I thought I'd begin this weekly highlighting of excellent all ages comics with the book that I found most inspiring and the one that I feel did the most to show people how amazing all ages comics could be: Jeff Smith's Bone.
Bone was one of the first comics in a very long time to tell a story using comics that had a truly vast appeal. Anyone could potentially enjoy Bone, unlike many books that have an appeal limited to other comic book fans. And it showed that kids still love comics despite there being little for them in the market at that time. And I think Jeff Smith did this almost by accident. Reading interviews with Smith he insists that Bone was not created to target kids. Rather it was his love letter to comics and animation. He just took everything he loved about comics (and other places, of course) and put them in a book. If anything it was written for other people who love Comics.Bone is not only a great comic itself it also highlights the best in comic books through it's influences: Carl Barks, Moebius, Pogo. His influences are a diverse history of comic books and comic strips. For me, it showed that you could have your work display a love of comics without limiting its appeal to just comic book fans. You could find something universal there.
The story is a perfect combination of light slapstick humour and a sprawling dark fantasy story. The contrast makes for a kind of story telling magic.
It follows the adventures of three cousins who come to a medieval valley after being run out if their home town and they find themselves drawn into a conflict in the valley. It's a pretty long series and the story is quite complex so I won't go into too much detail. To give you an idea of the story elements it combines classic cartoon slapstick, Australian indigenous mythology and folklore, European mythology and folklore and a Tolkien influence. It is a nuanced tale of good and evil. The characters are well rounded and compelling. You care about everyone, no matter how silly they are. While Fone Bone is the main character, all the characters, even background characters, come to life. This is a richly populated world with a lot of depth. It's some of the best world building done in comics. This certainly makes for a book that you can return to again and again and always find something new. The same goes for the art.
The art in Bone is beautiful. At once energetic and refined, every panel is appealing and interesting. It's drawn with a brush and the line work is stunning. Smith has wonderful control and an amazing lyricism with his brush stroke. It isn't detailed but has a strongly graphic balance of blacks and whites that pop off the page.
It's hard to compare it to other comic books and is more like Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit, although we are seeing more comics like Bone, fantasy on a grander scale. If you're starting an all ages comic book collection, I can't think of a better place to begin. But it certainly has joined the ranks of other classic all ages comics like Tintin, Donald Duck and Asterix.
There are a number of different ways to own and read bone. I own Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume which is a brick sized collection of the main series in it's original black and white. I prefer to read it in black and white because I feel it shows off Smith's art the best. However it's also available in colour, which some people find more appealing. Scholastic has put them all out as a series of beautifully coloured editions. The first one is here. There is also a 20th anniversary hardcover edition out, which looks beautiful. It is also available digitally to through ComiXology.
If you want a great start to build an all ages comic collection Bone is a great first book.