Almost 27 years after its initial publication, Jeff Smith’s Bone comics still stand as some of the greatest, most ambitious fantasy epics to ever collect dust on comic shelves. TIME named it one of the best graphic novels of all time, but many comic readers still remain ignorant of its brilliance. The reason for this may be rooted in Smith’s own reputation, which is overwhelmingly good but not nearly as high-profile as those of some of his peers. His brief stint with DC on the Shazam: Monster Society of Evil limited series remains one of his most lauded works, but none of it even touches the quality on full display in Bone. The series, scripted and drawn by Smith, follows the exploits of Fone, Smiley, and Phoney Bone, all of whom sport more pluck than prowess. After being driven out of Boneville, the three find themselves lost in an unforgiving desert until they stumble upon a valley plagued by an ancient conflict. Of course they get involved and of course they save the valley’s denizens from further fuckery, but that’s just how all that good-vs.-evil business works.
In 2005, Telltale Games released two video games based on the first two graphic novels in the series, Out From Boneville and The Great Cow Race. Collecting the first 11 installments in the 52-issue series, both boast comedy and playfulness while later installments cast shadows over the Bone cousins and their adventures. The games, while not groundbreaking or appealing to those unfamiliar with the source material, offer a unique experience that fans will appreciate, if only for the opportunity to play out their favorite Bone moments. Out From Boneville received a lukewarm response while The Great Cow Race marked a step up for the short-lived series. The former was Telltale’s third release, so there’s an understandable they-tried-but-didn’t-quite-nail-it vibe going on here. The blocky animation in each game isn’t nearly as distracting as it could have been, especially because the Bone cousins look like they were crudely cut from bleached rock.
Smith has cited 20th century cartoonist Walt Kelly as one of his primary influences, which explains why his series centers around a trio of Pogo-looking motherfuckers.While by no means conventional-looking characters, the Bone cousins are funny, endearing, and goddamn irresistible. The characters’ vibes and designs echo of Kelly’s iconic possum but still manage to function as fresh new takes on classic protagonists.
Like the comic, both games deliver a solid story, intriguing characters, and enough mystery and suspense to satiate even the most impatient gamers. Watching Fone Bone speak to a gigantic, thuggish bug is just as quirky as it is in the comics. Some may find the story plodding, but that’s only because it plays the long game and acquaints us with its characters before diving into the best stuff. The Great Cow Race improves upon the first by moving in an ominous direction while still providing enough humor and heart to remind players that it’s still all fun and games for these characters.
Unfortunately, those wanting to control Thorn as she takes on the monstrous Kingdok or witness the might of the Lord of the Locusts will have to get their fix by rereading the series itself (now available as one 1500-page volume).
Telltale no longer sells the Bone games on their website but you can grab them on Steam for $9.99. Get crackin’, peeps.