Rachel Lovinger
September 24, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Jeff Smith’s award-winning comic-book series, begun in 1991 and collected in its entirety for the first time, follows a trio of four-fingered cartoon cousins — Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone — who stumble upon an uncharted valley. They encounter droll bugs, sardonic dragons, sweet if somewhat naive townsfolk, and bumbling if somewhat vicious monsters, just as an epic conflict bubbles up in the countryside. Bone is storytelling at its best, full of endearing, flawed characters whose adventures run the gamut from hilarious whimsy (Gran’ma Ben’s annual footrace against the valley’s cows) to thrilling drama (all-out war against an army of monstrous Rat Creatures, led by a mysterious, malevolent force). Along the way, Smith’s musings on Fone’s love, Phoney’s greed, and the town’s political confusion take on a greater relevance than you’d ever expect.

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