christmas comics cavalcade: bone holiday special

Comic books and Christmas have a grand tradition, owing much to the time when comics were cheap stocking fodder. That is sadly no longer the case. While most comic companies continue to publish holiday specials, they often clock in at $5 bucks or more; certainly I’d think twice about impulse buying something that expensive.

Despite prices, the tradition continues- Archie regularly publishes their “Stocking Stuffer” digests, and DC and Marvel also routinely crank out yuletide collections. I’m going to take the next month to look at some of my favorites from years’ past. Today we’re looking at

Bone Holiday Special, published as a giveaway in 1993 by comic fan magazine Hero Illustrated.

I probably don’t need to say much about Bone. If you’re a fan of good comics, or if you have young children, you’ve probably come across cartoonist Jeff Smith’s humor/fantasy opus, blending the expressive styling of Walt Kelly with the storytelling of J.R.R. Tolkien. Bone is easily the most successful independent comic to come out of the 1990’s… and not coincidentally, it is one of the absolute best.

Hero Illustrated was sort of the opposite number to the big comic magazine of the 90’s, Wizard: The Guide to Comics. Being a voracious and indiscriminate young comics reader, I bought both mags religiously. I remember being excited when I heard that Hero was going to be publishing a BRAND NEW Christmas story featuring Fone Bone and friends. I found Hero Illustrated to be a little better than Wizard about giving small press books coverage (Palmer’s Picks notwithstanding)… and while Bone was about as big as a small press book could get, it was still sort of cool for a book that usually put Batman and Spawn front and center giving a little love the way of a black and white indie. If memory serves, Wizard eventually had some kind of Bone comic giveaway as well… but seeing as it had nothing to do with Christmas, I’ll leave it at that.

The Christmas story… or, forgive me, “solstice” story (as it is called by the denizens of the Valley) is cute but slight. The Bone cousins celebrate with Thorn and Gran’ma Ben

and Fone Bone uses the holiday as an opportunity to broker some peace with the Bones’ most persistent adversaries, the (stupid, stupid) Rat Creatures.

I must admit, eight years past Smith’s completion of Bone, I look at the Holiday Special and I’m impressed with the way that Jeff Smith sneakily fit this story into the overarching continuity of the Bone comic.

I say “sneakily” but what Smith did here wasn’t all that sneaky. When the Holiday Special came out, Bone was on issue #13 of what would prove to be a 55 issue series. Barely a third of the way through the story he wanted to tell, Smith wrote and drew the Holiday Special… without bringing much attention to the fact that the Holiday Special takes place AT THE END of the story! Readers who read this 4 page tale would assume that it fit in rather neatly with the already-established continuity… even in spite of the Table of Contents specifically saying “This story takes place during the Bone cousins SECOND winter in The Valley.”

The fact of the matter is, when I read this comic back in ’93, I never thought about what would happen in the span of that year. It never occurred to me I was being given a non-spoilery glimpse at the end of the book. Knowing that this is something from the end of the Bone story certainly explains why certain characters are not present at Gran’ma Ben’s farm, a fact that bugged me as a thirteen year old.

Again, this isn’t a trick or anything… just something clever that a cartoonist who spent his life working on one story could pull out of his hat.

As a fan of Bone, the rest of the comic is a treat. After the Bone story, there’s an in-depth interview with Jeff Smith that showcases quite a bit of Bone artwork done when Smith was going to Ohio State University. Very different from the Bone comics that most of us know and love, it was a treat to be able to see these early sketches and strips. In a time when the Internet was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is now, rare glimpses into the genesis of a comic strip were the kind of thing I absolutely loved to read as a kid doodling away in dollar store sketchbooks.

If you’re interested in the story, it has been reprinted (sans interview and sketches) in all of the major Bone collections, including the massive doorstop that is the One Volume edition. I honestly prefer my smaller version for the holiday memories it invokes.

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