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Bone Vol. 1 Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville
Written and Drawn by Jeff Smith
Colored by Steve Hamaker
Published by Scholastic Books; $9.99 USD

Bone is probably the most well received independent epic to come along in comics since Cerebus debuted in 1977. Published by Smithís own Cartoon Books, the book reached itís conclusion with issue #55 in 2004, and the series has been collected into nine volumes (ten counting Smith and painter Charles Vessí prequel Rose) in soft cover and hard cover editions, as well as the Bone: One Volume Edition, collecting the entire series. Now, Scholastic has partnered with Smith and colorist Steve Hamaker to once more re-release the entire series, this time in full color.

Out From Boneville begins the saga of the three Bone cousins, Fone, Phoney and Smiley, as they are run out of their hometown, Boneville, and eventually get separated, each one stumbling into a strange new world filled with dragons, rat creatures, and talking bugs. Along with the Bone cousins weíre introduced to the lovely Thorn and the curmudgeonly Graníma Ben, who reluctantly agrees to let the both Fone and Phoney stay at her farmhouse until they can find Smiley and get back to Boneville.

Smith smartly begins his series not with a bang, but a chuckle. Though the opening finds the three Bones still being hunted by the townspeople two weeks after being chased from Boneville, seeing the image of Phoney melodramatically collapsed against a rock brings a smile, at the very least, if not full on laughter. With Smiley looking on, naturally grinning, and Fone nervously looking behind them, Smith gives us the essential components to each character before we even know their names.

The real story, however, begins when Fone and his cousins are separated and we are introduced to the books secondary characters, among them, the Dragon, Foneís often unseen protector, the rat creatures, which immediately bring to mind the R.O.U.S (rodents of unusual size) from Rob Reinerís classic film The Princess Bride (based on S. Morgensternís book), only slightly more intelligentÖbut not by much, and Ted the bug, perhaps the charming character in the collection. The fact that Smith is able to infuse so much into a character that doesnít have a face and only barely qualifies as visible is astounding. Add to them the beautifully intriguing Thorn, and her gruffly loveable Graníma Ben, and you have an exceptionally diverse, identifiable cast.

Not only is the world of Bone fully realized, but it feels completely plausible, despite its sillier inhabitants and aspects, the funniest of which maybe be the onset of winter. And, while the book packs more humour in its 138 pages than youíre likely to find in a years worth of Sunday comics, thereís also the hints of some larger, dramatic scheme at work. From the rat creatureís knowledge of Phoney, to Graníma Benís acknowledgement of the Dragon, Smith lays the ground work for the bigger picture quite nicely, all the while telling a simple story of three cousins trying to find each other.

The biggest reason Smithís writing succeeds is perhaps that he never writes down to the younger audience the book is obviously aiming for, nor does he try to make the book too hip or modern and risk losing the older audience that may seek it out. Instead he deals in universal themes that have as much relevance to the young as they do the old; humour, drama family, friendship, good and evil, love, loss, responsibility, and neglect. It's an all-ages story that actually has an all-ages appeal, a rarity in any form of entertainment

When it comes to the look of the Bone cousins, Smithís philosophy seems to be less is more. Itís fitting that a quote from The Simpsonís creator Matt Groening appears on the books back cover. Groening has often stated that one of the keys to successful cartooning is creating characters that are simple and instantly identifiable in silhouette, and with Fone, Smiley and Phoney, Jeff Smith has done just that. And while calling Smithís loveable creatureís cartoons may seem like an all too simple description that is precisely what they feel like.

Most of the books art is decidedly simple, but it definitely works to its advantage. Smith often opts for discreet, understated backgrounds, which keep the eyes focus where it most certainly belongs, the characters. A lot of the books humour and drama comes not only out of the plot, but the expressions we see in the characters faces, and the tone it conveys to their words. For instance, a series of panels where Fone proceeds to lecture to Thorn about manly duties (chopping wood) and womanly duties (doing the dishes), we see her expression go from amused, to disbelief, to downright disappointment, while Foneís tone goes from genuinely helpful, to stern, to downright preachy, all the while there is nothing to distract the eye so that the expressions certainly come through and the joke is made.

There are probably plenty of arguments to make in favor of the books colorization (I canít, however, think of one to be made against it), but the biggest has to be bringing an even bigger audience to a book thatís already sold a million copies world wide, and having Scholastic on board will help ensure the books visibility and availability to schools and libraries. And frankly, it only enhances Smithís already wonderful art. In the books first few pages itís easy to imagine the art in its original black and white format, and it really doesnít make a huge difference. That is, until Fone reaches the cliff that overlooks the forested valley heís tracked his cousins too. Once youíve seen the valley in full color itís impossible to imagine it any other way. From that point on Hamakerís colors and Smithís art seem inseparable. One of the more beautiful colorized creatures is the older, relatively larger brother of Ted the bug. Hamakers use of orange of green to give the bug a feel of both spring and autumn (as apparently the valley is in between those seasons, though describing it as summer doesn't feel quite right) is striking. His work on the backgrounds and the various tones of the panels also adds a great deal of atmosphere to the story.

Bone is already an important and monumental work in the world of comics, but these new editions (which have also been re-sized, making them a bit smaller, portable and more accessible to a younger audience) have something for both new and old fans. Anyone who hasnít already discovered Jeff Smithís fantasy epic is sure to be drawn in by his simple, compelling character, the whimsical, fantastic storytelling, laced with the promises of grander schemes, while old fans can re-discover a world they thought they knew and see characters in an entirely new light. For anyone whoís read any of Smithís epic in black and white, seeing it in color can only be compared to Dorothy opening the door to Oz, once youíve seen how beautiful a world in color can be, itís incredibly hard to settle for the dull tones you used to love so much. Grade: 5/5

-- Logan Polk

Send review copies to:
Logan Polk
5812 Glenlake Ct
Columbus Ga 31909

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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