A lost piece of comic book history — and the unofficial beginning for one of the most beloved comic book series from the last few decades — is about to make an unexpected comeback, with cartoonist Jeff Smith announcing plans to release a new collected edition of his college-era Thorn strips… which feature the first-ever appearance of the characters from Bone.
“I confess I was a hard sell at first,” Smith said in a statement about the idea of bringing that work, which ran in the Ohio State University newspaper The Lantern in the early 1980s, back into print for the first time in years. “Talk of reprinting the Thorn comics has always been a non-starter for me. I didn’t think they were very good. In fact, I had an unshakable idea that they were terrible. But when I read them for the first time in over 40 years, I was surprised to find I enjoyed them! It’s fun to see these stories and know they eventually evolved into Bone.”
Smith’s Bone — which ran from 1991 to 2004 as an irregularly-published comic book series from Smith’s own Cartoon Books (Image Comics published seven issues in the early ‘90s, but Cartoon Books resumed independent publication soon after), before finding a new audience upon being collected, colored, and republished by Scholastic beginning in 2005 — remains a high water mark for fantasy comics, and fantasy comics aimed at a younger audience in particular, winning multiple awards and critical plaudits from all corners, with Time Magazine describing it as “the best all-ages graphic novel yet published” in 2004.
This won’t be the first time that the Thorn strips, which feature alternate versions of Thorn, Fone Bone, and other characters from the Bone comic series in an entirely different storyline from the one audiences are already familiar with, have been reprinted. Smith self-published an early collection in 1983, titled simply Thorn: Tales from the Lantern. In 2008, OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum put out a limited edition collection titled Before Bone. Both editions have been out of print for years.
The new edition will be titled Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone College Strips from 1982-1986, And other Early Drawings, and will be the first time all of the strip has been reprinted in its entirety; additionally, the book will feature other contemporaneous work, including early drawings of the Bone characters, as well as essays and interviews. The title will be available in both hardcover and paperback editions, and will launch on Kickstarter in October.