Sunday, 1 November 2015

Bone, Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith Review

Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone are run out of Boneville after Phoney’s latest shenanigans. Lost in the desert, they become separated and Fone Bone, our protagonist, ends up in The Valley, a human-dwelling part of the world, for the winter. There he meets a beautiful young woman called Thorn and her kindly cow-racing grandmother Ben. But danger looms on the horizon as the Lord of Locusts and the rat creature army are massing…

I first read Jeff Smith’s Bone nearly ten years ago in the all-in-one black and white edition – a massive brick of a book at well over 1000 pages! Re-reading this first chapter in the saga, the obvious difference is Steve Haymaker’s colours. They’re not bad, and I’m sure they make the books more appealing for the intended kid’s audience, but for me they detract from Smith’s razor-sharp inks which made the comic look so awesome originally. 

Because I’ve read the series straight through before I know it evolves into this grand, sweeping Tolkien-esque epic but looking at just this first chapter? It’s not a great start and a tad boring especially if you’re re-reading. It starts off slapstick-y in a Three Stooges/Laurel and Hardy way that’s not very funny and then goes very Disney-esque with the talking woodland animals that’s a bit sickening in its overly cutesy style. But then it’s a kiddie book so maybe younger readers will respond more positively to these aspects? 

I like some of the whimsical moments in the book like when winter comes it arrives in a ginormous white disc that plummets in an instant suddenly and blankets the whole world in snow. And I like how evocative Smith makes the Bone characters with their wandering wispy eyebrows – it’s such a simple design but so effective! 

But some of the characters look derivative like Fone Bone (the Bones are weirdly white creatures with no hair) who looks almost identical to Caspar the Friendly Ghost. The Lord of Locusts looks like Emperor Palpatine and his vast, dark army of rat creatures looks very similar to the orc armies from Lord of the Rings. Speaking of the Rings Trilogy, while they look nothing alike, the Great Red Dragon feels a lot like Strider/Aragorn in demeanour and role. 

Hilariously, Bone is actually a “challenged” book which means some people (probably Christian moms) have tried to get it taken out of libraries. The reason? There is smoking and drinking in a kid’s book. That’s true though both are shown in only a handful of panels, they’re never the focus and neither is done to excess nor are they glamorised or portrayed positively. But then some people are just idiots! The series is perfectly fine for kids. 

Out from Boneville is a very slow-moving book with not a lot happening besides Smith setting up future storylines. A lot of first volumes do this but some do it more entertainingly than others and unfortunately Bone isn’t one of them. It’s not an encouraging start to new readers but I can assure you if you liked the Lord of Locusts bits, the series becomes almost all about that storyline after the first two books – the cutesy stuff and bad comedy drops off very quickly. It’s a mediocre first volume but the series as a whole is worth sticking with, particularly if you’re a fantasy fan.

Bone, Volume 1: Out From Boneville

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