Dec 31 2013

Read this Right Now: Bone by Jeff Smith

Published by at 11:00 am under Comics

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If you’re like me, people didn’t know what to get you for Christmas, so they gave you gift cards. And you probably still have more of a list than you should, and could do without any more suggestions of things to get with said gift cards.

But let me just say, Bone should be really high on that list.

It recently came to me, like almost all truly great things, via recommendation. Pointed out while walking with a friend around a bookstore. A massive book called “Bone” festooned with praise like, “One of the ten greatest graphic novels of all time.”

When I asked him why I should bother reading it, aside from it deserving mention with the other nine greatest graphic novels of all time, my friend name-dropped Lord of the Rings. And rightly so. Like Tolkien’s magnum opus, Bone is perhaps best enjoyed for the richly textured world Jeff Smith creates in its pages.

And, like Tolkien’s magnum opus, Bone is a masterpiece.

What’s it about? That’s a tricky question to answer. It’s the sort of story that starts out seeming very small, but by the time you make it through its pages, has grown very large indeed.

It’s ostensibly about a trio of cartoonish little guys called “Bones.” Their names are Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone. We first meet them on their way out of Boneville, where Phoney Bone’s money-grubbing schemes have apparently stirred up a bit of trouble for our three heroes.

By the end of the first chapter, their travels through the wilderness outside of Boneville have encompassed a swarm of locusts, a bemused dragon, giant bugs, quiche-loving rat creatures, and a few other surprises. By chapter two — well, it’d be a shame to ruin any more than necessary about the storyline. Suffice to say things get weirder and bigger from here on out.

Perhaps instead of describing what Bone is about, it’d be easier to simply describe what Bone IS.

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Jeff Smith adopts the formatting and art style of a Sunday comic strip. He owes debts to icons like Walt Kelly (“Pogo”), Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), and Walt Disney. Even the series’ sense of humor evokes that style of storytelling. The art itself is gorgeous; witty and expressive. Most pages are divided into stark rectangles — like a comic strip — but occasionally Smith pulls out the stops for some stunning two-page spreads that simply demand the reader to stop and look for a little bit.

It’s the little details that make it — each character who appears in a panel matters, and has his or her own agenda. The world of Bone is constantly chugging along outside the narrative we actually get to see.

Fortunately, Smith includes as much of that world as possible. As they barrel from one adventure to the next, the three Bone characters encounter secret societies, ancient legends, surprising dangers and unexpected helpers. Bone is a rolicking tale in the true, old-fashioned sense of the term; a story that flirts with darkness and danger, but never succumbs to the modern vices of grim and gritty.

This story wears its sincerity on its sleeve (though, like the original Disney gang, only one of the core trio bothers to wear a shirt).

Basically, Bone is FUN in all caps. It’s also a true original; a property with a beginning and an end that fills the space between with fun, distinct, memorable characters.

And I’d be lying if the final pages didn’t leave me a little misty-eyed. That’s the bit that makes this one an all-time classic. After all the fun, all the adventures, Bone truly is about the relationships between its characters. I wasn’t expecting an emotional hook from a book that looks like this one, but I learned long ago that my expectations don’t really matter when it comes to stories like this one.

Check it out. It comes in multiple volumes for those who prefer it that way; myself, I recommend the 1332-page one-volume version. It doesn’t matter, though. However you read it, Bone is a tale for the ages.

Course, you may have already read it. If so, sound off! Those of you who know the story of the Bone creatures: What did you think of Jeff Smith’s epic tale?





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3 responses so far

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    Really? I can’t picture that style ever being epic,but that could be because Bone is a genre-defying game-changer that will change my perspective. You’ve got my attention.

    • David R

      I mean, I think it’s that very thing. The epic quality of it sneaks up on you, too — initially, it seems like a rather quaint, if fun, little adventure. But it snowballs all the way through and winds up as a fairly high-stakes sort of thing. The best comparison I can think of would be The Hobbit, except the tone varys a bit more and it’s obviously done in a very American, cartoony art style.

      I don’t mean to keep slobbering all over this book but your attention is something it deserves if you like good fantasy.

  • Brandon Sundheimermeyer

    nice to see Bone pop up again, I first read bone in the 90′s when disney magazine had the first chapter spread over like 2 or 3 months. I’ve loved it ever since

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