March Books 11) Bone

11) Bone, by Jeff Smith

This is 13 years’ worth of Jeff Smith’s epic masterpiece, Bone, all between the same set of covers in 1300 pages. It really is excellent. I had read the first ten or so back in 1996, when they were reaching Belfast monthly, thanks to the recommendations of Malachy Coney (then as now the source of all wisdom on comics in Northern Ireland).

The Bones are three cousins from Boneville, expelled by their angry fellow townspeople for offences which are only gradually revealed. Boneville sounds fairly normal; it has fast food, a mayor, Moby Dick and even a hazardous waste landfill site. The Bones end up in the pre-technological world of the Valley, under the care of Grandma Ben, who has superhuman strength, and her granddaughter Thorn Evenstar, and watched over by a friendly though mysterious dragon. The story develops, deepens and darkens. It’s what Cerebus the Aardvark could have been if Dave Sim hadn’t decided to stick his head up his own posterior.

There are lots of slapstick incidents. There’s that glorious moment early on when Fone Bone, pursued by two horrible rat creatures (which turn out to have a fixation with quiche), leaps across a small waterfall and clings to a branch on the other side. He taunts his pursuers, “Those rat creatures would have to be pretty stupid to follow me onto this frail little branch!”

And so the catch-phrase, “Stupid, stupid rat creatures!” was born.

A little later, as he and Grandma Ben are making their way to the inn at Barrelhaven, Fone Bone comments that it all looks so quiet and peaceful. “Shhh!” orders Grandma Ben. “We’re not out of the woods yet.” Fone Bone looks around at the dark trees surrounding them, and then in the next frame mutters to himself, “Can’t argue with that.”

But the story starts to get darker; Thorn begins to realise her true nature, and her supernatural enemies become more active. Fone Bone’s avaricious and venal cousin Phoney Bone develops a well-hidden caring side. The pace slackens only once, when one section of the story climaxes with what I can only call a V’ger moment. There’s much much more, and I’ve only really scratched the surface here. Go out and buy it. (Or borrow it.)

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