What can even be said about Bone that scholars and fans already haven’t said? It helped pave the way for the current middle-grade/YA graphic novel boom, it’s a beautiful masterpiece of long-form storytelling, it was completely self-published, it’s won every award….Bone is a testament to artistic effort and cartooning on the highest level.
Personally I love it and have a long history with it. We had this same one-volume edition when I was younger and I reread it several times when I was in the most intense stage of my comics obsession (the obsession is still there, but split between other interests now). It’s been years since I read the whole thing in one sitting and so as part of my ongoing effort to round out my library now that I have space for bookcases, I got my own copy. It was such a pleasant reading experience — sometimes you reread a book from when you were younger and it doesn’t hold up, but I will keep re-reading Bone for the rest of my life.
Bone follows three cousins from Boneville who get run out of town, lost in the desert, and then stumble into a high fantasy adventure. I think the contrast between the Bone cousins, who come from a world that sounds similar to ours (pizza, nuclear plants) and are drawn in an extremely pared-down, cartoony style, and the people of the valley, who are drawn as detailed humans, is so smart on so many levels. It differentiates them on every level and allows the reader to have a relief from the tension of the emotionally wrought situations. The whole book is just pitch-perfect in terms of how the story works with the art, and how the whole thing moves you forward at a pace that never seems too rushed or too slow. For a book that was serialized over twelve years, it is incredibly impressive how coherent it is. I’ve read a lot of webcomics and serialized comics, and usually the art improves or things change as the years pass, but Smith’s cartooning is so confident that you would never know how long this took. The fantasy plot is so well done, and Smith does interesting things with what can be a repetitive genre.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s funny, touching, thoughtful, dense, rewarding, every positive description. It’s a perennial best-seller and won all the awards for a reason.
Warnings for: lots of violence, death. No cursing or sex involved, which is why they can sell it as middle-grade. Probably wouldn’t be ok for little kids who couldn’t handle scary situations, but I know people who read it young and they’re fine today.