The Art of Bone Review
The first thing I should mention is that, although this book is credited to Jeff Smith, it doesn’t seem to have been written by him. I think the text in it – aside from a stilted introduction by Lucy Shelton Caswell, curator of the Ohio State Cartoon Research Library – was actually written by the editor, Diana Schutz, but the book itself doesn’t actually say. The text talks about Smith in the third person, and doesn’t show any strong connection to his personal thoughts, so it certainly looks like it was written by someone else.
But no one reads a book like this for the text: the pictures are the main draw, and this is full of pictures. Over two hundred large, well-designed and cleanly printed pages showcase lots of Smith’s Bone art, from early sketches to final color work. The text tends to be descriptive – dating particular pieces, or explaining where in the process they were created – rather than more discursive.
The Art of Bone begins with a 1970ish comic from a very young Smith, in which a very Carl Barks-ian Fone and Phoney Bone have an adventure trying to retrieve a lost gem. (This is clearly juvenilia, but has some cute touches, such as a “title wave” which is not a misspelling.) There are a few other bits from the prehistory of Bone as well, such as a few strips from the Thorn comic Smith drew for Ohio State’s Lantern daily paper. (I’d love to see a full collection of these; the art is clearly professional quality, and the fact that he re-used a lot of the plot in Bone proper is no longer a big problem, since Bone is complete.)
From there, it mostly follows Bone through the course of the plotline, with some covers, some interior art, and various promotional or limited-edition pieces. The Art of Bone isn’t a comprehensive catalog of Bone-iana, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It also doesn’t try to trace the evolution of Smith’s drawing style, or otherwise give drawing hints or advice; Smith started Bone with essentially the same style he finished it with. The Art of Bone is strictly a nice coffee-table book: full of pretty pictures, but of the most interest to people who already know the whole story by heart.
The Art of Bone is a bit pricy for something that ends up keeping the reader at arms-length from Smith himself; for that price, and for this kind of book, I would have expected much more direct input from Smith himself. I’m used to this kind of book in the SF/Fantasy art world – from Boris Vallejo or Luis Royo or whoever – where it would have extensive notes from the artist about the work, and possibly even a section on working materials and methods. There’s nothing at all wrong with The Art of Bone, but it does feel like part of the opportunity may have been lost. Still, it’s a gorgeous book, full of lovely art. Most Bone fans probably own a copy by now…or are hoping one will show up in their hands in about a week.
The Art of Bone
Jeff Smith; edited by Diana Schutz
Dark Horse Books, 2007, $39.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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