Friday, December 3, 2010

The Chicago Comic Books: "The Complete Bone"

Two Words: Holy crap. In a good way.

Writer and artist Jeff Smith's magnum opus was over a decade in the making and at over 1300 pages quite possibly the longest graphic novel ever written. It has won multiple awards and takes epic fantasy to all new places.

The Plot: Three strange little creatures -- the Bone cousins Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone -- are run out of their home of Boneville. After getting lost and separated in a desert they seperately find their way to a forested valley and the small town of Barrellhaven. There they find shelter with humble farmer Rose Ben (called Gran'ma Ben by most) and her granddaughter Thorn.

Rose hides a secret, though, a secret that cannot remain hidden once an evil force begins to rise again. Rose and Thorn have a destiny to fulfill but it seems that the Bones are also getting caught up in events. If they all fail then humanity as they know it will fall under the sway of the darkest evil.

My Take: Holy crap. Again! Alright, so it has to be said, that Jeff Smith ticks pretty much every box on the standard 'Fantasy novel quest story'. The plot points will be familiar to anyone who has ever read anything from Sleeping Beauty to Star Wars. The inventiveness of the plot is not what makes this story so compelling. Instead, what keeps your interest is how well Smith uses all of these plot elements. He weaves them masterfully in and around with all of the characters until they become something more than what they were. Along the way Smith manages to balance mystery, action, drama and genuine humor. It is easy to find yourself laughing out loud, chuckling or at least smiling as you go along and then suddenly going from that laughter to a sense of dread and foreboding.

And it is the characters who win it. Each one of the carefully crafted characters are fully formed, well rounded and even complex. Each character grows and changes and faces experiences which make them more than what they were. And we CARE about them. Smith makes us fall in love with each and every one of them and by the end it is impossible to close the cover without at least a feeling of melancholia not least because the story is over and our time with all of these great characters has come to an end.

What makes matters even better is that Bone is one of those great kind of All Ages comic books I'm always talking about -- the kind that adults can enjoy and that kids will get a kick out of too. There is sophistication here and while there is violence it is treated with respect, maturity and an eye toward the plot rather than shock value or a juvenile attempt to seem more "adult".

Such a large tome, even in a comic book form, might seem a daunting read but Smith originally serialized the story so it actually breaks up into readable chunks nicely while still flowing well with the overall story. And for those of you with kids Scholastic has been re-publishing the series in nice, relatively inexpensive, digest-sized books as well and I cannot recommend it enough. If you've got kids who hate reading try them on Bone and see what happens. And if you're an adult, go ahead and buy the big, massive, collected edition tome like I did it really won't take you long to get through it once you get hooked into the story.

The Complete Bone -- there's something here for everyone so what are you waiting for?

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