Case Study: Bone

Jeff Smith’s Bone tells of three creatures known as the Bones, who are outcast from their home village of Boneville and lost in a human land called The Valley. In The Valley, the Bones find themselves surrounded by talking bugs, vicious rat-like monsters, magic, and the occasional dragon. Smith’s epic follows Fone Bone and his two cousins, Smiley and Phoney, as they meet the valley’s denizens, become embroiled in their society, and discover their own heroism in confrontation with the rat creatures and their mystical master, the Lord of Locusts.

In April of 2010, a Minnesota parent petitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library. Ramona DeLay’s son had just graduated the local DARE anti-drug program when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking in the comic her son was reading.

Smiley Bone is frequently depicted smoking a cigar, and his cigar butts are used to track him at one point. Additionally, one of the humans, Lucius Down, owns a tavern, and a beer-selling competition between Lucius and Phoney Bone provides the impetus for a significant plot point in Dragonslayer, the fourth volume of the series. Neither of these activities are presented as either positive or negative behaviors, merely things that the characters do.

It is interesting to note that these images had previously been censored by design. Bone was at one time serialized in Disney Magazine, and images of smoking and drinking, as well as certain instances of sexual innuendo between Fone Bone and his romantic interest, Thorn, were eliminated from the series before printing in the children’s magazine. However, none of these omissions occurred in the bound volumes of the series when published by Scholastic.

A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and the CBLDF.

Joe Izenman is a freelance writer and musician in Tacoma, Washington. He owns a lot of comics and he’s pretty sure someone, somewhere would be offended by more than a few of them.