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Bone: One Volume Edition

Written and drawn by Jeff Smith

Between 1991 and 2004 Jeff Smith wrote and drew 55 issues of Bone.  During the same period of time, whenever I saw a copy of this on the shelf of whatever comic shop I patronised at the time, I passed it by, rather put off by the cutesy Disney-esque characters, despite hearing only good things about it.

My resolve was worn down in 2004 with the publication of the one volume edition, clocking in at about 1,300 pages and collecting all 55 issues.  Lacking anything to else read, with some serious persuasion by the then owner of my LCS, and for a decent price, I picked up this doorstopper volume.  Within a few pages I was hooked and wondering why I hadn’t been reading this a long time ago.

On the upside, though I got the read the whole story in a short space of time, rather than over 13 years …..

So what’s so good about it?

The three main characters are the Bone cousins; the good natured Fone Bone, the selfish, scheming Phoney Bone, and the silly, carefree Smiley Bone.  Due to one of Phoney’s schemes backfiring, the cousins have been run out of their hometown of Boneville, and find themselves lost in a desert, before a swarm of locusts gets them further lost and separated in a strange valley, populated by talking animals and humans.

It’s not long before it’s apparent that there’s something sinister going on in the Valley.  Almost immediately, strange creatures are looking for Phoney Bone, while other strange creatures have them under the protection.  Fone Bone finds refuge with Thorn, a young girl, who lives with her grandmother, Gran’ma Ben.  Thorn is troubled with strange dreams of dragons, while Gran’ma Ben clearly knows more than she’s letting on.

The essence of the story of Bone is fairly simple; sinister powers want to awaken a terrible, ancient evil.  However, there’s a long way to go, both physically and metaphorically, to get there as there’s a number of adventures to be had and characters and relationships to unfold.

The initial tone is fairly light and comedic, while things darken (and get downright macabre in some places) as the story progresses.  Not that the darkness is far away from the comedic moments, or vice versa, so there is a nice balance to the tone.

There’s plenty of well timed comedy action sequences, Phoney’s attempts to rig the annual Valley highlight, the Great Cow Race (as well as his other backfiring schemes), Fone Bone and Smiley Bone’s encounter with Rock Jaw and the secret to why Phoney Bone is being hunted down.

Despite the Disney-ish art style there’s some grotesque moments too.  The leader of the rat creatures, Kingdok has a fair share of indignities heaped upon up him, and Kingdok’s superior, The Hooded One, is pretty ghoulish.  Most of book seven, Ghost Circles, is pretty bleak.

The story’s full of great supporting characters, Ted the bug, Phoney’s nemesis and Gran’ma Ben’s old flame, Lucius Down, the aloof Roque Ja (or “Rock Jaw”) Master of the Eastern Border and the ever present, quiche obsessed stupid, stupid rat creatures.  As things move along we find out more about the characters, and there’s nice development in both the characters and their shifting relationships.  There are also a couple of ill tempered giant bees in there for good measure…

As well as writing all of this, Jeff Smith provided the black and white art as well.  It’s crisp and clean though out and with some brilliant sequential segments, tiny movements telling the story without words.  What I enjoy most about the artwork is the use of perspective.  Quite often we’re shown things at a distance, particularly the surrounding menace at the outset, or the isolation that some of the characters start to feel as the story develops.

To the best of my recollection, this is the only book I have ever persuaded a non comic book reading friend to take up.  He thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that  he said he finally understood why comic readers got upset about changes in movie adaptations, and when he read that Smith had recently done a deal for the movie rights, his reaction was to express concern that the studio wouldn’t “mess it up”…

I don’t think I can do justice to 13 years of work in a few paragraphs, save to say this is one of my favourite titles on the bookshelf, and I’d heartily recommend this to anyone.  Get some quiche in as well!


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