Jeff Smith Reveals His Dark Side in "RASL"

Wed, February 27th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

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"RASL" #1 on sale now
Jeff Smith, creator of all-ages' classic "Bone," has a dark side.  And when it surfaces, that's when "RASL" comes out to play.

With "RASL" #1 on sale in comic books stores today, Smith told CBR News it wasn't intentional to create a character the complete opposite of his fan favorite, Fone Bone. "It wasn't that I did yin and now I have to do yang," said Smith from his office in Columbus, Ohio. "I was just interested in it and wanted to do it. I am a grown up. I do like to go to the bar. I do have darker thoughts at times. I just thought it would be interesting to write that way. Instead of that wonder, that so many of the characters have in 'Bone,' even when they are in trouble they are still sort of amazed at the nature of the world, I am getting older now and I wanted to tell a story that's a little more world-weary. That's not something that you are going to have when you are a kid. You just can't be world-weary when you are young."

Little is known about Smith's new book, although RASL is not the title character's name, but the hardened criminal's handle."RASL is an acronym; it's like his hacker tag," offered Smith. "Whenever he steals a painting or a piece of art, he tags the space where he left it 'RASL.' And it means something too and we will find out over time. But it's not a huge deal in the story."

Page from "RASL" #1
The idea of an inter-dimensional ne'er-do-well has been gestating in Smith's mind since the dawn of the third millennium (that's only eight years ago for those counting at home). "I first started thinking about it in 2000. It was getting near the end of 'Bone' and I was starting to play around with things that I could do afterwards," said Smith. "And I am really interested in reading books on physics. Mostly pop science books like Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. And I love superstring theory and the problems with light. Is it a particle? Is it a wave? Are there multiple dimensions? What happens in a black hole? I just love that kind of stuff. 

"And I also love conspiracy theories about all that stuff too. What's the government doing with all that? So I wanted to combine that with this other idea I had, which was taking a bad character, like Phoney Bone who was my favorite character to write in the 'Bone' comics and I think he was one of most people's favorite characters to read because he was really horrible and did whatever he wanted, and making him the lead without a hero, without Fone Bone there to balance it.

"So that was my idea. I wanted to blend crazy, on-edge science with a book with a bad character for the lead."

Page from "RASL" #1
Really, is RASL bad or just misunderstood? "He's definitely bad," laughed Smith. "He's a thief. And he doesn't care about too many people. But of course, if I want to pull this off, I have got to make you, the reader, get on his side. So, we will see how that goes. But this guy is actually a criminal."

Looking for a pop culture comparison, Smith agreed with a nod to Hugh Laurie's titular character on Fox's medical drama"House."  "Yeah, he is like House. I love that guy," said Smith. "He's that kind of a character. He just does really repulsive things and yet it's fascinating. That's exactly right. For instance, in this first issue, he just walks into a bar and orders a shot and a pint and a martini and downs them all. And then lights up a stogie. And I was drawing that, I was like I wonder what it would be like to really do that? I thought about it and I think that it would knock you out. "

And while RASL can indeed bend space and time, don't go calling him a dirty word like time traveler. "If you said to RASL that he was a time traveler, he would not take that very well," explained Smith. "He has not built a time machine. What he has built is a spectral immersion suit that allows him to warp time and space but with engines that create huge amount of thermo-magnetic heat.

Page from "RASL" #1
"And what he does is step between dimensions. It's just like pressing through a veil and he goes through to another dimension. There's a slight time drift where he may go forward or backward through time maybe a couple hours, maybe as much as a day or two but that's all. He can't travel though time. It's just purely parallel dimensions!

"Did I just put you to sleep there? But no seriously, he can't do time travel. There is just this slight uncontrollable drift. Once he gets inside, he calls the whole veil a drift. Once he gets in there it's a bit like surfing. And it's hard to stay conscious for him. As he's drifting, it's almost like trying to catch a wave. I actually want him to describe it in the comic so I won't go too much further.

"But as he merges into a new universe, it's just moments after he left ours. But it hurts a great deal. That's why when he gets out, he has to go straight to a bar and order a shot, and a beer and a martini. And pound them down really fast."

Smith has had some friends run his own scientific theories past some real-life scientists and so far, while no one is nominating him for a Nobel Prize, he hasn't been laughed out of the academy either. "I am actually about to get together with somebody [a scientist] really quick," said Smith. "I have friends who know physicists and they have run the theories by them and I've got the thumbs up. They are science fiction obviously. But I tried to make so it would be a long-time before anybody could prove that I was wrong.

Page from "RASL" #1
"Go ahead, build a spectrum immersion suit then tell me it can't be done.

"And the whole multi-universes thing is a very real concept in current science too. All of it is kind of real or at least, kind of possible."

Smith added that the RASL universe is ever-expanding in his mind's eye, and while he's not exactly sure how long he would stay on the book, there will definitely be some cast additions and running themes explored in every issue.  "I definitely am going to introduce a cast of characters," said Smith. "There is going to be some bad guys and some femme fatales. We are going to get to know a cast of characters, for sure.

"And while I don't know exactly what the scope of this is going to be, I am thinking that I will work on it for at least three years. And maybe that will tell the story. But I am reserving the right to keep my options open. I might do this like Frank Miller did 'Sin City.' Tell a story and then continue it on. It might be a world. Or I might get hooked into this story and go for a long time like 'Bone,' although I doubt it. That almost killed me."

Page from "RASL" #1
Smith said he does have an exit strategy planned for "RASL" but unlike a television show like "Lost" that has a set end date, the creator is going to ride the drift until it takes him home. "Yes, I do have a beginning, middle and an end but like 'Bone,' I didn't know how long it is going to take me to get to the middle. And then once I got to the middle, I kind of knew how long it would take me to get to the end but it didn't. It took me longer," laughed Smith. "So I don't know exactly. I picture that this will be a much shorter book than 'Bone.' But definitely longer than the 'Shazam' thing I did." Smith wrote and illustrated the critically acclaimed miniseries, "Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil" for DC in 2007.

Continued Smith, "'Shazam' was all very carefully planned from out front. I had to work with DC and the front offices and I had to get everything approved before I did anything. This is much looser. I know what I want the story to be but I am just flying out there and the first issue is coming out tomorrow, as we speak. And I am still writing the second one. A few people have seen it and I am already getting some feedback and I am like, 'Ooh, ooh, ooh. That's a good idea.' So I am already planning to make changes to the trade paperback!"

Page from "RASL" #1
Smith is thrilled, and petrified, to be launching "RASL" today. "It's fantastic. I am also scared to death of what people are going to think of it," said Smith. "The expectations for this are a little higher than I need. But I am excited because even if people chew me up, it's going to be fun and I am launching into it full blast."

"RASL" will be a quarterly, but a big quarterly. "I am actually going to be a little more realistic this time, like every three months," confirmed Smith. "It's a quarterly. It's also going to be a bigger book. It's going to be like 32 pages. And it's going to be a fast moving issue. 32 pages is long, 10 pages longer than 'Bone.' But it goes fast."

"RASL" will have an ongoing mythos with cliffhangers and questions left at the end of every issue." Each comic book of 'RASL' will be a chapter in the complete story," explained Smith. "You get to the end of this first one and you should have questions. You should be like, 'What happens next?' So this is definitely not done-in-one. This is a building, ongoing story." 

"RASL" #1 variant cover
Smith also teased that when readers meet RASL in issue #1, he has been at this for a while. And it is the fact that things have started to unravel for the book's leading man that drives the book from page one. "When you meet him, he has been stealing by using this technology that he has invented for some period of time," said Smith. "But things are starting to go wrong and that's where this story starts. He deals with what's going wrong. That's one of things.

"And I actually wish I would have thrown a bit more science into issue #1.  Because I have shown it to people and they are like, 'Ah! How does it work?' So definitely in #2, I am going to be throwing in some more science and how it works, really quick. But it's a lot of fun and like I said, really fast-moving. You are going to be surprised."

Smith will be surprised if "Bone: The Musical" is ever made.. "Somebody has to write. I can't write a musical. And I can't sing," laughed Smith when asked what's next for the "Bone" franchise. "There probably will be more to come," said Smith. "The Scholastic series still has another year to go. The seventh of nine books just came out. It's a brand new exciting series for a whole generation of kids who don't know how the book ends. They are selling quite a few books and they are getting a lot of publicity for the idea of graphic novels in schools."

"RASL" #2
A "Bone" movie is definitely within the realm of possibility. "Because of [the book's popularity with children], we have a real influx of inquires from [film] producers. And I look at them and one of these days, the right person is going to knock on the door and that's when it is going to happen. It's just really exploding with Scholastic and it just feels like the moment is coming."

And while it's not on his radar yet, Smith said a "RASL" movie isn't such a long shot either.   "I am comic guy and I have to concentrate on that. It's hard enough to concentrate on a story, let alone draw it. And then get it all together and get it out into the world. That's a big enough job. But that being said, there have already been a few inquiries for 'RASL.' But I am not quite sure I know the whole story well enough yet to let that go.

"But I would love to see 'RASL' as a movie. It would be an action, noir picture. It would be like 'Blade Runner' meets 'The Big Sleep.' It would be awesome. "Jason Bourne' and 'Blade Runner' rolled into one.

Smith also mentioned that writer Tom Sniegoski is working on more "Stupid, Stupid Rat Tales: The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero," the prequel to Eisner Award-winning "Bone." "That's going to be fun. We'll maybe do that next year," said Smith, who will draw the book.

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