Jeff Smith’s acclaimed, and sometimes controversial, comic series Bone celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. With the upcoming release of Bone: Coda, Playboy talks about the history of the series and Smith’s take on how the comic and graphic novel industry in general has evolved since Bone originally launched in 1991.
Unlike today, when Bone first came out, the mainstream comics market was still primarily dominated by superheroes—specifically single issue superhero comics. Works not put out by large publishing houses were relegated to the realm of self-publishing, and collected volumes and dedicated graphic novels were still considered experimental and nowhere near as prevalent and accepted as they are now. “There was no New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novels list, you couldn’t pick up graphic novels in any bookstore or school library, and you couldn’t buy them on Amazon or comiXology,” Smith notes in Coda.
Despite the difference in content and embracing a format that was still not as widely adopted, Smith dedicated himself to building the fantastic world of the three Bone cousins and their numerous adventures and relying upon word of mouth and a solid fan base to grow his readership.
It was this progressive mentality and the solid level of fan support that would catch the eyes of acclaimed comics creators and launch Bone out of the fledgling independent scene and into the hands of librarians across the United States. “Continuity was hugely important to Smith, though,” writes Sean Edgar of Playboy:
He and Vijaya [Smith’s wife] self-published, collecting their monthly issues into handsome books that never went out of print—a now universal practice that was scowled upon in an era of variant covers and price guides, when collectors hoarded comics like bonds. Bone soon garnered positive word-of-mouth from industry luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim and Frank Miller, becoming one of the few non-Marvel or DC books to enter the mainstream.
“Librarians are my heroes,” says Smith about the efforts that librarians have made to get graphic novels like Bone into the hands of readers young and old. “They recognized that comics are reading; that they could be literature and not a jumble of empty eye candy for lazy people.”
Not everything was smooth sailing for Bone after it was finally embraced by schools and libraries. From alcohol consumption and smoking by some of the series’ characters to abstract claims of “politically, racially, or socially offensive” material, the series has been challenged from New Mexico to Texas, by parents and community members demanding that the series to be pulled from libraries for their “age inappropriate” content. In 2013, Bone came in at #10 on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. “The very nature of comics is that they’re visual, so it’s easy to just glance and not know what the context of anything is,” notes Smith. “It’s part of the age we live in when people are so divisive. Anything that they don’t like they want to destroy. I can’t really explain it.”
Despite these challenges, Bone remains one of the industry’s most beloved and critically acclaimed series. Both fans and educators alike have embraced the title, something worth celebrating!
If you are interested in learning how you can incorporate Bone into your school or library (or you are, gasp, facing a challenge!), check out our resource Adding Bone to Your Library or Classroom Collection!
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!