Jeff Smith’s “Bone”

jeffsmithbonecvr.jpgIf you have any interest in the medium of graphic storytelling, this is one piece that should be at the top of your To Read/Own list.

Originally self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004, Bone is hailed as the longest running independently-published comic by a single author. Originally, there were 55 issues, released sporadically. These days you can purchase it as a complete volume that clocks in at a spectacular 1,332 pages. And every page is a work of art.

hoodedoneratcr.jpgWhen the three Bones - Phoney Bone, Smily Bone and Fone Bone - are run out of their hometown, they find themselves far from home and separated from one another in The Valley. We primarily follow everyman Fone Bone as he’s taken in by tough Gran’ma Ben and her (cute) grand-daughter Thorn for the winter. But as Spring blossoms, so does trouble: Thorn is having strange dreams, frightening Rat Creatures have begun to invade the valley, and a dragon has been spotted in the woods. They discover the mythic Lord of the Locusts seeks someone to release him from his ancient prison so he can destroy the world, a role he thinks can be filled by either Thorn or Bone’s cousin, Phoney. The barriers between the real world and the dream world begin to break down, and the discovery of Thorn’s mysterious lineage puts them in even more danger than before.

Smith weaves a tale that effectively combines fantasy elements like dragons, monsters, other worlds, and fate with lighter, comedic fare. The art reflects this juxtaposition as well - most of the characters are human, while the three Bones are more simply rendered, with big cartoon-y features and little clothes. Many of the human characters are still exaggerated, however, and I think that’s where Smith is at his strongest. Gran’ma Ben in particular is wonderfully expressive, despite having only lines for eyes and speaking primarily through her chin. His creature designs are straight-forward but fantastic, whether it’s a dragon, Rat Creature, or the cute baby animals. Emotion is poignant and subtle when it needs to be; action is always clear, expressive and exciting.

bonesample01.gifRarely does one truly find an author that is just as gifted at art as he/she is at storytelling. In every work of fiction it’s the story that is key, and sometimes graphic novels can get caught up in the “how” rather than the “what” when the author/illustrator are the same person. In Bone, they work well hand in hand.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve read it twice, and I had just as much fun this time as the first time. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again in the future.

Bone is also being re-released in color, with the talents of Steve Hamaker adding some umph to Jeff Smith’s expert inking.

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