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Bone: Out From Boneville

I've been a comic book fan since I was about five, but I didn't come to the graphic novel section of my bookstore until the mid-to-late nineties.

Because I came late to OGNs and trades, there's always been this backlog of books that I've been meaning to pick up. There's a lot of comic name-dropping in Wizard magazine and Comics Journal: Maus, Watchmen, and A Contract With God get thrown around liberally, and it makes the newer fans salivate (and sometimes frustrated when they look for an older book that's gone out of print, damn you Squadron Supreme).

So, I was at my comic store (yes, it is mine purely because I go there) getting my weekly comic fix and I saw a graphic novel that had been sitting on my backlog for a few years: Bone by Jeff Smith.

Drawn and written by Smith, the first volume, Out From Boneville, is the introduction to the Bone Brothers: Fone Bone, Phoncible "Phoney" P. Bone, and Smiley Bone. The Bone Brothers have been recently kicked out of their hometown (shockingly named Boneville), thanks to a get-richer-quick scheme on the part of Phoney.

As they travel, lost in the desert, the boys get attacked and separated, all ending up in a rather pleasant forested valley, where kindly possums, freak snow storms, and "stupid, stupid rat creatures!" roam.

Their arrival in the valley brings with it some dangers: Fone is being constantly tracked by the rat creatures, Phoney is being marked for assassination by some unknown dark power, and Smiley finds that it's hard to pay a bar tab in a culture built on the barter system.

The series sounds like a light and fluffy romp, but Smith really surprised me when he started throwing in depth to almost every situation. Fone's instant attraction to Thorn (and her possible reciprocation) is instantly cute and funny, but Smith shows the reader that Thorn may have a past that will figure into future stories. Also, Gran'ma Ben (who is the toughest old lady I've ever seen, and also a great cow racer) keeps making references to "the Big War" that I'm positive will figure into further adventures. (They do -- editor)

Smith has really made a great fantasy story here. He seamlessly balances humor with action (and there is a surprising amount of action for the book) and has established a damn intriguing mystery that makes me crave more Bone (take that however you want it).

The art is great, and it's in one of my favorite styles that I call Frank Cho-esque (or Liberty-Meadows-nouveau). Smith is able to put the incredibly cartoonish Bone Brothers smack dab into a realistically depicted fantasy scene and not have it look awkward. His line work is clean, his inking is crisp, and he gets to do more with the art style than Cho does since Bone isn't a daily comic strip. Smith draws some beautiful landscapes and vistas and one night scene was very impressive to me in the way he lit the entire scene with only torch-light-effects.

There are eight volumes of Bone, with another on the way as Smith is about to end the series after a decade plus of producing the book. Also done in collaboration with other artists are two prequels: Rose and Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails: The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero.

I have my work cut out for me collecting them all, but I damn well plan to do it. I don't think I've ever been so instantly impressed with a series as I have with Bone. My copy ran me $20, but it was a hardcover (I know, I usually make fun of hardcovers, but it was the only copy they had Judgmental Jimmy) and I know for a fact that there are trade editions up for grabs. So if this week is a decision between another worthless collection of a Batman or Superman crossover, and the quality that is Bone…well, I think the choice is obvious.

Buy Bone and have your buddy at the counter sneak the Batman collection out the back. It's not stealing, it's "borrowing."

To the powers that be at DC: We've never seen this "Rob Sparling" before in our life. -- editor

Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville (paperback)

For the hardbound copies, go to www.boneville.com. Heck, go there anyway. And tell Jeff Smith we sent you.

Robert Sparling

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