Jeff Smith’s Bone is a delightful, rare fantasy epic. While most fantasy epics regal themselves with tales of powerful heroes and fierce battles, Bone pits normal, everyday people into extreme circumstances and finds the heroism within. It’s as if Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, but where all the heroes were Hobbits.
The titular Bone creatures are short, blobby creatures. They’re not particularly heroic creatures. Three cousins begin their story after just being kicked out of Boneville. Fone Bone lectures his greedy cousin Phoney Bone whose latest get rich scheme has the two run out of town along with their easygoing cousin Smiley bone. After a swarm of locus drive them into the Valley, the trio find themselves caught up with the human locals as the nearby rat creatures begin to grow more and more aggressive.
One of the greatest merits of Jeff Smith’s writing and drawing is how he makes a fantasy story that’s appropriate for all ages while still containing enough darkness and despair to give many of the conflicts a true sense of peril. There are many times where the story could have been toned down, but Smith never shies away from the darker side of the conflict.
Part of what helps counterbalance the darker tone is the playful artstyle. In many ways, the Bone characters do a good job of encapsulating Smith’s artstyle, round, playful, and simple. Visual exaggeration makes creatures that might otherwise be menacing actually inviting. Take the plump rat creatures that disproportion to head to body make them rather funny looking instead of terrifying.
It’s worth noting that Jeff Smith’s original run was in black and white. Later, colorist Steve Hamaker went back and added color. While not part of the original version, the color adds so much to the tone of the book. The use of primary colors along with the added sense of texture do a lot to play up the elements of Smith’s inviting art style.
Smith’s humor does a great job of appealing to all ages. Phoney Bone’s get rich quick schemes are the kinds of things one might find in a sitcom but with the physical gags added into to make sure the joke is funny for all ages. Likewise, two rat creatures constant attempts to gain meat is made humorous by the fact one of the monsters wants to make whatever they catch into a quiche, an absurd desire for any respectable monster.
And from the humble origins and the funny gags, Jeff Smith gradually builds a dark, serious fantasy story that grows and grows in its sense of scale and peril. It’s hard to talk about this book without mentioning The Lord of the Rings because the arc is so similar. Bone is one of the great fantasy epics and any fan of the genre owes it to himself/herself to read the story.
Writing a story that appeals to both children and adults is always a difficult proposition. Bone manages to make something for all audiences while doing backflips and making wisecracks. In terms of story and comedy, few comic books are as imbued with such impeccably building conflict and delightfully witty comedy. It’s the type of comic that would make a nice quiche. Every bit is juicy and delightful, lacking any of that filler crust nonsense.
© 2015 James Blake Ewing