||[Jul. 7th, 2008|10:17 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#77 BONE – Jeff Smith
“We’re off the map! Get a bigger map!”
Jeff Smith’s characters, the Bone cousins, are pure cartoons somewhere between Walt Kelly and Walt Disney in style. Vague outlines of archetypal people, they have the classic big noses, the ability to burst into flame when over-excited, access to unlimited supplies of small objects (like matches and cigars) whenever they happen to need them and a belief that the wearing of pants is optional.
The three of them – the nice one, the spiteful one and the goofy one – stumble out of the modern town of Boneville and into a fantasy epic. They enter a valley that’s home to talking animals, dragons, a lost princess and prophetic dreams. The dream sequences are one of the elements Smith excels at; each one shown in wide panels overlayed on a blacked-out version of the grid he normally uses as if the world is still going on in the darkness beyond the strange nocturnal visions.
As representatives of the real world the Bones highlight the absurdities of the magical world they’ve discovered just by standing in it. Phoney Bone – the spiteful one – wants to exploit it for profit because there’s always gold and treasure in this kind of place, and of course he turns out to be right. The slapstick and punchlines increasingly give way to dramatic moments as the series continues and fortunately Smith’s art is just as good at imbuing a scene like a chase through a darkened forest during a thunderstorm with the right air of menace as it is at handling the more light-hearted moments.
Eventually the Bones grow used to the world they’ve found themselves in and become involved in the epic plot involving the mysterious prophecy, the deformed and hooded villain, the chosen one and the quest for the magical object that could save the world or destroy it. Like the hobbits in The Lord Of The Rings, who start out complaining about not having proper meals when you’re on a quest and end up carrying magic swords and acting like heroes, the Bones begin to normalise to the world around them. They never completely manage it, however. They stay cartoons and that makes them rub against the serious story they’re in, providing Bone’s most memorable and comical moments. As a heroic fantasy saga, Bone is an excellent cartoon comedy.