Sidekicks in Boneville Comics

April 24, 2007 at 5:35 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, sidekicks | 1 Comment

out-from-boneville.jpgSmith, Jeff (1991,2005). Bone: Out from Boneville.New York: Scholastic.

“Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! “n. Exclamation of disapproval, Bone Comics –CYBERSPEAK, Random House Dictionary of online phrases (1997)

How did I know Bone was an excellent choice for comic book analysis?  Because I was introduced to the smiley.jpgseries by an impeccable source: word of mouth from tween boys. I was struggling to find graphic novels in my library system’s catalog. Morris County public libraries do collect some soft and hardcover comics. Yet, subject and keyword searches for “manga”, comic books”, “anime” and “graphic novels”were fruitless. Then, a fifth grade boy requested a Bone book while I was on the reference desk. When I figured out he wanted a comic, not a science book , I tracked down the author on the internet. Voila– eight Bone volumes surfaced in the catalog with holdings at multiple locations. This search experience demonstrated the need to display comics prominently in the juvenile/YA section. The kids are not going to find them through our catalog.

dragon-fone-bone.jpgBy coincidence, my 10 year old son brought home Out from Boneville a few days later. His school library did have a Bone display, and the boys were jostling to see who’d get to check them out first, like they had with Captain Underpants in third grade. When I asked my son why he liked Bone, his first response was “they’re cool and funny”. His favorite parts were the characters of Smiley and Phoney Bone as well as the fantastic rat and red dragon creatures which he described as”weird but not too scary”. He liked the adventure storyline and that scheming Phoney Bone gets tricked back by his fed-up cousin.

 In Out from Boneville, the three Bone cousins,  Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, are run out of town when Phoney’s scheme to become mayor backfires. They are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. They each find their way into a foreboding valley filled with bizarre beings, some friendly (red dragon and possum) and some evil but  stupid (rat creatures). The cousins are reunited at a farm run by tough Gran’Ma Ben who races cows with her feisty granddaughter, Thorn. At the book’s end, Phoney is secretly conniving to fix the cow race and stalling the Grim Reaper.

Bone comics were written, drawn and self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004. Bone is notable as one of the first comics published on the internet. It was also one of the longest-running self-published comic book series created by a single author. Smith hyped the series through unique publicity stunts such as drawing jams at comic conventions. His comics were originally black and white drawings, serialized in Disney magazine in the mid-1990s. 

 Bone’s popularity surged after 2004 when Scholastic released color versions of the 9 volume, 1300 page series. Like Trekkie fans, fans collect a wide array of Bone merchandise by visiting the official site, http://www.boneville.com/ . There are two popular video games, but Smith vetoed plans for a movie with kid actors doing voiceovers.  

pogo.jpgfone-bone.jpgBone has won numerous honors, including ten Eisner Awards and eleven Harvey Awards. The series is appealing because of its unforgettable characters, its fresh, witty writing that resonates on many levels, and its epic fantasy storyline inspired by Lord of the Rings. Smith’s characters have been compared to those of Walt Kelly’s comic strip for social commentary. The hero, Fone Bone, is a little guy with a big head and feet who bears a striking resemblance to Kelly’s Pogo.

One of the hallmarks of Smith’s illustration style is his versatility. In Volume One, his drawings convey the shift in mood from the flat, comic appearance of the Bone cousins to a dark, detailed illustration style for battle scenes between Thorn, Fone and the rat creatures.thorn-and-creatures.jpg

There are several sidekicks who serve as foils to the level-headed, honest hero, Fone Bone. There is irresponsible, affable Smiley Bone, the perennial follower. In contrast, there is his scheming Phoney Bone, who must be rescued in each episode by Fone Bone.  Our  hero’s vulnerability is revealed by his comical crush on Thorn, the beautiful “princess in disguise”.  The sidekicks are foils who mock Fone’s intellectual fervor and earnestness. Even sweet Thorn goes unconscious when Fone drones on about his favorite book, Moby Dick. The first episode hints at dark secrets about the charactersand their journey. Like all good comics ,  it introduces the cast of players in the first volume: villains, allies, sidekicks and heroes.  Nevertheless, it  leaves the reader in suspense about what will happen next.     

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1 Comment »

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  1. Hi! Ah, the magic that is Bone. I’ve been a huge fan for years.

    A fuller explanation for why Smith pulled the plug on the Nickelodeon movie can be found in the wikipedia entry for Bone at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_(comics)


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