[10 February 2005]
Jeff Smith published his first issue of Bone in 1991. I was heavily into comic books at the time and quickly heard about it through the comic fan press. I wasn’t that impressed with the black and white artwork from the previews but I did finally break down and purchase the first trade paperback when it was published (due in great part to the Neil Gaiman introduction in that volume). At the time, my interests were knee-deep in the (soon-to-be) Vertigo universe from DC Comics and “adult” comics like Cry For Dawn and the (still incomplete) Faust. I did enjoy the book very much, but with no end in sight (then) for the series, I decided that I would just wait for the trades to be published. When the final collection was published, they also announced this all-in-one collection. Unfortunately, the deluxe hardcover edition sold-out rapidly, but the softcover printing, collecting something like 70 single-issues for only 40 bucks, is truly a “steal”, especially considering the rapidly rising costs of comics.
Our main protagonists, the Bone cousins, include Bone, Phoney and Smiley. The story of the Bones is a simple one at first. They are trying to get back home after being kicked out of town, thanks to one of Phoney’s scheme that goes wrong. During their travels, they get split up by a swarm of locusts. We quickly meet the supporting characters like the Dragon, Ted the Bug, the Rat Creatures and the other main focus of the story, Thorn Harvestar. Bone instantly falls in love with Thorn.
Characters are given life through their attitudes and peculiarities. Phoney has a near insatiable love of money, and Bone is obsessed with the Herman Melville novel Moby Dick, from which he acts out scenes for Thorn. While separated from Bone, the remaining cousins, Smiley and Phoney, befriend a baby rat creature that they name Bartleby (another Melville reference).
The Bone cousins eventually find each other and their quest to find their way home is then diverted by Bone’s decision to stay and help Thorn. The light humor which is sprinkled throughout the story then slowly darkens with more character additions including the nightmarish Briar and the menacing Roque Ja, the disintegration of Thorn’s sanity and the rat creatures surrounding the valley.
When the story is over, some friends are lost, some are found and some are now left only in memory. The ending wasn’t quite what I expected and at first I was disappointed. The more I thought about it, I became happier with the ending as it was presented. I think it’s because of my preference for more “final” endings, while Jeff Smith leaves the readers with a bit of an indeterminate finale. This story is for anyone who is a fan of family-friendly quest adventures, and given the resurgence of fantasy with the Lord of the Rings movies, the Harry Potter franchise, and the upcoming Narnia movies, it couldn’t have been published at a more opportune time.. Full of interesting characters that will enchant readers, Jeff Smith mixes humor and adventure perfectly, and while story and art are certainly “cartoony”, Bone is anything but childish. But, the story doesn’t end here. Scholastic has just released the first Bone full color trade paperback. I hope it doesn’t take another decade before I can enjoy the Bone: One Volume Color Edition.