Sidekicks in Boneville Comics

April 24, 2007 at 5:35 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, sidekicks | 2 Comments

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, . 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.     


Sidekicks in Buffalo Girls

March 9, 2007 at 11:51 am | Posted in sidekicks, western | Leave a comment

Mbuffalo-girls-movie.jpgcMurtry, L. (1990).Buffalo Girls. NY: Simon and Schuster.  

This western novel offers an eccentric array of sidekick characters to discuss.  The book’s central figure is the real-life Western scout and frontierswoman Calamity Jane. The novel is set in the 1890’s stretching from Missouri to later-calamity.gifDeadwood, South Dakota. The book focuses on Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show with his motley cast of “Western legends”.  

At the novel’s start, Calamity Jane is in her 40’s, swearing, drinking and fighting up a storm as she searches for her “old gang” with her dog Cody and horse Satan. This gang includes mountainmen, an Indian, Bill Cody, and a retired madam. 

Jim Ragg and Bartle Bone have been together for decades as stagecoach drivers, scouts,  and now as solitary mountainmen scratching out a tenuous life in the wilderness. Ragg and Bone have complementary temperaments to amplify parts of Calamity Jane’s ornery persona. Note McMurtry’s sardonic wit in these character names. The expression “rag and bone” is a British term for the shop where the worst castoffs end up. I suspect this is McMurtry’s commentary on how civilized society has treated the vestiges of the old West’s land and people. 

Ragg is morose and stoic, a crack-shot hunter and skillful wilderness guide. Bone is cheerful, garrulous and sociable, enjoying the company of prostitutes when in town. Bone is competitive and considers himself exceptional at everything though he’s average at best. His boasting is just like Calamity’s exaggerated retelling of her exploits. Ragg and Bone join Cody’s show only because Ragg wants to earn money to repopulate the Missouri River with beavers. Ragg wants to atone for his years of animal slaughter as a trapper.  

Calamity Jane considered Ragg and Bone her family because they befriended her as a teenager, teaching her how to scout and drive a coach. Ragg and Bone, as rugged individualists, could accept Jane’s aberrations.  Like “Ragg and Bone”, Calamity is a misfit and castoff. She was scorned and marginalized because she violated society’s ideas of feminity by acting and dressing like a frontiersman. 

No Ears , an Ogala Indian in his 50s, is another sidekick and my favorite character. No Ears was so dubbed at age 10, after French traders shot him, cut off his ears and left him for dead . Inasumuch as No Ears and Calamity have rescued each other during terrible storms, the Indian’s secret nickname for Jane is Helpful. No Ears can hear, but he uses his disability as a cloak, while communing with animals or tapping into his mystical senses (regrettably narrated in a heavy-handed, stereotypical way by McMurtry). 

Dora DuFran is the former madam and big-hearted saloon owner who befriends her Martha Jane. Her role as sidekick is to bring out the nurturing, feminine dimensions of Calamity Jane’s character. As Dora lays dying after childbirth, however, Calamity is unable to comfort her friend or to help raise the orphan baby, revealing her inadequacies lurking beneath her scout bravado. 

In 1995, Buffalo Girls was faithfully translated into a TV movie starring Angelica Huston as Calamity Jane with dead-on casting of sidekicks such as Jack Palance for Bartle Bone.  Buffalo Girls movie (IMDB summary).  

Sidekicks: Neuromancer

February 26, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in cyberpunk, science fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

berger-culture-genres.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.  neuromancer-sidekicks.jpg

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books.  

As the quintessential example of science fiction cyberpunk, Neuromancer’s characters and plot structure are the antithesis of classic science fiction defined by Berger (1992). The protagonist Case is not a heroic spaceman but a selfish, drug-addicted cybercowboy (computer hacker) with the morality of a street hustler on the make. 

Molly Case’s first sidekick is a bioengineered “razorgirl” named Molly who’s assigned by Case’s employer to keep him off drugs and on task. Molly sounds like a cyborg because of her flat affect, superhuman reflexes and optically enhanced eyes protected by mirrored shades. However, Molly reveals her humanity by confessing that she’s helping Case to capture one sleaze who murdered her boyfriend and another who made her commit degrading acts in her former life as a prostitute. Molly herself paid for the painful razorblade finger modifications.  Molly is elevated from sidekick to heroine but is certainly neither the helpless nor plucky spacegal prototypes of classic SF. Molly is incredibly tough, dragging broken limbs through the Matrix with nary a whimper.

Although  Molly protects Case, has sex with him, and watches his back, you never sense that Molly has “feelings” for Case. Case, on the other hand, uses the “SymStyn” to get inside Molly’s head while she’s battling the villains, and to make sure Molly is okay. 

Dixie FlatlineThe second major sidekick is a technician, consistent with SF secondary character roles outlined in Berger. Dixie Flatline is a computer AI with the speech patterns of a 20th century flyboy or astronaut.Dixie is a computer ROM so he lacks emotional capacity, even though he is a computer replica of a human cybercowboy, McCoy Pauley. Pauley survived three brain deaths (flatlines) while hacking the Matrix and was then reduced to being “on call” for hackers like Case.

Dixie foreshadows  Case’s likely fate, and AI Dixie sounds a bit like HAL in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike HAL, all Dixie wants is to complete his mission and to be permanently deleted. Dixie appears to get his wish at the end of the novel. 

Maelcum  The third sidekick is also a technician, responsible for keeping Case’s hired ship operational. Maelcum is a member of Zion, a Rastafarian space station community, and he speaks a stereotypical Jamaican patois, blasts reggae music and affably smokes dope while working on machinery. He spoke like a stoned Scotty (Star Trek)  minus Scotty’s perennial agita over whether he could get the ship going. Maelcum serves Case well but is clearly a hired helper, rather than a friend or confidante for Case.  

Cyberpunk Sci Fi

February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in awards, cyberpunk, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Gibson, W. (1984.) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.  


Neuromancer achieved both instant critical acclaim and cult status, earning Book of the Year, the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 and the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1985.  It is credited with launching a new SF subgenre, termed “cyberpunk” and remains a SF classic today.  In 1982, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his story. “Burning Chrome”.  In Neuromancer he delineates his concept for “The Matrix”, a global information network which is today’s internet. 

  “Cyberpunk” merges the amoral, urban anarchy of  1980’s punk music and drug  culture with “cybernetics” exploration of the human-machine interface. Cyberpunk’s bleak, dystopian vision of the corrupted near future is typified by the disturbing film Blade Runner.  For more info, see   Cyberpunk as a SciFi genre 

Synopsis:  The protagonist, Case, is a drugged-out “cyberspace cowboy” (hacker), who is banished from the Matrix and close to death after stealing from a client. Desperate, Case agrees to hack the network for a shadowy militaristic figure, Armitage, in exchange for renewed health and wealth. Case works with and fights against a parade of unsavory characters from Tokyo to Paris, aided by Armitage’s razor girl assassin Molly, and an  Artficial Intelligence (AI) cybercowboy named Dixie, plus other shifty sidekicks.  

Throughout the novel, humans are portrayed as weak, flawed beings incapable of intimacy or honest personal relationships. At the start, Case’s prostitute girlfriend Linda Lee betrays him to get drug money; shortly thereafter, Case fails to intervene when Linda is murdered (though he agonizes and has a few nightmares about his indifference throughout the book).

 As Case penetrates the  Matrix “ice” (security layers), he discovers his real client is an AI called Wintermute, whose goal is to merge with another AI, Neuromancer, to exponentially grow in power and psychosocial awareness (cyberspeak for “take over the world”) The only hope for human intervention is from threeJane, the brilliant but emotionally bereft teenage heiress in a  dysfunctional family of capitalists. Her father is a pedophile and necrophiliac. 

The novel fizzles out after the AI components unite, with Case back to his old cowboy and body-abusing habits, and his sidekicks scattered around the world. The lack of full resolution is understandable, not just because it’s cyberpunk. Author Gibson wrote Neuromancer as the first of a cyberpunk trilogy, followed by Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).  

Sidekicks: The Bone Vault

February 13, 2007 at 4:54 am | Posted in Bone Vault, crime fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Fairstein, L. (2003). The Bone Vault. NY: Scribner.

fairstein.jpgAlex Cooper is a savvy, quick-witted Manhattan DA cum detective and protagonist in Linda Fairstein’s crime fiction series (1996-2007). Alex delivers an energetic, no-nonsense first person narration that relishes the forensic details and detective banter. To soften Alex’s intensity and reveal her endearing  quirks, Fairstein features the same two sidekicks in every Cooper novel.

The sidekicks are NY detectives Mercer Wallace and Mike Chapman. Mercer is a forty-something, married, African-American detective in NY’s Special Victims Squad. The power of his great height and physical stature are countered by his quiet intelligence and compassionate manner. Mercer as sidekick serves the role of protector, sounding board, and voice of reason for Alex. In this novel, Mercer has jitters over impending first-time fatherhood, which allows Alex to gently tease her normally calm sidekick while revealing a rarely seen nuturing maternal instinct.   

Alex describes homicide detective, Mike Chapman, as her longest and closest friend. He is the stereotypical macho, wise-cracking, street-smart, working class cop made good. His tough exterior conceals a mensch inside. Fairstein describes in slightly overwrought prose Mike’s unsung heroism on 9/11. Mike gently asserts his peer status with Alex by calling her “Blondie” and being first to discover the real clues and connections in the case. Throughout the book, Chapman surprises the reader (and sometimes Alex) with his razor intelligence and expertise on arcane subjects from Egyptian burial rights to poisons.  It’s obvious to the reader that Alex and Chapman are romantically meant for each other.  Alex demurs commenting “I had never imagined him as a lover or husband”-(Let’s see what develops in the sequels!)

 It was not surprising that heroic sidekick Mike is the one to rescue Alex when the killer traps her in a museum vault. However, I was somewhat taken aback when Fairstein allows Mike to identify the killer and later attempt to tie up the messy loose ends of the murder case. Rather than calling the shots, Alex seems to be going along for the ride with the reader. Mike Chapman, though he lacks Alex’s credentials and official power is really functioning as an intellectual equal–her  de-facto partner and colleague,

Blog Post about Sidekicks

January 30, 2007 at 6:36 am | Posted in Lipstick Chronicles, pop culture, sidekicks | 1 Comment

nancy-drew.jpgMy first online search for information on literary sidekicks led me to a January 5, 2007 blog post and lively discussion (120+ comments) on the Lipstick Chronicles Blog. 

The originator of the post, Rebecca the Bookseller, reflects that sidekicks fulfill an important literary function as the reader’s proxy. The sidekick can be counted upon to pose “the bumbling questions that need to be asked” for the reader to solve a murder mystery. In chick lit novels, you expect the sassy girlfriend to serve alternately as a confidante and as a humorous foil to the heroine’s emotional upheavals. Rebecca poses an intriguing question in her blog: Why are there so few female sidekicks? I did a mental rundown of some female sidekicks from mysteries:  

         Detective               “Sidekick”_____

  • Nancy Drew           Bess and George
  • Stephanie Plum       Lula 
  • Inspector Lynley      Barbara  Havers 

Based on the above, I would agree that these supporting female characters  are better described as partners, or part of an ensemble. I will revisit this  question as I read across genres to confirm whether my first intuition holds up.  It may be that the “sidekick as clueless tagalong” is endearing when it’s a guy, but not so much if it’s a female chum who’s the comic foil.  

What also impressed me, in perusing the blog comments, was how quickly the exchange moved from literary to pop culture sidekicks. When asked to propose favorite sidekicks, there was a flurry of posts once the possibility of listing TV and cartoon sidekicks was floated.  You could feel the energy –the delight–of recounting classic pop culture match-ups like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, or Andy Griffith and Barney Fife.  

From these blog suggestions, I’ve assembled a preliminary list of mystery sidekicks and sci fi/fantasy sidekicks. It appears that finding sidekicks in horror and the other genres will be more challenging.

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