Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: The Art of Bone

Comic fans will need something to keep the drool off the pages.

The Art of Bone. Artwork by Jeff Smith et al, introduction by Lucy Shelton Caswell, and design by Cary Grazzini. Edited by Diana Schutz and Devae Marshall. Dark Horse (Milwaukie, OR): 2007. $39.95. 200 pages. ISBN-10: 1-59307-441-7, ISBN-13: 978-1-59307-441-8.

This is book is worth every cent of the cover price. It is gigantic (a foot tall) with gorgeous, enormous, full-color illustration throughout, and it costs no more than some hardback novels. And it contains not only much artwork that diehard Bone fans already know, but much that they almost certainly don't.

The history of the publication of Bone is complicated, to say the least. Self-published for a while, then published under Image, then self-published again with special short stories released in Disney Adventures Magazine and Wizard Presents, the three Complete Bone Adventures collections followed by the nine-volume series followed by two editions of the One Volume Edition followed by the Scholastic full-color versions and another One Volume Edition, not to mention greeting cards, guest art, T-shirts, Thorn strips from Smith's college days, rough drafts, comics from Smith's childhood, and a set of phone cards(!)--with all of that, I promise you you have not seen every picture in this book before.

And did I mention that the illustrations are gigantic? It makes me deeply regret the minuscule size of the Scholastic editions. Ah well, perhaps some giant-sized editions like they have in Norway will appear in a few years.

The volume opens with Mark Crilley's map of the Valley on the inside of the hard cover. It then continues with bold, black pages adding successive bits of text like the opening credits of a movie, each text presented opposite a giant image of one of the Bone cousins, until you arrive at last at a two-page spread of the enormous, glorious Bone logo. Following that, Lucy Shelton Caswell gives a brief but informative introduction (which includes an inset of one of my favorite images from the comic), followed by Diana Schutz's preface. After that, we're hip-deep in wonderful artwork, beginning with a lush presentation of the cover of Bone #37 framed by the line that first introduced us to Bone's mythological universe and hinted that this was to be more than a comic about cute talking animals: "Dreams are windows to the Spirit World...a world from which everyone comes and to which everyone must one day return." Awesome!

The book contains lots of big pictures of cover art, both from the original Cartoon Books publications and from some of the Image reprints, including one of my all-time favorite pictures, the Image cover to Bone #2, which shows Thorn and Bone's first meeting. The short story "May the Force Be with You," originally published in Disney Adventures Magazine and not to be found in the final compilation of the comic, appears here, as does the Thorn strip on which it's based. It involves, among other oddities, a scene in which Fone Bone, without losing his signature deadpan, gets swallowed by a giant eagle. The book also has some photographs of Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio, which Smith used for Bone's lush forest setting, and Kathmandu, which he uses for its exotic urban conclusion.

I think my new favorite image of Bone's two protagonists is the picture from a pair of phone cards released with the second anniversary issue of Combo Magazine. The picture features a grinning Thorn giving Fone Bone a hug. A phone card featuring a character named Fone seems quite appropriate.

Along with the numerous images are a number of captions and short paragraphs (presumably written by Diana Schutz) describing various aspects of the Bone saga. Regular readers here will already know of some of them: she identifies the "Dreaming," Bone's spirit world, with the Australian Dreamtime and notes that the characters Rose and Briar are a reference to "Sleeping Beauty." She reveals, as I had long suspected, that Smith's wife was the major inspiration for Thorn and discusses Smith's use of light and shadow and "camera" placement, the sort of things that many readers might not pick up. And even though Bone is a complex work featuring humor, adventure, a large cast of characters, an epic story arc, and a mythic backdrop, she writes, "The relationship between Thorn and Fone Bone is the axis on which the entire Bone epic turns, beginning as an innocent, though incendiary, crush and blossoming into a wholly trusting partnership" (p. 40). The Sci Fi Catholic certainly agrees.

The last half of the book discusses important plot points including the climax and conclusion. For that reason, though it may potentially entice new readers, The Art of Bone is best for those already familiar with Bone. For those afflicted with the same disease as myself, known as terminal Bone addiction, it is a must-have.
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