If you’re seriously into comics, and you never gave Jeff Smith’s Bone a try because it looked like kids’ stuff, you’re forgiven…but only just this once.
Yes, it looks like kids’ stuff, and indeed it’s intended as an all-ages read, but you must remember two things about this. One: Comics started as kids’ stuff, and many of the best of them still are. And Two: Bone is simply wonderful.
“Out from Boneville” introduces most of the main characters that will carry through Smith’s nine-volume (not including prequels and side stories) series. It begins with three strangely adorable little white mammals called Bones (let your immature jokes go; it’s not that kind of story). Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone and Fone Bone are fleeing their homeland of Boneville for greener pastures after Phoney Bone’s swindling ways have landed them in a heap of trouble. Phoney’s fancies himself the leader, but only because he’s the most arrogant. Fone is the smart one, the brave one, the one with adventure in his eye. Smiley is the dimwitted follower, more interested in his cigars than much of anything else.
After being caught in a locust swarm, the trio is separated. Fone Bone is attacked by a pair of rat creatures, one of whom wants to make him into a quiche (the rat creatures have a thing about quiche, it would seem), but a great red dragon rescues him before this fate can befall him. He then finds himself in a green Valley, where he meets a bug named Ted, several adorable small mammals, and the foxy, fiery Thorn, who he immediately falls in love with. Little does he know that he’s embarking on an adventure much bigger than just a walk out of Boneville.
Bone walks the strange and very thin line between darkly epic fantasy and hilarious adventure tale. Fone Bone and his friends face dark things in “Out from Boneville,” and darker things still in later installments, but they always manage to crack a joke, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re so oddly adorable. It’s a series of stories that manages to be both visually and emotionally endearing along with managing to come off as more intricate and complex than any other comparable children’s story.
“Out From Boneville” is among the best first volumes of a comic book series, of any multi-volume story of the last 20 years. It’s exciting, funny, powerful, engaging and simply bold, both in its art and its spirit. Pick up Jeff Smith’s book and read without fear of feeling like you’re consuming kids’ stuff. If you don’t, you’re not only missing a book that’s as easy and comforting to read as anything else you can find; you’re also missing a great work in the comics canon.