Bone, by Jeff Smith, is epic not only in length but also storytelling. Running 1,332 pages, and telling a story of friendship, loyalty, duty, and sacrifice, Bone is a story that can be read and enjoyed by a wide range of readers.
Bone follows the adventures of three cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. After being run out of their hometown and crossing a vast desert, they discover a valley wherein the greatest adventure of their lives will take place. Jeff Smith tells his story with wit and plenty of humor as he follows the cousins’ many adventures. Though character change does not really take place in any of the three main characters in the story, their actions and attitudes are portrayed in such a way as to cause the reader to desire the traits of some over others. For example, Phoney Bone is constantly trying to defraud people and get himself rich. However, over and over throughout the story his schemes for money only end in pain and financial failure. So, although Phoney never changes, Jeff Smith is able to communicate that love of money above all other things is bad and will only end in ruin. In contrast, characters like Fone Bone who display loyalty and a sense of responsibility are shown in a positive light. In his story, Jeff Smith not only communicates many admirable traits through characters, but he also uses the situations his characters find themselves in to communicate his ideas. For example, he shows how lies, even when made with good intentions to protect, end in distrust and hurt relationships.
In Bone, Jeff Smith does portray a relativistic worldview, which basically says that what is “truth” for one person may not be “truth” for somebody else, but the worldview should not be a problem for readers who perceive it for what it is. Despite the relativistic leanings in the story, Bone still has many good themes and tells a truly heartwarming story. Since Bone is fantasy there are lots of monsters, some magic (called dreaming), and a good bit of violence in the later chapters of the story.
From a technical standpoint, Bone is well done. My copy has black and white illustrations, but there are colored versions available. Jeff Smith uses a very simple layout for his panels which makes it easy for the reader to follow and understand the narrative. Following in the footsteps of the panel layouts, Jeff Smith’s artwork is simpler visually speaking, without a huge number of lines involved in each panel, but always very effective. Other than a few instances where an arm or leg on a character seems out of proportion, the artwork is very consistent. Jeff Smith’s ability to time events with pacing between the comic panels, and draw very expressive representations of characters’ feelings, means that the comedic moments are very funny and that the story can sometimes be told simply by the characters’ features without the aid of words.
In conclusion, Bone is a great story that has many good themes and ideas. The story is fun to read, and it is probably my favorite graphic novel. That said, readers should be cognizant of the relativistic worldview present in the story so that they can pick the good from the bad, and right from wrong. Despite the incorrect worldview, Bone holds many good messages and is an entertaining read.