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!