Banished from their small village, three small, bald cousins aimlessly wander in the desert. The one with a star on his shirt is greedy and sneaky. The tallest one is jolly but dim-witted. The quietest one is a hero in the making, though he doesn’t know that yet. They quickly become separated and when they reunite they are wrapped up in the beginnings of a brutal war involving humans, dragons, and a frightening race of giant rat-creatures…stupid stupid rat creatures.
Jeff Smith’s graphic novel series Bone manages to combine the look and humor of Disney cartoons while tackling the sort of epic adventure that one might find in J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis.
Fone Bone, our hero, and his cousins owe their looks to early Disney characters, particularly the work of Carl Barks, who created Scrooge McDuck
comics and revolutionized the drawing style of Donald Duck for the company. Recognizing Barks’ influence baffled me at first. Donald was not someone’s subject to be reformed and retooled. Similar to Athena, he sprung forth from Walt Disney’s head, already wearing his sailor suit…without the pants. Right?
Apparently not. Just like those famous ducks, the Bone cousins have large heads, round bellies, low centers of gravity, and the same aversion to pants. All of this might make it hard for a reader to take their epic quest seriously, but Smith valiantly strikes at the importance of their mission.
The humans that the Bone cousins meet seem to have royal ties. Fone Bone meets Thorn, a beautiful young woman who appears to be at the center of the dispute at hand. While Fone Bone may be two feet tall, he still falls in love with this strong heroine. Meanwhile, his cousin Phoney Bone never ceases to get into trouble, due to his own conniving nature as well as a prophecy that he will help with the fall of the humans and the dragons. Goofball Smiley Bone is always close behind with a cigar and an innocent perspective. The comic relief weaves in and out of the fantasy seamlessly, both in writing and in artwork. The Bones are entirely out of their cartoony element in a detailed, realistic world, and some of the humor comes from that difference.
With nine volumes in the story and a prequel, there’s a lot of room for Smith to build and explore the details of characters, both the lovable and the horrific ones. Side characters such as Roque Jah, the giant mountain lion that patrols the eastern border, are as lovingly composed and as wonderful company for a reader as Treebeard from Lord of the Rings.
This is a fantastic read for those looking for action and laughs at the same time. Fans of the Kingdom Hearts video games and manga may find appeal in the mixture of Disney-like elements with a struggle of good versus evil. Start with Out from Boneville
and tag along on Fone Bone’s dreamlike adventure.