Books: Cartoonist Jeff Smith's Childhood Dreams

: Peter Tonguette
The book's cover

Jeff Smith's Bone comic books are for all ages, but the 58-year-old cartoonist understands their particular appeal to young readers. After all, he was still a boy in Worthington when he first imagined the basics of what became his fabled series, which was originally released from 1991 to 2004.

“Probably between 5 and 9, I was drawing little stories with these same three characters,” Smith says, referring to the comic's stars: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, who all resemble anthropomorphized bones.

In July, the local artist began reaching the youngest possible readers when the publisher Scholastic released Smith's first picture book based on the series, “Smiley's Dream Book,” which is for ages 3–5.

“Scholastic is always wanting me to do more Bone stuff,” Smith says. “I've never really wanted to do a sequel proper to the giant Bone story, but the excuse to draw the Bone boys is always something I'm interested in.”

“Smiley's Dream Book” began with an image Smith had of Smiley in flight with a flock of birds. From there, he worked backward to produce a plot. “Of course, it needed to be a dream so he could fly,” he says.

The final result is short on words and long on imagination, but Smith—who has one other picture book to his credit, 2013's “Little Mouse Gets Ready”—initially struggled with paring down his style.

“In a children's book, you don't want to put a bunch of detail in there,” he says. “You want to keep it simple and colorful.” And, like most picture books, the tale needed a neat and tidy ending. In this case, Smiley wakes up and concludes that pleasant dreams make up for scary ones.

Smith continues to make comics for older readers—including a graphic novel version of his web comicTuki—but he intends to work more in the picture-book genre. A second book featuring Bone's cast will be published next year.

“They're actually younger,” he says. “They're like the age of the Our Gang group, so it'll be fun.”

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