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Monday, April 22, 2019

The Boys from Boneville: Bone 1 - a Review

Bone #1 (July 1991)
"Out from Boneville" (alternate title, from the collected edition, "The Map")
Jeff Smith

I was introduced to Bone by my friend Don Kramer many years ago. Don told me I had to check it out, that I'd love it. He said it was cute and funny, like a classic Disney cartoon. He wasn't wrong. I did my best to scare up whatever issues I could, and it was helpful that the book's popularity kept it in perpetual reprintings. But last year I finally took the plunge and bought the massive trade paperback, Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume. And I am very glad I did that. It is indeed an epic, clocking in at over 1300 pages. And heavy? It's actually sort of an unwieldy book to read, as it's super chunky. But if you've never taken the time to check this series out, hopefully today I can change your mind and set you on the proper path to enlightenment!

As per the way I do things around here, let's get rolling with the...

100-Word Review:
We open with the three Bone cousins - Fone, Phoney, and Smiley - distressed and far from home. Phoney Bone had been run out of town on a rail for numerous get-rich-quick scams; the villagers were having none of it. Now lost in the desert mountains and without water, the cousins use two maps - neither of them good - to try to figure their next step. But a locust swarm scatters them and leads to separation. It also leads Fone Bone to an encounter with the dreaded Rat Creatures, and meeting with their enemy, the Red Dragon. But what new adventures lay in the Valley?
The Good: Running over the story again for this review was most likely my 4th or 5th reading of the material, and it's still just as warm, fuzzy, and funny as it was the first time. Jeff Smith crafted characters who would immediately endear themselves to the readers, and who we came to care about as the adventures unfolded. There's a part of me that wants to switch this category and call it "the great".

What I think I like best about this inaugural issue is that it mixes some character development (well, actually character revelations) with cast introductions and foreshadowing - all deftly delivered. We have the Bone cousins lost, we see distinct personalities from each of the three, there is peril in the forms of the locusts, the separation of the cousins, and in the Rat Creatures, a potential savior in the Red Dragon, and a mystery person on the yet-to-be seen Thorn. And by deftly delivered, I specifically refer to two situations in this first issue:


The Bone cousins are at once united, but at the same time antagonistic toward one another. It's pretty obvious that Phoney Bone gets into trouble on a regular basis and that Fone and Smiley sometimes have to bail him out. It's also known from the start that Smiley sure doesn't mind sticking the knife in, so to speak, when he gets a chance. He's not letting Phoney off the hook for whatever shenanigans forced them out of town this time, or for past transgressions. Fone seems to be the leader, and is established quickly as the main character. We find him likeable, resourceful, and that we want to follow these adventures as they begin to unfold. Ted the bug, who we also meet, seems like he'll be a fun sidekick.

The other stroke of genius was to paint the Rat Creatures as more than just evil villains. Those guys are funny! Jeff Smith gives them depth that puts them up alongside any of the great bad guys of comics or cinema. Sure, they're pretty singularly focused on eating Fone Bone, but they're funny in trying to pull it off. If they had henchmen, they'd almost give off a Batman '66 vibe. And foreshadowing that the Red Dragon is some sort of enemy even to the Rat Creatures,  makes the reader wonder if he's actually benevolent toward Fone Bone, or merely against the Rat Creatures.

Lastly, Jeff Smith is quite a storyteller in terms of sequential art. This issue really moved; the art was consistent (Bone cousins the same size throughout, and distinguishable from one another), there were backgrounds in almost all the panels, and a couple of times Smith let his pictures do the talking, eschewing any dialogue. The story ended in a cliffhanger of sorts, with the mystery of Thorn's identity, the lost cousins, and a heaping helping of snow - of which Ted had warned against. Great stuff, and I'm sure back in 1991 readers were anxiously awaiting the second issue!

The Bad: Zero here. Well, wait - I guess I have a comment on subsequent color reprintings of this series. I like what I've seen - in the case of Bone, computerized coloring gives it a rich, storybook feel. I am generally not a fan of computer coloring. I have liked it in the trade paperback for Marvel's Tales of Asgard series - again, the source material is somewhat storybook in nature, so I think it works. More action-oriented four-color or B&W material? Not so much. So while colorized Bone looks good, I think I'm partial to the original B&W format.

The Ugly: And nothing here, either. Great comic - very fun; time well-spent!


  1. Yes! Yes! You're covering Jeff Smith's "Bone"! I truly love that series. Great job on your review, Doug; it's obvious the story means a lot to you as well.

    I picked up the first volume tpb based upon recommendations from other comics fans, and was immediately hooked. Not only that, but my wife also LOVED it. So between us we kept trading the books back and forth until we got through the whole series. Incidentally, I agree with your assessment of the effect of color on the book. Among our tpb's, about half are b/w, and half are the colorized Scholastic editions. I find both versions perfectly wonderful.

    Jeff Smith does a fabulous job with all aspects of storytelling. The art is charming, well designed and pleasing to the eye. I find some fondly familiar elements to Smith's work; touches of Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes", and more than a little of Carl Barks' ducks. Indeed, Phoney seems to channel a bit of Scrooge McDuck in a fowl mood (sorry...). Smith's characters are all appealing, and well defined both characteristically and visually. Including the "stupid, stupid Rat Creatures"...

    Thanks for the look today. Great fun that everyone should read!

  2. Nice review, Doug, and a great topic.
    Like Red, I got interested in Bone after seeing a number of recommendations online, so I checked the first tpb out of the library and really loved it. That led me to getting that very same complete epic volume (it's truly a brick!) that you have a few years ago - and I have yet to read it. Man, I really need to get to it, and your review is making me ashamed that I haven't...


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