Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bone is the best

I had an odd collection of magazine subscriptions as a child. Reader's Digest and Cat Fancy are the two that I remember coming in the mail and that I would read cover to cover, though for the life of me I can't remember why. Mad Magazine, Nickelodeon Kids, and Disney Kids magazines were the ones that I picked up (along with Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica Digest) at the newsstand. Upon reflection I should have immediately cancelled my subscriptions and saved my parents the money so that I could read more newsstand magazines and comics because the stuff that I love as an adult came out of those silly kids magazines much more than the grownup magazines that I was reading as a kid.

Bone is a fantastic example of this. I didn't get to see Bone as a serialized comic book because I hadn't started going to comic book stores by then, instead I got to see an issue at a time of the first book published once a month in a reduced-size format in the back of Disney Kids. Eventually the magazine stopped publishing the issues and I stopped reading Disney Kids right at about the same time I dropped everything but Mad. Looking back I regret that I know so much about purebred cats but probably missed out on a lot of good art and stories on the newsstands at the grocery and drug stores down the street from my parents' house.

Eventually, even though I hadn't seen it in years and this was before it became common for me to search odd word combinations on Google to try to re-discover missing pieces of my youth, I stumbled across the one-volume edition of Bone at a bookstore and frowned at the cover a bit. It looked familiar. So I opened it up and looked inside and freaked right out. It was the exact same comic with the exact same horrifying monsters that I'd lost track of all those years ago.

Unfortunately it wasn't until 2010 that I was able to afford a copy of the one-volume edition and at that point I might as well have waited for the full-color version released in 2011 but I'm happy with my purchase nonetheless: up to now I've told you about my history with this book - now you need to hear about how completely amazing and kick ass it was and how it managed to hold my interest across three decades.

Imagine a valley founded by dragons, peopled by warriors and mystics, and threatened by seven-foot-tall toothbeasts called Rat Creatures. Fill the borders of that world with talking bugs, a robust mythology, and a beautiful landscape. Now drop in three bizarre little cartoon characters called Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone from a town across the desert called Boneville and see what happens to that mix.

Bone is a wonderful combination of an epic adventure and Marx Brothers film. It has lost princesses and brave fighters and people scared of a menace to their way of life all interspersed with sight-gags, silly puns, in-jokes, and one-liners.

I know, I know, a lot of people look at any kind of illustrated book and immediately disregard it as stupid kid's stuff, dumb comics, and nothing more. BULLSHIT on those people. Fuck them. Bone is rife with allusions to literature, a robust in-world mythology, and complex characters driven by diverse but totally understandable motives. It's drawn in black and white but full of shades of gray that make it a joy to read and worthwhile to consider as serious literature.

Right on the cover it's described as one of the best graphic novels of our time, but I don't like that qualifier. It's a damn good novel whether or not it happens to be illustrated, and more people should read it.

     - Alli

Smith, Jeff. Bone. Cartoon Books. Columbus: Ohio. 2004.

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