Comic Book: Bone

Not to be confused with the TV series Bones, "Bones" McCoy of Star Trek, the animation studio BONES, or the musical group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

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 Movies, having just released the hit film The Rugrats Movie, 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 Bros. P.J. Hogan (My Best Friends 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.


Original Series
  1. Out from Boneville (original 1995, Scholastic edition 2005)
  2. The Great Cow Race (original 1996, Scholastic edition 2005)
  3. Eyes of the Storm (original 1996, Scholastic edition 2006)
  4. The Dragonslayer (original 1997, Scholastic edition 2006)
  5. Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border (original 1998, Scholastic edition 2007)
  6. Old Man's Cave (original 1999, Scholastic edition 2007)
  7. Ghost Circles (original 2001, Scholastic edition 2008)
  8. Treasure Hunters (original 2002, Scholastic edition 2008)
  9. Crown of Horns (original 2004, Scholastic edition 2009)

Prequel Series
  • Tall Tales: The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero (1998-2000)
  • Rose (2000-2002)
  • BONE: Tall Tales (2010)

Quest for the Spark Trilogy
  • Quest for the Spark: Book One (2011)
  • Quest for the Spark: Book Two (2012)
  • Quest for the Spark: Book Three (2013)


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  • Accidental Misnaming: Fone Bone and Smiley Bone never quite seem to get that Roque Ja is not actually named "Rock Jaw." In their defense, the names are almost completely identical, it's just that you're supposed to roll the R.
  • Action Girl: Thorn, post Character Development.
  • 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.
  • All of Them: After the Crown of Horns incident.
    Fone Bone: How many dragons did we wake up?
    Thorn: All of them.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: A few times — Kingdok versus Rock Jaw, and the Dragons versus Mim.
  • Androcles' Lion: Bartleby, the Rat Creature cub whom Smiley befriended back before he could talk.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Kingdok loses his arm in "The Dragonslayer", deservedly, when Thorn cuts it off.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted with Roque Ja the mountain lion, who when seen from behind has a very prominent scrotum.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Rat Creatures speak in a military language code called Nessen (which kinda sounds a bit like German). Only Thorn is known to have understood the language.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Kingdok, the giant rat creature. It seems to be a trait with their royalty in general, given "Tall Tales".
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: This is how the rat creatures are, where typically the higher up they are the more competent and scary, leading to the gigantic chieftain Kingdok.
  • Badass Baritone: The Red Dragon has one, as Fone Bone points out.
  • 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.
  • Badass Grandpa: Lucius is at least as old as Gran'ma Ben, although he strays more into Retired Badass territory.
  • Badass in Distress: Thorn, several times.
  • Bad Dreams: Thorn, when she began approaching "The Turning," started having bad dreams as a result of The Hooded One seeking her out in her dreams.
  • The Barnum: Phoney is a typical example of this at first, this being why he's constantly run out of town. The trope takes a dark turn when he starts pulling his same tricks in the Valley and the chaos and mistrust he stirs up helps the Locust gain power.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow: Grandma Ben does this to some Rat Creatures!
  • Beat Panel: Both humorous and non-humorous ones. And they work.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted with shocking violence when it comes to Thorn, who spends a majority of books past the third covered in dirty, exhausted, covered in soot, or injured. In Volume 9 she's been beaten to a pulp by Tarsil's soldiers and even loses a tooth.
  • Beneath the Earth: The Dragon's homes.
  • 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.
  • Better as Friends: Thorn and Fone Bone. Probably for the best, really.
  • Big Bad: The Hooded One, aka Briar Harvestar.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • The Great Red Dragon on numerous occasions.
    • Lucius at Sinner's Rock.
    • 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.
    • Smiley and Bartleby swoop right in to save Fone Bone and Thorn from The Hooded One in Ghost Circles.
  • 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.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Phoney Bone's design, and occasionally Fone Bone's if he knits them together.
  • 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.
  • Bloodless Carnage:
    • 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 when he's tied to a stake and pelted with eggs for rigging the Cow Race; definitely not comedically the second time, when he's about to be sacrificed by The Hooded One.)
  • Brick Joke:
    • The Farmer whose cart the Bones stole.
    • The campaign balloon.
    • The solid snowfall in the first chapter.
    • "I might even kiss Phoney right before I strangle him!"
  • Burn the Witch!: Tarsil plays this straight with Thorn.
  • Cain and Abel: Briar and Rose, aka The Hooded One and Gran'ma Ben. With names like that it's plain to see who's the evil one...
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Fone Bone with Thorn although he ultimately subverts this near the end of the series.
  • Cartoon Creature: The Bone cousins. Lampshaded regularly.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Happens to Thorn quite a bit.
  • 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. Notably this wasn't the case in his first few appearances, and it might be a result of being controlled by the Locust.
  • 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.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Thorn ends up being a princess, with a lot more exciting heritage than just being the granddaughter of a cow woman.
  • Character Development:
    • Smiley slowly becomes smarter and more caring, and even learns to stand up to Phoney once in a while.
    • Phoney himself begins to become more mature and less of a Jerkass only out to make money for himself, after he sees what his whole "dragonslayer" con ends up doing. Although his greediness never goes away.
    • Thorn is the most blatant example of this trope in action throughout the comic, turning from a sweet farm girl to a strong, mature, spiritual warrior princess.
    • In a case where the development is negative for the character in question, Kingdok starts out a proud and effective leader, but after he gets his arm cut off by a young girl, his tongue ripped out by a big cat, and his face smashed off by an old granny, he slowly becomes a self-centered and cynical Death Seeker.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Phoney's balloon.
    • Bet you thought Smiley having fun with static electricity was just some pointless comic relief, didn't you?
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Bartleby, the runaway Rat Creature.
    • Also, the bit where Lucius first attempts to take Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone to Barrelhaven and Smiley asks him if he's ever been married. Lucius talks about how he was almost married, which is incidentally the first time Briar is mentioned, albeit not by name.
    • The locusts that separate the cousins at the very beginning.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Smiley, until things got more serious. Also the Rat Creatures, especially the purple one.
  • 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.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Crown of Horns.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Apparently Smiley Bone has been carrying a labeled engraving kit in his vest the whole time.
  • Cross Over: Not in the comic itself, but the characters have made guest appearances in other comics, such as Genął, Shi, the normalman/Megaton Man special, Patty Cake, The Savage Dragon and others.
  • Dark World: The world inside the Ghost Circles.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Phoney is probably the snarkiest throughout the series, though a few of the other characters get pretty glib on occasion.
  • Death Seeker: Kingdok eventually.
  • Demonic Possession: The Lord of the Locusts' only means of entering the living world. His possession of the Dragon Queen Mim led to the creation of the Valley itself.
  • Demoted to Extra: Lucius and Kingdok after Old Man's Cave. Then they come back and die in the final volume.
  • Determinator: Smiley during Volume 5 (the Rock Jaw arc) and during the Rat Creature Confrontation in Volume 3.
  • The Dragon: Kingdok to the Hooded One, the Hooded One to The Lord Of Locusts.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: When the Bones and the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures are fleeing from Kingdok near the old temple.
    Smiley: "Hey, nothing we've done so far has been un-stupid, and we're still alive, aren't we?"
    Rat Creature "I can't really argue with that, but I feel like I should."
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Lord Of The Locusts in his original form.
    • 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.
  • The Everyman: Fone Bone.
  • Everything's Better with Cows: "The Great Cow Race" is this trope distilled.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Thorn turns out to be a princess, and Rose was at one point a princess before her. Played with in that what makes Thorn special isn't that she's a princess, as Rose says they're basically a dime a dozen, but that she's a Veni-Yan-Cari.
  • Evil Feels Good
    "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.
  • Evil Overlord: The Hooded One.
  • Explosive Breeder: The Rat Creatures, whose valley populations number in the millions. Much like real rats.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Gran'ma Ben and Lucius Down.
  • The Faceless: The Hooded One up till The Reveal.
  • Fantasy World Map: Unusually, the map itself has some significance within the story.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: Many of the serious story elements were set up from the very beginning, though thankfully the series never loses its humor.
    • It gets significantly less funny after a while. The (very) end brings it back to form.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • The Fool: Smiley Bone.
  • Frame Break: The part in one book where Grandma Ben punches through a wall to reach the rat creatures on the other side (the wall being represented by the comic gutter).
    Lucius (later, while surveying the wreckage): What did you do to those poor monsters, Rose?
    Gran'ma: We were surrounded, dear. I had to get a little rough.
  • Freudian Excuse: Phoney became cunning and greedy as the result of being orphaned as a child, growing up in absolute poverty, and having to raise his two cousins (also orphans) during this time.
  • Friendship Moment: Smiley bringing leftover dinner to Bartleby in Treasure Hunters.
    Smiley: You know Bartleby, I never had a pal like you before.
    Bartleby: Me either!
  • Genius Bruiser: As mentioned below Lucius may seem like a dumb stack of muscle but he's not. Same goes to Gran'ma Ben.
  • Genre-Busting: The story busts the cartoon genre that the Bones come from by putting their typical cartoon archetypes in a fantasy setting, while also disrupting the High Fantasy genre by putting such cartoonish characters in it.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Considering Thorn is subtly viewed as a Ms. Fanservice, some of Fone Bone's crush is more than G-Rated affection.
    Fone Bone (writing poetry): I wonder what rhymes with smooth, brown thigh?
    • In Out from Boneville, she is even depicted skinny-dipping off-panel.
  • 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.
  • Grumpy Bear: Lucius.
  • A God Am I: The Hooded One, to some extent. Then again, the Hooded One's master is The Lord Of The Locusts.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: The Bone cousins, count despite not being animals repeatedly lampshaded.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Briar was originally killed by being cut in half. Locusts now hold the two halves together.
  • 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.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Lucius technically does this without knowing it. He grabs Briar and keeps her from attacking Rose, and then dies in a way that he couldn't have seen coming or avoided.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The disciples of Venu, who are treated like dirt at the start because the townspeople believe them to be little more than beggars.
  • He's Back: Bartleby in Volume Seven.
  • Hidden Depths: Phoney, who demonstrates that he's actually very intelligent and charismatic for a scammer, also being the one to deduce where the Crown of Horns is.
  • Holding Hands: Happens quite a lot in the series, but probably most famously when Thorn and Fone Bone meet for the first time, leaving the hot springs.
  • Humiliation Conga: Kingdok near the end. It culminates when he invokes a You Killed My Father with Thorn, hoping that she can kill him.
  • You Killed My Father: Kingdok to Thorn.
  • Idiot Hair: Of a sort; Thorn has the two strands of hair which usually don't seem to settle with rest of her hair.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: The giant cougar Roque Ja somehow knows when people call him "Rock Jaw" and gets pissed every time.
  • 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.
  • Kid Hero: Fone Bone, possibly. See Vague Age below for more details
  • 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
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Fans of the Two Stupid Rat Creatures describe them this way.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: In order of appearance: cartoon creatures, monsters, talking animals (normal-sized and gigantic), humans, normal animals, miscellaneous fantasy races. This gets a little strange once the mood shifts in the later issues/chapters. Just go with it.
  • Long Runner
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Thorn's shoes fly off when she is mobbed by soldiers in Treasure Hunters.
  • Love at First Sight: Fone Bone for Thorn.
  • Luminescent Blush: Fone Bone around Thorn, most notably when she takes off her clothes to bathe right in front of him.
  • Made of Iron: Gran'ma Ben.
  • Magical Land: The Valley.
  • Magic Skirt: Thorn always seems to end up wearing one, even when it was originally pants now ripped to a tiny piece, yet still just able to keep her modest.
  • Mama Bear: Gran'ma Ben, Thorn.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Phoney Bone is this in The Great Cow Race arc and later in The Dragonslayer arc. Both plans end with him getting screwed over worse then everybody else. Turns out it's his manipulative ways that almost get him sacrificed by The Hooded One.
  • Mauve Shirt: The "Stupid Stupid" Rat Creatures.
  • Mega Neko: Roque Ja, a giant mountain lion.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Red Dragon, who has "the head of a Christmas donkey, the paws of a lion, and the body of a brontosaurus."
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: While Gran'ma Ben, Briar, and Thorn explicitly demonstrate Super Strength on several occasions, they are merely athletic in appearance 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 I 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.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Gran'ma Ben and the Gitchy Feeling.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Ben races cows for fun and gleefully fights Rat Creatures three times her size, outnumbered, and with only her bare hands... and wins!
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Thorn. She can understand an ancient Rat Creature language, jump from amazing heights, and even fly.
  • 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 brown one Smelly and the purple one Stinky.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Happens to Thorn and Fone at the hands of Tarsil's men. It's not pretty. Not pretty at all.
  • Non-Indicative Name: While the Rat Creatures do have ratlike shapes and hands/feet and are born looking like rats, they're more like ape-bear hybrids in appearance as a result of cropping their ears and tails after a certain age.
  • Nonstandard Character Design: The Bone cousins, compared to the rest of The Valley. Very conspicuous at close ups on Fone Bone's face.
  • Noodle Incident: Whenever the Bones talk about Phoney's pre-Valley schemes.
  • Not So Different: Thorn and Briar. Thorn proves her wrong spectacularly, however.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Gran'ma Ben is obviously MUCH more than what she seems, and it's apparent that Smiley is not a moron and is just doing this to screw with Phoney and Lucius.
  • Old Master: Rose.
  • 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.
  • Ouroboros: Mim, the Dragon Queen.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The Hooded One is a Revenant type; crossed with The Worm That Walks.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: Fone Bone, lost and separated from his cousins, first meets Thorn in this way.
  • Papa Wolf: Not that Phoney ever has the opportunity to act on it, but messing with his cousins (or threatening to) is probably not the best idea.
  • Pet the Dog: Kingdok to the two stupid rat creatures
  • 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.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Those two Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures.
    • Also Punch Clock Villains of a sort (except for the fact that they want to eat Fone Bone, they're not all that evil)
  • Raised by Grandparents: Thorn has been raised by her grandma since she was only five years old.
  • 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.
  • Retired Badasses: Gran'ma Ben and Lucius Down.
  • The Reveal: The Hooded One is Briar Harvestar, Gran'ma Ben's sister.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Giant Rat Creatures, especially Kingdok, who eventually grows so big he could qualify as a Kaiju.
  • 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.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The Hooded One is Rose's sister.
  • 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.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Lord of the Locusts.
  • 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.
    • The colored versions do this to the rat creatures occasionally in the first volume, with the purple rat creature becoming the one who likes quiche.
  • 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 stops Obfuscating Stupidity.
    • 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.
  • Shout-Out: The name "Miss Crab-Bone", to The Little Rascals' Miss Crabtree.
    • Fone Bone's name is confirmed by Word of God to be one for Don Martin's similarly named everyman character "Fonebone" from MAD.
    • The scene where Smiley demonstrates how to make blank sandwiches reads like an Affectionate Parody of the Scary Godmother black-and-white comics, where the characters would occasionally pause the story to have a "cooking lesson" and demonstrate how to make some simple treats.
  • Sinister Scythe: The Hooded One's Weapon of Choice.
  • Smoking Is Cool: ...and dragons are cool, so by logical extrapolation, the Great Red Dragon is cooler than anything in the universe. QED.
  • Soul Fragment: Bone and Thorn each get a piece of the Lord of the Locust.
  • Species Surname: If the surname has derived from the species name and not vise-versa.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Phoney's plan to abscond with all of Barrelhaven's wealth.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Invoked when Briar surrounds Atheia with ghost circles.
  • 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.
  • Supreme Chef: Phoney Bone, interestingly enough. While he's usually more interested in having others do the work, including the cooking, for him, it comes up more than once that he's an extremely good cook.
    • Sort of parodied with Smiley Bone, who is mentioned as being good at making "those hard, stuffed bread thingies" and at one point gives a detailed demonstration on how to make "blank sandwiches" (i.e. sandwiches with nothing in them).
  • Supporting Protagonist: The Bones, particularly Fone. For all intents and purposes, Thorn is the main character.
  • Supreme Council Of Vagueness: The Disciples of Venu.
  • Sycophantic Servant: The Hooded One, although the Locust's minion is actually useful.
  • 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.
  • Theme Naming: Thorn, Rose, Briar, Moonwort.
    • 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.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Phoney, after his first battle, throws away his sword in shock when he realizes that the blade is covered in blood.
  • Thanatos Gambit: One possible explanation for Mim's rampage, confirmed in the prequel book Rose, where the Lord of the Locusts says that Mim went mad on purpose to deny him her body as a vessel by being turned to stone.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: The pair of Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures!
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Thorn isn't tall, but she's a giant compared to Fone Bone.
  • 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!
  • Too Dumb to Live: A running gag with those two Rat Creatures.
    Fone Bone: "Those Rat Creatures would have to be pretty stupid to follow me on to this frail little branch [overlooking a cliff]."
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • The brown Stupid Stupid Rat Creature. "You know we could have had these eggs in a quiche."
      • "Would you shut up about quiche!"
    • Also Smiley and "the stuffed bread thingies" that Gran'ma makes for him. He likes it when they're extra stale.
      • To a lesser extent, the blank sandwiches that Smiley and Bartleby made in Volume 8
  • Ultimate Evil: The Lord of the Locusts
  • The Unfavourite : Briar at least feels she was one.
  • The Usual Adversaries: Rat Creatures
  • Vague Age: The Bones. While it seems easy enough to accept that Phoney and Smiley are probably adults, Fone Bone is left a bit more ambiguous. He's seems to be old enough to live on his own and enter a pub, and seems to be close in age to Thorn who is about twenty. He is called a kid several times by the Great Red Dragon and Gran'ma Ben often refers to him as being young.
  • Verbal Tic: The Hooded One (Briar) develops one after lowering her hood and revealing her true identity: a deeply disturbing "mmmmmmmmmm" at random intervals.
  • Villainous BSOD: When Briar realizes her mistake with Phoney.
  • Villainous Demotivator
  • We Can Rule Together: The Hooded One offers Phoney this kind of deal when thinking he's another Veni-Yan-Cari.
  • 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 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.
  • Wild Card: Despite all his talk about "picking sides" in the war, Rock Jaw is pretty blatantly only on his own side. At first he allies with the rat creatures because he hates them slightly less than he hates the dragons, but he turns on them quickly enough when they anger him. He then captures Phoney and Thorn for the Hooded One, but later on he does nothing to hinder Fone Bone and Thorn from stopping the Hooded One's plan.
  • 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 pitiable 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.
  • The Worf Effect: Admittedly, Tarsil had it coming when the Hooded One cuts him in half easily.
  • The Worm That Walks: The Hooded One's midsection is composed of locusts.
  • You Are in Command Now: The Hooded One to the Pawan General after she slices his predecessor in half.
  • 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.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Hooded One's attitude to the Pawan armies. She says she was "done with them".
  • You Killed My Father: Kingdok tries to invoke this in Thorn to make her kill him, but the attempt fails.

  • Covers Always Lie: Minor example. The cover is just like Jeff Smith's typical style, but the rest of it is Charles Vess's.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Lucius Down doesn't ever wear pants in the middle of winter, for some reason.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Dog: Before slaying the dragon, Rose made a promise that she would kill the first living thing she saw after she completed her task to maintain the dreaming's balance. The first living thing she sees is her sister Briar, and then her dog Cleo. Briar begs her to kill the dog instead, and the next page is of Rose taking Briar up to safety...
  • Start of Darkness: While Briar is not the main character, it does show how she became evil in greater detail.

    Stupid Stupid Rat Tails/Tall Tales 
  • Adaptation Expansion: "The Powers That Be" from provides an extended version of one of the Thorn comics Jeff Smith made in college.
  • Big Eater: "Big Johnson Bone Vs. The Cobbler Gobbler" shows how Big Johnson is one, as he not only eats enough breakfasts for twenty people, he then proceeds to go beat the county eating contest.
  • Breather Episode: The light-hearted prequel, which came out between the Hooded One's identity being revealed and the Ghost Circles arc.
  • Children Are Innocent: After Big Johnson makes Tyson bite off his tail and ultimately ticks off Queen Maud, who believes her 'baby' to be completely innocent.
  • Determinator: Big Johnson Bone refuses to be stopped from saving the animals by anything, even being eaten alive. There's also how he isn't even fazed by a tornado at the start either.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails has a talking monkey sidekick for Big Johnson Bone.
  • Fat Girl: Queen Maud. It's kind of scary to see her next to her tiiiny little handmaidens.
    • Kaiju: Her son Tyson is so big, his tail is as thick as his mom is tall. Considering Queen Maud to be much bigger than other Rat Creatures, that would make Tyson bigger than Godzilla.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The founder of Boneville and the Bone's ancestor, Big Johnson Bone. Ha!
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Big Johnson Bone's main strategy for dealing with Rat Creatures; take 'em by the tail and swing!
  • Mama Bear: Queen Maud acts like this towards the end.
  • Monster Is a Mommy: Queen Maud in Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails. She does not take the fact that Big Johnson was causing her giant "baby" Tyson's "sickness" very well.
  • Nice Hat: Smiley's scoutmaster hat.
    • Big Johnson Bone also has a nice coonskin cap.
  • Noodle Implements:
    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.
  • Treasure Map: Phoney Bone finds one in the first story. He and Fone Bone subsequently decide to hunt for the treasure instead of do laundry, only to find that the "riches", which Thorn supposedly buried, consist of Phoney Bone's dirty laundry.
  • Unfortunate Names: Boneville's founder, "Big" Johnson Bone.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Big Johnson.

     Quest for the Spark 
  • 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."
  • Bears Are Bad News: In the second book, though they become allies soon enough.
  • Bee Afraid: Especially when they're giant bees. Extra-especially when you're working with bears who want to steal their honey.
  • Big Bad: The Nacht, a dragon who went rogue.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: King Agak the new king of the rats. He thinks that he is in a equal partnership with the possessed Constable who views him and his rats as nothing but muscle and is really working for the the Nacht.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Tom struggles with being the appointed leader of the group; especially when Randolf makes it no secret that he doubts Tom's ability to do so.
  • The Chosen One: The protagonists of the story are all chosen by the Dreaming to act as its agents against The Nacht.
  • Crusading Widower: Randolf Clearmeadow, an old Veni Yan Warrior who is one of the people The Dreaming chose.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: It's shaping up to be this for Tom Elm.
  • Companion Cube: A dead squirrel to Stinky the Rat Creature, which he has dubbed "Fredrick".
  • Cool Airship: The Queen of the Sky, Percival's mode of transport. It looks like a sailingship, but with balloons instead of sails, and its engine runs on potatoes.
  • Cool Old Guy: Percival F. Bone, functioning like a Team Grampa.
  • 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.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: Pieces of the Spark
  • 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.
  • People Puppets: The Nacht's minions control victims this way.
  • The Professor: Percival F. Bone. He looks the part too, with Einstein-like wild gray hair (the only male Bone so far to have actual hair), glasses, and a lab coat.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A simple farmer kid, his raccoon sidekick, a Nature Spirit, an adventurer Bone and his niece and nephew, a disgraced ex-warrior priest, and two Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures.
  • Retired Badass: Randolf Clearmeadow, before he becomes a Crusading Widower.
  • 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).