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  Bookends: Dan Davidson


Reviewed: September 4, 2007
By: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
1332 pages, $46.00

Somewhere between Duckburg and the Okefenokee Swamp lies a little town called Boneville, and a few days journey from that, if you happen to be fleeing from an angry mob, lies the land between the mountains where rat creatures menace the rustic inhabitants and the Locust plots its return to power and destroy humanity.

See how quickly that got weird? I started out that way because Jeff Smith's art work reminds me somewhat of the styles of both Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge) and Walt Kelly (Pogo). This saga, which stretches well over 1,300 pages, begins in a kind of comic way, being the slapstick adventures of a trio of political outcasts, but before you get too far into the story you find yourself heading deeply into Lord of the Rings territory.

The Bone boys, Phone, Phoney and Smiley, have had to flee Boneville because of Phoney's disastrous foray into politics. Phoney is the catalyst for a lot of the crazy stuff that happens in this story, but that's the comic relief. The lovable, naive Phone Bone is the heart of the story. The impossible love story between him and Thorn, the forest lass who turns  to be a princess, provides a totally different balance for the story as does his obsession with the Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick.

The hidden princess, living with her tough as nails Gran’ma Ben (shades of Al Capp's Granny Yokum or maybe Popeye), eventually comes to seem a little bit like Luke Skywalker hiding out on Tatooine.

But all of this creeps up on you. Before you meet the Locust and his plans, you experience the madness of the Great Cow Race. Before you enter into a state of all-out war between good and evil you get the slapstick battle between Phoney and Lucius for control of the local bar, the Barrel-Haven. Before you meet the dangers in the second half of the novel, you meet the Red Dragon, a droll giant who seems to turn up just in time to save the day and invariably provide a visual punch line.

From 1991 to 2004 Smith produced 55 irregularly published black and white issues of Bone, collecting ten Eisner Awards and eleven Harvey Awards along the way. These were collected into nine trade paperback collections over the years and eventually into this one massive volume, roughly the size of the Toronto telephone book.

Bone’s publishing history is not yet complete. Realizing that here was a story that would appeal across the generations, Scholastic Books negotiated with Smith to issue colourized (colour by Steve Hamaker) versions of the individual volumes under their Graphix imprint,and are currently up to volume 6 , after which the industry scuttlebutt is that there will be another one volume collection of the coloured version.

Completists can also pick up coffee table sized book The Art of Bone (from Dark Horse Comics) a recent release of conceptual sketches, art influences, pencil versions, alternate covers, finished panel pages, completed, full color covers, unfinished panel sequences, rare sketches, pencil versions of completed covers, etc. This is getting rave reviews.

And if you’re really nuts about this, but want people to think you’re actually working, apparently the strip will soon be available, a panel at a time for display on the screen of your cellphone. There are also video games for both the PC and Mac platforms.

One area Bone hasn’t invaded yet is the movies. It would be a great animated film series, but Smith turned down an offer from Nickelodeon Films back in the 1990s, repulsed by the idea that the music for the production would include songs by Britney Spears and N-Sync.

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