BONEOriginal medium: Comic books
Published by: Cartoon Books
First Appeared: 1991
Creator: Jeff Smith
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Jeff Smith is one of the few cartoonists of recent decades to list Walt Kelly as a major influence. In fact, Kelly has influenced Smith so strongly, when his black and white Bone comic book came out in 1991 (first issue cover date, July) a few comics aficionados called it a "clone" of Kelly's Pogo.
Those would be the ones who are sloppy with language, or
don't own dictionaries. An imitation less blatant than Wonder Man was of Superman doesn't qualify for the label; but while it's true that Bone was a distinct, original creation from the start, it's also true that the early Bone was quite reminiscent of Pogo. The main character, Fone Bone (no relation) even looks a little like a hairless, chalk-white, bulb-nosed version of Pogo.
Sticking with that analogy, Fone Bone's cousin and companion, Smiley Bone would be the equivalent of Albert the Alligator, a tall, slim cigar chomper who is in touch with a slightly different reality from the rest of us. As for the third cousin/companion, Phoncible P. "Phoney" Bone, the analogy breaks down. There is no Pogo character at all close to the scheming, callous, avaricious Phoney Bone.
The story opened with the three Bones, who were like funny animals but of no apparent species, arriving in a remote valley. They'd been chased out of Boneville because of one of Phoney Bone's schemes, and a major motive throughout the series was trying to get back. They quickly fell in with a human family, a young maiden named Thorn and her grandmother, then known only as Gran'ma Ben. Fone Bone had a secret crush on Thorn, despite the fact that they were of different species.
They got involved with some of the neighbors, such as tavern keeper Lucius Down, and some of the local fauna, such as Ted the talking bug. Gradually, they were drawn into political and magical intrigues going back a generation or more, involving The Lord of Locusts, The Red Dragon, and some truly frightening anthropoid rat creatures. They had many adventures in this context, but not in the usual way of adventure series, where the basic situation is the same after each story as it was before. There was overall plot development. Readers were constantly exposed to new mysteries about what was going on and how characters related to one another, even while old mysteries were cleared up.
Most stories of this sort are set "once upon a time", but this one was more contemporary. One indication was Fone Bone's fondness for Herman Melville's Moby Dick (no relation), which goes back only as far as 1851. Another was an occasional reference by Smiley Bone to modern conditions back in Boneville, tho the valley was technologically and culturally medieval.
Cartoon Books, which published Bone from the beginning, was the company name Smith used for self-publishing. Under that name, he brought an issue out every couple months or so until #20 (Oct., 1995). After that, he went under the umbrella of Image Comics (Savage Dragon, Witchblade), which reprinted the whole series with new covers, then advanced the story for seven more. Then Smith withdrew into self-publishing again, and continued to put it out for the rest of the 20th century, and a few years more. Starting in 1996, Smith also used the Cartoon Books imprint to put the story in trade paperback form
There were also various spin-offs, some of which were part of the story and some not. Between 1994 and '98, Disney Adventures magazine published part of the story in short episodes. It also did one original Bone story during that period. Also, Cartoon Books did some ancillary stories, some about characters during their younger days and some featuring a Bone ancestor named Big Johnson Bone. In 2004, Scholastic Press a (Goosebumps, Clifford) started reprinting the graphic novels in color.
Eventually, the story was finished, and in 2004 the comic book came to an end. It ran a total of 55 issues, reprinted in nine volumes. This was followed the same year with a one-volume edition, presenting the whole story in 1,332 pages — including, at the end, the three Bones' final return to Boneville.