Comics aimed at children can sometimes be simplistic, facile affairs. Bone has earned much critical respect, however, by being more of a family comic: straightforward enough for younger readers but maintaining enough depth and complexity to keep a grown-up reader engaged too.
The first book in this series of full-colour reprints introduces us to three Bone cousins, on the run from an angry mob. Phoney Bone has attracted this unwanted attention due to his selfish ways and his habit of trying to rip people off for personal profit. After his bid to become mayor of Boneville ends in disaster, he finds himself being chased out of town. His two cousins, Fone Bone and Smiley Bone, have come along to try and ensure his safety.
The dynamic of the cousins is totally dependent on their individual character traits. Fone is a nice, caring, romantic figure, who clearly places the interests of others, even his selfish cousin, over his own. Phoney is a greedy and amoral product of entrepreneurial capitalist society, someone who’ll do anything for a quick buck, even if it means treading on people’s toes and feelings. Smiley may be the dimmest of the three and is easily influenced, but he’s a happy-go-lucky type and rarely sees the bad side of anything.
Running away from their irate neighbours, the Bones are soon in uncharted territory and are split up by a series of natural obstacles. So we mostly follow Fone Bone, who finds himself under the protection of a friendly dragon, a local girl called Thorn and her worldly wise but slightly odd grandmother Rose. While they sound like fantasy clichés, and are in a certain respect, Smith subverts them slightly, usually for comic effect.
The illustration style is also interesting. The Bone cousins are odd, Disney like creatures; the human characters are drawn more realistically; while some of the monsters the Bones encounter are actually quite scary looking. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of styles, that sounds like it ought not to work, but it does. This version has also been coloured by Steve Hamaker, which helps blend the different styles and is very sympathetic to the original work.
There’s lots of back-story going on that isn’t fully explored in this first volume, leaving plenty of scope for the coming books to develop deeper character and plot. What looks like a couple of dopey monsters turn into something much more threatening as the story progresses, and Phoney Bone’s reputation has clearly made it further out of Boneville than his cousins might be aware of.
Out from Boneville is an interesting first book in this comic-fantasy series, easy to read but solidly entertaining too, with enough questions left unanswered to keep your interest peaked ready for the next volume.
Other titles in the Bone series:
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