Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek


The holiday is done. The world crawls back into life. Livejournals click over. People talk about days with families and food, and yes, I spent the day with both, which was nice, even if my sister did decide that what I needed was Star Wars figurines.

But who wants to read about that?

Instead, this entry is going to be about Jeff Smith's Bone.

Bone is a huge graphic novel, clocking in at 1, 332 pages. It collects the entire Bone saga, which was published in nine separate editions, and took around thirteen years of Jeff Smith's life. It's a huge sprawling all ages saga, following the three cousins Bone: Fone, Phoney, and Smiley, who, after they are driven out of Boneville, end up in the Valley, where there are dragons and farm girls and taverns and rat creatures and evil things afoot. If that doesn't grab you (and by no means should it, as that description, depending on the cosmetic alterations could be tossed onto any stupid fantasy trilogy out there)... but if that doesn't grab you, then perhaps the comparison will, because it brings to mind films like Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Aladdin, and various other good Disney films.

The charm of Bone is in Smith's art and writing and his ability to convey humour and drama with both. There should be something difficult about bringing the three Casper the Ghost looking Bone cousins into a world populated with humans, and in a story that breaks out into war, but Smith does it with easily, and the three cousins interact flawlessly. Fone Bone's crush on the farm girl Thorn is never unbelievable, and the outcome of it never in doubt, even though by the end of book, you're wanting it to be otherwise. Phoney Bone, who was once the richest Bone in Boneville, and who uses every opportunity to scam, lie, and cheat, is never once slowed down by the fact that he is not wearing any pants. Likewise, Smiley Bone, the charming slacker who is a tall lick of stretchy white, is never out of place in a dense forest landscape, or telling Fone how boring Moby Dick is.

It is Smith's other characters who bring most of plot to the story, which centres around Thorn and Grandma Ben who take in Fone after he is separated from his cousins by a swarm of locusts. It is there in their farm house that Fone becomes involved in them and where, due to their arrival, he and his cousins will bring everything to a head, each in their different way. Thorn, so cute and innocent when we first meet her, is the centre of the book, and Smith's slow change, stripping her of her innocence, piece by piece, is an impressive thing given the amount of time that was placed into the creation of the book... by the end, there is no denying the fact that there Thorn has grown, that she lacks that innocent spark that she had early in the book. Rather, I guess, like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. (I don't make the comparison lightly, either. Bone is a Tolkienesque fantasy, and I suspect that if you liked Lord of the Rings, then you'll like Bone.) Grandma Ben, the tough old woman who races cows and who is the second centre to the book, is, on the other hand, a mostly static character--as indeed are most of the cast. Outside Thorn, none go through any huge changes, to their character. When something happens to them, they preserve, push on, and try again, relying on family and friends and dragons to help them.

Speaking of dragons, the Dragon, a laconic, smoking, donkey eared fellow, was my favourite of the characters. It's hard to believe, given my general feel on dragons, but there you go.*

At thirteen hundred pages, Bone is a big graphic novel, and it does suffer from lack of narrative drive in the middle. I suspect that two sections could have been cut out or cut down, and the character of Roque Ja lost completely. However, while that is the case, there is no denying the initial charm of the Bones in the Valley, and no denying the amusing satire that Smith plays out when Phoney Bone convinces everyone to fear dragons and employee him as a Dragonslayer, when he knows full well that the Dragon never hurt anyone, and he'll never have to slay it. The final sections, outside the hunt for the Crown of Horns, are likewise quite satisfying, building up to a fine climatic end. I did feel, however, that some of the middle could have been chopped to give room to exploring Atheia, and the political goings on in there, and I did feel as if Smith was rushing a bit towards the end, which is perhaps understandable, given the time he spent with it.

However, out of the story, it is the plot around the Crown of Horns that is the most unsatisfying aspect. There is just something terribly unsatisfying about a magical item that destroys the enemy in one foul swoop.

But, it is a minor thing when placed into the complete saga that is Bone. Just as the sag in the middle of the narrative is likewise minor--and perhaps, really, it could not be Tolkienesque without a bit of aimless wondering around in a forest, the main characters trying to figure out what's going on, and complaining about food. Of course, unlike Tolkien, Smith's dialogue is charming and a pleasure to read, and the banter between the two rat creatures who want to make the Bone cousins into quiche one of those things that will have you walking around afterwards, making your own jokes about quiche. Much, I might add, to the strange looks of those around you.

Especially when you point out that you don't actually like quiche that much.

* As an aside: It's never the things in the fantasy genre that bothers me. I got nothing against dragons, just that writers do stupid things with them. They repeat. They bore. It's the same old shit. (Yes, there are exceptions.) It shouldn't be against dragons (or elves or dwarves or whatever) that people bitch, but rather at the writers who do nothing but give the world the same images over and over again. You can do anything with dragons and elves--they're just a tool in the fantasy genre.

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