Phoney Bone is the primary actor in this segment of the Bone story, although for all his scheming, he is out of his depth, as usual. It is unclear until the end of the volume, whether he is accidentally helping the heroes, or unwittingly harming them. Thorn advances toward maturity and purposefulness, and not a minute too soon. On the whole, this stretch is somewhat tense and plot-heavy.
This third collection of Bone comics is the first that I have read in its original black-and-white format. I read the two previous volumes in the colorized editions from the Scholastic GRAFIX imprint. While I respect author/artist Smith for realizing his vision in the independent black-and-white comics market, and at the hazard of offending purist afficianados, I have to say that the comic is more attractive, readable, and compelling with the high-quality colors of the later reprints.
As far as the story goes, it takes a major turn in this segment: the “serious” fantasy plot about the political history of the valley, and the roles of Rose and Thorn in that history are revealed, along with more detail about their foes. None of these revelations should come as any great surprise to the attentive reader, though, and none of them are in any way contrary to fantasy conventions. All of this plot explication comes at a price, which is that of considerably less comedy. There is still a humorous parallel narrative about the Bone brothers’ return to the Barrel-Haven tavern, and the development of Fone Bone’s poetic talents continues amusingly on page 120. But on the whole, there is more action and intrigue, and less of the wry humor that was so characteristic of the earlier books.
The “Moby Bone” dream episode is supposed to be a highlight of this volume, and it certainly did its job well enough. But I thought it paled next to the more elaborate and involved dream sequences in Sim’s Cerebus.
The final page advises readers that we have reached the “End of Part One.” Even though the plot proper seems still to be barely getting off the ground, this does seem like a reasonable point to pause.
This second collection of Bone comics advances the overall plot with the same leisurely pace of the first volume. I think I’m very glad to be reading these as anthologies, rather than following them as a monthly comic. This volume has more and better slapstick than the first, and Fone Bone’s romantic affection for Thorn is elevated into a proper dilemma. For sheer comedy, the best moment is probably the unravelling of Phoney Bone’s scheme on page 73.
In “Lonesome Road” (the fifth chapter of this book, #11 of the original series?), a three-page dialoge between Rose and Lucius provides a very full synopsis of the state of the intrigue–from the human perspective. I can certainly see how such a review would have been important in the original serial, but it’s helpful even in the current format. There are four intersecting worlds here: the Boneville Bones in exile (Fone, Phoney, and Smiley), the humans (Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, Lucius, villagers and fairgoers), the animals (possums, Ted the bug), and the monsters (red dragon, rat creatures).
In any event, this book solidifies the promise of the first volume and settles into what I’m now confident will be a series worth the continuing read.
I was recently surprised to find Bone mentioned among a list of indispensable comics works in Neil Gaiman’s introduction to The Best of the Spirit. Remarking this fact to my Other Reader in a local comics shop, along with the circumstance that I had never read Bone and hadn’t ever had it personally recommended to me, multiple store personnel, overhearing, piped up that they followed the title themselves and recommended it strongly. So, now I’ve finished the collection of the first six issues from the early 1990s, and I did enjoy it. It was somewhat different from my expectations.
Given its origins as a black-and-white underground comic, along with the art style and presentation of the covers, I was expecting something like the early issues of Dave Sim’s Cerebus (at that point a Conan parody featuring an aardvark), and in fact protagonist Fone Bone bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Cerebus as drawn in Sim’s later work. But as I read the Bone comics, I was most reminded of the work of Charles M. Schulz. It was as if the writer/artist of Peanuts at the height of his powers had decided to undertake a fantasy epic. The pacing of the dialogue, the facial expressiveness of the characters, the telescoping of major events into the gutter between two panels, all showed the sort of technique that I associate with Schulz’s best work.
This first volume introduces a robust set of characters, and sets a dramatic tableau, but it does not complete a plot arc. I’m sure I’ll read at least one more collection.