I love Batman. You know what I don’t love? The American comic book industry. And yet I love Batman, despite him being the product of said industry.
Know what this blog post isn’t going to be about? If you read the title, then you probably guessed that it isn’t about Batman. I just feel like bringing him up every once in a while.
One of the major problems of the comic book industry is that characters are company owned, not creator owned. Hence we see the recycling of ideas, characters and story lines in American comic books. Personally I’ve thought for a while that the comic book market would benefit from adopting a similar method as Japanese manga publishing, but I digress.
In this age of the internet a lot of people have got around this road block by publishing their original comic books online as webcomics. Some people have found either astounding success, a la Penny Arcade, while some haven’t become quite so well known, but still manage to make a decent profit off their webcomic.
The series I’m going to review today is one that probably would have started as a webcomic, had it not been published before the internet really became popular. For the record, the earliest example I have ever seen myself started in 1997. I think there was one earlier than that, but I don’t remember what it was. Either way, the concept of webcomics wasn’t around until later in the ’90s.
Which is why Jeff Smith was so lucky. His independently owned series Bone was self published from 1991 – 2004. The comic, which found growing popularity among fans of the genre, was reprinted a few times, before being printed in color by Scholastic. Which were the editions that I read.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know about this series until much later on in the game. Read: A few years ago. When I first saw it I was interested. You don’t get many fantasy graphic novels out there, and I was willing to give this a shot.
However, I wasn’t able to get my hands on them until I found copies in my University library. Eagerly I checked the seven volumes out, and while struggling with other people requesting the darn books, I managed to finish them. At that point I realized that volume seven was in fact not the end of the series. Imagine my frustration when I realized that the library didn’t have the last two.
Months after I finished the most current one I could find, I finally got my hands on the last two, as mentioned in a previous blog post. So, I read those two as fast as I could, especially enjoying the ninth volume being twice as thick. Finally, I’d finished the story. And you know what? It was what an ending is supposed to be. The plot threads were tied up, and while the ending was somewhat bittersweet and melancholy, I still thought it was perfect. It said, “This story is done!”
Now, for some specifics. The beginning was very light, and not what one expecting Epic Fantasy might entirely enjoy. At times it felt much too slow, almost like Smith was trying to got for a story arc based comic book, instead of one over arcing plot. Which makes some of the earlier foreshadowing seem kind of odd. Overall the beginning is a bit slow, and might turn some people off. However, the beginning is also quite child friendly, exactly what one would expect from a comic book with its art style and cute (whatever they are) main characters.
I especially like the Veni Yan warriors. I don’t know why, I just have a thing for warrior monks, especially if they’re wearing mysterious hooded uniforms. Visually they’re a great treat.
The story ends moving at a fast, but satisfying, pace, and we are left with the three main characters, Phone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone finally making their way home.
For characters we have some strong side characters, the greedy scoundrel Phoney, who’ll do anything for money, especially cheat and steal, but who will still do anything for his cousins Phone and Smiley. The tall, goofy Smiley, who just might be a little smarter than people give him credit for. And Grandma Rose, who could fight off an entire army, and race a herd of cattle all on her own.
The main characters, Phone and Thorn, are both interesting, but I think out of the two Thorn is my favorite. For one she’s a strong female character, something of a rarity in fantasy that isn’t blatantly feminist, who can easily be judged by her value as a character and a person, not the fact that she’s a girl. But she still finds time to remain feminine — well…unless she’s got a giant rat creature thing to kill.
Personally I would have gone with “Bug-eyed-fur-balls” but that’s just me.
There’s much more to this comic, but I don’t think I should go into further detail, lest I ruin it for you. Either way, if you’re any kind of comic fan, this series is worth reading. If you want to get your kids something to read, I highly recommend Bone. Just be warned that are some more graphic elements later on — including a horribly scarred man being cut in half — but Smith never revels in it, and these elements are not overly gory, but more accurate representations of the situation the characters find themselves in. But if your children can stomach that, then I highly recommend it. Heck, read it yourself while you’re at it, you just might enjoy it.