Thursday, August 15, 2013

Good To The Bone!

It's quite possible with all the attention that Image, Valiant, and other comic book companies got during the hotly hyped halcyon days of 1990's that the best comic book to emerge from that era was Jeff Smith's Bone.

I followed Bone almost from the beginning, but gave it up fairly soon into the saga as I gave up all independent work for mostly financial reasons. But a few years back I was able to get a copy of the mammoth but still highly readable black and white single-volume edition of the whole shebang. It's been sitting on my stacks for quite some time waiting for its chance to be read.

I read it.

It's great!

It's clear enough that Smith's technique improves somewhat as the early stages of the story develop, but soon enough his style stabilizes and what we are presented with is a sprawling fantasy tale told with precision and wit by a guy who is fully able to use the comic book tools to best effect.

Smiley, Fone, Phoney and Thorn
The story presents us with the Bones, a trio of Pogo-esque cousins (Fone, Smiley, and Phoney) who are run out of Boneville and find their way across a desert into The Valley where they encounter friends and enemies, and love and death. Fone Bone, our hero meets Thorn, a lovely girl with a mysterious history who seems to dream of all sorts of things including dragons, which it turns out are quite real and quite powerful. The story begins quite small, with equal parts humor and adventure, but begins to shift gears as the adventure overwhelms the characters with the danger steadily increasing right to the very end.

Hooded One and Rat Creatures
Don't kid yourself, this is a long story by comic book standards. The volume clocks in at well over 1300 pages and took Smith years to complete. But it reads quite seamlessly as details and hints from the beginning of the saga pay off in the finale. Smith's pacing is immaculate. It's a most satisfying read indeed.

Bone has proven quite successful and is available in multiple editions, not including the original comic books. It's been colored and presented through Scholastic Books as fundamental children's literature, which it certainly qualifies for, though I suspect some of the snide humor might be a tad adult for most kids.

I recommend the black and white though, as Smith's storytelling is not reliant on color hardly at all, and his charming line work shines best in this distilled form.

It's been compared to Tolkien's works, and that's hardly fair. It's got the depth of The Hobbit perhaps, but nothing so dense and detailed as The Lord of the Rings. It's a rock solid fantasy, worthy of inclusion on the shelves of any fantasy devotee, a true graphic novel.

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