Stupid, Stupid Rat-tails
Medium: comic
Year: 2000
Writer: Tom Sniegoski
Artist: Jeff Smith, Stan Sakai
Keywords: Bone, fantasy, rubbish
Format: 91 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 31 May 2021
This black-and-white book collects two stories set in Jeff Smith's Bone universe, written by Tom Sniegoski:
1. "The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero" (66 pages, main story), drawn by Jeff Smith. It was reprinted in colour ten years later, in Bone: Tall Tales.
2. "Riblet" (25 pages, back-up), drawn by Stan Sakai. (I'm not aware of this having been reprinted since. If you want to read it, buy this book.)
Back in the day, I remember thinking they were sort of okay. Not as good as Bone, but I didn't hate them.
This time, though, to my surprise, I hated both. I couldn't stomach their protagonists.
(a) Big Johnson Bone has just been run out of town like a dog, having cheated at cards to win a talking monkey that hates him. Big Johnson doesn't care and doesn't release this monkey so that it can go where it wants, i.e. away from him. He can't stop telling big stories about himself. We'll later discover that he's super-strong and super-tough, but this time I found that made him even more annoying.
(b) The monkey's even worse. At first I sympathised, but it can't stop whining and bitching in a manner that I'm guessing might have been intended as comedic. I transcended "shut up" and reached "die now". Its sweet-talking of the Rat Queen is amusing, though.
(c) Riblet the not-a-pig is also annoying in-universe, mind you. Everyone hates him. Unfortunately, I agreed and I was pleading with the rat creatures throughout to stop wasting my time and just butcher him.
The main story's better than Riblet. Firstly, the art's better. I quite like Stan Sakai's style in a Sergio Aragones way, but the charm of Smith's work is something else.
Secondly, the main story has good bits. I only hated it to some extent, sometimes. The forest creatures are likeable, as is Big Johnson's pep talk to them, while these rat creatures are glorious. Queen Maude! Her Godzilla son! There's also an occasional gag of people going weird when rocks hit their heads. "Big Johnson! Are you all right?" "Never better, my dear, and might I add that is quite the stunning frock you're wearing this evening!"
Riblet (both story and character), though, I loathed like poison throughout. Rat creatures catch a loud-mouthed baby pig, but it keeps walking all over them, pushing them off cliffs, etc. while delivering wise-alec dialogue.
The main story might be unreliable narration. Big Johnson Bone certainly loves telling tall tales. That would explain a few things, e.g. the notion that everyone eaten by Tyson is still alive and living inside his stomach. If that's just more bullshit, then okay. Personally, though, I think you'd need to work harder than this book does to persuade a reader to start doubting the pictures in front of them.
Jeff Smith's characters have chemistry, but this lot have anti-chemistry. It took willpower to force myself to keep reading. The book's not a dead loss, admittedly, thanks to Jeff Smith's artwork and the charm of the main story's rat creatures. (I have no love for Riblet's ultimately tiresome failures, which can't do their pig-eating job.)
Tom Sniegoski also has an illustrated prose trilogy of Bone novels, called A Quest for the Spark. I'll be avoiding those.