29 March 2008

A Recently Discovered Regret

Wow.  I just discovered that MySpace’s blog doesn’t have a category for reading (books or comics).  I have since elected to include this under "Art and Photography," since literature is art.

Years ago, I was among those who read comic books regularly.  I started as a child reading Marvel Comics’s licensed titles based on G.I. Joe: A Real American HeroTransFormers and, briefly, ThunderCats.  (I said "briefly," because that title didn’t last long.)  I learned a lot of words from those early readings, far more than I ever learned in school.  To this day, I owe a debt of linguistic gratitude to Larry Hama.  I have always appreciated, even as a kid, that he did not dumb down his writing to make it easier to follow.  Every month, I’d get the new issue, and if I had to haul out a dictionary to really understand what was being said, then so be it.  I don’t recall much of what I learned then, other than to say that those words were quickly incorporated into my vocabulary.  The only one I remember vividly was that a dirge is a mournful song; Dirge was one of the Decepticon planes.

Later, like so many others, I was drawn to superhero comics because of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  I quickly started reading Batman and Detective Comics and began backtracking to find earlier issues of each.  And, again, I shamefully admit that it was another major event that drew me later to Superman; his announced death in 1992.  For someone who was always looked on by his classmates as some kind of individualistic renegade, I sure was a follower.  Maybe that’s why, even after I heard how great Jeff Smith’s Bone was, even after I had become interested in the artwork I had seen from that title, I never read it.

Oh, I could say that by the time I became aware of it, I was already spending every dollar of my allowance just keeping up with my regular reading, which by that time included all related Batman, Superman and Green Lantern titles, as well as the licensed comics based on Star Trek and Star Wars, which were just coming back into publication.  But the truth of the matter is, I never really felt like I was part of Bone’s audience.  Its audience, I imagined, was either younger readers (I mean, really, look at the guy!) or those comics reader snobs who "only" read independently published titles and are hardcore into their reading.

In any event, while I occupied myself with Superman’s death and return, Bruce Wayne’s back being broken (and his subsequent rehabilitation), Hal Jordan going nuts and killing the entire Green Lantern Corps and stories about Captains Kirk and Picard and Luke Skywalker, Jeff Smith published fifty-five issues of Bone (excluding a handful of one-shot special issues).  They were reprinted, or at least most of them were, by Image Comics in the late 1990s, and have all been collected in trade paperbacks (what you kids today call "graphic novels").  A couple of years ago, Scholastic began re-printing them in magnificent color.

Recently, while pillaging our local branch of the public library for things of interest, I decided to invest some of my time into reading the first of nine collected volumes of Bone.  Somewhere around page three, I was hooked.  I have become increasingly addicted as I have read the subsequent volumes, to the point that as soon as the library opens this morning, I intend to be there to return volume five and claim the copy of volume six they special ordered for me from another branch.  Knowing they have three copies of volume seven on hand, I will likely simply stay at the library and read both volumes consecutively.  They also have volume eight, and I may very well indulge myself to read that one, too.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bone, I will offer a brief synposis and a list of the titles to all nine collected volumes:

Bone follows three cousins, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoncible ("Phoney") Bone.  Fone is the "good one," Smiley the "naive one" and Phoney the "devious one," to invoke archtypes.  They have been forced out from Boneville because of one of Phoney’s schemes gone wrong and find themselves in the Valley.  The Valley is sort of like a medieval village.  Outside the Valley live the Rat Creatures (evil) and Dragons (mostly good, but not trusted by the people of the Valley).  At some point in the past, there had been a war between those two factions for control of the Valley, and the Bone cousins figure prominently into that war’s resurrection.  While Phoney commences to scamming the Valley people, Fone hooks up with Thorn, a pubescent girl and her Gran’ma Ben.  Thorn, like the Bones, is unaware of the role she is expected to play in the coming war.

Think The Lord of the Rings, as it may have been had it been created by Walt Disney.  The best part about readingBone is that it features all the things a reader desires in material: characters to like (and dislike) enough to want to find out what happens to them, humor and, at times, genuine concern for what will happen next.  Reading Bone in collected volumes has spared me the anguish original, monthly readers surely felt between issues; I have read the equivalent of the first two and a half years in about a month or so.  (For that matter, I plan on reading a year’s worth of original issues this afternoon!)
For those seeking to begin reading this highly enjoyable, if addictive, series, the nine collected volume titles are:
Out From Boneville
The Great Cow Race
Eyes of the Storm
The Dragonslayer
Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border
Old Man’s Cave
Ghost Circles
Treasure Hunters
Crown of Horns
As previously mentioned, there are a handful of one-shot special issues that were published over the years.  For the most part, these have not been collected (as yet).
Bone 1 Tenth Anniversary Edition, obviously, was a reprint of the first issue of the title, though with some added materials.  The story itself is included in Out From Boneville, though the extras have not been republished.  Bone 13 1/2 was an interlude, and it was inserted into The Great Cow Race in its chronological place in the story.  Thorn: Tales from the Lantern had a very limited print run, and it collected Jeff Smith’s early, college years sketches and such.  It is not, therefore, part of the story proper, but may be of interest to fans of Smith’s work and people like me, who actually watch the bonus features discs of their DVDs.  The same holds true for The Art of Bone, though its print run was not as restrictive as was Thorn’s.

Armed with this bibliography, I encourage you, dear reader, to track down Bone.  If money is tight (and I certainly know the feeling), then do as I have done, and check first with your local library.  Thanks to Scholastic’s reprints, they have become readily available for libraries; if not your own, then through a lending program, for sure.  If, however, you discover that you enjoy this title so much that you need to add it to your library, I believe you can order the collected volumes from either Jeff Smith’s website or www.scholastic.com.   And, of course, there are links throughout this blog entry directly to Amazon.

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