Let’s start this review with how I discovered this somewhat unknown comic book series. I was visiting some relatives on a pretty normal trip. I certainly don’t know how long ago. There was some downtime, and I noticed the first book of the series, Out from Boneville. I took a chance, and decided to read it. My impression of it wasn’t too terribly strong, at least at first. I simply thought it was a little weird, partially due to it being in black and white.
Now let’s fast forward to 2006, when I rediscovered the first book, this time in color. I don’t remember how I found it, but I gave me a better impression. This was enough to seek out books 2, 3, and 4 not long afterwards. At the time, I couldn’t find any books after that, as the color editions hadn’t been fully released yet. I did, however, find the full volume set, in black and white. I have since have had no regrets in regards to that purchase.
Before I get in too much detail, let me list the nine books included in the single volume:
- Book One: Out from Boneville
- Book Two: The Great Cow Race
- Book Three: Eyes of the Storm
- Book Four: The Dragonslayer
- Book Five: Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border
- Book Six: Old Man’s Cave
- Book Seven: Ghost Circles
- Book Eight: Treasure Hunters
- Book Nine: Crown of Horns
I will be covering the full volume of the series, particularly the black and white edition. Most of what I cover will apply to these books individually or as a whole, so all this will be covered no matter what.
So, the first thing any reader will notice is the art style. The three main characters, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone (or the Bone Cousins for short) closely resemble characters from an old style Disney cartoon. The background art, however, even in the first panel, is a more detailed desert. It is drawn in a much more modern style in comparison to the Bone Cousins.
Not long after the protagonists set up the scene, they are chased and separated by a swam of locusts into an area simply called the Valley. The Valley is even more detailed than the desert, and is filled with strange creatures, most notably the hairy rat creatures, and a red dragon. From there, the Bones encounter normal humans in an old world farm and a nearby, medieval style village. The main goal the Bone Cousins are trying to achieve is to return home to Boneville, but one thing leads to another, delaying their return.
Other than the strange combination of art styles between the main characters and the rest of these comic books, it should be noticed that this series has plenty of humor to go along with it. There is plenty of clever wordplay, visual gags, and some fun with the character designs used. Some examples could be a quick jab at the Bones’ nose size, or how some human characters usually have their eyes closed.
That being said, there is a tone shift around books 3 and 4 to a more serious high fantasy story. While it generally gets darker from that point forward, the humor doesn’t vanish entirely. At times, the jokes can be overwhelmed a bit from the action on each page, but it is there for those who appreciate a slight break from the serious moments.
Jeff Smith happens to be a master of the comic book craft. The use of visual character design, facial expressions, bold lettering, and even speech bubble shape help show the reader what kind of character is speaking, as well as what emotion is being shown. This is done to such great effect, I personally could imagine the character’s voices almost perfectly in every scene.
The use of black and white in the original release does allow the reader some imagination on what colors are used. There are even a few visual tricks that work well with the black and white color medium. Even so, the color versions are downright stunning to view.
It should be noted that this series has enough hints as to what will come, that the Bone series is worth rereading. I not only grasp the significance of earlier moments on subsequent reads, but even notice some small details, and understand jokes I missed the first time around. This series is a true wonder.
So, which version should you get? Well that depends on a few factors. While it was originally intended to be shown in black and white, the color editions are far more visually appealing. I also don’t know how available any of these books are, as I get the sense that at best, this series is a cult classic.
It is best to get the whole series in one volume, in color, if possible. I suspect that is the rarest edition, though. Whatever price you are looking for, the full color single volume edition is the most expensive (it is a little over $100 on Amazon with Prime membership as of this writing). The single edition in black and white is the best bargain, at roughly $40 for the paperback version, without Amazon Prime. You could buy each book separately in color, but that comes out to $13 each, without Amazon Prime, and a little over $9 each with prime. Which one you choose should be based on budget, and buying preferences.
Some quick reading recommendations are in order:
- Read at your own pace, making sure to finish it with enough of the story still fresh in your mind.
- Definitely read in order.
- If you aren’t sold on the series by the end of book 2, it isn’t for you, and I can’t help you further.
- It is worth rereading on occasion. If you do, try to keep your eyes open for details missed the first time around.
Now for some quick Pro’s and Con’s. Please note that the Con’s here are potential Con’s, and didn’t personally bother me.
- Great humor
- Stunning artwork
- Masterful storytelling
- Mid-series tone shift
- Art style combination may clash for some readers
- A strange adventure throughout
So the final verdict?
9.7/10 Near Perfect Masterpiece
This applies to the medium of comics and cartooning, as well as to the genres of humor and fantasy.
Did you enjoy this review? Will you seek out these books? Have you read this series? What did you think of it and why? Should I review the sequel books “Quest for the Spark”? Tell me in the comments below!