I am midway through my third re-reading of Jeff Smith’s Bone. The first one was on my own, with the black-and-white paperbacks. The second was with my daughter four years ago, with the color Scholastic editions. And, now the third is with my other daughter, again with the Scholastic editions.
This time we got a special treat: Jeff Smith, who lives here in Columbus, held a reading at a local bookstore a few weeks ago, so the kids and I got to watch him sketch and answer questions.
In Columbus, we are spoiled by Jeff Smith’s presence, and his role in helping to start one of our local comics festivals, Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (I have been a volunteer for the festival almost since it started).
But my kids have never seen him in person in the time since they’ve read the books, so it was great that Cover to Cover Children’s Books hosted him. Check out this display window:
For the reading, store employees encouraged kids to sit down in front, while the adults were packed shoulder to should along the back.
Jeff did a series of sketches while talking about how he first imagined the Bone characters when he was kid, and showing how the look of the characters changed as he grew up. The protagonist Fone Bone initially had a head that looked like the handset of a rotary phone (see the contrast in the photo at the top of this post).
Here is Jeff signing and sketching after the reading:
My Bone re-reading is now on the seventh book, Ghost Circles. There are two books to go in the main series, followed by the prequel, Rose, and other related books.
For those who haven’t read the series, here’s my too-brief summary: The three Bone cousins are cartoon characters who have been forced to leave their home of Boneville and get stuck in a lush valley where they are caught up in a conflict between humans and the beastly Rat Creatures that turns into war that could lead to the end of the world.
The main character, Fone Bone, is a regular guy caught in events he doesn’t understand, constantly dodging death and trying to do the right thing. The adventures are filled with pratfalls and gags, mixed together with a longform fantasy story.
To understand why Bone works, it helps to read it with a kid. My kids immediately identify with Fone Bone and his cousins and want to see how the story ends. And, my kids had a strong reaction to the Rat Creatures.
My youngest daughter can speak for paragraphs upon paragraphs about how the rat creatures have giant fangs, but how their mouths seem to disappear when closed, and how this contrast makes them more scary. They are often drawn with claws extended and about to pounce.
Jeff Smith’s Bone is also a great publishing story, which I go into in my book. It started as a self-published comic book in the early 1990s that managed to find an audience in comic shops thanks to its quality and the way that Smith got it into the hands of retailers and fans who helped to sell it to others.
Bone was later picked up by Scholastic, which turned the series from a cult hit into a mainstream success story, selling millions of copies and helping to start what has turned into a boom in comics sales to younger readers.
The significance of Bone in the current market becomes clear when reading the 2015 Tribute Edition of the Bone Vol. 1 in which other leading Scholastic cartoonists have brief pieces showing their appreciation for this series that helped to create the publishing category that they all are now a part of.