Thursday, March 18, 2010

Comics o'the Decade: Episode Li'l Playa

Bone (Jeff Smith, Cartoon Books)

If there's one comic that's almost universally guaranteed to please, this is it. Three bone creatures (from Boneville, of course!) accidentally stumble upon a valley with talking woodland animals, cow races, and that gitchy feelin'. I don't want to give away any major plot points, so in trying to avoid that, I'll just say it's equal parts Pixar and Tolkien (or what I imagine Tolkien is like... I've never actually read the ring trilogy)—incredibly accessible, thoroughly engrossing, with a great balance of adventure, mystery, and humor.

Of course, the art is ridiculous (none of my picks of this decade's best have less than stellar art). Jeff Smith is a master of comics storytelling. He manages to pick out the right angles, expressions and poses at the right times for the maximal dramatic and comedic effect. And what's especially noticeable in the uncolored version is his beautiful brushwork and how well he spots his blacks. His ability to set the mood and give his figures weight based on how he varies his line thickness and places shadow is remarkable.

Jeff Smith kicked off Bone roughly 20 years ago. But the series was completed only in 2004. It's been collected in one massive phone-book-sized tome in its original, beautiful black and white. Scholastic has reprinted the series in smaller volumes and in tasteful color.

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