Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jeff Smith's Bone-Related Material

Jeff Smith’s comic saga Bone is one of the best fantasy stories I have ever read; sort of Lord of the Rings meets The Smurfs. After wanting to pick up the ancillary volumes for some time, I finally did this week. It’s a mixed bag, with neither coming close to the magic of the core titles.

Jeff Smith penned Rose and brought in Charles Vess to do the artwork in a prequel starring t
he title character, who readers will know better as Grandma Ben. Basically, this story fills us in on exactly how Rose’s sister Briar becomes the embodiment of the Lord of the Locusts as depicted in the main comic. Unfortunately, nothing much is added to what we already knew, and as such the story is a bit disappointing. In fact, the only major characters not to be shown in the main comic are two dogs that Rose can speak with telepathically.

Vess’s artwork is different stylistically from Smith’s, and it is a better match since the story lacks the humor prevalent in Bone. But it caused this reader to feel like he was reading something that didn’t mesh well with the original saga, something that took characters he knew and interpreted them differently. The magic of Smith's series is in the blend of the cartoonish with the Bone cousins and the rat creatures paired with the fantasy element of just about everything else. That blend isn’t here, Vess’s artwork is anything but cartoonish, and certain events were surprisingly graphic and violent for what is aimed at a younger audience.

If Rose is missing humor, Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails has it in abundance. Written by Tom Sniegoski and drawn by Smith, this comic manages to seem familiar and yet new, with the founder of Boneville, Big Johnson Bone, as the lead character. As he explores with a newly won monkey, Big Johnson must help a collection of baby animals find their parents who have been taken by the rat creatures. And unlike Rose, we learn things here, like why the rat creatures are depicted as having no tails.

Obviously intended for a younger audience than the main series, this volume can make one a bit weary at times. Big Johnson is the stereotypical exaggerator, and while Sniegoski manages to make this work in action scenes, it doesn’t so much work in the relative peace at the start of the comic. That said, this would make a nice volume for a younger reader, especially as it includes another story called 'Riblet,' about a young boar who bullies the other baby animals until he turns his antics on the rat creatures.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any more Bone-related material out there for me to look into, which is sad because I enjoyed the original collection so much. I’ll be glad when Jeff Smith puts out some new material, hopefully before too much longer.

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