Influencing Comics: The Desire to Appropriate Art

Across all mediums of art, artists draw influence from their predecessors. The Beatles influenced today’s modern music, the Pyramids influenced modern-day architecture, and in the world of comics, the marks of other literary pieces are splashed on every page.

The Bone cousins

Bone is a comic book series written and drawn by Jeff Smith and is highly regarded comic series. It ran as irregularly-released issues from 1991 to 2004. It has been regarded as a hysterical reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and has received numerous awards. It follows the Bone cousins as they are run out of their hometown, Boneville, and forced to cross a desert, separated, reunited, and taken in by a mysterious girl and her grandmother all while spoofing a fantasy and medieval type setting. The protagonists are bizarrely humanoid white figures (who resemble the yellow iconic smiley face we know today) while many of the other characters are simply human. As the reader progresses through the story they are introduced to monsters. While many of these “bad guys” are horrific, the two main antagonists appear as adorable, fuzzy creatures, which is in harsh contrast to their intentions.

"Rat creatures" as referred to in the series.
“Rat creatures” as referred to in the series.

The art style of the Bone comics is very distinct. Jeff Smith seems as if he drew from old newspaper Sunday comics, but integrated a clear American animation style. Smith explains that he was inspired by all of these sources, but most notably, Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Kelly’s characters are a cynical representation of human nature. The characters were self aware and appeared in the comic strips for over 27 years (1948-1975). Kelly combined everything from slapstick humor, to puns, to burlesque humor.

Pogo characters from the comic strip.
Pogo characters from the comic strip.

Comic artists have drawn on each other since the beginning of the comic strip in the mid-1800s. Original art is content that has never existed before, but realistically it is inspired by real life or another artist. Reading comics today shows clearly the integration of pop culture, classic comics, movies, and other various art forms. Bone is one of my favorite comics, but realizing that the roots started somewhere else helps me understand the evolution of comic art as a whole. There is a clear connection between Bone and The Lord of the Rings and the Pogo comics, yet Bone is its own story and stands on its own merit.