Bestselling Graphic Author Jeff Smith to Honor Will Eisner and Celebrate 35 Years of Graphic Novel

Jeff Smith

AMHERST, Mass. – Jeff Smith, creator of Bone, the bestselling graphic novel in America, will appear at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday, Oct. 18 to help honor the 35th anniversary of the first major American graphic novel, Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.

The program begins at 2 p.m. in the Bartlett Hall Auditorium, Room 65.

Smith has sold several million copies of his Bone graphic novel series, published by Scholastic Books. Described as the Harry Potter of graphic novels,Bone has been named by Time Magazine as one of the “ten greatest graphic novels of all times,” andhas won more international awards than any other independent American graphic novel series.

Smith’s appearance marks the fifteenth anniversary of a major international conference in Will Eisner’s honor, first held at UMass Amherst on the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Eisner’s A Contract with God. Attended by over 300 people, it was the first major international academic graphic novel conference ever held in the United States, and received feature coverage in the New York Times.

N. C. Christopher Couch, of UMass Amherst’s comparative literature program, notes that Eisner was a mentor to and early supporter of Smith’s work. He adds that Bone incorporates the ideals with which Eisner imbued the American graphic novel: aesthetic integrity, complex storytelling, respect for the medium and its history combined with originality and innovation, and independence of artistic vision.

Like Smith, said Couch, Eisner succeeded in reaching millions of readers in the 1940s with his Spirit comic books, the best-selling works of that time; and like The Spirit, Bone engages readers on multiple levels with highly entertaining and literate stories that are also among the most beautifully drawn works of art in the graphic novel field today.

The connection between Eisner and Smith doesn’t stop there, said Couch.

“Jeff Smith has also been a leader in advocating for comic art as a medium deserving of respect and critical attention, and for the rights of artists and writers in the works they create,” he said.

“Smith was a pioneering entrepreneur in the independent graphic novel publishing field, establishing Cartoon Books to publish his own work. His work and career have been an inspiration to younger artists, who have followed independent paths in creating and publishing, and he has also been a notable supporter of independent comics retailers and other publishers, efforts in which he follows the path blazed by Eisner.”

Smith’s appearance will be followed by a book signing of the collected color edition of Rasl and Smith’s other books. Smith will be introduced by Will Eisner’s longtime friend and publisher Denis Kitchen, a cartoonist, comic art historian, and editor of Kitchen Sink Books.

This event is sponsored by the dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts; the department of languages, literatures, and cultures; the department of Judaic and near eastern studies; the department of art, architecture, and art history; the department of English; organization of graduate students in comparative literature; the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies; and the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst as well as the humanities and cultural studies program, and the school of cognitive science at Hampshire College and the department of English at Mount Holyoke College. Admission is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.