t find until way late is Herriman. I knew Kelly liked him so I figured I’d check it out. And of course everybody talks about this work all the time like it’s a masterpiece. The couple times I’d looked at it, like in the Smithsonian book of newspaper comics, it just didn’t hit me. For some reason I sat down and this time I got into them. I got into the mantra, whatever that haiku state you reach reading Kray Kat, I found it. But far too late for it to have any positive influence. [Laughs.] You, Eclipse and Kitchen Sink were doing these complete re-printings of classic work. That was something I used to dream about when I was a kid: “Someday I’ll be able to get every Pogo strip, in order and in the shape of a comic strip.” I dreamed about it, and here I was, an adult, and it was happening. Every single Popeye I bought that set.

GROTH: Did you?

SMITH: Hell yeah.

GROTH: So you were the one.

SMITH: [Laughs.] That was beautiful, very well done. Thank you for doing it.

GROTH: Segar was just one of the most brilliant cartoonists who ever lived, I think. Did you like Capp?

SMITH: No … I was aware of him in the mid-’70s, especially after Walt Kelly died. That was a disaster for me as a kid. I remember wanting another comic strip to follow. I saw a clip of Capp talking to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and he was just an outrageous asshole. So I never had the desire to get into him.

GROTH: Yeah, that would be enough to turn you off to him.

SMITH: Oh yeah. He was just a flaming fascist asshole! Oh yeah, I bet his comics are great! [Laughter.] People tell me that that doesn’t come through in the comic. I still don’t care.

GROTH: The first issue of Bone is incredibly polished work. I saw a few panels from the first newspaper strip version of it which is obviously much less polished. What did you do between the earlier and the later versions to perfect that technique?

SMITH: I drew for about eight or nine years.

GROTH: You just busted your ass drawing?

SMITH: I had the animation studio. That’s a lot of drawing. Seriously. Just the sheer number ... Obviously it's going to have some effect. Just the volume of drawing —

GROTH: So it was just basically practice.

SMITH: Exactly. If you just keep doing it, you’re going to get better. I can look back at the 15 issues I’ve done and I can see how much I continue to figure out.

GROTH: Do you attribute to animation your expert timing as well?

SMITH: No, not really. What I brought from animation was a clean line. The timing — that’s what I was talking about earlier about it blurring for me between different forms of cartooning. That timing comes from watching Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny cartoons. That same timing is in a Doonesbury. It’s in any good piece of comic book art. In the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neil stuff. It’s all there, it all mixes up to me. You’ re telling a story, and the story has a plot. It’s the way you manipulate how fast someone changes from panel to panel — that’s a whole other discussion. But I think it’s intrinsic to visual storytelling and not whether it’s film animation or a comic book or a comic strip.

GROTH: How much of that was the result of assiduous study and how much of it did you just assimilate by reading it?

SMITH: A huge amount was assimilated. I have no words for it. I got so excited about Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics, because while I didn’t think it was the final word on it, it certainly began to give me phrases. I could talk about the transitions from panel to panel, I could talk about the closure between two panels. I liked that. I like being able to reach inside my head and grab a word for a concept.

GROTH: What would you say are your literary antecedents? Moby Dick being one, I assume.

Bone #3 (December 1991)

SMITH: Yeah, and Charles Dickens had a big effect on me. His ability to bring a character’s personality out.

GROTH: That brings to mind the other comic I was going to ask you about: Little Orphan Annie.

SMITH: I’ ve been looking at that lately, but no, I have never really read Little Orphan Annie.

GROTH: That’s a rousing adventure story too.

SMITH: Wash Tubbs. I saw a story where they got shanghaied and were out whaling in the Arctic, and I really liked the art style. I obviously don’t use much of it in my book, except for the way he drew icebergs. They were like these real cubic things. The way I draw mountains in the background in Bone, you would probably think they were purely George Herriman-type things, because they look almost like wooden cut toy blocks. But really I got that from Roy Crane in Wash Tubbs. It was just a neat way of simplifying a mountain. It was the concept of simplifying that really jumped out at me. It was also this visual cue that what I was reading was a cartoon. Not an illustrated thing. This is a cartoon with its own language. Here’s a cue. I try to put those in Bone. Every now and then in the middle of a chase scene or a scary scene that doesn’t have humor, I’ll put a signpost in there that is a visual cue that it’s a cartoon. Or there will be a shot of a moon and I’ll just put little squiggly lines as clouds instead of fully rendered clouds, because it’s a cartoon cloud, it’s a cue.

GROTH: I don’t want to lose the thread of your influences. You mentioned Dickens. Were fairy tales or the Grimm Brothers an influence?

SMITH: They were at a very formative level. When my grandmother would baby-sit me she would read me Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I remember that very clearly. Those can be pretty vicious little stories.

GROTH: Right, especially the unexpurgated ones.

SMITH: Yeah, which is what my grandmother was reading to me at night, in a dark, old Victorian-type house with one little light on that cast weird shadows. But it was also very fascinating, and that to me is one of the most interesting aspects of storytelling — that scary part. Going in and scaring someone. I don’t think you scare people by hitting their rib cage with an ax … well, that would scare you if it happened to you. But watching a movie, splatter stuff isn’t horror. Scary stuff is psychological and there’s a real art to it. Those old fairy tales went way inside. They went right into your core and scared the crap out of you! I think they perform a real function. They prepare you for a lot of things, whether you know it or not. Some of those symbols in fairy tales match up with symbols in your psyche. You’ll carry those stories around. You’ve got a seed on which to think, and as you have experiences later on in life, you’ve thought on these already because you’ve heard them and were traumatized by them as a child! [Laughs.] They’re all allegorical and symbolic, but they really work. When people get all upset at things like when Bambi’s mother gets shot — “It’s terrible! How can you take a child to see Bambi and the mother gets killed and the child cries?!” Well, that doesn’t hurt the kid. That actually helps the kid. Of course the child’s horrified, but they can actually grow. You didn’t see Bambi’s mother get shot so he wasn’t horrified by blood, he wasn’t hit with reality because it wasn’t reality that was supposed to be transmitted here. What was transmitted was the concept, the seed. There are tragedies in life. The kid knows it’s a movie. Or if he doesn’t, he figures it out from that.

GROTH: It’s catharsis.


GROTH: That’s clearly the kind of territory you want to go into by exploring the dreams of Thorn and Bone.

SMITH: Yeah, that’s one of those signpost things, to let you know that kind of thing going on.

GROTH: You know exactly where that's leading, right?

SMITH: Oh yeah. The actual conflict between the valley people, the rat creatures, their League of the Hooded One, the dragon and Gran’ma Ben, and the villagers who live in the valley, that story is done, it’s written. I know how it plays out, I know what the Bones’ role in that story is, how they’re involved in it, how they are transformed by the story. Basically that story is solid. Now, around that story, I have a lot of loose territory to play around in. The cow race, for example, is not a part of my hard and fast story. Not in the outline. When I did Bone #3, I had no idea that the cow race was coming That was something that I could play with. As long as I know I’ve got to get to certain points, I can weave all over the place.

Bone Holiday Special (December 1993)

GROTH: So the cow race was a completely extemporaneous plot element.

SMITH: Completely. It was never in the plan.

GROTH: So that would mean that the whole subplot of Phoney Bone’s scam was equally extemporaneous.


GROTH: And that would also mean that the latest plot element where he makes a bet with Lucius must have been part of that whole —

SMITH: No, this new bet he’s just made with Lucius is part of the story.

GROTH: It is? Because it seemed to grow out of the cow race.

SMITH: It all happened to work out, yeah. I was going to have Phoney do something, it just turned out to be the cow race.

GROTH: It segued perfectly from one to the other.

SMITH: I actually was getting letters from people at one point saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to read about the cow races!” And I thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to disappoint these people!” There is no cow race. Everything just kept leading that way and all of a sudden it became a perfect way to tie all my plot threads together — all my characters were separated, and Smiley Bone hadn’t been seen since the first issue and he’s gambler, smoker, drinker type of guy, and all of a sudden, here was a gambling event! Everything came together and I got to show a bunch of townspeople.

GROTH: It occurs to me that the best work always seems to be a case where the creator is learning about his own characters as he goes along and that they inevitably lead him in directions he hadn’t foreseen.

SMITH: That’s a great way to look at it. I think you’re probably right. Dickens is like that. In my case, Smiley Bone has been a complete shock to me as a character. He’s the big goofy, dumb one. My take on the Bones themselves is that they’re basically two-dimensional archetypes at face value. Fone Bone is good. Phoney Bone is greedy and Smiley Bone is dumb. Obviously I don’t believe you should be able to describe a character that simply. But because they’re archetypes, that’s where they start.

GROTH: In comics, that’s usually where they end.

SMITH: [Laughs.] But I thought Smiley Bone was dumb. Basically he was kind of good, the bum with a heart of a gold. And he’s always been that way. Then all of a sudden this character turned out to be an incredibly amoral, indecipherable character. I do not know who this character is, or what he’s capable of. I thought he was basically good, but he’ll do anything. He’ll go right along with his cousin Phoney’s plans no matter how rotten or immoral it is. I didn’t think he would do that. I’ve been absolutely amazed by his character. He’s also turning out to make me laugh, personally, when I’m writing, which is very rare. But he just cracks me up! He’s my favorite character right now because he’s growing at an amazing rate.

GROTH: It’s interesting you should say that because it seems to me perfectly reasonable that “dumb” would lead inevitably to “amorality.”

SMITH: [Laughs.] I think I agree with you.

Bone #15 (August 1994)


GROTH: I had to beat the bushes, but I finally found a negative review of Bone, and one that the Journal didn’t even publish.

SMITH: [Laughs.] You guys actually published a good review.

GROTH: Of course we did. That’s because we’re your friend, Jeff.

SMITH: [Laughing.] Everyone is my friend! I’m the Barney of comics!

GROTH: Right — who could dislike you? I’d like to ask you to respond to it. It was a review in a magazine called Crash, which I assume has found its way to you.


GROTH: You haven’t read it?

SMITH: No. I’ve never seen it.

GROTH: You’re no fun. The one negative review, and you missed it.

SMITH: Someone did read it to me, but I don’t feel qualified to comment on it too much when somebody’s just read pieces of it to me over the phone. It sounded to me, pretty much, that someone thought I didn’t measure up to Walt Kelly, and I have a hard time arguing with that.

GROTH: Let me just read one paragraph that I think succinctly sums up the guy’s argument. He said: “Bone’s gorgeously shallow. Bone comes out of a time in American culture when cultural perspectives are bizzarely skewed and political agendas are mired in the garbage of personal ideals. The splintering off that has resulted from this development in the American politic is reflected in its art and one of the more curious effects is that the path into the past, the connection of modern art forms and their precursors is all but closed over, so it’s possible to compare Jeff Smith to Walt Kelly. There’s not much of an argument about it because we emphasize their style over their content. Bone is a book that references great popular artists without really understanding what they had set out to do and is merely entertaining because it’s toiling away in a place without knowing what can be grown in that place."

So I suppose he’s saying in effect that. A) you’re not as good as Kelly, but B), and perhaps more importantly, that you’ve only taken superficially from Kelly, and haven’t been as inspired by his content as you have by his surface details.

SMITH: I think what he said was basically, while he was taking a slam at American pop culture values, that comparing someone to someone else as the only means of equating value is shallow and American. And yet, if I understood his argument, his argument was exactly only a comparison of my work to someone else’s, to tear it down. He claimed that I didn’t get from Kelly what he thought I should have gotten. He was only able to view my work in light of someone else’s, which in the very climax of his argument is exactly what he finds to be the worst way to make a decision about someone’s art. I mean, does he say anything about my actual art? Or does he only compare me to Kelly? You gotta help me here because I haven’t read everything.

GROTH: Extrapolating from what I think this guy’s argument is, Kelly’s work was obviously very seriously engaged in American political culture and previously you expressed a great admiration and inspiration for Kelly. Now, Bone, as far as I can tell, is not particularly meant to be engaged with our political culture.

Bone #7 (December 1992)

SMITH: That’s true. Kelly was very interested in the actual politics of the day. He understood that the politics he was dealing with were symptoms of larger human problems. He did do that. And he discussed those symptoms in the terms of the actual politics of the day — like Castro, McCarthy, Kruschev — they were actually in the strip, a lot like a political cartoon. I have chosen to not do that at all. Not only because Kelly did it so well, and I mean, what’s the point? But also that’s just not my forte or my expertise.

GROTH: When you were reading and admiring Kelly’s work, I assume it wasn’t just his drawing you were admiring, but the content of the strip as well.

SMITH: Certainly. At the same time he’s discussing Castro, he’s also discussing the sensibilities of Castro. And it’s those sensibilities I liked — the way you approach other people and interact with others, and the way other people weave webs of deceit and fear — Those kinds of things really meant a lot to me. So Bone, as opposed to Pogo, which was a political strip, is at most about the social realm. That’s the closest I approach Kelly in that area. Mostly it’s about the psyche, the psychological realm. I feel it’s an entirely different category and I don’t think I’ve had very much time to go very far into it, but on the other hand, it’s there to see.

GROTH: I’m sympathetic to what the guy is saying, but when it comes to Bone I tend to think that the virtues outweigh that particular defect, if that’s a defect.

SMITH: The defect is that I’m not a political – ?

GROTH: That you’re not really engaging any contemporary issues that affect human beings.

SMITH: OK. Well, it is a fantasy and the figures in it represent triumphs of psyche. They’re not supposed to be realistic triumphs, an example of which would be your baby taking its first step. That is a gigantic, realistic triumph. What I’ m talking about are … I don’t want to try to sound heavier than it is, but quite simply put, it’s about simple things like the annihilation of the ego and giving over to a larger unknown whole, and returning back again — which is what every single decision and risk that we take every day in our lives is all about. It’s taking a risk or letting yourself go, and the triumph you get once you reach your goal and come back with it, with your foot in both sides of reality. So the characters in Bone are totally of the psyche, not just characters of today’s political realm.

GROTH: Can you be a little bit more concrete? Can you give me an example of what you mean when you say that decisions are about the annihilation of the ego? What kinds of decisions are you referring to?

SMITH: It can be small decisions or huge life-changing ones. Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. And you don’t know if it’ll be you, or fate, or just plain luck that’ll get you through — or even if you’ll get through! It’s difficult to let go and lose control. The trick, of course, is to live through it! There and back again. It’s basically the same thing that was in The Odyssey, or in something like Star Wars. It’s in The Lord of the Rings. It’s the classic adventure of the hero. It’s succumbing to the call of the adventure. Maybe it would be easier to explain if I tell you that I found a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

GROTH: By Campbell.

SMITH: Right, which I read when I was on about the sixth issue of Bone. I was absolutely flabbergasted at how universal the story of the hero is. The basic premise behind this book is that the same stories are told over and over and over again in every age, in every culture. With differences, of course, but the amount of things that are similar is just amazing. And pretty much the story always is: There is a call to adventure, where the hero is brought out of his homeland, usually against his will, and at some point he crosses the threshold into this new place, into the adventure, and it’s usually a valley or something like that. There’s a guardian on the threshold. I’m reading this book, and it’s amazing how Bone just goes right down the line: Fone Bone was helping his cousin, he didn’t mean to get run out of Boneville and end up out in the desert, lost. They reach the threshold, and at the threshold is a guardian, and the guardian is usually some wise guide; someone to guide you, to give you some clues on how to survive your journey, In Star Wars, for example, that would be Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Bone, it’s the dragon, which he meets as he’s about to cross into the valley.

Bone #3 (December 1991)

The whole idea is to just accept the adventure, and succeed in it, and then return back home with this boon that you have won on your adventure that you can bring back and share with the people you left behind in Boneville. So the whole story I’m telling will be an example of this, from start to finish. But I don’t want to give the idea that I’m following some formula, or there’s some hidden message, because it’s not something you can predict. It’s mostly just letting go and letting the story just move along, and a lot of these elements come out and surprise you. I’m having fun just letting the story tell itself.

GROTH: I’m sort of a late convert myself — I think we ran that Hit List on Bone pretty early on —

SMITH: Around the fourth or fifth issue.

GROTH: Yeah. I hadn’t even looked at Bone before we got that Hit List entry in, and that entry caused me to take a look at it. I skimmed through it and I thought, “This is obviously competent work” — but it wasn’t the kind of work that I could get real excited about, until I actually sat down and read the entire thing and realized just how well put together it was. It was well put together, I thought, in the same sense that Barks is so impeccably structured, the tone is consistent, the characters are engaging, and so forth. But in the back of my mind, one thing that bothers me about it is it’s so damn lovable. [Laughter.] All the characters are lovable — even Phoney Bone is lovable in his roguish way. I wonder if there can be genuinely harsh consequences as a result of people’s conduct in the book.

SMITH: I know what you’re talking about, I believe. Sort of what you’re describing sounds to me about the way I feel about later Disney movies and Spielberg movies. They manipulate sentiment. And they harken back to some nostalgic time that never existed, or they talk about some comfort level that can’t be.

GROTH: I think you’ve got my observation down.

SMITH: And my characters look like those kind of characters. They are supposed to be those kinds of characters. Whether I’ve succeeded or not in taking those kind of characters and moving them beyond that is another question. I feel good about my attempt at it. I don’t feel like they get maudlin or sugarcoated and drippy. Every time a little tender moment comes up, I like to get in and get out. I remember the holiday special for Hero Illustrated that was a four-page thing where Fone Bone walks out into the woods with a little, piping hot quiche to give to the two rat creatures, which just shocked the hell out of them. I remember Dave Sim thought I was crazy for trying to get away with a joke like that. He said, “If I tried to pull a sentimental quiche joke like that, my fans would kill me.” But see, Kelly did do that. Walt Kelly could do sentiment, and he could walk right up to that moment and just pop it on the head, and you as the reader would have to acknowledge that the moment was real, the sentiment was real. I try very hard to do things like that, because that’s one of the powers that Kelly showed me were in comics, in cartooning. I attempt to go up to that moment, and I try to get out of it quick with a joke or a moment. Then when I do the moments of real terror, I try to throw a joke in too because I don’t want to manipulate the terror too hard, either — which may be what you’re talking about, because I don’t actually go one way or the other too far?

Bone Holiday Special (December 1993)

GROTH: I would agree with that. I think partly what I’m saying is that the whole context, the world you’ve created, is such a likable environment. Even the rat creatures, in their nefarious way, are sort of likable because they’re so bumbling and stupid. [Laughs.]

SMITH: Two of them are. The concept being that on their own, these rat creatures are just kind of stupid, at least in small numbers. But once they get together in large numbers, they’re actually dangerous. And I feel that way about a lot of secret brotherhoods and things like that.

GROTH: I felt that you de-emphasized, or pulled the teeth out of the rat creatures a bit in the 12th issue when you did that whole burlesque with the two rat creatures facing the head rat creature. You made them all look amusing and sappy.

SMITH: To me, they can be. Each member of a faceless mob is an individual. Take some group that really grates on you and go talk to those people. Individually they are sappy! The way they think is fodder for comedy — I mean, it’s not funny, but it is.

GROTH: What people are you talking about?

SMITH: You can make the rat creatures be whatever you want them to be. They can be religious zealots, or a secret brotherhood …

GROTH: How ’bout the Mafia?

SMITH: You can make them the Mafia, you can make them Nazis, whatever you want. They are an oppressive group where the strongest bonds are not their similar interests, but their shared fears and insecurities.

GROTH: To contrast this with an analogous scene I can come up with off the top of my head, I’ll bring up Goodfellas, Scorsese’s film. You had that scene with Joe Pesci that starts off as banter between him and Ray Liotta, and Pesci takes something seriously that is clearly meant as a joke and pushes it as far as irrationality can be pushed and scares the hell out of the Liotta character. It’s really a chilling scene because it demonstrates the irrationality and the intellectual limitations of this psychopathic idiot that are bubbling up from beneath the surface. But it creeps up on you.

SMITH: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I agree that is much scarier and probably is a better way to handle it. But one thing I’m doing with Bone in general is to slowly put more teeth into it. The book started off as just comedy, and then slowly I brought in elements … I thought if I just launched into it full blast, that it would not be accepted. People would pick it up and go, “What the …?”

GROTH: I don’t know, if you started out with Dark Bone, I could see it being an immediate success. [Laughter.] One of the reasons I didn’t want to stress this is because I’m not sure how valid the criticism is, and that is partly because I get the impression you’re aiming specifically for children and adults. You don’t want children to not be able to read it. So do you feel limitations there?

SMITH: No. I am definitely writing this for adults. The only reason it can be read by children is just because I’ m staying true to the kind of comic I always wanted to read when I was a kid. And I still want to read it, but I’m an adult now, so I have to write it so I’ll be interested in it! I was always looking for a comic with Asterix/Uncle Scrooge-type of characters with a more intense story, a bigger adventure that was more tightly woven and had more consequences. Things can happen to my characters, and things will happen to them. I wish you could see this issue that just came out, issue #16 shows Gran’ma Ben confronting the dragon out in the middle of this thunderstorm — well, actually she hesitates. The dragon just saved her and Fone Bone from the rat creatures, and she turns to Fone Bone and says, “You think the dragon is going to be there every time you need him, but he won’t be. He wasn’t always there for me.” I’m going to begin to deconstruct everything I’ve just built up to. Some of the very stuff you’re talking about, which is all entirely valid, is about to start unraveling, and that’s going to be part of the broad tapestry of the story.

GROTH: Did you mean to say that Bone is primarily an adult entertainment that children can also read?

SMITH: I haven’t met anyone who actually mistook it for a children’s book once they’ve read it. I don’t even consider children when I’m writing it. So the fact that kids of all ages like it amazes me, and that has a couple of very nice consequences: One is it enlarges my market. There are kids that read Image and Marvel comics who also read Bone, which was a completely unexpected shock for me. The other consequence is that there are parents reading the book to their kids, which alters their connection to the work in a really fun way. The discussions in the letters pages range from giving the characters different voices, to teaching a kid how to read a comic by which pointer belongs to which person, which picture do you look at first — it’s really fun. I worry a little bit when I print those letters about reading to these kids, that I am encouraging kids to read it, that I’m saying, “Yes, this is a kids’ book, and you can always count on me. This is going to be a rock-solid safe book that a preschooler could read.” That does raise some concerns for me because it’s a responsibility that I don’t think anybody should have pushed on them.

GROTH: Do you think in the future you will be writing Bone in such a way as to make it unsuitable for children?

SMITH: Not necessarily. I just don’t want to have to think that way. It’s very important to me to not have to stop and worry about it. I don’t put swear words in it, but that was just a choice I made a long time ago when I wasn’t even doing a comic book. I was trying to write newspaper strips and you can’t use swear words there so I developed my writing skills around saying swear words. So it’s just a choice I made, and I’m happy it’s working the way it is. But I may not be trustworthy. [Laughter.]

GROTH: That’s what I’ve heard! So the rumor I heard that S. Clay Wilson did a fill-in issue is probably not —

SMITH: [Laughs.] Exactly!