The Story Never Ends-- a review of Jeff Smith's Bone: Coda

Bone Coda
Written and Drawn by Jeff Smith
Essays by Jeff Smith and Stephen Weiner
Cartoon Books

It’s been twelve years since the final issue of Bone came out and Jeff Smith has gone on to do very different projects from his high fantasy. Other than the great cartooning, there’s little to link Smith’s RASL to his Bone or even his still developing Tuki Saves the Humans as none of the books look like either of the others. What started out as a little self-published comic in 1991, Bone has turned out to have a life beyond the self-published black and white comic that ran for fifty-five issues. Bone: Coda contains an essay by Smith talking about the life and times of Bone but the centerpiece of the book is a new Bone story which will make you want to dig out your issues, your b&w trades, your one volume or your colored Scholastic trades and dive right back into the world of Bone, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, Rose, Gran’ma Ben and the of the adventures that took place in the valley.

In a story of the Bone cousins lost and trying to find their way home, Smith settles into writing and drawing these characters like no time has passed at all. The cousins each approach the problem of trying to cross a giant chasm with their own unique focus, whether it was their stomach, their wallet or their heart. Even in this short story, these three little shmoo-like characters are rich in character and personality that plays off of each other and clashes to great comedic adventure. Smith steps back into the voice of each character and their personality clashes so quickly and naturally. As a coda to the whole story, Smith’s story is the story of all three Bone cousins and the ways that they fight and work together to get out of a jam.

The innocence of these characters in a harsh world remains the heart of this story. The grand Bone story was about that innocence in a world where evil existed. Wisely, Smith doesn’t try to introduce a new evil into this short story because that would have undermined everything that came before. Instead, “Coda” shows the secondary main struggle of the series; the Bones against the greater, natural world around them. Their enemies aren’t evil witches and merciless hordes; the forces against the Bones are as simple the landscape around them and a giant vulture. These threats show the strength of these three character’s personality as they fight, argue and solve their problems together. The world throws everything it can at these cousins but nothing is powerful enough to break the great bond that they share.

The simpleness of the characters’ designs is so clear that it’s easy to overlook just how great of a storyteller and cartoonist Smith is. From the personality of the characters to drama of their situation, Smith’s artwork is full of humor, love, and dread. And that’s why it works as a true all-ages comic. The appeal of Smith’s cartooning works on a very surface level-- he’s a masterfully clear storyteller-- while creating a lot of subtext through the plot and characters that can be read into to deepen the story. Since the first issue, that was the magic of Bone and Smith’s artwork continues to weave its old spells as if no time has passed since the last time he visited the Bones and the Valley.

Bone: Coda contains two essays; a short one by Smith recounting the life and times of creating the series and a longer one by Stephen Weiner, a comic librarian and historian, that is a much longer critical look at the phenomenon. Those are nice toppings to the main dish of a Jeff Smith Bone story. "Coda" is fairly short (maybe two issues worth of comics) but it’s a welcomed return to one of the greatest self-published comics. Hearing and seeing the voices of Bone, Smiley Bone, and Fone Bone once again in the perfect story to revisit them with reminds us all of what the magic of Bone was. Fantastic cartooning and rich, deep characters was always the hallmark of Smith’s work and it continues in Bone: Coda, a fun story that’s the perfect way to revisit these characters.