29 11 2009
Take three Sunday-morning cartoon characters, a Disney princess, and an old pot-bellied dragon with fluffy ears.  Then send them on an epic fantasy adventure where bad, bad things happen to them.  Does this sound like:
A)  A recipe for failure
B) A recipe for success

Panda Masamune here, bringing you my second review.  Before reading this graphic novel, I probably would have answered A).  But Jeff Smith has made me a believer.  Come see why you should care about this American Graphic Novel.

Titles: Main series – Bone.

Spinoffs – “Rose” and “Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails”

Author/Artist: Jeff Smith

Medium: Graphic Novel

Genre: Cartoon Epic, Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy

Number of Volumes: 9 (complete) plus 2 side-stories

Availability: There are two main ways to buy this series now.  The first is the one-volume edition, which includes all nine of the original graphic novels bound together in their original black-and-white.  It is over 1300 pages and will run you about $40.  However, Scholastic used this series to launch their “Graphix” Graphic Novel imprint, and they added something not seen in the original: color.  There are 9 of these color versions, each running at about $10.  The prequel, Rose, is only available in color through Scholastic, and the side-story, Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails, looks to be out of print, but can still be found in many libraries.

The Official Scholastic Bone Series Website


Three cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, have been run out of Boneville after one of Phoney Bone’s numerous money-making schemes went wrong.  As they are traveling across the desert, they get separated by a swarm of locusts and find themselves in a strange valley—a valley populated by “people.”  Fone Bone meets up with a young girl named Thorn, who, as it turns out, is actually Princess Thorn.  She was smuggled out of the castle when she was a young girl and was raised by an old cow farmer.  Fone Bone has only one goal: to reunite with his cousins and get back to Boneville.

However, strange things start happening.  For one, Fone Bone is hunted by Rat Creatures who are searching for the Bone who bears the star on his chest.  There’s also the matter of the dragon who follows him around.  And the swarm of locusts that separated the cousins can only mean one thing: the Lord of Locusts, trapped in stone for eons, is trying to get free and upset the balance of the valley.  Fone Bone and Thorn become enmeshed in a struggle for the very existence of the valley and everything that they love.

My Score: 5/5

My Thoughts:

Simply put, this book was fantastic from beginning to end.  At the beginning, it got by as a lighthearted adventure/comedy.  At the end, it was a gripping epic.  We see the characters go through so much, and a lot of it serves simply to get them from a bad situation to a worse one.  Who has ever seen a cartoon character bleed from a head wound before?  How about a princess painting her face with war paint and loading up with weapons?  I can be reasonably certain that you have never seen anything like this before (unless you read a webcomic that was probably inspired by Bone).

There are two main draws for this book: the concept and the story, and I have already talked extensively about both of them.  However, it is in the balance of the two that this series reaches its 5/5 status.  Even when it is mainly an adventure/comedy story, it has moments of seriousness.  Then when it becomes an epic adventure, it never takes itself too seriously.  It always achieves the balance between the two.

The characterization is also very good.  I have mentioned that Fone Bone and Thorn are the two main characters, but there are other extremely memorable characters.  Lucius Down, Rose Ben, Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone, The Hooded One, and the Two Stupid Rat Creatures are all good enough to sustain entire chapters by themselves (and, in the case of the prequel and spin-off, entire volumes).  They all have their own motivations and quirks, but all of them remain engaging throughout the entire story.

The art for this series is decent, but for those of you used to manga, you might find it a bit lacking.  You see, manga uses toner and tons of shades of gray, but this graphic novel limits itself to only black-and-white (unless you have the newer, color version).  That sometimes makes it confusing to figure out what’s going on in individual panels unless you really look at them.  Also, Jeff Smith is really good at drawing the Bone cousins, the Rat Creatures, and the Woodland Critters, but not so much people.  Rose and Lucius remain consistent, but were it not for the narrative to link it, you could pull out a picture of Thorn from volumes 2, 6, and 9 and not realize they were the same person.  Part of this has to do with her character development, but part has to do with the way she is drawn.  Also, the villagers’ features look way too precise to fit in with the rest of the surroundings.  That being said, Smith was not a professional when he started this; he self-published these books.  If you look at the art through that lens, you start to appreciate how good it really is.

Overall, this book is groundbreaking, and I give it such a high score because it shouldn’t work, but it does.  This is a recommended read for anyone.  Whether you are mainly a fan of American Comics or Japanese Manga, there will be something for you to enjoy.

A Note on the Side-Stories:

There are two volumes outside of the main series: Rose and Stupid, Stupid Rat TailsRose is written by Jeff Smith, and the other is written by Tom Sniegoski.  Rose is an interesting book that goes into the pasts of Lucius, Rose, and Rose’s sister Briar.  It doesn’t approach the greatness of the main series, but it is a worthwhile read.  Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails is a mixed bag.  It has two stories in it, and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The first is a tall tale starring Big Johnson Bone, and I enjoyed it as much as the main series itself.  The second story stars Riblet, a pig who is captured by the Rat Creatures.  How can I describe how bad it is?  It’s like taking a pizza, but removing the cheese, sauce, and toppings and replacing them with expired lunch-meat bought at a dollar store.  It is one of the worst comics I have ever read, and should be avoided at all costs.  Even so, because of Big Johnson Bone, this is a worthwhile book to check out.

Bridging Nerd-dom and Life:

This is a bit tougher.  My last review, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, lent itself really well to life application.  This series doesn’t.  It’s a great story, but it is so far removed from reality that anything you try to draw from it is really abstract and cheesy, like “Do the right thing, even when it’s not easy.”  Or “People are not what they seem.”  But those are so cliché that to try to say them seriously may make you lose credibility for this series.  Yes, the characters have to make tough decisions, and yes, they eventually chose the right one.  That’s not the point of this story though.  The point of this story is simply that it’s a good story, and sometimes, that’s enough.

EDIT (11/29/09): After I finished writing this post, I thought, “You know, I can’t really say that there’s NOTHING to be taken away from this Graphic Novel except a good story.”  It just didn’t sound right.  Then I realized that there is a huge theme running through this series which is very important: Trust.  This series shows what happens when trust is kept and trust is broken in a very realistic way.  At one point, Thorn’s trust in Rose is broken, and a simple apology isn’t good enough to mend things; it takes time.  At other times, characters like Lucius are accused of horrific things, and the only thing that keeps him safe is that people trust him (and with good reason).  The way the characters have trust, break trust, and mend trust is very true to life.



2 responses

16 12 2009
Rurouni Kenshin Manga (v.1-4) « Segue

[…] is probably the opposite of the write-up I did for Bone a few weeks back.  Bone was a fantastic story with very little real-world application.  Rurouni […]

3 01 2010

I don’t think the art was lacking it all. It’s simple, but that’s on purpose. Smith’s use of solid black and white only was an intentional choice of style, and I think it was executed really well. Especially the night scenes with large black shadowy areas. His brush work is pretty amazing too. Look at any of the Bone’s heads and you can see that it’s all one smooth sweep of the brush. Pretty impressive.

I did notice the inconsistency of Thorn’s appearance, though. I think what should be remembered is that this series was created over the course of about 12 years. The fact that it’s as consistent as it is is actually pretty impressive.

Also, Smith was relatively inexperienced when he started, and you can see his style and skill evolve over the course of the series.

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