Bone: Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess

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Bone: Rose
By Jeff Smith and Charles Vess
Scholastic

jeffsmithrosecoverIn interviews conducted with Jeff Smith, the artist has stated, time and again, that he envisioned Bone’s final page long before beginning the book. After 13 years, the book’s 55-issue run seemingly exhausted the story of the Bone cousins’ journey through the plague-ridden Valley, with said ultimate panel finding the trio riding off into the proverbial sunset. While the success of Bone—ultimately and frequently hailed as one of the greatest independent comics of all-time—no doubt resulted in plenty of demand for a sequel from the industry and fans alike, there seemed little doubt that the saga was at an end.

Even with a storyline that would ultimately consume some 1,342 pages in its single collected edition, Smith didn’t exhaust the storytelling potential of the Valley. During a hiatus from the series, the artist collaborated on two additional complementary storylines–Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails, which he drew, but didn’t write, and Rose, which he scripted, but did not draw. For years, these serialized books have existed as much sought after items for collectors anxious for additional glimpses into the Bone universe. And now, thanks to a new edition from Scholastic, one of those two puzzle pieces is now far easier to come by.

At first glance it’s clear that Rose is a very different book than Bone. Smith put down his pen for the volume, recruiting fantasy artist Charles Vess for that role—a very deliberate decision on the part of the author. If Bone is indeed as Time Magazine somewhat famously described it, “as sweeping as the Lord of the Rings cycle, but much funnier,” then Rose is its shorter, darker, more seriously sibling. Bone was, indeed a fantasy epic in the truest sense, but any self-seriousness that the book possessed was, more often than not, countered by comic relief largely provided by its titular cousins.

Rose, on the other hand, explores the rise of Gran’ma Ben in events unfolded long before the Bones unwittingly stumbled upon the Valley over which she once reigned. As such, the book lacks much of the family-friendly material that made Bone one of independent comics’ few all-ages success stories. That tone is compounded by Vess’s paintings, which, save for a largely intact imagining of Bone’s Great Red Dragon, stray from Smith’s perpetually playful Walt Kelly-indebted line. This, of course, is no shot against Vess’s clear artistic abilities, but rather just a statement that—for better or worse—Charles Vess is no Jeff Smith, and given the source material provided, it’s clear why Smith wouldn’t have it any other way.

As far as origin stories go, Rose is a fascinating and gripping, if ultimately unnecessary prequel to Bone. The book helps shed light on many of the events that shaped the Valley before the opening pages of Smith’s epic—though the artist is careful not to fill in all the pieces. As countless fans can testify, reading Rose is far from necessary in order to enjoy the contents of Bone’s fairly self-contained 55 issues. Rather the book seems intended as a supplement to that enjoyment—a place where fans can prolong their enjoyment of Smith’s world.

By that token, the book is a success. Bone fans will happy devour the origins of one that book’s more fascinating characters.  Where the book falls short is in the absence of much of the charm that helped make Bone such a nearly universal success, ultimately serving as a reminder of why the goofy cousins were so necessary in saving the Valley from certain doom.

–Brian Heater

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2 Comments to “Bone: Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess”

  1. Bill | July 20th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Spot on in every way.

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 21, 2009: You don’t need to sell 100,000 books