Monday, February 11, 2008

An Afternoon with Jeff Smith

Sundays around the Bully household are usually a pretty simple affair. Sleep until ten, get up, make Eggo waffles, watch cartoons, take a nap or's all pretty casual on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unless, of course, there's an expedition to be made and someone exciting to see, in which case I'm bounding out of bed at dawn and tugging on my sweater, eager and ready to get out into the world. What could make Bully so excitable on a quiet Sunday? Why, an appearance by Bone creator Jeff Smith at Symphony Space in Manhattan, as part of the popular Thalia Kid's Club series in the theater with the greatest name in the universe: The Leonard Nimoy Thalia! It's the logical place to have an event.

This very special Sunday begins not with Eggos but with brunch out at Cousin John's in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I'm having Eggs Benedict Arnold. Don't turn your back on them!

My good pal Randi was very sweet and shared her pamcakes with me. PAMCAKES! Yet another reason why Randi has great taste: she can pick a crackerjack breakfast item. Do not pour me on the pamcakes, Randi!:

I didn't take any photos of the Jeff Smith stage event at the Nimoy Thalia, but he put on a fantastic show. It was mainly geared towards kids, and there were a few hundred pre-teens and their parents in the audience, many of them clutching well-worn and frequently-read copies of the various volumes of Bone. Jeff was introduced and interviewed on stage by Matthew Cody (author of the upcoming young adult superhero adventure Powerless). Narrating a slide show of artwork, Jeff explained his influences (introducing the kids to Carl Barks's Uncle Scrooge and C. C. Beck's Captain Marvel), showed off pages from his childhood Bone comics, and explained how he designs and draws covers by showing several sketches in progress for the Scholastic Bone series and why he and the designers picked the final versions they did for excitement and drama.

Jeff then had all the kids in the audience draw a character on a supplied sheet of paper. His only instruction: "make your character either happy or angry." He then showed off a few dozen of the kids' drawings on the big screen and asked each one of the young artists to talk about their character and what was going on in the drawing. I was impressed by the skill and range of these young artists (me, I can barely hold a crayon! Well, it's more difficult with hooves). A huge number of them drew their own original creations, and some even broke up their paper into comic panels with action and story sequence. Jeff was full of praise for their work, pointing out some of the visual shorthand older comics fans take for granted: speed lines, furrowed eyebrows to express anger, posture as a function of strength or action—these kids had the fundamentals, and all were eager and excited to talk to the crowd about their creations. I especially liked one kid who had designed a character named "Grandpa" and his various alter-egos, including "Baby Grandpa." I would so buy a comic book named "Baby Grandpa."

A Q&A session finished up the stage show, with only one rule: "kids can ask questions, adults can't." Excellent rule, as the kids came up with great questions about where Jeff got his ideas, where the Bones' names came from (Fone Bone? From Don Martin's frequently Fonebone characters), and why the stupid, stupid rat creatures have trimmed ears and tails. Jeff was fantastic with the kids: encouraging, funny, and patient.

The event then moved to the Symphony Space café, where Jeff signed books and talked with the kids for about another hour and a half, the line snaking around the seating area and up the stairs. I patiently stood in line to meet Jeff, and the wait went by fast, thanks to spending time chatting with the delightful Randi:

I love Randi! She is so nice to me. Thanks for taking me to see Jeff Smith, Randi!

At last I got up to the table and got to meet the Great Man himself. He was very cheerful as I chatted with him for a moment. I believe I was the only stuffed bull he's had come out to one of his signings.

Even though he'd already signed a bajillion books so far that afternoon, he kindly signed my big Bone phone book and sketched me a quick drawing of Fone Bone and Ted the Bug. Thanks, Jeff!

When we came out of the Leonard Nimoy Thalia it was starting to snow! I was glad I'd worn my warm winter fleece hoodie:

Snowflakes were as big as canned hams by the time we reached the subway entrance. Quick, into the subway before we get turned into snowmen! And snowbulls. And snowrandis.

Coming in from the snow on a cold Sunday afternoon, there's no better treat than a steaming mug of hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows:

In fact, the only thing better than just a mug of hot cocoa is reading Bone while you sip it! Thanks for a great fun day, Jeff Smith!

Read Jeff Smith's blog entry on the event at


SallyP said...

It looks as though you had a completely delightful Sunday.

Rich said...

What fun, Bully! I met Eric Powell over the weekend, but I bet that was a little different. ;)

Bill D. said...

This sounds like the best author event ever. And Jeff Smith always seems like such a nice guy. Some friends of mine and I saw him in passing on Friday morning at New York Comic Con last year. My buddy Dan saw him first and said, "Hey, Bill, look... it's Jeff Smith!" He was clearly on his way somewhere, but he heard us, turned around, and said "Hey, guys!" and gave us a big wave as he passed. Classy guy, that one.

Mike Lynch said...

This is the nicest thing I've read this week. The bigger they are, the nicer they are. No wonder BONE just hit its 2 million sales mark and just keeps making money for Scholastic.

Now I've got to go out and find one of those cool Penguin Books mugs like you've got, Bully!

Bully said...

Here you, go, Mike!