Reviewed by Chris Bolton
Jeff Smith's comic series Bone was originally published throughout the '90s by Smith's own publishing venture, Cartoon Books. All collected, the series totals nine trade paperback volumes, which have been reprinted in color by Scholastic's Graphix imprint.
Revisiting the books in color is a pure pleasure, second only to reading them for the first time. Now that the final volume, Crown of Horns, has been issued, this seems a perfect time to reconsider the epic story (totaling more than 1,300 pages) in its entirety.
The series follows a trio of creatures called Bones, who resemble a full-bodied Shmoo with Snoopy's long snout attached. At the opening of the first book, the Bone cousins — good-hearted Fone Bone, dim-witted Smiley Bone, and unapologetically greedy Phoney Bone — are adrift in the wilderness, having been run out of their hometown, Boneville, by an angry mob after yet another of Phoney's ill-conceived schemes. Caught in a swarm of locusts, the Bone cousins flee for safety and are soon separated. Fone Bone finds himself lost in a strange valley inhabited by talking forest creatures, a mysterious red dragon, and the Rat Creatures — large, furry carnivores that are as ferocious as they are stupid. After barely surviving his first encounter with a couple of quiche-obsessed Rat Creatures (culminating in a brilliant sight gag that prompts the classic exclamation, "Stupid, stupid Rat Creatures!"), Fone encounters a young human woman named Thorn, with whom he falls instantly in love.
Eventually the cousins are reunited (naturally, it turns out that Phoney has been up to no good on his own) and join with Thorn, Granma Ben, and the burly innkeeper Lucius against the army of Rat Creatures and the mysterious Hooded One who leads them. There are magical artifacts, deadly creatures, and long-buried secrets galore.
Of the three trilogies that comprise the series, the first remains my favorite. The central set-piece of volume two, The Great Cow Race, is a masterpiece of physical mayhem that highlights writer/artist Smith's peerless comic timing. Gradually, the story drifts into epic fantasy and becomes darker, making the ensuing volumes somewhat less memorable. I wish that Smith had been able to better balance the lighthearted tones of the early stories with the darkness of the Lord of the Rings-style war that develops in the later ones.
Still, the entire saga is a mammoth achievement in and of itself — and even if the later books lack the resonance of the first three, they are never less than entertaining.
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Chris Bolton's days are spent providing images and content for Powells.com. When night falls, he writes the web-comic Smash with his artist brother, Kyle. He wrote and directed a web-series called Wage Slaves, which is in post-production, and his short story set in Powell's City of Books will appear this summer in Portland Noir from Akashic Press.
Books mentioned in this post