Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / Bone

Go To

Not to be confused with the TV series Bones, "Bones" McCoy of Star Trek, the animation studio BONES, the musical group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, or the short story from The Further Adventures of Batman.

Bone is a lengthy independent comic book series by Jeff Smith that took 13 years to complete, mixing the sweeping story of an epic fantasy à la The Lord of the Rings with the sensibilities of a joke-of-the-day comic strip like Pogo.

In fact, the comic did start life as a joke-of-the-day comic strip named Thorn, which Jeff Smith created for the Ohio State University's newspaper, The Lantern, when studying at the university. After graduating, he tried and failed to get the strip syndicated, and after a while decided to Retool it into a comic book series, now with the name Bone.

Smith 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 Smith's friend Steve Hamaker colored each and every page. The series eventually won several Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards, and propelled Smith into immense indie comic book acclaim.

The comic 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 Gran'ma 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 second Tall Tales book was released in 2023.

Additionally, as a 25th Anniversary Milestone Celebration, Smith put out a short epilogue book simply titled Bone: Coda. He also released two Picture Books featuring the Bone cousins: Smiley's Dream Book in 2018, and Bone Adventures: A Graphic Novel in 2020 — which reprinted Smiley's Dream Book and also added a short story about the Bone cousins as kids. In 2024, the crowdfunded Thorn: The Complete College Strips will release, which will for the first time ever reprint all the original Thorn strips.

An Animated Adaptation has been in Development Hell for quite some time. In the 1990s, Nickelodeon Movies, having just released the hit film The Rugrats Movie, had an alarmingly misguided vision of what they wanted it to be, and Smith was the one who bailed out of the deal. The film rights were then bought by Warner Bros., and the reports on the production team were that Animal Logic, the studio behind Happy Feet and The Matrix, would animate, P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding, Confessions of a Shopaholic, the 2003 live-action Peter Pan) would direct, and it would be adapted for the screen by Patrick Sean Smith (ABC Family's Greek). In 2016, Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda, The Little Prince) became the new director, while he and Adam Kline replaced Patrick Sean Smith as the screenwriters.

Smith initially fought for the film to use 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, however, Smith is fine with the change in style because the outcome of the film 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.) However, it was not to be. After several years with little progress made (and no release date appearing on Warner Bros.' slate of upcoming animated films), the rights to adapt the comic went up for sale again. In 2019, Netflix secured the rights to the franchise with plans to adapt the comic into an animated series; unfortunately, layoffs at the streamer's animation studio in 2022 have dashed any hopes of progress on the series.

The first two story arcs (out of nine) were also adapted into an Adventure Game series by Telltale Games in 2005 and 2006.


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)

All nine volumes have been collected in a single One Volume Edition (black-and-white 2004, color 2011).

Prequel Series

  • Stupid Stupid Rat-Tails: The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero (1998-2000)
    • Tall Tales (the expanded Scholastic edition of Stupid Stupid Rat-Tales, 2010)
  • Rose (original 2000-2002, Scholastic edition 2010)
  • More Tall Tales (2023; includes the story from Bone: Coda)

Quest for the Spark Prose Trilogy

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

Children's Books

  • Smiley's Dream Book (2018 picture book)
    • Bone Adventures: A Graphic Novel (2020; includes Smiley's Dream Book and a new story)

Thorn Comic Strip Collections

  • Thorn: Tales from the Lantern (1983)
  • Before Bone (2008)
  • Thorn: The Complete College Strip (2024)

Supplemental Material

  • The Bone Handbook (2010)
  • Bone: Coda, which included a new story featuring the Bone cousins (2016)


    open/close all folders 

  • 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: Gran'ma Ben and 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 Abbott 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 Volume 5, and end up actually pulling one in Quest for the Spark.
  • All of Them: Uniquely played for horror rather than comedy, after Thorn reports that the Crown of Horns incident has disturbed the dragons.
    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.
  • Animalistic Abomination: Kingdok eventually, as he mutates from a big rat creature to a mouth with legs.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted with Roque Ja the mountain lion, who when seen from behind has a very prominent scrotum.
  • Animal Talk: It's a little inconsistently handled, but the rule of thumb seems to be that wild animals can talk but domestic animals can't. After a while it's also made clear that not all humans understand what the wild animals say — Thorn, Gran'ma Ben and Lucius do, but otherwise the ability seems to be rare. (Or it can be circumstantial — When he lies dying, Jonathan understands what Ted says, but he's unaware that he's talking to a bug.) The Bones and the Rat Creatures seem to occupy some space in between human and animal (with the Bones closer to the human side and the Rat Creatures closer to the animal side) and as such they can talk to both humans and animals.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Kingdok loses his arm in "The Dragonslayer", deservedly, when Thorn cuts it off.
  • Arc Symbol: Stars.
  • Art-Style Clash: The Bones like they're out of old newspaper funnies or Steamboat Willie-era inkblot cartoons. They're thrust into a Lord of the Rings-style adventure with mostly realistic humans and monstrous monsters. Compare Thorn, a blonde who looks like she walked out of a 70s Sword and Sorcery book cover, whenever she interacts with Bone, or her grandma and the dragon, both of whom look like they're from a Disney movie.
  • Arc Words: "Seek the Crown of Horns."
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Rat Creatures speak in a military language code called Nessen (which 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".
  • Badass Boast:
    • Phoney claiming to be able to kill dragons... Although he actually 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.
    • When discussing Tarsil in Volume 8:
      Thorn: You think he views us as a threat?
      Gran'ma Ben: (smirks and cracks her knuckles) We are a threat.
  • Badass in Distress: Thorn, several times.
  • 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: Gran'ma 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 dirt, 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 dragons' 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 Lord of the Locusts, though their Dragon the Hooded One (a.k.a. Briar Harvestar) serves as The Heavy for most of the story.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • The Great Red Dragon on numerous occasions.
    • Lucius at Sinner's Rock in Crown of Horns.
    • 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 Good: The Great Red Dragon serves as the most important and powerful force of good on the side of the protagonists, and acts as a Stealth Mentor to both Fone Bone and Thorn throughout the story.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Phoney Bone's design, and occasionally Fone Bone's if he knits them together.
  • Big Shadow, Little Creature: A little monkey casts a huge shadow on a cave wall.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Fone Bone and Thorn destroy the Lord of the Locusts (bringing balance back to the Dreaming) and Thorn becomes Queen of the reborn Kingdom of the Valley (with peace being re-established between the Rat Creatures, Pawans, Atheians, and dragons)... but Lucius Down & Jonathan Oaks both die, and the Bone Cousins all go back to Boneville. Fone Bone and Thorn will likely never see each other again. On the upside, in Bone: Coda book, Smiley implies they will visit the valley again soon.
  • Bizarre Seasons: Winter in the Valley comes swiftly; one minute it's pleasant late summer-early fall, the next an inches thick blanket of snow comes plummeting out of the sky, plunging the Valley into mid-January conditions.
  • Black Sheep: Among the Rat Creatures (a race of primarily vicious and bloodthirsty monsters) are a comic duo who are by any definition incredibly stupid and spend more time childishly bickering than pursuing 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.
  • 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."
    • Gran'ma Ben meets Phoney with a sweet-condescending smile and attitude. She also sees him off with the same smile and attitude.
    • There's one of the Brick Joke variety. The series begins and ends around winter, and both times, winter is heralded with a teeny snowflake, followed by a comically large quantity falling all at once.
  • Bound and Gagged: Phoney Bone gets this twice (comically the first time when he's tied to a stake and pelted with eggs for rigging the Cow Race; definitely not comically 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 from the first chapter returns in the epilogue.
    • "I might even kiss Phoney right before I strangle him!"
  • Broken Pedestal: Gran'ma for Thorn because of all the lies she told her. Thorn eventually forgives her, but take a lot of issues
  • Bumbling Henchmen Duo: The pair of Stupid Stupid Rat Creatures!
  • Burn the Witch!: Tarsil plays this straight with Thorn.
  • But Now I Must Go: The comic ends with the Bone Cousins leaving the Valley to return to Boneville.
  • Cain and Abel: Briar and Rose, a.k.a. The Hooded One and Gran'ma Ben. With names like that it's plain to see who's the evil one...
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The Rat Creatures don't look very rat-like.
  • 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. For someone who goes on and on about how everyone must choose a side, he really isn't on anybody's side and is an arrogant Jerkass regardless of who he's dealing with.
  • 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.
  • Central Theme:
    • Dreams, balance, and responsibility.
    • The struggling battle between good and evil.
  • 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. Deconstructed as she's not excited by such a thing, she's completely pissed off at how people she trusted have lied to her for her entire life.
  • 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 Gag: Phoney's campaign balloon. It is mentioned in conversation that when Phoney ran for mayor back home, he had a giant balloon of himself made, with a banner reading "PHONCIBLE P. BONE WILL GET YOUR VOTE!" The balloon drifted away, and no one knew what happened to it. Much later, we find out. The Hooded One's forces keep targeting Phoney for some reason. Eventually, it's revealed that this is because of an "omen" she received about him. That omen? The runaway balloon, which is missing part of its banner so that it appears to say: "PHONCIBLE P. BONE WILL GET YOU".
  • Chekhov's Gun: 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.
  • Christmas Episode: During the epilogue. The gang gets snowed in for the winter, so while they're waiting for the thaw an entire (albeit brief) issue is spent celebrating the Winter Solstice.
  • City Mouse: The Bones are typically depicted as this, contrasted with the Country Mouse people of the Valley. Though Boneville is never seen in the original story, Boneville's amenities are occasionally name-dropped: conveniences like comic books and corn dogs are treated as natural where whey come from, suggesting Boneville is more akin to our world than anything else. Among other things, the Bones have never had to prepare their own food (i.e. killing chickens and milking cows), and are aware of — but aren't used to dealing with — the Valley's barter system.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
  • Clothing Damage: Thorn's dresses repeatedly get shredded in action sequences and she's often stuck wearing them until she can get replacements; it's never quite to the point of being Stripperiffic or played for Fanservice, but her Magic Skirt often has its work cut out for it.
  • Comedic Strangling: At the end of the first book, Phoney and Fone Bone reunite. Fone Bone happily runs up to Phoney, only to start strangling him as Phoney gets comically big eyes and his tongue hangs out.
  • 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.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Crown of Horns. Queen Mim of the Dragons is also a living one.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Apparently Smiley Bone has been carrying a labeled engraving kit in his vest the whole time.
  • Creation Myth: One exists for the Valley's creation. In ancient times, the first and greatest dragon — Queen Mim — arose from the Dreaming World and arrived in the Waking one, which was kept in balance by her holding her tail in her mouth. However, eventually a hostile nightmare spirit known as the Lord of the Locusts became unhappy, and desired to walk the Waking World. To do so, it would have to possess a mortal being's flesh. The Locust chose Mim, and his possession of her drove her mad, causing the world to fall out of balance, with the Locust free to spread suffering and misery in his wake. To save the world, the other dragons all turned on Mim, causing a terrible battle to ensue. As the two sides crashed back and forth, they pushed up the surrounding rocks into gullies and mountains. Eventually, as more and more valiant dragons lost their lives, they despaired of saving their beloved Queen, and so turned the possessed Mim to stone. As the land cooled, the Valley was born, with the Lord of the Locusts trapped beneath the Valley's eastern mountains until the end of times.
  • Crossover: Not in the comic itself, but the characters have made guest appearances in other comics, such as Gen¹³, Shi, the normalman/Megaton Man special, Patty Cake, The Savage Dragon and others.
  • Crown of Horns: Subverted. There's a Cosmic Keystone called the Crown of Horns, but it's neither a crown nor horned, instead looking like a frozen waterfall made of stone.
  • 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, who spend most of the rest of the series trying to catch up to everyone else. Then they arrive and die in the final volume.
  • Determinator: Smiley during both Volume 5 (the Rock Jaw arc) and the confrontation on the road with the Rat Creatures in Volume 3.
  • Doorstopper: The One Volume Edition. Jeff Smith has even referred to it as "the Brick".
  • The Dragon: Kingdok to the Hooded One, the Hooded One to The Lord Of Locusts.
  • Dub Name Change: In the French translations, the Rat Creatures are called "Rats-Garous", meaning "Were-Rats". Bringing a Our Werewolves Are Different in the story, by the way.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Location: The Rat Creature Temple may not seem like this on the outside, but the effects it has on those who travel through beg to differ. The temple was built on top of a ghost circle, which means the Dreaming goes haywire around it. The first time the Bone Cousins travel through it, they get attacked by a vengeful Kingdok who simply vanishes into thin air. The second time, Fone Bone and Phoney suddenly find themselves dressed as characters from Fone Bone's Moby-Dick dream in the third book.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Thorn, Gran'ma, and the Bones react this way after the Locust's volcano erupts because they can't detect any other survivors. Lucius, the villagers, and the Veni-Yan monks did survive, as well as most of the city of Athiea, and most everyone else who died came back when the ghost circles were destroyed at the end.
  • The Everyman: Fone Bone.
  • 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 Monstrous: Kingdok, to a much lighter degree than the Hooded One. Not that he wasn't monstrous to begin with....
  • 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. And being, you know, undead.
  • 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.
  • Faceplanting into Food: In Tall Tales, during the Eating Contest, one of the contestants faceplants into a tray of fruit cobbler when he can't eat anymore.
  • Fantasy Americana: The Valley draws much inspiration from Ohio forests the author has been familiar with since childhood, with an animal population mostly consisting of American wildlife, including the dragon-sized mountain lion Roque Ja.
  • Fantasy World Map: Though unusually, the map itself has some noticeable 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.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Despite having lived enough literally fantastical adventures, by the time Phoney and his friends go through the ghost circles in the middle of an ash rain, he still maintains that everything Rose, Thorn or Fone claim to be happening is just hogwash.
  • The Fool: Smiley Bone.
  • Foreshadowing: Phoney's sarcastic comment that the map looks like it was drawn by a five-year old in the first issue.
  • Frame Break: invoked The part in one book where Gran'ma 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 creatures, Rosie?
    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!
  • Gaslighting: When Fone Bone comes to the valley, nobody believes that he met the Great Red Dragon, much for his frustration. Thorn has the same problem with her dreams, which her grandmother dismisses as make-belief. It happens that Gran'ma Ben and Lucius took years convincing the people and sentient animals that dragons were make-believe, so they could have a normal life. And Thorn's dreams were actually memories of her childhood, when the royal family's castle was set on fire and her parents murdered by the Rat Creatures, but Gran'ma also dismissed them to keep her safe. Besides, Gran'ma held a strong grudge against the Great Red Dragon because he didn't help her to save her daughter and son-in-law. It backfires spectacularly when Thorn learns that her grandmother deceived her all those years. Lucius also gets his cut when Phoney Bone takes advantage of the villagers' fears creating rumors against a dragon; Lucius can't tell them the Great Red Dragon is not a menace because he would have to admit that he lied to the villagers.
  • 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.
  • Genre Refugee: The Bone cousins are refugees from classic cartoons (in a sense literally, since they were chased out of Boneville) who wound up in a High Fantasy.
  • The Ghost: Boneville. Jeff Smith has outright said that he prefers never to depict it, as not only is it not the focus of the story, but it's better to leave it up to the reader's imagination. That being said we do actually get glimpses of it in spinoff material. Stupid Stupid Rat Tales ends with Big Johnson Bone establishing his trading post which would eventually become the center of Boneville, Quest for the Spark shows the inside of Percival’s house, and even Bone Adventures does seem to take place in Boneville. (Granted, all we see is a paved sidewalk, stairs and a park bench.)
  • Giant Eye of Doom: In the issue #30,after Fone Bone, Smiley, Bartleby, the three little possuns and the orphans enter a small ave to escpe of Roque Ja. Fone goes to check if the mountain lion has gone, just to find Roque Ja's eye blocking the cave entrance.
  • Giving Them the Strip: In the issue #37, Phoney panics and runs from the Old Man's Cave leaving his infamous star T-shirt behind, because the Hooded One and the Rat Creatures want "the one who bears the star" and the villagers want to kill him for the same reason. Phoney's excuse is that everyone would be safe if he wasn't around, but his escape just makes him get caught by Roque Ja.
  • A God Am I: The Hooded One, to some extent. Then again, the Hooded One's master is the Lord of the Locusts.
  • 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.
  • Go into the Light: After touching the Crown of Horns and killing the Lord of the Locusts, the resulting explosion sends Fone Bone and Thorn into an empty dark void with a single bright light at the end. Fone Bone starts to drift towards it, but Thorn stops him, saying that if they follow it, they'll never come back.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Princess: Thorn turns out to be a princess, and Rose was at one point a princess before her. What makes Thorn special isn't that she's a princess, however, as Rose says they're basically a dime a dozen, but that she's a Veni-Yan-Cari.
  • 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.
    • Tarsil is later killed the same way.
  • Headache of Doom: Gran'ma Ben has the "Gitchy", which manifests itself as painful migraines warning her of nearby enemies or something bad about to happen. It would prove to be useful in helping Thorn and the Bone Cousins in their travels, giving them one step ahead of the Rat Creatures, the Hooded One and the Lord of the Locusts.
  • 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 that he has 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 crazy beggars.
  • He's Back!: Bartleby in Volume 7.
  • Hidden Depths: Phoney, who demonstrates that he's actually very intelligent and charismatic for a scammer, and is also the one to induce 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.
  • Idiot Ball: The villagers were tricked by Phoney into betting on a cow that didn’t exist. And yet, they believe in him again when Phoney says he’ll protect Barrelhaven from the dragons.
  • Idiot Hair: Of a sort; Thorn has the two strands of hair which usually don't seem to settle with the rest of her hair.
  • I Know What You Fear: Whenever one passes through the Rat Creature Temple, their worst nightmares come to life. When Fone and Smiley Bone passed through the first time, the Lord of the Locust manifested as a rather nasty version of Kingdok. The second time, Fone Bone and Phoney Bone were instantly dressed like characters out of Moby-Dick.
  • Inconsistent Dub: Two examples in the French translation:
    • The name of the Crown of Horns keeps changing between "Couronne de Cornes" (Crown of Horns), "Couronne d'Épines" (Crown of Thorns) and "Couronne d'Aiguille" (Crown of Needles) in each book.
    • The name of the Locust is translated as "Seigneur des Criquets" ("Lord of Locusts", albeit with a French word that sounds completely different than "locust") for most of the story. But in the last book, they inexplicably call him "Locuste", a more literal translation of his original name.
  • Jaw Drop: Phoney, after Lucius outwits him by betting on Gran'ma Ben in the Great Cow Race.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In the middle of a bet over who can run the Barrelhaven Tavern better, Phoney stirs up fears of dragons while Lucius tries to pass them off as mere myths, with both knowing that a dragon is nearby but is basically harmless (to the townsfolk, anyway). Lucius tries to call off the bet to get Phoney to stop riling up the crowd, but in the course of their argument Phoney points out that Lucius is being just as dishonest as he is by denying that dragons exist in the first place.
  • 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.
    • Smiley Bone is a willing and even enthusiastic accomplice to Phoney's schemes to swindle money from others but never gets nearly as much hate from it at all (having a much more agreeable personality helps).
  • Karmic Butt-Monkey: Phoney Bone tends to get into embarrassing situations quite a lot as a result of trying to scam people (along with his schemes to get rich).
  • Karmic Death: Briar died as she lived, with Lucius' arms around her.
  • Kid Hero: Fone Bone, possibly. See Vague Age below for more details.
  • Large Ham: invoked The Hooded One a.k.a. 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: The comic ran for roughly 13 years, from 1994 to 2006.
  • Look Behind You: Turns out there really is a swarm of giant bees back there!
  • 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 towards 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.
  • Mistaken for Bad Vision: Bone is lost in the spooky woods, when he catches sight of another Bone. This has to be an illusion, so Bone rubs his eyes with an Unsound Effect "squinky squinky." The other Bone is real: it's Phoney Bone, recently expelled from Bonetown.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: invoked The Red Dragon, who has "the head of a Christmas donkey, the paws of a lion, and the body of a brontosaurus."
  • Muscles Are Meaningful: 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.
  • 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. Justified as it's all but stated to be an aspect of the Harvestar family being descended from Ven, who was both the first human queen and the first human to be taught by the dragons how to study/research the Dreaming.
  • 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 military language, jump from amazing heights, and even fly.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Fone Bone (nice), Phoney Bone (mean), and Smiley Bone (in-between).
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: invoked Happens to Thorn and Fone at the hands of Tarsil's men. It's not pretty. Not pretty at all.
  • 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 to read in prose). They name the brown one Smelly and the purple one Stinky.
  • Non-Indicative Name: While the Rat Creatures do have ratlike shapes and hands/feet and are born looking like rats, they're more like bizarre ape-bear hybrids in appearance as a result of cropping their ears and tails after a certain age.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: The Bone Cousins all have very cartoony designs, which are particularly jarring when compared to the very realistic designs seen in the rest of the Valley. It's made especially conspicuous during close ups on Fone Bone's face.
  • Noodle Incident: Whenever the Bones talk about Phoney's pre-Valley schemes.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: When Fone Bone walks in on Smiley Skinny Dipping, Smiley is embarrassed, despite the fact he never wears pants and tells Fone to turn around until he's put his vest on. Fone even lampshades that his request doesn't really make any sense.
  • Not Me This Time: After the Rat Creatures attack Gran'ma Ben's farm looking for Phoney, Fone Bone confronts his cousin on his connection to the Rats. Phoney insists that he didn't do anything to them. It turns out that the reason is that the Hooded One mistook Phoney's campaign balloon for an omen that Phoney could help release the Lord of the Locust.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: from Briar to Thorn. Thorn proves her wrong spectacularly, however.
  • Not What I Signed on For: 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.
  • 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.
  • Oddball in the Series: The fifth book is notable for having several characters who appear in every other installment Put on a Bus, including several main characters. This includes Phoney Bone, Thorn, Gran'ma Ben, Lucius Down, the Hooded One, Ted, and Wendell.
  • Old Master: Rose serves as one for Thorn.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Disciples of Venu.
  • Orwellian Retcon: The Scholastic editions have some changes compared to the originals. Most are minor dialogue tweaks, but in one or two cases a scene was added or removed.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • The Great Red Dragon's behaviour and role in the story are close to those of Oriental/Eastern 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 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.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: The Bones seem to be inconsistent when it comes to nudity. Fone is fine walking around without anything on and never raises any eyebrows from anyone, but he gets flustered by the prospect of seeing Thorn naked. And while his cousins are Half-Dressed Cartoon Creatures, Smiley doesn't like to be seen without his vest.
  • Ouroboros: Mim, the Dragon Queen.
  • Our Zombies Are Different:
    • The Hooded One is a Revenant type; crossed with The Worm That Walks.
    • If the unseen family in Ghost Circles are anything to go by, everyone trapped inside a Ghost Circle is Only Mostly Dead. Thorn identifies them as definitely dead, but are still capable of moving and (only) communicating with her, The Chosen One. When the Lord of Locusts is defeated in Crown of Horns, those "zombies" are finally returned to a normal state.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The Bone Cousins' whole adventure is what happens when characters from a Cartoon Creature series wander into an Epic Fantasy.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: Fone Bone, lost and separated from his cousins, first meets Thorn in this way.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Bone Cousins all serve as this for the Valley, being three strangers from outside its premises who are a Spanner in the Works for all of the machinations of the Hooded One and the Lord of the Locusts.
  • 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 rewards the two stupid rat creatures after they wreck the Great Cow Race. They weren't supposed to cause chaos, but it was a lot of trouble for the villagers so Kingdok's okay with it.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: In her recurring dreams, Thorn is often shown dressed in an elegant sky blue gown with white lace embroidery across the bodice, long white sleeves, a red cape, and a high collar. She wears the same gown during her coronation as Queen of the Valley.
  • 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.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: In some of the earliest issues, Fone Bone passes out in bliss just from Thorn touching him.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: The giant cougar Roque Ja somehow knows when people call him "Rock Jaw" and gets pissed every time. You're supposed to use Trrrilling Rrrs.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Two Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures — except for the fact that they want to eat Fone Bone, they're not all that evil and are more incompetent. In fact, according to them, their entire race currently fits this archetype, being Trapped in Villainy by fear of the Hooded One's illusions driving them all mad if they refuse to obey them. Indeed, the few scenes showing normal Rat Creatures interacting with each other typically characterize them as (more or less) just professional grunts in an army.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Several major characters are absent in the fifth book, such as Phoney Bone, Thorn, Gran'ma Ben, Lucius Down, Ted, Wendell, and the Hooded One.
    • The Two Stupid Rat Creatures play major roles in the first five books, but don't appear again until the final book.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Thorn has been raised by her grandmother since she was only five years old.
  • Rank Scales with 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.
  • 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 Volume 7 is the first time Thorn actually realizes that he has feelings for her.
  • Retired Badass: Gran'ma Ben and Lucius Down both count as this.
  • The Reveal:
    • Volume 3: Gran'ma Ben was originally Queen Rose, the Queen of the Kingdom of the Valley, and her granddaughter Thorn is the rightful heir to the throne.
    • Volume 4: Thorn is also a Veni-Yan-Cari (basically The Chosen One).
    • Volume 6: The Hooded One is Briar Harvestar, Gran'ma Ben's sister.
    • Volume 7: Both Thorn and Fone Bone have pieces of the Locust in their souls.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Giant Rat Creatures, especially Kingdok, who eventually grows so big he could qualify as an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever.
  • 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: After being referred to with masculine pronouns for every preceding story arc, the Hooded One is eventually revealed to be Briar Harvestar, Queen Rose's sister.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: According to the Valley’s Creation Myth, Queen Mim of the Dragons kept the cosmic balance of the Dreaming in place by encircling the entire world and holding her tail in her mouth. Eventually, she was driven mad by the Lord of the Locusts, and the other dragons had to turn her to stone, making the Valley’s eastern mountain chain. In reality, a dragon big enough to encircle the whole Earth being turned to stone would’ve created an entire new moon rather than just a mountain range. Possibly justified, as one of the Central Themes of the comic is dreams, and the paradox of Mim’s size is befitting of dream logic.
  • 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 intentionally made vague.
    • 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: The Lord of the Locusts is trapped in the body of Queen Mim, far below the Valley's eastern mountains.
  • Self-Deprecation: Note that Jeff Smith's favorite book is Moby-Dick. Then note the Running Gag about people being bored to sleep whenever Fone Bone talks about it.
  • 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 Volume 8, 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 Volume 7, in which Smiley delivers some comic relief as well as a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Fone Bone and Phoney Bone figure out that they're in uncharted territory, Smiley remarks that they've "boldly gone where no Bone has gone before!"
    • The name of "Miss Crab-Bone" (Fone Bone's first-grade teacher) is an allusion to The Little Rascals' Miss Crabtree.
    • invoked 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.
    • So there's this mentor character to the heroine who has kept her hidden in a farm and told her half-truths about her parents, keeps a sword in a trunk, and lives under the assumed name of... Ben? Hmmm...
    • Smiley Bone's slender body, his longnose, black vest and antics seem inspired on Goofy, but without his innocence. By other turn, Smiley's bowler hat and cigars are a reminder of Pete, the villain from the old Mickey Mouse movies...
  • Silence Is Golden: There are frequent stretches of consecutive pages where there is no dialogue.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Firmly on the idealistic end of the scale with a heavy dose of Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Smoking Is Cool: ...and dragons are cool, so by logical extrapolation, the Great Red Dragon is cooler than anything else in the universe. QED.
  • Soul Fragment: Fone Bone and Thorn each get a piece of the Lord of the Locust.
  • Spanner in the Works: The antics of the Bone Cousins end up screwing the villains' plans quite thoroughly;
    • Phoney Bone's disastrous campaign for mayor of Boneville involved a fifty-foot balloon of himself that went amok. It drifted across the desert and into the Valley, where it was found by the Hooded One. Taking it as an omen, the Hooded One ignored Thorn and sought Phoney for the ritual to free the Lord of the Locusts, resulting in a partial release that gave the heroes time to undo things along with granting Thorn a piece of the Locust's soul (which she and Fone Bone later used in conjunction with the Crown of Horns to kill the Locust once or for all).
    • Smiley Bone's friendship with Bartleby the Rat Creature cub would save the heroes when the villains corner them around the Ghost Circles, allowing them to reach Atheia. Furthermore, Bartleby would be the only available ally who could run fast enough to make sure Fone Bone could reach Thorn at Tanen Gard in time.
    • Fone Bone's budding feelings for Thorn ends up being the catalyst to the heroes' victory; Their friendship ensures Fone Bone can both keep Thorn grounded and at the same time push her to do the right thing. And ultimately, his refusal to give up on her leads him to following her to the Crown of Horns, where he serves as the necessary conduit to help Thorn defeat the Lord of the Locusts once and for all.
  • Species Surname: The Bones; if the surname has derived from the species name and not vice-versa.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Phoney's plan to abscond with all of Barrelhaven's wealth fails since he accentuates the villagers' paranoia about dragons to a self-destructive level.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: Generally Zig-Zagged. The different races of the comic do fit into some of the archetypical fantasy races, but only in broad terms.
    • The humans of the Valley fit into the role of well... humans.
    • The Rat Creatures/Hairy Men are Beast Men (to be precise, they're Rat Men), but in practice they act more like a mix of Tolkien and Blizzard Orcs.
    • Then, there are the dragons, the original rulers of the world and masters of the Dreaming. They're heavily inspired by the Easter/Oriental version of dragons, but also serve in the roles as both a Council of Angels more or less and modern fantasy elves through their spiritual enlightenment and somewhat haughty arrogance.
    • Interestingly, the Bones might actually serve as the Hobbits in the story, being a physically smaller race of humanoids hailing from a homeland far off from the majority of the story's action. Furthermore, the Bone Cousins serve as the comic's Supporting Protagonists, with Thorn as the story's real heroine.
    • Finally, there's the vast number of Talking Animals found throughout the Valley, most of whom are also Funny Animals (like the Possum family) who usually serve as just minor Audience Surrogates like the Bone Cousins (with the exception of Volume 5, where the Possum triplets and Roderick all arguably serve as major characters).
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Invoked when Briar surrounds Atheia with Ghost Circles, the goal being to create enough suffering and fear to tip the Dreaming's balance enough so that the Locust can escape without Thorn's aid/sacrifice. Terrifyingly enough, it works.
  • Super-Strength:
    • Gran'ma Ben appears to have this, effortlessly punching through the walls during the attack of the Rat Creatures and being able to easily 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.
  • 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).
  • Sycophantic Servant: The Hooded One to the Lord of the Locusts, although they're actually useful to the Locust's plots.
  • Teeth Flying: After suffering from a beating in Volume 9, Thorn is horrified to spit out a tooth afterward. Fone Bone then shows that he lost a tooth in the fight as well. The epilogue mentions that both received replacements made out of the same crystal in the Crown of Horns.
  • 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.
  • Thanatos Gambit: One possible explanation for Mim's rampage, and later confirmed in the prequel book Rose, where the Lord of the Locusts angrily rants that Mim went mad on purpose to deny him her body as a vessel by being turned to stone. The Locust later tried to return the favor when he finally came back as Mim, deciding that even if he was killed by Thorn, he would have the crazed Mim raze the world barren as revenge. Thankfully, the dragons put the kibosh on that
  • Theme Naming:
    • Sisters Rose and Briar, and Rose's granddaughter Thorn. Thorn's mother was named Lunaria, but continues the theme with her nickname of "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. The Name the Baby Rat Creature contest was won by Shaenon K. Garrity.
  • 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.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Happens twice to the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures;
    • First, the duo unwittingly cause a disaster with the Cow Race while chasing Fone Bone. Worried about their punishment, they try to hide but Kingdok still finds them. However, Kingdok hates the humans, Gran'ma Ben and the Cow Race so much that he gives the pair some skinned rabbits to eat as a reward.
    • During the second winter in the Valley, Fone Bone cooks up a quiche to give them, for no other reason than because it's the winter solstice.
  • 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
  • Ungrateful Bastard:
    • Phoney Bone, in spades. He never thanks Thorn, Gran'ma Ben or Lucius for giving him shelter and food, nor for saving him from the trouble invariably caused by his greedy schemes.
    • The villagers are not better. Lucius indemnified them for the food they lost betting on Phoney's "Mystery Cow" (Smiley Bone). The villagers don't show any gratitude at all and stand up for Phoney against Lucius during the dragonslayer arc. They eventually improve. A bit.
  • 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.
  • 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 Happened to the Mouse?: Ted's big brother never shows up again after the fist arc. And Ted never mentions him again, either.
  • What Is Evil?: Rock Jaw has his own viewpoint on good and evil, finding both terms to be equally laughable. In his opinion, there is only nature, and the only thing that values in nature is power.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Fone Bone gives one to Gran'ma Ben when Thorn storms off during her Heroic BSoD after learning she is a princess and her beloved grandma has lied to her all these years.
    Gran'ma Ben: Do something, Fone! STOP HER! She doesn't know what she's doing!
    Fone: [glaring] And you DO?
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • Gran'ma Ben offers Phoney a chance to go home in Volume 9... But Phoney won't leave without his cousins.
    • When Lucius, Phoney and Smiley are attacked by Rat Creatures during their return to Barrelhaven, Lucius falls from the cart. Phoney could have abandoned him to be eaten, so he would be free from his enormous debt with Lucius. Instead, he pulls Lucius back to the cart. None of them acknowledges that.
  • 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.
  • A Wizard Did It: A lot of the strange and outright magical things, especially later in the series, can be attributed to the Dreaming World's influence through the power of the Locust or the abilities of the Veni-Yan-Cari.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The Hooded One a.k.a. 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 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 at first 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 since she still has potential use for him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Hooded One's attitude to the Pawan armies. She says she was "finished with them".
  • You Killed My Father: Kingdok tries to invoke this in Thorn to make her kill him, but the attempt fails.
  • You Mean X Mas: One story has the Bones, Thorn, and Gran'ma Ben celebrate the winter solstice. Smiley's clearly thinking of Christmas when Thorn brings in a tree, mentioning putting gifts under it, and when asked, turns to Phoney to confirm whether or not Boneville celebrates the winter solstice. Phoney gives this cynical speech;
    Phoney: Different reasons... Different names... It all comes down to th' same thingBusiness picks up, an' I make a lotta money!

  • Art-Shifted Sequel: 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.
  • Body Horror: The corrupted dragon can reattach his limbs.
  • Doomed by Canon: Cleo does not make it out of the book.
  • 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. This makes her final line to Rose in Bone carry more weight.
  • Irony: Balsaad, a river dragon, has his regenerative powers rendered powerless by a river.
  • 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.
  • Plot Hole: Briar is visibly aged to resemble the Hooded One but with red hair. The flashbacks show her being much younger and only visibly aging later in her life.
  • 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.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: It takes a lot from the story of The Lambton Worm, from the size of the dragon increasing, the fact that it can reattach its limbs, its defeat, and the fact that Rose had to kill the first living thing she sees... which was Briar, and that she chose to kill the dog who appeared at the same time, to avoid committing sororicide.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Locust to Briar... for now.

    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.
    • Also Gertie who is known as the Cobbler Gobbler.
  • 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.
  • Fartillery: After eating all the cobblers and asparagus from the eating contest, Gertie end up becoming bloated of gas and then fart her way up to the moon.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Smiley's big hat in the framing story. He claims that wearing the hat gives him big ideas and that wearing the hat means he only tells true stories. Ringo and Bingo buy into it, Todd doesn't... but when he goes to sleep wearing the big hat he has a vivid dream of Big Johnson Bone's adventures in the valley in ages past. When he wakes up, he wonders if the hat somehow gave him that dream, and if somehow he dreamed of things that actually happened. Given that the entire book is essentially a collection of stories that may or may not be true, the ambiguity is clearly intentional.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Odd Name Out: The Bone Scouts are named Ringo, Bingo and Todd.
  • Real After All: If we take Quest for the Spark into consideration, at least some of Todd's dream has to be real. While his mind could just have made up an adventure for Big Johnson Bone based on the stories Smiley and Bartleby told him (even the cameo of the Great Red Dragon could be based on stories he heard from Smiley), the fact that Stillman and Porter show up in The Quest from the Spark, and Stillman even fondly remembers Big Johnson Bone confirms that at least some of the dream must have been true.
  • Rent-a-Zilla: Queen Maud's 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.
  • 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.
  • Tall Tale: The framing story. Smiley tells three stories to Ringo, Bingo, Todd and Bartleby, one of which is a story about Fone Bone and Phoney Bone on a treasure hunt, and two of which are clearly exaggerated legends about Big Johnson Bone. Todd, the skeptic of the group, doesn't believe any of them... then he goes to sleep wearing Smiley's "Big Hat" and has a dream about Big Johnson's greatest adventure...
  • 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.
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • Big Johnson — probably. It's pretty clear that his wild tales contain plenty of exaggerations and probably a number of blatant untruths, but nothing is ever actually confirmed or denied.
    • Possibly Smiley in the framing story. He insists that all the stories he tells about Big Johnson Bone are completely true, even when they get blatantly absurd. The collection is even called "Tall Tales," meaning that in-universe it's unclear to which degree they're true.

    Quest for the Spark 
  • Adventurer's 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.
  • Big Bad: The Nacht, a rogue dragon who allied with the Lord of the Locusts in the past.
  • 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 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.
  • Coming of Age Story: Serves as one for Tom Elm.
  • Companion Cube: A dead squirrel to Stinky the Rat Creature, which he has dubbed "Fredrick". Amusingly, Smelly is openly contempous and exasperated with Stinky's treatment of Frederick.
  • Cool Airship: The Queen of the Sky, Percival's mode of transport. It looks like a sailing ship, 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.
  • 11th-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 all must be found to help defeat the Nacht.
  • 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 the second book. 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 understandably 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 talking raccoon stepbrother, 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 Widow.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: Especially when they're giant bees. Extra-especially when you're working with bears who want to steal their honey.
  • 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). Justified since it's implied that he's intentionally trying to invoke the image of being similar to Kingdok so as to better legitimize his claim to royalty.