Banned Books Week · Book Reviews · Comic Books

Banned Comic Books: Bone

Happy National Comic Book Day! As some of my followers already know, I have a thing about comic books…namely that I adore them. I first started reading comic books when I was a kid. I used to be able to get new issues at the grocery store newsstand (and collector packages at Toys ‘R Us), and I remember getting the chance to read many Marvel and DC titles, as well as Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Then I became heavily invested in reading Japanese manga as a teenager, falling in love with the storytelling and art styles of several manga artists, and took a break from reading American comic books for most of high school and college.

I actually credit Jeff Smith’s Bone with helping me rediscover my love for American comic books. I vaguely remember coming across one of the earlier volumes as a kid, but for some reason I didn’t continue reading the series until much later (most likely because it was around the time I discovered Sailor Moon). I found a copy of the complete series one afternoon at a Barnes and Noble near my college campus, and immediately fell in love with the characters and story.

Bone is a story about three cousins who are run out of their hometown after “a couple of shady business deals went sour” (Smith 16). After an encounter with a swarm of locusts leaves Fone Bone and his cousins (Phoney and Smiley Bone) separated from each other, the main character finds himself lost. He soon encounters a dragon and rat creatures, and eventually meets a nice girl named Thorn, who agrees to help him and his cousins get back to Boneville.

The series is filled with lots of action and adventure, entertaining characters, and funny moments. The artwork is detailed, but not overly so. I’ve seen panels in other comic books that include so much detail that it distracts the reader from the narrative (because you feel like you have to pay attention to everything), but Bone is not like that. Despite its size, I found Bone to be a surprisingly fast read. It was very hard to put down.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Bone is actually on the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) list of books that were challenged between 2002 and 2018. According to information provided by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), Bone has been challenged a number of times (with mixed results). Some of the more common complaints listed in the website’s case study include: being inappropriate for certain age groups; encouraging drinking and smoking; “violence or horror;” and being “politically, racially, or socially offensive.”

What I find interesting is author Jeff Smith’s response to the last of these challenges. According to the CBLDF website, Smith had this to say in response:

“I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of ‘political viewpoint, racism, and violence.’ I have no idea what book these people read. After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.”

Jeff Smith

This does raise an interesting question. Where did this challenge come from? While I could maybe see some younger readers being a little afraid of the rat creatures, who are a bit intimidating, I honestly do not recall there being any moments where I found myself thinking that the books were racist or political in any way. Like Smith, I also have no idea why someone would challenge Bone for this reason.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate National Comic Book Day, I can’t think of a better idea than to read a banned or challenged comic book. Bone is a great choice, but many other comic books have experienced challenges as well. If you’re interested, you can check out some of these titles on the CBLDF website.

I hope you enjoy a great comic book today!

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