Back in the early '90s, Bone became the little book that could. Written, drawn and independently published by Jeff Smith over the course of 12 years, Bone told an epic fantasy with wit and humor and not a small amount of suspense. Some thought it couldn't be done. The comics market wasn't healthy for such small ventures, and publishing and distributing a comic out of a garage --- as Smith did --- was risky at best. But it worked. In fact, it became a phenomenon.
It begins with three cousins --- Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone --- being unceremoniously thrown out of Boneville because of the scheming ways of Phoney, the richest (and most deceptive) man in town. Almost immediately, the three become separated, and Fone, the hero of the tale, sets out to find them. He first meets the charming and beautiful Thorn, who brings him back to stay with her Gran'ma Ben, a rough-and-tumble fighter who races cows and doesn't take backtalk from anyone. Good-hearted Fone befriends a dragon, bugs, other assorted creatures, falls head over heels for Thorn, and becomes the target of deadly rat creatures, who want to capture him and bring him to their evil master. And so begins an epic journey wherein our hero is unsuspecting of the dangers that face him as he reaches levels of greatness he had no idea were in store for him.
Bone's long tale unfolded in glorious black-and-white in its original form, but Scholastic has begun reprinting the series in color. Bone purists may have a hard time accepting this, but they needn't fear. These reprinted collections use color splendidly, actually giving Bone a new feel. And it may help this wonderful series reach a new audience. (One other side effect of the added color: The rat creatures look twice as terrifying as before, with beady red eyes filled with evil intentions.)
Something these reprinted collections would benefit immensely from, however, is a foreword or brief primer to fill new readers in on what has gone before. Bone is not easy to jump into this far into the series --- the eighth installment is the penultimate book in the tale --- and someone attempting to start here may be a bit thrown.
Even new readers would be hard-pressed to avoid being drawn into this charming world, though. Bone has a way of combining sweeping action with hilarious dialogue without ever descending into camp. Even better, Smith takes his work seriously, even when he's being seriously funny --- or when he's being downright frightening, as TREASURE HUNTERS often is. This far into his story, Smith has upped the stakes, and the action is fast and furious. As Fone, Thorn, Gran'ma Ben and the other characters get nearer to reaching their goal, answers begin to unfold with satisfying results, and the danger they're in escalates.
Bone is a special kind of graphic novel, a work that is as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids (and manages to tell its story without insulting the sensibilities of either group). It's in the grand tradition of Walt Kelley's Pogo and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but it's distinctive and stands on its own. Five years after the series ended, it's reassuring to know that Bone is still managing to reach new readers in new collections.
Reviewed by John Hogan on August 1, 2008
Treasure Hunters Bone, Volume 8