Bone: Tall Tales
By Jeff Smith and Tom Sniegoski
After 1,332 pages, closing the book on Bone felt a bit like closing the book on an old friend—or, perhaps more appropriately, friends. It’s easy, I suppose, to get attached to characters in a particularly well-written story, but after so long an epic, it was also easy to take for granted that the Bone cousins would be around forever, despite the fact that Jeff Smith had long publicly discussed the book’s finite life.
Smith felt a measureable sense of relief upon completing the epic—redrawing the final page of the cousins riding off into the sunset that he had initially visualized so many years before. And fittingly, he threw himself into non-Bone work—RASL, graphic design for Fantagraphics collections, and a stellar Shazam miniseries for DC.
There were a few further adventures in the Bone universe, including, most notably, the prequel Rose, draw by Charles Vess and written by Smith, which was reissued by Scholastic last year. Entertaining though it was, that book lacked a vital element in the success of the long-running Bone epic—the Bones.
Like Rose before it, much of Tall Tales’ content is a rehash of previously released material, drawn in conjunction with the creation of Bone. Stories included herein are drawn from the out-of-print Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails. There’s also a long un-gettable strip originally published in Disney Adventures Magazine.
The contents aren’t entirely recycled, however. Supplementary material was written by Tom Sniegoski and drawn by Smith—and, as anyone who has read any of Scholastic’s re-issues of the original series can tell you, Steve Hamaker’s terrific color work is reason enough for a revisit.
Much like in Rose, the trio of Fone, Phoney, and Smiley aren’t at the center of Tall Tales. All three do make an appearance, however. Fone and Phoney have a brief adventure revolving around the attempted—and quite literal—disposal of dirty laundry. Smiley’s role is larger, as the teller of the titular tall tales, regaling a group of Bone Scouts—and, for our purposes, serving as brief comic relief in between stories.
The real star of the book is the less-than-subtly named Big Johnson Bone, a Paul Bunyan-esque forefather to our heroes. Fans of the Bone series will find plenty to like in Big Johnson’s adventures, though the big-jawed Bone’s role is more akin to that of the butt-kicking Gran’ma Ben than the far more timid Bone cousins. Johnson’s a regular tornado-wrangling, rat creature twirling mountain man.
Smith’s pencils are also right on-par with the regular series. These stories would have slipped in seamlessly as a sort of b-story, should the cartoonist chosen to present them in that manner.
Tall Tales is a fun companion piece for the far more epic Bone, and a great place to turn for those looking for a little more, having finished that series—ultimately, however, it re-ignites that same question fans have been asking for years: will we ever see more from the Bone cousins?