Review: Bone, by Jeff Smith

The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume

Guys, I don’t know much about comics and graphic novels. But I bought this Complete Edition on a whim, good value for money, and it is a 1300+ page brick of a book that you should be careful not to drop on pets, or small children. So I’ll be damned if I don’t write some words about it on the blog.

I thought this comic series was very, very OK. Obviously I don’t have the childhood nostalgia for it, because I didn’t know it existed. The characters aren’t the best, but entertaining enough. The drawings are very easy on the eye with fluid movement and dynamism and the occasional bigger panel to appreciate, but mostly just effective and economical without wowing you. And the story is a standard epic fantasy story that expands in scope over time. One of good versus evil, with the good people and the armies of a sinister ruler. 

The characters are OK. They are a bit childish and a bit derivative of many other cartoon characters. They talk this Mickey Mouse baby talk that is full of contractions, like “watcha doin’ Phoney? Dontcha know th’ old cow is off her rocker? Jeez! She don’t know jack!” Like that. They look like nephews of Casper the friendly ghost, with big noses and they all have the last name Bone. Our main character, Fone Bone, is this nondescript everyday guy who makes for a blank slate to personify with for a reader. Phoncible “Phoney” Bone is clearly inspired by Scrooge McDuck in the way Carl Barks and Don Rosa used to draw him, and Smiley Bone is some sort of Goofy sidekick. The side characters, like the love interest, are all fairly typical. My favourite character is Phoney Bone because he adds energy to the story and makes people react to him and his crazy ideas. The writing and drawing for this character complement each other well.

What is unusual is to see cartoonish characters like these in a grand epic story. They have the appearance of the kind of characters you’d find in three-panel gags or one-page comics, but slowly the story expands with mystery and then it becomes clear that Smith has been planning that all along, from the first pages. While on the surface of the story we follow silly things like a cow race, or Phoney Bone’s get-rich-quick schemes, strange dreams and memories start to intrude into the story and expand the scope. Before soon it mushrooms into a full-blown fantasy epic. The Bone brothers stand out like a sore thumb, though, in a world filled with normal humans. It’s a bit as if Mickey Mouse and Goofy suddenly walked into The Lord of the Rings and joined the fellowship. Some readers really like that contrast, but the benefit of it to the story is not immediately apparent to me.

It is very easy to read. The pacing of the story is brisk, and both the comedy and the character development were engaging enough to keep going. In the first third of the series, the comedy comes from Phoney Bone’s money schemes, and from the evil “rat creatures”, who have some sort of muppet personalities. But the rat-creature threat builds up and becomes a much more serious thing than comedic relief. What also helps the readability is that Smith is very good with action and suspense. His ink drawings play around with light and perspective in a way that makes you wonder at the dark spaces in the panels and what could be hiding there.

In fact, Smith is very effective in whatever mood he wants to create. The action is thrilling, the comedy is funny, the suspense is tense and the heartfelt moments are real and poignant. Makes the characters feel real as well. It is not hard to understand why this series gathered so much acclaim, but it is pretty much written for younger readers and I felt that. The epic story too is a bit constricted, for a young audience; focused on a small cast of these Bone characters, some royalty gone underground and some villagers, and a dragon with an annoying face. In the end, I was never bored, but neither was I enthralled, and perhaps I wasn’t the target audience. Buy it for your little nephew, he’ll love it! 

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14 Responses to Review: Bone, by Jeff Smith

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Well, glad to see you made it all the way through and didn’t hate it. I call that a victory 😀

    I am definitely one of those people who liked the juxtaposition of the Bone characters and the rest of the cast. It was really weird the first time around to realize there was a bigger story and that it was an Epic Quest, with Fone as one of the heroes. It made me laugh on the inside.

    One thing, which I differ with you, is that I don’t think this is so much for a younger audience as for a less jaded one. While the one usually means the other, I think the intricacies how Smith works everything together would be beyond a nephew’s head (not that he wouldn’t enjoy it, mind you). I’ll be keeping an eye out for that though as I read the comics one by one.

    I do have to say I am pretty impressed you made it through the whole thing in the length of time you did. Did you power read through it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Bookstooge! I definitely didn’t hate it. I admire Smith for sticking with such a long and big work and actually finishing it too. And he’s a pretty good artist.

      The idea of these Bone characters in a world of humans, I can see how that makes the Bones cuter somehow. I mean, it is a bit like the hobbits in the LOTR in that they are small and parochial but they still play important roles. Fone Bone has some Frodo moments for sure.

      What makes me feel the most that this is for younger audiences is the language. The way the characters speak. It sounds very childish to me.

      I didn’t power read. I read it every night before sleeping for half a hour. And it took me about three weeks. It has 55 chapters, I believe? So that’s 2 chapters a night.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        The idea of them being “cuter” hadn’t even entered my thoughts. Of course, I’m not one to usually think that way (except for manga like Yotsuba), so if that was his intent, it passed right by me.

        That is interesting that the speech patterns are what gave you the idea this was for kids. Was it just the Bones, or everybody? I figured it was Smith reacting against the staid formalism of Marvel and DC when characters would speak like they were in a Greek Play, making “pronouncements” instead of talking like regular people they were supposed to be.

        That is a nice pace then. Definitely a bit more than I could handle right now but since you were able to keep at it, it definitely worked out great for you.

        Do you think you’d recommend that pace to others?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah it was just the Bones and how they speak that gave me that idea. They speak with all these American expressions and contractions that just gives a mood like that. It’s interesting what you say about Smith reacting against the formalism of Marvel and DC. I am totally unfamiliar with those superhero comics so I missed that context. All I saw was that Smith was influenced by Disney comics. Donald Duck, Scrooge and so on. Those are very popular in Europe, especially when I grew up, and the Marvel stuff not that much. So naturally that was what it reminded me of.

          Pace, well, whatever works for you. One chapter at the time or two chapters at the time, both seem fine to me. But since there are a lot of chapters, it helped me to keep a steady pace where` I read a bit every day.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Bookstooge says:

            Yeah, American’s like their contractions. I remember reading in one of the thriller series where a french guy and gal come over and the guy has to keep reminding the woman to contract her words to fit it. I don’t notice it so much because of typing, but once I started listening for it, oh my goodness, we do it SO MUCH. One of those tropes about americans that just holds true 😀

            You were doing them per night. I’m doing that per month 😀
            Just wondered if you think others could keep up your pace?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Haha those contractions aren’t always present in books or comics. I just looked up some panels of Peanuts comics, and there people just talk… normally? But in Bone it is a lot.

              Sure I think others can keep up my pace. If you read half an hour before bedtime, you’ll knock out two Bone chapters a day. How much time did it take you to read the Phoney Bone chapter? Like, 20 minutes or so?

              Liked by 1 person

              • Bookstooge says:

                No, they are not. The written word has a way of being more formal than how people actually talk. Which brings us round full circle to what I think Smith was fighting against.

                Did you read other stuff at the same time as Bone, or Bone alone? I guess that was what I was trying to get at. I assumed you read Bone alone and nothing else and THAT was what I was wondering if other people could do.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ah ok. Got you. I mean… “gotcha”. 🙂

                  No I was reading the Reynolds book at the same time and the fat new Neal Stephenson. I have a lot of reading time because I don’t work many hours yet in the week. Still on the road to full recovery from the burnout, but getting there.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Bookstooge says:

                    Hahahaha, Good job! Before you know it, you’ll be talking just like a real American! (I know, it’s what you’ve always wanted, right?)

                    Well, that answers that then. Thanks 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • I can talk like a real ‘murican! You betcha!

                      To be honest I wish I had the ready vocabulary of a native speaker. I still get confused a lot about sayings and about stuff like prepositions, like on, about, to, at, by, of… I always get confused what to use when.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Bookstooge says:

                      Don’tcha worry, we don’t know all that stuff either. Which is why we end up talking the way we do, hahahahaa 😀

                      Ok, maybe not quite that bad. But honestly, a good number of people seem to have zoned out during english grammar class and so they talk like stupid idiots. The real problem is that they don’t care 😦

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ola G says:

    Glad you liked it! I gave it a try but sadly, looks I’m either too old or too jaded 😉 and it didn’t work for me. Just had no patience for it! And the contractions and folksy talk were quite tiring, too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Kingdok (Bone #4) ★★★✬☆ – Bookstooge's Reviews on the Road

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