Saturday, December 10, 2011

GN Review -- Bone, v. 1 / Jeff Smith

In a fictitious land known as the Valley, the Bone cousins, white, bald cartoon characters, have just been run out of their hometown of Boneville when one of the cousins' get-rich-quick schemes got the townspeople riled. Now on their own, the cousins are quickly separated by a swarm of locusts, and the main character, Fone Bone, finds himself in a nearby valley, where he befriends several of the natives, including a young girl by the name of Thorn. After a period of months, he is gradually reunited with his cousins, who have also found the valley on their own, and together they plan to leave the valley and return to Boneville. But even before their reunion, it seems dark forces have been working against them, and their ability to simply leave is left in doubt by the volume's end.

Jeff Smith has created a story that blends high fantasy with the humor of cartoon characters, with mixed but intriguing results. Fone Bone is clearly a character out of his element, constantly struggling to make sense of the world around him, but whose cartoonish nature and appearance lend themselves to some very funny moments. For instance, when Fone first meets Thorn, the granddaughter of the amusing but mysterious Gran'ma Ben, he immediately falls head over heels in love with the beautiful young girl, with many of the cartoon exaggerations that come with it: his hat ignites flames when he sees her, hearts appear around his head, and he constantly forgets what he's saying. It's a what-the-heck moment that actually works even as it noticeably inserts itself in what is a merging of two narrative styles.

Clearly, Smith had thought out the larger story before writing it, as he introduces a wide range of mysterious, outlandish characters from the get-go, like the Bones, a cigarette-smoking dragon, Thorn and Gran'ma Ben, vicious but stupid "rat creatures," and a host of talking animals. With many of them, who don't have particularly large parts in this volume, the reader gets the distinct feeling they'll be seeing them further into the story. The artwork has a very strong cartoon sensibility; heck, I'd almost swear at times that I'm looking at prints from an animated show instead of the mere panels of a comic book. Smith is good at hybridizing and moving between visual styles as needed for the myriad of different character and setting types he brings to this story.

For my part, I don't know if this got off to a slow start, or if the overall tone of the narrative just skews too young for me, but I was not particularly impressed with this story. It wasn't bad, and I think if this had been introduced to me when I was in middle school or even high school, I probably would have been instantly absorbed. But as it stands, I can take this story or leave it. It's not bad, and it's certainly well crafted for what it's supposed to be. I'm well aware of how many awards it's won, and I know plenty of middle schoolers and teens request this series from bookstores and libraries, and that's all fine. I just, at this point in the story, don't particularly care for it.

Which isn't to say that I won't keep reading. Chances are, it'll pick up steam and I'll like it fine. It just may be a while before I get around to reading any further.

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