[fusion_builder_container backgroundcolor=”” backgroundimage=”” backgroundrepeat=”no-repeat” backgroundposition=”left top” backgroundattachment=”scroll” video_webm=”” video_mp4=”” video_ogv=”” video_preview_image=”” overlay_color=”” overlay_opacity=”0.5″ video_mute=”yes” video_loop=”yes” fade=”no” bordersize=”0px” bordercolor=”” borderstyle=”” paddingtop=”20px” paddingbottom=”20px” paddingleft=”0px” paddingright=”0px” menu_anchor=”” equal_height_columns=”no” hundred_percent=”no” class=”” id=””][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_text]Jeff Smith’s Bone is, hands down, the most accessible and appealing all-ages graphic novel series ever published. The trade paperbacks, collecting the comics from Smith’s Cartoon Books, bear Scholastic’s graphix imprint–a sure sign of their family friendly nature. The marshmallowy appearance of the title characters may put off teens and adults who are looking for a harder edge, while the books’ home on the bottom shelf with the more adult graphic novels makes access taboo for younger readers. It’s a shame, because Bone is that rare breed of book with something for everyone.
Out From Boneville, the series’ first volume, begins as the Bone cousins hover in a patch of desert, on the run from the good folk of Boneville (something like our modern midwestern U.S.A.), who have caught on to Phoney Bone’s latest con job. When the trio separates in a swarm of locusts, we follow good-hearted Fone Bone into the mountains–where he first encounters the Great Red Dragon and the rat creatures, and the medieval valley–where he meets (and falls for) a young human girl named Thorn. Smith manages to introduce the sweeping arc of the storyline without at all sacrificing the humor. Think of the Marx Brothers transported into an epic fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien or George Lucas. Soon, we are introduced to the Hooded One and Kingdok, leaders of the villainous rat creatures, who, for some mysterious reason, are looking for Phoney. To flush him out, they attack Thorn’s grandmother’s farm, trying to kill Fone Bone. Ultimately, with the Dragon’s help, Fone and the rest of the heroes survive the attack, but the future looks dark for them.
This is the first of a series, and Smith’s pacing out of the gate is impeccable. We just begin to get hints of the larger picture: Thorn’s mysterious dreams, Gran’ma Ben’s relationship with the Red Dragon, the Hooded One’s deal with Phoney Bone. These revelations propel us into the following chapters, but what keeps us squarely grounded in the present volume are the characters–their familiar humanity, their humor, their strength. Fone Bone is an accidental hero, an everyman–easy to identify with, resourceful and courageous but without any special powers–who sweeps the reader up as he is swept up in the action. Thorn and her Gran’ma Ben–who alternates between a sweet old lady and a no-nonsense scrapper–are strong female characters with a sense of history and depth.
The art is cinematic. Smith’s background as an animator shows: he paces the action sequences and composes each panel as deftly as a good film director. Despite the simplicity and openness of his lines, Smith elicits a full range of expression from his characters, investing the reader in the subtleties of their emotional lives. Smith is masterful at “show, don’t tell”–the dialogue never gets too heavy and expository here (as it occasionally does in later volumes).
It’s not perfect. The villains at this early stage are two-dimensional. The Hooded One plays a caricature of a devil, having made some vague bargain for Phoney’s soul. Their relationship rings hollow, a flaw in the overall gem. Inconsistencies in the various stories of what exactly Phoney did to get the Bones run out of Boneville also distract from the story a bit. In the overall flow of the graphic novel, however, these problems barely register, even through repeated readings.
I would like to see everyone–male and female, from newborn infants to the most wizened centigenarians–read this series. Fans of classic funny-animal comics will immediately be reminded of Walt Kelly’s Pogo (check out The Return of Pogo) and Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories (such as “The Seven Cities of Gold“). Fans of classic comedy will appreciate the Vaudevillean Bone cousins Phoney and Smiley (a cartoon double of Ed Norton from the Honeymooners), as well as the two bungling rat creatures who bicker over insults and recipes. Die-hard fantasy fans will be captured by the epic, Tolkienesque plot. Other readers will enjoy the modern sensibilities of the Bones as strangers in a strange land. Toddlers (when parents read Bone to them) will eagerly follow the simplicity and silliness of it. Teens will find a coming of age story that, in a mythic way, mirrors their own. Adults will be transported back to their childhood.
Truly, Bone has something for everyone![/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]