NYCC: Jeff Smith Reads "Bone" and "Shazam!"
Tucked away in Sunday’s afternoon panels at the New York Comic Con was a rare treat for comic book fans of all ages: a panel hosted by Cartoon Books’ Jeff Smith titled, “Bone Reading.” As it turns out, it almost seemed that Smith himself wasn’t quite sure what that meant, since he admitted to the crowd that he had never done something like this before.
The small crowd had a fair number of younger children in it, and everybody had a good time as Smith read through 10 pages of the upcoming Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #2 from DC Comics, where Captain Marvel battles sinister crocodile men bent on eating the children at a carnival, including the long lost sister of Marvel’s alter ego Billy Batson.
After the reading, Smith briefly digressed into a discussion of the visual and artistic influences that inspired Bone. A delightful slide show of photo references ranged from Ohio forests to the city of Katmandu in Nepal, and also included Buddhist, Medieval European, and Indian art. He said that he wanted the world of Bone to be based on as many real things as possible, believing that if the details around the Bones were right, then the cartoony Bones themselves would be more acceptable. He revealed that an encounter with a crazy cook serving incredibly bad-smelling food on the rooftops of the city of Atheia came straight from one of his dreams, and that the image of the Great Red Dragon used on the cover of Bone #55 was based on a Buddhist prayer stone, and that the Dragon is actually indicating “One” rather than shushing the reader.
Smith proceeded to read from Bone: Out from Boneville, as Fone Bone and Thorn get acquainted while cousin Phoney Bone wanders lost in the woods and meets Grandma Ben. While reading, he pointed out that Moby Dick is really his favorite book and he has read it 3 times, just as Fone Bone has, and also explained that Thorn’s method of making an apple pie was based on how early American pioneers did it.
Once the reading was finished (which Smith said was more tiring than he had thought it would be), he opened the floor to Q&A. He said that there were no plans for a Bone movie at this time, nor were there plans for more Bone books. In response to a question whether the characters are based on real people, Smith said that Grandma Ben is the only one based on someone he met, but that Thorn shares many of the same mannerisms as his wife Vijaya and that the Bones themselves are different aspects of his own personality.
Smith was asked whether he had trouble moving the book to Scholastic because several characters in the book smoke. Smith responded that he had been writing Bone one way or another since he was a child, and that many of the gags in the early part of the book were written in 1982 when everybody smoked. He said that he stopped drawing the Great Red Dragon with a dangling cigarette right around the same time he quit smoking himself, although it wasn’t a conscious decision on his part. Scholastic did apparently bring up the smoking, as well as the drinking in the tavern in the town of Barrelhaven, and asked whether it would be possible to edit both out of the book. However, Smith resisted, saying that kids had discovered the book for themselves and nobody had ever complained to him about it before then. He also added that neither Fone Bone or Thorn, the lead characters, ever smoked or drank in the series. Scholastic did eventually print the series to be smoking and drinking intact.
During a conversation with Smith shortly before the panel started, Smith mentioned that there might be something he’ll be announcing soon that is animation-related, but it would be small and he couldn’t say anything more about it yet.