Jeff Smith's Bone: An Exhausting
Part Three: Of Cows And Storms
Part One, Jason Schachat explained his fascination
for cartoonist Jeff Smith's recently ended masterpiece,
Bone. In the process he began retelling the history of the
artist and his book in an article that threatens to become
week, Jason discussed the comics boom and bust, and
how the plucky Bone and the book of the same name triumphed
over forces seemingly bent on his destruction. He also began
a look at each individual arc, which we continue this week...
Great Cow Race
than anything else, The Great Cow Race has become
the sequence/issue/story Jeff Smith is most famous for.
Of course, it’s also the story he never intended to
time Bone fans already know this, but, essentially,
it was a case of the characters talking about something
a couple of times. Then excited fans inundated Cartoon Books
with letters expressing their delight and desire to see
such a thing. Eventually, Smith didn’t have much choice
but to do it, and the result of all that pressure is one
of the purest examples of graphic narrative and visual comedy
committed to the page.
volume focuses strongly on Phoney’s scheme to swindle
the villagers but also further develops Fone Bone’s
relationship with Thorn and the importance her dreams of
dragons and hooded figures play in the greater story. The
hints in Out From Boneville that Thorn was more
than met the eye give way to glimpses of her true identity
and the dragons’ mystery that would carry through
to the end of the series.
At the same time,
we see Thorn begin to grow as she learns the importance
of true friendship and less physically motivated forms of
love. Fone Bone remains the lovesick fool he’s been
since the second issue, but losing Thorn’s attention
drives him to demonstrate his feelings for her and write
love poetry, introducing what would be a running joke for
many years to come.
the big stars here are Phoney and Smiley Bone. Comparisons
have been made to Duffy Duck and Porky Pig or Donald Duck
and Goofy, yet these two somehow strike even closer to their
archetypes than the others usually do. Must have something
to do with the watering-down of Warner Bros. and Disney
characters that’s occurred since the 1950’s…
case, they make for an amazingly endearing pair of scoundrels
and it’ll be a shock if their antics in The Great
Cow Race don’t inspire future generations to
continue the tradition once these days of bland popular
cartoon characters has ended (No, even Duck
Dodgers doesn’t go far enough).
It’s been said that, if you were going to read just
one Bone story, this is the one to go for. I can
agree with that, for the most part, but, of course, I’d
much more strongly recommend reading the books in order
to get the full effect. One of the gravest errors I’ve
seen people make when approaching Bone is trying
to dive into the story without knowing what’s going
Great Cow Race makes for a great read, but not understanding
what Rat Creatures are or why Thorn’s dreams are important
could leave newcomers yawning, at times.
of the Storm
the first volume focused on the Bone cousins’ separation
and reunion and the second told the story surrounding the
Great Cow Race, Eyes of the Storm plays more as
a series of episodes than a definitive chapter. In the center
of these stories, we learn of Thorn and Gran’ma Ben’s
royal heritage, the links between Fone Bone and Thorn’s
dreams and the conflict in the real world, and the existence
of the ultimate enemy: The Lord of the Locusts.
much of the trade paperback ties up loose ends from the
last two volumes and sets up Phoney’s big scheme in
The Dragonslayer. Further repairs are made to Gran’ma
Ben’s cottage (still full of holes from the Rat Creature
attack in Out From Boneville), Phoney and Smiley
return to work for Lucius following their loss at the Cow
Race, Fone Bone keeps trying to find a way to tell Thorn
he loves her, and the Rat Creatures recuperate from their
But this is the
volume where everything changes. From here on in, the cartoony
cavorting takes a backseat to epic storyline, fantasy adventures,
and even a bit of allegory. The Dreaming, merely a curiosity
before, now serves as the first battleground in a new war
with Fone Bone and Thorn placed at the forefront. And, for
the first time, we see Gran’ma Ben forced to kill
Lord of the Rings comparison holds true when we meet
the Lord of the Locusts’ displaced consciousness merely
issuing orders until he can once again take form. The revelation
of Thorn’s lineage smacks of both Aragorn’s
secret identity and Gandalf’s explanation to Frodo
of the ring’s power.
again, the similarity to Star Wars feels even stronger.
The Hooded One’s meeting with The Lord of the Locusts
is a slightly role-reversed adaptation of Darth Vader’s
meeting with the holographic Emperor in The Empire Strikes
Back. Gran’ma Ben’s discussion with Thorn
plays like an amalgam of Obi Wan Kenobi’s talks with
Luke about his father in both A New Hope and Return
of the Jedi.
And, when she
learns of trouble in Alderaa- er, Atheia, Gran’ma
grabs her old sword and trappings from The Big War and leads
her young charge and their diminutive new friend to the
local tavern of the nearby town.
The most significant
developments, both external and internal, revolve around
Thorn. Smith has claimed she’s the hardest member
of the cast to draw, and one might be tempted to chalk the
evolution of her appearance up to his discomfort with the
character, but I’d say there’s too much story
motivation to the changes to consider them mistakes.
As Thorn learns
to distrust Gran’ma Ben, her face becomes more angular,
losing that baby fat with her innocence. Her hair remains
childish and unruly, but she trades in her simple country
dresses for a pair of pants and a rather military-looking
The work Smith
puts into her close-ups (the most extreme close-ups of the
entire series, up to this point) is grueling, and you can
almost see her growing up as tears flow over cheeks and
her face contorts in anguish.
of the Storm is labeled as the final chapter of Part
One (“The Vernal Equinox”). It really does feel
that way. Doors have been opened that can never be closed
and the story moves along in a strange new direction.
oh, to remember the innocence of youth…
Barring Jason's mental breakdown, further delving into the
Canon of Bone...