It’s finally here. In one form or another, here comes the beginning, and ending surprisingly, of The Great Bone Journey.
For anyone that has been with the column the last few weeks, it all started when I delved deep into Mr. Acosta’s Class Library (or my class library for anyone not familiar with my name) and decided to do a series of articles about the all-ages comics that I provide for the students in my 5th grade elementary school classroom. Since reading is a big part of anything and because I love comic books and all they represent ever so, I figured that having some of them in my class would be an important part of my teaching. Also, it allows the students to get know me better.
I mean, I do have a 6-foot tall cardboard cutout of Iron Man in my classroom, so that speaks to how much I show my students about my love for comics.
Fret not, for I know that not all comics are all-ages appropriate. Even some of the beauties that I have written about in this column I would never give to one of my students until they were years and years past my class. I know that, because those are comics not aimed at younger readers, or readers that can comprehend them.
I guess on that note, we get to the real focus of what I learned on the Great Bone Journey.
See, what started out as a 9 volume review of what I consider the greatest all-ages comic out there now, turned into something. It figuratively turned into a journey of watching as my students read and read and read.
Now, I have all 9 volumes in my class. One copy each. At least 2 are checked out every day, except for Fridays because that has to be the day all books get returned to me. Word spreads among the students, I’ve noticed, extremely fast when something is hot or interesting. Once one person reads Bone, another person picks up on their excitement. The same thing happened once I began discussing Amulet in the class. Now, almost all my students in the class have read Amulet and eagerly anticipate the arrival of the 5th volume sometime in the fall.
To paraphrase the entirety of what Bone truly is in a few simple sentences is not simple. However, here’s the pest picture representation that I can think of:
It’s taking this adorable little guy:
And placing him in a world of this scale and danger:
Bone was published in the early 1990s, written and drawn for the entirety of the series length by one man, Jeff Smith. The entire epic, printed in 55 individual comic issues for 9 collected volumes, began publication in 1991. It was published on a bimonthly schedule until 2004, with a few delays here and there. To complete this epic, though, I think a little patience is allowed.
Now, it is a 9 volume epic. Meaning to really grasp the entirety and scope of the story, you need to start in Volume 1, Out from Boneville, then read on. You can pick up any volume, sure, but this is an epic tale. Starting from the beginning is the only way to do it justice.
Now, the focus of the series centers around the three Bone cousins: Fone Bone, the caring, courageous one from before on the left. Smiley Bone, the devil-may-care, smiling one on the right; and Phoney Bone, the greedy, little, obnoxious, conniving one with the star on his black shirt.
Their worries all stemmed from Phoney causing financial woes back in their home village of Boneville. We never actually get to see this, however, as the first volume has the trio already weeks out from their home. Phoney spends much of his time complaining about his lost fortune, Smiley reinforces the notion that nothing bothers him much at all, and that they should all laugh it off. Fone Bone is the one to watch, however.
Just as soon as we’re introduced to the three cousins, all are separated by a swarm of locusts. The story becomes focused on Fone Bone, as he grunts and complains his way through a forest, almost is killed by giant rat creatures, nearly roasted by a cigar smoking dragon and befriends a smart aleck little bug named Ted who tells him his only hope of escape is a girl named Thorn.
All in all, it takes you in from the start.
From here on out, Fone meets Thorn and the two set out with Thorn’s eccentric grandmother to locate his cousins and fine Boneville. Within these 9 volumes, the main characters meet everyone from Laurel and Hardy-esque rat creatures, the bitter old cigar smoking dragon, participate in a cow race of epic proportions, encounter betrayals, kingdoms, mountain lions with massive jaws and fight to restore an empire.
Oh, and it’s really funny.
Jeff Smith revitalized the graphic novel market with his series. Originally released, the Bone volumes were all published in their original black and white format. However, in recent years, they have been published in glorious full color volumes. As I read through them, I noticed that Jeff Smith played around with the format of comics in general. Created with the format of being published as a complete set in mind, the book stands above others because of this.
His sense of humor shines through, as each page ends with a gag or joke similar to that of a regular newspaper comic strip, but it keeps the story going. I can only imagine, in a classroom where I encourage the reading of Calvin and Hobbes on a daily basis, if this is what keeps my students so thoroughly entertained by the antics of the Bone cousins and their adventures.
What if that’s not it, though? What if there is something else?
On a daily basis, I encourage my students to read. Something in this day and age that is extremely difficult. Within my first year, I found it even more difficult. Maybe it was that group of students. Maybe it was the selection of books I had in my library. My comics library, reinforced by Amulet and The Mighty Thor was only truly amped up this year. My group of 5th graders this year (majority of them, at least) are into reading. They enjoy it. Some many more than others.
If they have a passion for it at such a young age, why wouldn’t I try to provide them the best reading possible? Why wouldn’t I give them the entirety of Bone, with its ten Eisner Awards for comic greatness or its eleven Harvey Awards for its achievement in the graphic novel publishing arena?
All purely hypothetical, of course.
Even though The Great Bone Journey was going to be a review, volume by volume, of the entire series, I noticed something different. Maybe not all volumes needed to be explained for my kids to want to read them. Maybe some books are considered so good for a reason. I never once had to explain more to the students in my class than what I did here, and they’ve eaten it up.
The Great Bone Journey showed me that the students reading, exploring the intricate details of Fone Bone, how his favorite story is Moby Dick, how his constant complaining is just covering up his fear, how deep down our little Fone Bone is really the true embodiment of bravery and friendship. If Phoney is greed and repentance, if Smiley is carefree and happiness, then Fone Bone is most definitely bravery and friendship.
No matter what beasts rise from the ocean or how many dim-witted-evil rat creatures there are, our little Fone keeps going.
I guess what’s happened on The Great Bone Journey is I learned something myself. I learned that above all else, reading is the most important process of a child. Them exploring. Not giving them inappropriate reading for their levels, or giving them violent video games. This comes from a teacher of your kids.
Please. No violent games. It makes my job that much harder.
Give them Bone.
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
*SPECIAL* Our local comic shop experts, Heroes and Villains, are hosting a mutli-thousand dollar comic book collection. A big event definitely worth checking. Maybe you’ll find a treasure you can hold onto. Check their Facebook Events Page here for details.