CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005
On the cover of Bone: Out from Boneville, a small white, Pogo-like creature is walking through a wasteland, clutching the tattered remains of what is probably a map. Monoliths loom around him, and the little creature is oblivious to the dark creature lurking behind him. He's on a quest. Fone Bone, along with his two cousins, the irrepressibly cheerful, cigar-smoking Smiley and the congenitally crabby Phoncible P. Bone (aka"Phoney") have been exiled from Boneville, as a result of Phoney's "shady business deals that went sour." Now, two weeks later, they're lost, thirsty, and have reached the limits of their map. Miraculously, Smiley finds a tattered, sketchy map, and the adventures begin! First they're besieged by a plague of locusts, and, in the course of the locust attack, Fone becomes separated from his cousins. On his own, Fone meets Ted, a talking insect with a hill-billy accent, is continually threatened by large, menacing horned and fanged hairy rat-like creatures (some of whom, inexplicably prefer quiche to the standard stew in which victims of attack are invariably cooked), and befriends some cute baby opossums.
Throughout this first set of adventures, a pair of glowering eyes appears from time to time. Those heavy-lidded peepers belong to the Big Red Dragon, a hairy-eared, laconic, cigarette-smoking beast. His mere presence terrifies the "stupid rat creatures" who are ready to make quiche filling out of Fone. As the rat monsters retreat in terror, Fone asks the Dragon, "What are you doing? Don't let 'em get away! . . . Why don't you do something?! . . . If I was a dragon, I woulda blasted them with fire! What's th' matter? Can't you breathe fire?" The next panel shows a blast of flame bellowing from the dragon's mouth. Surprised and singed, Fone is reminded by the Dragon, "That's right, kid. Never play an ace when a two will do."
But, it's not all mystery adventure. There's also a hint of romance - the lovely Thorn (whom Fone first spies while she takes a dip in an icy river) combines the sweet innocence of Snow White with the athleticism of Wonder Woman. Thorn lives with her grandmother in an isolated cottage in the woods, and, on the morning after Fone's rescue, they wait for the return of Grandma Ben, who is returning from the nearby village of Barrelhaven.
In the meantime, in the manner of all good quest stories, Phoney encounters an old lady as he trudges along the road. Of course, she is Thorn's Grandma Ben, and, in response to his insulting her and her racing cows - they being one of the main events of the village's Spring Festival - the lady sends Phoney flying through Thorn's front door. However, the reunion is a temporary respite - soon, the rat creatures are back with a vengeance, because they want Phoney, "the small, bald creature with the star on his chest." In a series of three wordless panels, author Jeff Smith sets the ominous scene for a gathering of rat monsters, summoned by the Master, a mysterious, hooded creature who issues pronouncements sitting on a platform, surrounded by flames, and carrying a scythe. The rats attack, but Grandma (a remarkably tough old gal) fends them off, the Dragon rescues Thorn and Fone, and all end up at the Barrelhaven tavern, where Smiley is tending bar. It's a happy ending for the time being, but the Master is after Phoney, and the final panel concludes with the warning, "you have been spared . . . for now . . . Phoncible P. Bone . . . ."
It's difficult to summarize Out from Boneville because Jeff Smith packs so much into this graphic novel. The illustration (black and white) is classic comic book style, and the story is classic adventure saga. Fone is a spiritual brother to Frodo, an innocent and, at times, unwilling hero, facing the timeless task of combatting evil, in order that goodness may triumph. Never having been a comic book reader as a child, I was absolutely swept away by this story, and it's because the narrative line is strong, the humour ranges from subtle to slapstick, and the characters so cleverly realized. Bone is the first in Scholastic's new graphic novel imprint, Graphix, and it's a brilliant initial choice for a launch. Tolkien fans will love this story - it has dragons, monsters, and buddies on a quest -- but Bone is definitely an original. Fans of graphic novels will love it, and I think that it will draw reluctant readers, too. As for me, I think that I'll look for the newly-released volume, collecting the entire thirteen years of the saga into a single "hefty, phone book-like tome" (Booklist, 15 October 2004, p. 396).
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.