25 years ago, Jeff Smith debuted his seminal comic series, “Bone.” Combining elements of Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfriedson, “Métal hurlant”, and epic fantasy, the series ran for over ten years and through 55 issues. Now, 15 years after the Bone cousins rode off from The Valley, Smith returns for a new, “completely superfluous adventure” with “Bone: Coda.”
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Smith
Twenty-five years after the first black & white issue of the self-published comic book Bone appeared on comic shop shelves, and over a decade since the concluding chapter comes a new (and completely superfluous!) adventure featuring the Bone cousins! Ride along with the boys and their friend Bartleby the Rat Creature as they brave the dangerous journey across the desert back toward Boneville in their rickety cow cart. Creator Jeff Smith is back for another laugh with Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley! Also included is the complete text of The Bone Companion fully illustrated for the first time! Plus rare behind the scenes photos and memories, and an afterword by the author thanking the comics community and the readers.
Before we begin, there are a few things I want to note:
- I’m only going to be talking about the comic part of this book. “Bone: Coda” is comprised of three sections: the 36-page comic; a reflection/retrospection on the series by Smith; and ‘The Bone Companion’ by Stephen Weiner. From what I’ve read, Smith’s essay is as earnest, honest, and enthusiastic as Smith himself while Weiner’s piece (actually independently published before Smith decided to include it in this book) offers a wealth of information. They’re both fantastic to have, but the biggest reason we’re all here is for the Bone cousins. And Bartleby.
- You need to read all of “Bone” before you try this out. I don’t know if the story stands on its own but it’s undeniably richer and more interesting if you know how all the Bone cousins wound up here, wandering around in the desert. Of course, Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone come from a long line of cartoons — most notably Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy — and Smith is so strong a storyteller you’ll get a sense of their personalities relatively quickly, but codas are effective because they’re like that cherry topping on a delicious dessert. Luckily, there’s the 1400 page brick (in its 21st printing!). If you haven’t read “Bone” yet, a.) what’s the matter with you?, and b.) get on that right away.
- “Bone” is my all-time favorite comic. I first discovered it in Disney Adventures magazine, of all places, and I remember flipping my lid when I discovered the one volume edition many years later. It’s not just the great storytelling or the enduring characters of confident cartooning, but also the immersive world, deep mythology, and willingness to go through a whole set piece for a good joke. I bring this up because there’s no way I could be impartial to this book. Now, all reviews are opinions and really about our reaction and feelings toward a piece. You should never take our judgement as purely indicative of a book’s qualities, but rather an indication of how we reacted to it and if all the elements in a story came together to work for us. At the same time, it’s our duty to be fair and honest about our reaction. Maybe there’s a book we didn’t like, but at least respected its ambitions and storytelling choices; or, maybe this is a series we love but maybe one issue wasn’t as efficient or something. I could either be the best or worst person to review “Bone: Coda”, because it gets automatic points just for existing. We all might have a bias that tints our interpretation of the material beyond the actual quality of the material, but we still need to be as honest as possible with it.
Okay, so “Bone: Coda.”
In a lot of ways, “Bone: Coda” reminds me of Disney’s “Frozen Fever.” It’s a small, farcical cartoon featuring a bunch of our favorite characters in a situation independent of the main epic. They get involved in an obstacle, their personalities and motivations clash with each other to make it worse, and then they’re able to reach a resolution. The larger story hangs over this new piece — because how could it not? — and, in turn, the short relies on your prior knowledge to fill in the blanks to get the party started.Continued below
“Bone: Coda” is a spinoff short, and it works all the better because of it. Instead of going for a full on sequel, Smith offers a vignette that neither besmirches nor enriches the source material. The story involves the Bone cousins getting trapped in a canyon and trying to find their way out while being stalked by an enormous vulture. It’s a lot of fun, with some exceptionally executed gags, and the usual laugh-out-loud jokes.
Jeff Smith ranks among the top modern cartoonists. He’s so good at what he does, so confident in his approach, that we practically take advantage of his skill: that exceptional staging and those on point expressions, that crisp linework and brilliant scene composition. He takes 36 pages to stick the Bone cousins in a tight spot, and nothing about this short feels lacking. When I spoke with Smith, he admitted he wasn’t sure if he was able to capture the characters’ voices again, and at the start of the story they do feel . . . I don’t want to say off, but maybe somewhat rusty. However, by the time they’ve crashed into the canyon, it feels perfectly in-tune, like this was made in the middle of “Bone”’s production instead of 15 years after the fact.
Of course, Smith has all these years of experimentation and experience behind him, and the biggest difference I see is how he approaches the page composition. “Bone” has a very animated feeling, and a lot of the book is structured in these two-by-three grids that give it a quick and kinetic energy. It also works well for action sequences. For “Bone: Coda,” Smith leans on the widescreen of “RASL” or “Tüki Save the Humans.” The panels feel more open, like the characters have more space to move and play around inside them. They have a different interaction with their environment: it doesn’t feel as dire. In some sequences, he uses only two panels per page, and the overall mode is far more frenetic. It’s smartly controlled. Smith’s instinct for reveals, for jokes, and for expression make this contiually delightful.
It’s possible I was predisposed to love “Bone: Coda” from the moment it was announced. Like I would have convinced myself it was great even if all the evidence pointed to the contrary. But the truth is, this is a fantastic little comic. I honestly liked the format and the presentation. It’s clear Smith has a deep affinity from these characters and feels comfortable returning to this world. If he feels like ever doing more adventures with the Bone cousins, I hope he maintains the cartoon short setup.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – A fun short delivered with Jeff Smith’s usual fantastic and exceptional cartooning.