A lengthy independent comic book series by Jeff Smith that took 13 years to complete, mixing the sensibilities of a joke of the day comic strip like Pogo with the sweeping story of an epic fantasy a la The Lord of the Rings. Jeff self-published the series in its original run, collecting the issues in groups of six or so in nine total volumes, until Image Comics picked it up for a time. A second printing came under Scholastic, Inc., for which Jeff's friend Steve Hamaker colored each and every page. The series eventually won several Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards, and propelled Jeff Smith into immense independent comic book acclaim.It tells the story of three cousins, who happen to look like humanoid, bone-shaped Cartoon Creatures. They are exiled from their town called Boneville and become lost in a Magical Land called the Valley, where they meet an energetic old lady (Gran'ma Ben) and her beautiful grand-daughter (Thorn). Together, they're caught up in intrigue, magic, and adventure.There are also two prequels, Rose which tells the story of a young Grandma Ben, and Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails, a tall tale of how Big Johnson Bone, the founder of Boneville, once visited the valley, fought off the rat creatures and caused them to begin their tradition of cutting off their tails. The Scholastic run packaged Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails with new Big Johnson Bone stories as Tall Tales. Tom Sniegoski, who wrote the original Rat-Tails and the new Tall Tales stories, also wrote a novel trilogy called Quest For The Spark that features a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits coming together to fight a new threat.A film adaptation is confirmed. Animal Logic, the studio behind Happy Feet and The Matrix, will animate. It has been in Development Hell for several years. In the 90's, Nickelodeon, having just released the hit film Rugrats, had an alarmingly misguided vision of what they wanted it to be, and Jeff was the one who bailed out of the deal. The rights are currently held by Warner Brothers. P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding, Confessions of a Shopaholic, the live-action Peter Pan) is directing, and it's going to be adapted for the screen by Patrick Sean Smith (ABC Family's Greek).Jeff was initially fighting for traditional 2D animation, since he used to run his own animation studio called Character Builders that contributed to films like Space Jam, and was the studio that was originally slated to animate the film. According to the interview above, Jeff is fine with the change because the outcome of the movie is not in his control, even though he will have executive-producing credit. He STILL remembers his original preference, though. ... and fans continue to prove this.The first two story arcs (out of nine) were also adapted into an Adventure Game series by Telltale Games, though there's been no word for several years on whether they'll continue the adaptation.
Actually Pretty Funny: The "Fairy Princess" remark from Fone Bone when Thorn asks what being a princess with magic powers makes her. At first Thorn is angry about this, but later she shrugs it off as "kinda funny" when Fone Bone apologizes.
Affably Evil: The Two Stupid Rat Creatures. They act more like Abott and Costello than a duo of vicious monsters like they would want you to think of them as. They're so affable that they almost pull a Heel-Face Turn in book 5, and end up actually pulling one in The Quest for the Spark.
Badass Boast: Phoney claiming to be able to kill dragons. Although he can't.
Tarsil The Usurper's claim to have fought dragons in the past. Which he did. The fact that he lost those fights and has a deformed face totally covered in burns somehow doesn't take away from the badassery.
Berserk Button: Notably averted on at least two occasions: when Thorn sees a soldier hitting a little girl, she just tosses him on his ass, and even later, when Kingdok talks about eating her mother alive, she looks extremely angry for a moment, but lets it pass. However, she goes utterly ballistic when Fone Bone brings Bartleby into her bedroom, going so far as to threaten to kill the baby rat-creature.
Also played straight with Fone Bone, who is often pissed off at Phoney's money-making scams and the trouble that they cause. He also doesn't take too kindly to anyone harming Thorn.
Fone Bone was this in the climax of Old Man's Cave, and again when he came to Thorn's rescue in Crown of Horns.
Big Eater: Smiley Bone doesn't pack it away in impossible quantities, but plays the trope straight enough that people will comment that something is extremely strange if he's not the first at the table at mealtimes. This makes it doubly notable when he, in the Ghost Circles arc, refuses to eat his share of the food and insists that Bartleby takes it instead.
Bittersweet Ending: Fone Bone and Thorn destroy the Lord of the Locusts and Thorn becomes queen...but Lucius dies, and the cousins go back to Boneville. Fone Bone and Thorn are likely never to see each other again.
Black Sheep: Among a race of evil, vicious, bloodthirsty monsters are a comic duo who are by any definition, incredibly stupid and spend more time bickering than puruing their victims.
Despite the violence and battles against the Rat Creatures, no rat creature has been killed on-screen (except Kingdok) with visible blood shown.
Averted with Fone Bone, who hits his head and visibly bleeds red blood. (Okay, so it's only red in the color edition, but still.)
Body Horror: If you look closely at Kingdok, you will notice that in his first two appearances he looks like an ordinary rat creature, only taller and bipedal. But as the story progresses, he begins to change - his eyes grow farther apart, his arms shrink, his head grows much larger (and eventually fuses into a Cephalothorax,) his narrow fangs morph into wide, flat, shark-like teeth. By the end of the book, he hardly resembles a Rat Creature so much as a walking mouth with legs. It's implied his gradual de-evolution is brought on by the corruption of the Lord of the Locusts.
Book Ends: "Oh, give him a gold coin, Phoney. We're out in the middle of the desert."
Bound and Gagged: Phoney Bone gets this twice (comedically the first time; definitely not comedically the second time)
Cats Are Mean: Rock Jaw... sort of. He certainly starts out as a Card-Carrying Villain. However in the end, and for someone who goes on and on about how everyone must choose a side, it isn't really clear whose side he's on. Most likely he's on his own side.
Cephalothorax: Kingdok, whose eyes and mouth seem to grow out of his torso.
Cerebus Syndrome: While there are hints to the serious nature of the story in the first couple books, compare books 4-6 through 1-3, especially number 2 where it becomes one funny moment after another.
Comic Trio: Though the Bone cousins are modeled into the "schemer, stupid and powerless" archetypes, they only fill the roles precisely in Phoney's schemes. In the main quest, Fone Bone actively influences Thorn and Gran'ma's decisions with strong counter-arguments, Smiley Bone gradually develops individual rational thinking and Phoney just follows along and grumps while occasionally showing his Hidden Heart of Gold.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: Inverted - the Rat Creatures are pretty harmless in small numbers. The more of them there are, the more bloodthirsty they become.
Kingdok eventually, as he mutates from a big rat creature to a mouth with legs.
Even Evil Has Standards: The Pawan leader is fine with working with the Hooded One and the Rat Creatures at first, but after it becomes clear to him that the Hooded One is going to literally destroy the Valley, he takes a stand. Unfortunately for him, the Hooded One would rather just slice his head in two and give his second-in-command a Klingon Promotion than argue ethics with him.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I could hear the Lord of the Locusts whispering inside my head. Do you know what that's like? It's like being the smartest person in the whole world. Mmmmm..."
Evil Gloating: The Hooded One to Rose during the ninth book. See above.
Evil Makes You Ugly: The Hooded One, originally known as Briar Harvestar. Despite Gran'ma Ben being roughly the same age, The Hooded One looks much, much worse due to years of being corrupted by The Lord Of The Locusts.
Gentle Giant: Averted very much so with Lucius. He knows he's big and strong and will definitely use it to his advantage.
The Ghost: Boneville. Jeff said that he prefers never to depict it, as it's not the focus of the story, and better to leave it up to the reader's imagination.
God's Hands Are Tied: Well, the dragons aren't technically gods, but powerful enough to stand-in. The red dragon is forbidden to Deus ex Machina things for the good guys, but he tries to help and guide them on the sly.
Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Gran'ma Ben enjoys a pipe regularly, and the Red Dragon has a fifty-pack-a-day habit. Of course, he breathes fire so they may actually be the equivalent of a healthy snack for him.
Go Through Me: Discussed only in the color edition of the "Dragonslayer" arc: when Gran'ma Ben tells Thorn that she as a Veni-Yan-Cari "can walk freely between the Waking World and the Dreaming World" and that the Agents of the Locust will be after her, Fone Bone barges in and tells Gran'ma Ben, "They'll have to go through me first!" but she tells him that they won't even notice him.
Heel Realization: Phoney Bone gets a massive helping when a con of his backfires disastrously and results in Thorn's ally, the Dragon, being bound and gagged by the villagers, who are preparing to burn him. When Thorn discovers what Phoney has led them to do and been too cowardly to stop, she immediately and with absolute certainty declares that he is, obviously, an agent of the enemy.
Here We Go Again: The ending of the comic echoes the opening very clearly, with Phoney and Smiley getting into almost the exact same argument and Fone trying to get Phoney to give in.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Phoney. He seems like just a big Jerkass toward the start, but his better qualities are shown toward the end, mainly the genuine care he has for his cousins.
The reveal that he was more-or-less a surrogate father figure to them when they were young certainly helps.
Karma Houdini: Roque Ja half-kills Thorn and brings her and Phoney to the Hooded One, but is never punished in the end.
Large Ham: The Hooded One aka Briar Harvestar, particularly during the siege of Atheia. There's a couple of panels where she looks like she's enjoying herself a little too much. This can even reach Narm levels
Muscles Are Meaningless: While Gran'ma Ben, Briar, and Thorn explicitly demonstrate Super Strength on several occassions, they are merely athletic in appearence or old and withered in Briar's case.
Muscles Are Meaningful: On the other hand, this is played completely straight with Lucius. He's nearly as strong as Gran'ma Ben with a massive frame and bull-neck to match.
My God, What Have We Done?: The townsfolk's reaction when they realized they left Barrelhaven with Phoney, too occupied with trying to slay the Red Dragon while the Rat Creatures attack and torch the town.
Nice Hat: Phoney wears a chef's hat while working in Lucius's kitchen, and Lucius even compliments him on it. Interestingly enough, the only other time he wears a hat in the series (with a huge feather in it), Lucius calls it a "stupid hat." The man definitely knows his tastes when it comes to hats.
Invoked by Smiley when he first finds out Thorn is a princess and wonders if she'd let him borrow her crown, because he thinks he'd look cool with a crown. Then averted several issues later when he does get to wear the crown — except it's not made for someone with his head shape at all, and he ends up just looking silly.
No Name Given: The Rat Creatures. Only the royal Rat Creatures get names, the rest are nameless and generally just call each other "Comrade." In Quest For The Spark, this is confirmed to be a custom of the Rat Creatures: You only get a name if you're important enough to have one.
In the same book, the two Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures — after having spent the novel being referred to as "The Rat Creature" and "The Other Rat Creature" (and variations thereof) — are finally given names by Abbey and Barclay Bone to avoid confusion (and probably because in prose it's less awkward that way). They name the yellow one Smelly and the purple one Stinky.
Our Dragons Are Different: The Great Red Dragon's behaviour and role in the story are close to those of oriental dragons. He has also an unusual appearance; Jeff Smith has described him as having a brontosaurus-like body, hind-quarters of a lion, arms of a a human and the head of a Christmas donkey.
Judging by the other dragons we see in the comic (mostly in dreams), there's no set rule for what a dragon should look like. Most of them seem vaguely reptilian or dinosaur-like, but that's pretty much all they have in common.
Plank Gag: Happens in The Great Cow Race. One page has Smiley holding a ladder from one end while the other is between Lucius and Phoney. In the back is Fone Bone is calling to Smiley, pointing to the left. In the next page, Smiley has completely turned around, while Lucius and Phoney are knocked over, clutching their heads in pain. Fone Bone has an "Oops!" look on his face.
Red Right Hand: Inverted with Bartleby, who had fluffy round ears (as opposed to the long bald ears of other Rat creatures) to distinguish him as the only good Rat Creature.
Rescue Romance: Sort of. Thorn and Fone Bone already know each other by this point, but his rescuing Thorn from the Hooded One during the Ghost Circles arc is the first time Thorn actually realizes that he has feelings for her.
Roger Rabbit Effect: Sort of. Technically, everyone is a drawn character, but the Bones clearly belong in a slapstick Disney or Looney Tunes short and are subject to Toon Physics, and the more realistically drawn humans are aware of and lampshade that they operate by somewhat different rules.
Screw Destiny: Thorn says this a lot in the latter half of the story, especially when she seeks the Crown of Horns despite her mentors telling her it can't be done. Whether or not this was her destiny to begin with is your mileage.
And that also counts in a part of the first half too, with Thorn not being very enthusiastic about being the princess of the valley and that Gran'ma Ben was hiding the truth. It takes some convincing from the Great Red Dragon to get her back to the right path.
Series Continuity Error: In one issue, Roque Ja cuts off Kingdok's tongue, and it's explicitly stated that he can't speak with his tongue missing. Then, in a later issue, Kingdok is able to speak again without any explanation given.
In a later reprint, Kingdok's lines are replaced with hisses, and the dialogue is simply attributed to another rat creature nearby. Kingdok, in any case, is shown to only talk with great difficulty.
Shave and a Haircut: During the "Treasure Hunters" story arc, Phoney taps on the barn door of Atheia in this manner.
Shoo Out the Clowns: During the more serious parts of the story, Smiley either disappears entirely or (temporarily) becomes much less stupid.
With one notable exception of a few panels in the Ghost Circles arc, in which Smiley delivers some comic relief as well as a Chekhov's Gun.
Super Strength: Gran'ma Ben appears to have this, effortlessly punching through the walls during the attack of the Rat Creatures and effortlessly being able to carry Lucius.
It's later revealed to be a Harvestar Family Trait, as Gran'ma Ben a.k.a. Queen Rose, Thorn, and The Hooded One a.k.a. Princess Briar all demonstrate it. It is played somewhat realistically, as both Gran'ma Ben and Thorn are able to be overcome with enough soldiers restraining them.
Supporting Protagonist: The Bones, particularly Fone. For all intents and purposes, Thorn is the main character.
Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: There are no female Bones in the main storyline, but the Big Johnson Bone stories show that, whereas male Bones are all bald (with the exception of Percival Bone who has grey hair) female Bones have hair and/or a bow on their head.
Averted with the Rat Creatures, whose males and females look exactly alike. One reader even wrote in to ask whether Rat Creatures had genders, and Jeff Smith jokingly answered that he'd never dared to check under their fur to find out. Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails, however, identifies a few Rat Creatures as female — and the only one of them who stands out visually is Queen Maud, who simply looks bigger and fatter than the others.
Also, 'Bartleby' is the name of the eponymous creepy office worker in Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener. Herman Melville also wrote Moby-Dick, the book that Fone Bone is obsessed with. This makes Smiley Bone's comment that "he looks like a Bartleby!" ridiculous to those in the know: he really, really doesn't.
Took a Level in Badass: Done rather dramatically with Thorn. She goes from being a friendly, naive farmgirl to one of the most grim and powerful characters in the entire series. She becomes a happy person again at the end of the story...considering she's now queen of the entire Valley!
What Could Have Been: In-Universe example. After the Big Bad is defeated, Phoney reappears, leading a group of reinforcements. When he finds out the battle is over, he is furious that he didn't get a chance to show off how heroic he was.
What Is Evil?: Rock Jaw has his own viewpoint on good and evil, finding both terms to be equally laughable.
Where It All Began: The comic literally begins almost exactly as it ends. The Bones walking through the desert with Phoney and Smiley arguing about money. The big differences are that, this time through, Bartelby is with the Bones and they're heading towards Boneville rather than away from it.
Who Are You Calling Names?: At the beginning, when the Rat Creatures attempt to eat the sleeping Fone Bone, the Red Dragon approaches, frightening them.
Red Rat Creature: Go away! Purple Rat Creature: Do not meddle in affairs that are too big for you, boy! Red Dragon:[Emerging from the Shadows] Who you callin' boy?
And when the little possums taunt the Rat Creatures to catch them as a plan to save the Bone cousins:
Possum: What's th' matter? I thought you were meat eaters, not quiche-eating old ladies! Purple Rat Creature:Who are you calling quiche-eating old ladies?!
Also, when Fone Bone tells Smiley that Bartleby can stay with the two Stupid Rat Creatures:
Red Rat Creature:Hey! Who are you calling stupid?
Who Needs Their Whole Body?: Bartleby reveals that rat-creatures are born with long, hairless tails, but have them cut off at birth...due to a silly superstition about a monster who would drag them off by their tails in their sleep.
Will They or Won't They?: Fone Bone and Thorn. They don't. Although how exactly They Would considering the Bones appear to lack... certain essential equipment... is a matter of speculation.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The Hooded One aka Briar. is somewhat pitable when one thinks about it, since she was actually mentally corrupted by the Lord of Locust since birth, so she never had a chance to be anything other than a villain.
You Have Failed Me: Played straight and then subverted with Briar. When she mistakenly tries to sacrifice Phoney, the Lord of the Locusts ditches her for Thorn. When that plan fails, he literally gives her back her legs.
Covers Always Lie: Minor example. The cover is just like Jeff Smith's typical style, but the rest of it is Charles Vess's
Freudian Excuse: Rose implies that Briar suffered (real or imagined) neglect as a child.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the prequel, not only does Rose unleash Balsaad, but after killing him she spares Briar's life, allowing the events of the original series to happen.
Ah, but think of the Fridge Brilliance. If the events of the original series did not happen, then the Locust wouldn't have been killed and would most likely corrupt Thorn instead, since she's also a Veni-Yan Cari, essentially turning her into a new vessel for the Locust.
Off Model: Rose sometimes looks a little odd, because it was written but not drawn by Jeff Smith. It was drawn by his friend and fantasy illustrator Charles Vess. In this case, the off-models were most likely intentional, since it is Vess's own style.
Excepting, perhaps, the Great Red Dragon, whose chin gradually grows longer every time he appears in-panel.
Big Johnson Bone: Somebody got a better plan? Let's hear it, then — and if it involves twenty pounds of bacon fat and a hot-air balloon, I can tell ya right now, it ain't gonna work.
Scout Out: The framing story for Tall Tales is that Smiley is telling campfire stories to Bone Scouts.
Small Name, Big Ego: Big Johnson is pretty much a reconstruction of this. He has an unrealistically high opinion of himself, but he's able to make up for it with the impressive abilities that he actually does have.
Adventurers Club: Boneville's mentioned to have one, with Abbey and Barclay's parents and Percival as members. With the exception of those three, the club members are about the only ones who don't believe the Bone cousins' stories about the Valley.
Ascended Extra: Roderick the Raccoon, a minor character in the comic, is one of the main stars of Quest for the Spark. The third book adds a couple more, Stillman the dragon and Porter the turtle, from Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails.
The two Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures might also qualify — they had sizable roles in Bone, but were still secondary characters. Here, they're among the main characters (making them the only two characters so far to have large roles in both Bone and Quest for the Spark) and are even given their own names for the first time, when Abbey and Barclay name them "Smelly" and "Stinky."
Demoted to Extra: Gran'ma Ben, Thorn, the Great Red Dragon, and Ted the bug make cameos. Fone, Smiley, Phoney, Bartleby, and Big Johnson Bone are mentioned, but don't actually appear.
Eleventh Hour Ranger: Stillman the dragon, his turtle friend Porter, and a Pawa girl named Gerta all join the heroes in their fight in the last book. Roque Ja is a borderline case, fighting the villains but not necessarily "with" the heroes, for his usual reasons.
Everything's Worse with Bees: Especially when they're giant bees. Extra-especially when you're working with bears who want to steal their honey.
Nature Spirit: Lorimar of the First Folk, who originally came from the Dreaming and has tied herself to the forest of the Waking World, possessing plants and organic plant life in order to communicate with the characters. It turns out that the plants don't even have to be living and growing in order for her to possess it, which leads to her taking up residence in the Queen of the Sky for a time.
Paper-Thin Disguise: The group uses bee outfits to infiltrate a hive in book 2. They're well aware of how ridiculous the costumes are, but go ahead with them since they work on their bear allies. (It also helps that the bees are drugged with smoke.)
Parental Abandonment: Abbey and Barclay's parents disappeared while searching for the Valley. Also, Roderick's parents were eaten by Rat Creatures causing him to take it badly when the group has to include two of them.
Sequel Hook: The trilogy ends with everyone taking the attitude that "we'll be here if you need us again," and gives vague hints that that might be the case. Until Percival receives word that his brother and sister-in-law - the twins' parents - are still out there.
Sibling Rivalry: Mild case with the Bone twins, Abbey and Barclay, who spend most of their time bickering, but do genuinely love each other.
Sibling Seniority Squabble: Abbey Bone is two minutes and twenty-three seconds older than her twin brother, and takes every possible opportunity reminding him of that fact, even going so far as referring to him as "my little brother Barclay."
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: King Agak, the new Rat Creature king, has more than a few traits in common with his predecessor Kingdok (though he's notably less monstrous — especially in appearance).