Comic-Con International in San Diego officially kicked off with the Jeff Smith Panel, the first panel of the show. The "Bone" and "RASL" creator took center stage in front of a packed room filled with adults and children alike, offering a "pretty chunky power point" presentation about his upcoming plans for "Bone," "RASL" and more.
"Welcome to the first panel of San Diego Comic-Con," Smith warmly welcomed his audience. "I'm Jeff, by the way," he added to uproarious applause.
Smith promptly launched his power point presentation to provide readers with new information on some of his upcoming projects, like "Bone: Tall Tales," a reentry into the world of "Bone" alongside familiar faces such as Smiley Bone and Bartleby the Rat Creature. "Tall Tales" focuses on Smiley in his new position as Bone Scout Leader, telling stories around the campfire to a trio of young Bones named Ringo, Bingo and Todd. Smith is providing art to the Tom Sniegoski-written comic book.
Additionally, Smith is collaborating with Sniegoski on "Quest for the Spark," a prose novel that returns readers to the world of The Valley. "Quest for the Spark" focuses on a new trio of Bones - Professor Bone and his two youthful companions - who return to The Valley after hearing the stories of Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone and their adventures battling dragons, mountain lions and stupid, stupid rat creatures. In the story, newly appointed Queen Thorn Harvestar has mysteriously fallen asleep and can't wake up. Smith added that he only had one caveat about returning to the Valley with another new "Bone" adventure - the original trio of Fone, Phoney and Smiley were not allowed to appear in the novel.
The cartoonist's presentation moved on to discuss "RASL," with Smith stating that he recently re-choreographed a fight sequence between RASL and Sal, previously seen in "RASL" #4. Smith decided to redo the scene after it became apparent that certain fans weren't clear on "the beef" between the two characters. In returning to the scene, Smith expanded on the fight sequence with several new panels and pages to add a greater sense of danger and conflict between RASL and Sal. The remastered scene will appear in an upcoming oversized "RASL" collection.
Continuing his power point presentation, Smith said that next year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of "Bone." As a result, he's asking fans of the series to offer suggestions on how to celebrate the anniversary. Smith said he'd like to receive feedback on his official website from fans within the next six months.
At the conclusion of Smith's power point presentation, the cartoonist narrated a passage from "Tall Tales" for the audience. The story focused on Big Johnson, a competitive eater who falls in love with a fellow Bone named Gertie, also known as the Cobbler Gobbler. As the eating competition ensues and Big Johnson proceeds to throw back asparagus pie, fruit cobbler and other assorted food products, he finds himself falling deeper and deeper in love with Gertie - so much so that he throws the competition and allows her to win. But Gertie has eaten so much that she blows up to the size of a balloon and floats off in the sky towards the moon, never to be seen again. "They say she's there still," Smith concluded the story.
Smith opened the panel to fan questions, with one audience member inquiring about the status of the fabled "Bone" film. "Warner Bros. bought the rights last year for a 'Bone' movie," he said. "They're developing it right now. There's not a lot to talk about. I haven't seen that much. Animal Logic isn't officially part of the thing but I've seen some character [designs] they've done of Fone and Phoney Bone. I've only seen a blip of animation, but I've seen models of Fone, Phoney and the Dragon and they're dynamite. Other than that, it's still early days. I'm sure Warner Bros. will be making announcements here next year. I'd count on it."
Asked about the shift in tone between the family friendly "Bone" to the more mature "RASL," Smith traced it back to his final days working on "Bone," when he would watch old Humphrey Bogart movies while working on illustrations. He likened "RASL" to the Jason Bourne franchise and "Blade Runner" with a touch of Bogart-infused science fiction, resulting in "this hardboiled character" at the center of the story.
Another audience member asked Smith if he had any ideas for how to get more kids into comic books. "I drew 'Bone' for cartoon heads, for us, for people who come to this show every year. I was drawing the comics I wanted to see when I was nine," said Smith. "When I started it in 1999, there were no kids at these panels. There were no women here, which I thought was a shame! My wife would go into the bathroom and it'd be empty and clean and sparkly and the only other person would be Vampirella changing into her outfit. The situation has changed so much [since then]. I think just us all coming to San Diego over the years, I've watched you guys that I've seen for 20 years now and you come in with babies and then they're kids and the next thing I know they have their driver's license. So far I haven't met any grand kids, but this thing has changed now. There's manga, Scholastic has their graphic line and they have great books that kids are liking now. Kids are reading them by the millions now."
Smith was asked about his inspiration for creating "Bone." "My original inspiration to do 'Bone' was this kind of desire as a kid, if I could find every Carl Barks 'Uncle Scrooge' story - there's a sense of progression as you learn his backstory that he's a miner and that's how he made his fortune - if I could collect every story and line them up end to end, wouldn't it be cool if they made a function of a single story? That was my original story," he said. "I always wanted to do it. It wasn't until I saw 'The Dark Knight Returns' and 'Maus' that I realized that this medium could handle a true big novel."
The cartoonist revealed that he has new ideas currently in development, but they're too early to discuss. "I've got a new idea that I'm working on and the only thing I'll say about it is I'm interested in the new digital world," he teased.
The final question of the panel belonged to a young boy dressed as Mario, who asked if Smith based Fone Bone on himself. "That is an excellent question to end on," the creator laughed. "Yes, I did."