Gutter Space #15 by Leslie Salas
When Worlds Collide: Bone, by Jeff Smith
To springboard off my post last week about how differences in art styles can affect the reader’s ability to perceive differences between characters, I’d like to take some time to discuss the differences between the way characters are drawn based on where they are from. One of the best examples of this is Jeff Smith’s Bone.
Bone follows the protagonist, Fone Bone, as he gets lost in a new uncharted land and has the adventure of a lifetime. As he searches through miles and miles of desert (with only a few supplies—a map, a canteen, a bedroll, and a copy of his favorite book, Moby Dick), Fone finally encounters a lush valley.
Taking a moment to look at Fone, we can see that he looks rather cartoony. He’s all white, doesn’t really have any clothes, and his features are simplified. His feet don’t have toes. He doesn’t have hair or nostrils, but he does have expressive eyebrows and a bulbous nose. His four-fingered hands are typical of old-school comics and cartoons—much quicker to only draw four fingers than all five.
However, when we see the valley, it is rich with detail. There are clearly different types of trees and fascination topographical variety. This world that Fone has come to the cusp of, is unlike the boring and vast nothingness of the desert. So it only makes sense that it’s people should look differently also.
Enter Thorn, the beautiful young woman that finds Fone Bone and helps him (and his cousins, who have also come to the valley) out. Fone helplessly falls in love with her, and for good reason. Look at her! Look at those lovely lashes, those muscled thighs, those five-fingered hands. She’s drawn in rich detail, and clearly comes from a world much different than his own.
Unlike some of the other characters that live in the valley, Thorn does not discriminate against Fone and his cousins based on their appearance. Almost every new character makes some sort of comment about how strange they look, but once the weirdness is addressed, the people of the village grow used to the Bones and accept them as guests and visitors.
It is in this manner that Jeff Smith visually addresses the weirdness of people who come from different places. The vastly different drawing styles, combined with the characters’ recognition of the difference, helps the reader navigate the cultural, economic, and societal differences between these two types of people. Overcoming these differences is a recurrent theme throughout the graphic novel Bone, and adds an element the realism of prejudice in this fantastic setting.
Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.