Cartoonist Jeff Smith is best known for creating the comic book and graphic novel series “Bone,” a publication characterized by both light-hearted comedy and dark fantasy. The idea for the Bone cousins, lead characters in the series, began to formulate when Smith was just a kid, inspired by the cartoons and comics he read; these characters stuck with him throughout his adult life and led to his lifelong career as a cartoonist. Smith successfully self-published the “Bone” series through his own company, Cartoon Books, before it was picked up years later by major publishing house Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Books. For his work on “Bone,” Smith has received various awards, including 10 Eisner awards and 11 Harveys. Two of his most recent series are “RASL” and “Tuki Save the Humans.”
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
Where did you get your inspiration for your most recent book Bone: Tall Tales?
From American tall ales like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. I loved the idea of a character that actually lives through those kinds of unbelievable stories!
You have been creating comics since you were a young child. How did you get your start at writing a graphic novel?
I was always a fan of comics collections like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes, so one day I sat down and outlined a story and just started to draw. I had the overall story in mind from having created daily strips for the Ohio State University newspaper years before I began the graphic novel.
What challenges do you face in your writing/illustrating process? How do you overcome them?
I’ve been writing long enough that I recognize when I’m having difficulties that I should not worry. It usually means I need to think about something a little longer so what I’ll do is just skip to a part that is working well and while I’m finishing that I'll figure the rest out.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start creating comics?
It’s very important to come up with a good character, or cast of characters, but with comics its very important to read a lot of other comics so you can figure out the secret of writing the pictures.
Can you suggest a fun writing or cartooning topic to get them started?
Have a character flipping a coin as he walks down the street and have him miss catching it, instead it rolls away - so draw a comic about your character chasing the rolling coin. PS-Make sure it’s not easy to catch!
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
As a kid I liked Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, all of the Dr. Seuss books, Sherlock Holmes and of course almost anything you could find at a comic book store.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
Usually it’s just a theme that I want to explore. Sometimes I’ll see something on tv, or a friend will say something and I'll explore the idea-maybe make a book out of it.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
It’s very important! You are in charge of the scenery and writing the dialogue. In fact every job that would go into making a movie a cartoonist has to do. So if you were going to set your story in New York City, you’d need to know what a street in NYC looks like. Or if I’m going to have a bone character use an oxcart on the farm-I want to find out what a real oxcart looks like. Drawing comics that are based in research help makes them more believable and fun for the reader.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Read to them or with them!
If you weren't creating comics and graphic novels, what do you think you would be doing?
Flipping burgers at McDonalds!
Do you have a website where kids can learn more about your books?
Yes, you can find more about the Bone series, play games, and get freebies here. www.scholastic.com/bone/.