(Throughout 2011, every month CCLaP staff writer Oriana Leckert is looking at a different graphic novel from a "girl's" point of view, examining this notoriously male-dominated medium from a female perspective, and sometimes aided by her fellow members of a Brooklyn book club devoted to the same subject. For all of Oriana's J&C essays, please see her main article index here at the site.)
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic
By Jeff Smith
Reviewed by Oriana Leckert
Here is something that I have never thought about before: what is the onomatopoeic rendering of a sword pulled fast out of its scabbard? Give up? It's SHING! I mean, of course it is, right? But who knew?
That was my first clever way of saying OMG Jeff Smith is a genius.
If you'd given me a plot synopsis of Bone, I probably wouldn't have been particularly inclined to pick it up. A trio of strange smooth androgynous bone creatures accidentally become part of an ancient war between the Dragons, the people of the Valley, and the God of the Locusts, and they go on a quest to find the Crown of Horns, dodging Rat Creatures and Ghost Circles, aiding and abetted by by a sexy young farmhand and her ornery grandmother? Um, no thanks. Too sci-fi, too childish, too weird. Plus I hate it when regular words get unnecessarily elevated via random capitalization.
But this, man, wow. This is unquestionably and irrepressibly riveting, engaging, fascinating. There's an awesomely compelling plot, solid mythology and history and backstory, terrific characters, an amazingly vast scope, fantastic art, a pitch-perfect balance between pathos and humor, action and explication, dialogue and art, cute animals and bloody swordfights... Man. Wow.
A couple other things? Okay. In college I took a course on Lord of the Rings, and one of the things we discussed was how the language of the trilogy subtly reinforces the path of the books from sort of light middle-grade fantasy in the beginning to a high-art, mature epic by the end. I would say a similar thing happens in Bone, where it starts out all kind of silly fun and games, but the book and the plot and the characters all elevate and expand as things go on, opening and blooming into this vast, grand epic scope.
Also, not only does this book pass the Bechtel test (with flying colors), it's basically - other than the bone creatures - all women. The hero is a woman. Her great teacher is a woman. Even the villain is a woman! In addition, as one of the Jugs & Capes girls pointed out in our discussion, there is basically no romantic subplot. How often does that happen in fantasy? Close to never. But here, Thorn (our heroine) is way too busy being brilliant and strong and savvy and kicking ass and saving the freaking world to bother with something so trivial as whom to kiss. Yeah!
So in case I haven't made myself clear, this is a brilliant, brilliant book. Who cares that it's too big to carry anywhere? Who cares that it's written for kids? Who cares that it's an epic fantasy? It's stunning.