Awful in every way. The whole book is centered on lame, even deplorable ideas. First, it divides people into the wizardly and the non-wizardly in a clAwful in every way. The whole book is centered on lame, even deplorable ideas. First, it divides people into the wizardly and the non-wizardly in a class system. That's a fairly lame idea already, but other than deriding some of the snobby elitists among the wizardly class, it is itself ridiculously elitist, presenting its only non-wizardly people as an overblown, idiotic parody of middle class small-mindedness, conformity, and materialism, and making the elevation into the wizard class an unequivocally good thing. Second, it makes the magical into the mundane. Otherworldly and magical things, things beyond the everyday, are trivialized by transposing them into a world of magic shops and wizard schools essentially no different from non-magic shops and non-wizard schools. (It doesn't help that all the magical things are stock elements, with absolutely no originality or imagination.)
Outside its center of lameness, the book fails in all its basic storytelling elements. It's written in a completely standardized kids-book style, full of simplistic exaggerations, stock phrases, and twee comments from the narrator. Even if that style didn't irritate me with its obviousness and simplification, it's utterly indistinct here: the words have no verve. It does nothing of note to create suspense, excitement, pathos, vivid imagery, or anything else. And the dialogue is flat and unnatural, lacking any distinct voices.
Similarly, all its characters are cliches—the know-it-all girl, the goofy, good-hearted guy, the classist snob, etc.—that are given no definition or nuance beyond their stereotypes. Actually, they're so vague that they lack even the definiteness of their stereotypes. The villains are given still less: Snape is mean and punishes kids unfairly, Voldemort is evil and kills people, and that's it. And the characters' personality and feelings are related in the most simplistic ways. Harry Potter himself is just a cliched cipher of wish-fulfillment, the mistreated kid with no friends who's really the most special of all kids and destined for greatness.
The overarching narrative is still another cliche: a journey away from home, in which kids learn and grow, and a move into an upper-class world full of possibilities and glamor and excitement. Within that, everything is just more lame cliches of school life and childhood friendships. There's also the kids being tested, doing some of that learning and growing, by foiling an evil plot. But the evil plot is painfully contrived (especially the ridiculous bit where all the characters conveniently get to show what they're good at—blech), so undeveloped that it barely registers, and carrying no weight. It also revolves around the ultimate cliche of misdirection: the person you least expect did it! And he's a non-character, defined only by being nervous and stuttering enough to be the person you'd least expect.
Finally, Quidditch is the stupidest sport ever....more
When I was a kid, for a time Lloyd Alexander was tied with Dickens as my favourite author. He’s best known for this series, The Chronicles of Prydain,When I was a kid, for a time Lloyd Alexander was tied with Dickens as my favourite author. He’s best known for this series, The Chronicles of Prydain, which is a children’s high-fantasy, epic-quest, boys’ adventure kind of thing. In retrospect, that sounds really dull. I say meh to boys’ adventures; and high fantasy seems ill-suited to children’s stories, because the world-building ends up too slight and sanitary. Anyway, even when I was a kid, I preferred a different Alexander series: the Westmark Trilogy....more
I like children’s books whimsical to the point of nonsense, and preferably mordantly humorous. I don’t like them genteel, simplistically moralizing, aI like children’s books whimsical to the point of nonsense, and preferably mordantly humorous. I don’t like them genteel, simplistically moralizing, and overtly explanatory; nor do I care for tales of children “growing up” by learning cheap moral lessons. Anyway, I remember very little of the Narnia books, but I remember them falling into the latter category. When I was in my early teens, I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I thought the Christian symbolism was awkward, obnoxious, and exemplified the aforementioned aspects I dislike. When I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of the series, but I did love The Horse and His Boy, which I thought was hilarious, and to a lesser extent, The Magician’s Nephew, which I thought was the most genuinely magical. Now, all I remember of the former is some dialogue about the boxing of ears; of the latter, a chase on a cobblestone street lined with lampposts. And the best image in the series is undoubtedly a lone lamppost in snowy woods. Old-timey lampposts are awesome....more
Fairy tales made mollycoddling. A twee tone and too much description remove what makes fairy tales interesting: the striking randomness, the feeling oFairy tales made mollycoddling. A twee tone and too much description remove what makes fairy tales interesting: the striking randomness, the feeling of a world unbound from norms both physical and social....more
The first third of this series is wonderful: simple, whimsical, comic, with stunning artwork and deft characterization. Unfortunately, it falls apartThe first third of this series is wonderful: simple, whimsical, comic, with stunning artwork and deft characterization. Unfortunately, it falls apart after issue 20 or so. The narrative develops with a haphazard pace, rushing some developments, belaboring others, leaving threads dangling or tying them together in meaningless ways. But perhaps the failure of the artwork is more responsible for the drop in the series' quality. The latter will be my focus, since the art was the strongest aspect of the early issues.
As far as the narrative goes, it's often compared to The Lord of the Rings (particularly by Smith himself) as some way of making it seem more 'epic' and 'serious', but the comparison always struck me as irrelevant. If Bone is Lord of the Rings, than so is almost every other middling fantasy story written in the last half-century. And as Bone’s story progressed, it felt increasingly just like that: any other middling fantasy story. A lot of the plot developments seemed pointless and unnecessary: the captain of the guard taking over the city; everything to do with Rock Jaw, especially his final appearance; the whole trip through the ghost circles. They felt like they led to nothing and were just filling time while they occurred.
Now, onto the art. First, as Smith tried to make the story more 'serious', he moved toward a more ragged brush stroke and more linework on faces and figures. But he didn't pull off this shift in style very well. He was amazingly good at the extremely smooth, crisp style of the early issues. His later style often just comes off as muddy. But the bigger problem was the change in layouts. In the early issues, what was so impressive was the fluidity of the compositions. There was always a strong sense of spatial continuity from panel to panel, and the panel-to-panel transitions worked wonders to create the impression of figures moving in this continuous space. Part of this had to do with the fluid linework, but it was mostly due to Smith’s use of fixed perspective and slowed pacing.
For example, consider this page: http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff... The fixed perspective and the slow progression between panels emphasize the movement of the figures. The continuity allows each panel to create an anticipated movement, and Smith creates comedy and tension by meeting or denying our expectations. Here’s another page that uses the same technique for different effect: http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff... The slow pace and heavy use of solid black creates a palpable tension, and this is reinforced by the fact that the three panels have similar layouts but a strong, definite progression of mood and information. Again, using the continuity between panels, Smith builds and makes use of our expectations.
Now compare those pages to one from the Rock Jaw storyline: http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff... Here any sense of continuity is destroyed by the shifts in perspective and the rapidity of the action. There is no sense of a space around the characters, no sense of movement from panel to panel. It’s just a bunch of commotion. While you could say that this is a purposeful choice for this scene, a Greengrassian attempt to give an impressionistic view of the action, Smith just doesn’t pull it off: the layout is haphazard. And the change in style is endemic in the latter half of the series.
Here’s another one (I had trouble finding any complete pages from the latter parts of the series): http://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff... First, with the exception of Thorn, everything in the left hand panel is just poorly drawn. Look at Fone Bone’s torso: it looks completely flat, with no sense of form or depth. The same is true of the human faces in the background. And early on, Smith was a master of facial expressions and body gestures, but here the gestures seem random, and look again at the expressions on the humans in the background: there is no feeling or expressiveness to them. Beyond the lousy craftsmanship, the panel is pointlessly cluttered. In fact, a good portion of the panels in the latter half of the story are hopelessly cluttered. The technical lousiness of a lot of the drawings in the later issues might be an even bigger failure than the poor layouts. Faces are suddenly misshapen, lopsided or worse (Thorn, especially, looks completely different from panel to panel, and frequently like she was drawn by a ten year old), figures have no sense of dimensionality or movement, etc. Not that everything was awful, but a lot of really bad artwork leaked in after the second half. And that's a damn shame, because the series was really incredible for a while....more