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Whenever an adaptation of a beloved property is announced, no matter the level of excitement and anticipation there is, there is also an unmistakable level of fear to be found among fans. It doesn’t matter who is involved or what information has been released about the adaptation; there is this almost primal reaction that says, very simply, “Don’t screw this up.”
That was, I confess, my first reaction upon discovering that Jeff Smith’s Bone is headed to the big screen. I know that it’s an irrational response and that Mark Osborne is a great choice to handle the material — that his résumé includes both The Little Prince and Kung Fu Panda speaks to an ability to juggle tone that will serve him well with Bone — and yet, there’s still this gut-level, instinctive protectiveness toward the source material nonetheless.
That feeling doesn’t come from a particularly nostalgic personal attachment to the original comic book; I didn’t read it on its initial release, but instead caught up with it during the era when Scholastic reprinted the entire run as a series of collected editions over a five-year period within the last decade, so I can’t claim to have been one of the early adopters who supported Smith way back when. I discovered it at the same time as an entire generation of newcomers who were far more the target audience than I was.
So where does this unearned anxiety come from? There is genuine affection for the story of Bone, which is deceptively complex in a way that I do worry could easily be lost in translation — the series as a whole is a fantasy epic that draws as much from J.R.R. Tolkien and Mark Twain as it does from Carl Barks’ Donald Duck strips, and it swerves tonally from the fun The Great Cow Race to far darker, scarier elements — but there’s also a protectiveness that comes from what Bone represents on a different scale, as well.
Bone is an important book to comics; it opened doors that changed the industry not once, but twice. The original black-and-white, self-published editions were so successful that they spawned a wave of similar independent products at a time when the market seemed to be expanding (before crashing just years later, in the mid-90s, with calamitous effect). Similarly, the Scholastic editions of the series, recolored and collected into a series of nine paperbacks, helped pave the way for a feeder market of young comic book readers for publishers like Graphix, Abrams and First Second, and they created an audience (and publishing structure) for creators like Raina Telgemeier to flourish outside of the superhero-dominated comic book store circuit.
In reality, none of that will be affected by the movie; whether it is a success or a failure in critical or commercial terms, the history of the original book and what it achieved will be left untouched. There is, I know on some level, no real cause for alarm: The worst-case scenario will be that the movie fails to live up to its source material, and such things happen on a regular basis without the world falling from its axis. And if 2016 has proven anything, it’s that there are always far more important things to worry about.
As fannish, unreasonable concerns continue to plague the brains of Bone lovers, it’s worthwhile to keep things in that kind of perspective. And if all else fails, there’s always this to remember: If we could survive The Peanuts Movie relatively unscathed, anything and everything else will be a walk in the park.
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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures