Cousins Fone (naked), Phoney (star on his shirt), and Smiley Bone (taller, smokes a cigar) have been banished from Boneville for Phoney’s latest monetary scam of his fellow townspeople. The threesome is separated and they find out that the world is much bigger and more dangerous than they had ever imagined.
The humor, art, and storytelling are G-rated, meaning that there is danger without violence, and characterization without sex or profanity. However, the portrayal of a female human gives the story a hint of sex, which is strange. Fone Bone watches from afar as Thorn takes off her pants and bathes in a hot spring. When the two meet, he falls instantly in love (as portrayed by the hearts circling his head). Later, Thorn is sexualized when she wakes up from a nightmare and her bare shoulder is exposed. I know what you’ll say; “Jan, you’re projecting your own thoughts onto this delightful kid’s comic.” Perhaps, but the oddities continue. Later, when Fone Bone and Thorn (121) are returning to a cabin, Thorn’s cleavage is on display. Finally, on the inside back cover is the image of Thorn from behind holding hands with Fone and Phoney and she’s wearing a suggestively short skirt. What’s my point? The artist, Jeff Smith, has 100% control of how his art appears and these images made me shake my head and wonder why, in an otherwise G-rated comic, would he personify the only female character (other than her grandmother) with these, albeit brief, sexual images?
Furthermore, I’m sure Smith does a lot to explain the world in the coming issues, but I was confused. It’s a fantasy world with dragons, prophecies, talking bugs, rat-creatures, and Sauron-esque bad guys, but the world also includes real-world items, such as comic books, dollar bills, the novel Moby Dick. These “real” items run the risk or ruining the fantasy the writer has worked hard to create.
Bone is an “all-ages” comic that feels like Calvin and Hobbes meets The Hobbit. It has received glowing reviews from The Comics Journal, Will Eisner, and Publisher’s Weekly using words such as “witty” and “masterful”. There is nothing wrong with Bone. It is well-drawn, there are no gaps in the storytelling, and it is a well-received, long-lasting comic book. I really enjoyed Rose, Thorn’s grandmother (ohhhh, I get it!) who races cows, singlehandedly beats a horde of rat creatures, and has a previous relationship with, and intimidates, the dragon. However, I wasn’t drawn in by the world or its characters. Fone and Phoney’s names are a bit too similar for my liking; a small complaint I know, but the similarity confused me at first. Phoney is a money-grubbing trickster who’s backstory makes him seem like a psychopath. Smiley is the light-hearted, agreeable type, and Fone is the stable one. I chuckled once or twice, but otherwise, the jokes aren’t that funny or clever. While Bone appeals to many readers, I found myself unenchanted.
Bone: Out From Boneville collects issues Bone: 1-5 and was originally published in 1993. Art and story by Jeff Smith.