As Jeff Smith's latest fantasy series Tüki Save the Humans finished its first chapter with a cliffhanger — and was just nominated for a Reuben Award — the creator has updated his website to make reading the free webcomic easier.
Smith, the cartoonist behind hit comics Bone and RASL, has been quietly releasing the free comic on his site, boneville.com, for the last few months.
Set 2 million years in the past, Tüki Save the Humans tells the adventures of the first human who traveled outside Africa.
The comic's first 28 pages — which Smith is calling the "first season" — ended with a cliffhanger. But before the surprise ending, the story established Tüki's character while placing the comic in an unusual but rich setting just after the dawn of mankind. And by bumping Tüki up against some whimsical caveman-era characters, the story echoed the humor and fantasy so familiar to fans of his epic comic, Bone.
Newsarama talked to Smith about the first season of Tüki, what's coming up in the next season, and why he made changes to the website where readers can check out all of the cartoonist's award-winning work.
Newsarama: Jeff, one of the great things about first season of Tüki Save the Humans being a webcomic is that you could note things you researched about the time period. As much fun as the story is, there's a sense of reality to it.
Jeff Smith: Yeah, I always wanted to do a caveman type story, but I wanted to ground it in some kind of reality. And as I did more and more research, I kept looking for some kind of pivotal epoch where events would lend themselves to a good comic book story.
And I came across the period when humanity first leaves its cradle. It was serious climate change that was killing off all the early humans. And somebody had to be the first one to leave Africa. And that struck me as the perfect thing to hang this story around.
So I did a lot of research and got my facts right.
But then, of course, I do a lot of comedy and fantasy stuff as well.
Nrama: What's the response been from readers?
Smith: It's a strange animal, this webcomic thing. I have seen reviews of it in many languages, which was odd, because when you do a comic book, you know, it just goes out in English, right? And into direct market comic book stores.
So that's been kind of fun.
It got nominated just this weekend for a Reuben Award, so that seems promising.
And another big part of what we're announcing right now is that we rehabbed the site.
Nrama: Yeah, it feels more reader friendly.
Smith: Yeah, and one of the mistakes we'd made is that we didn't have a place for people to leave comments. So we didn't really know on the website itself what anybody thought.
So we decided to get our website at least into 2006 and have a place for people to comment and interact.
We've gotten that all up going now.
Nrama: There are a few other Jeff Smith comics on the site for people to read too.
Smith: Bone and RASL, yeah.
Nrama: Are those teasers to get people interested in the comics? Kind of like previews?
Smith: Exactly, exactly.
I just was at the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, and I met a bunch of people who have read RASLL and have not read Bone yet.
So I think if people come to the website — and maybe they do know Bone; most people will, I'm sure, but they might not know RASL — and they can check out the comics, or check out Tüki, or any kind of combination like that.
It's just to let people see all the comics that I've done, or at least sample them.
Nrama: What can you say about season 2 without spoiling that cliffhanger on season 1 (just in case our readers aren't caught up)?
Smith: There's about 28 pages up of Tüki, which is equivalent to an issue of a comic, and we've introduced Tüki and a couple secondary characters. And there's a mystery, of course, that's been embarked upon.
I think it's going to be fun.
Tüki is heading north, looking for a better life. We don't really know his past yet. It will come out. But other characters are kind of surprised by his journey out of Africa. And a lot of other humans, and a lot of ancient animals and spirits and gods are going to try to stop him.
Nrama: Is there anything else you're working on that you want to tell people about?
Smith: No, this is the big thing right now. I mean, I'm still technically out on the road promoting RASL, at the shows, 'cause that just came out last fall. And I've got a ton of them in the warehouse. I've got to get rid of them.
Nrama: And that's how you got the cold. Is this a con cold?
Smith: Yeah, probably. The con crud.
Nrama: You mentioned RASL, and I know you were experimenting early on with the size of that comic. With Tüki, I thought it was interesting that you formatted the pages to the size of a computer screen.
Smith: Yeah. I started thinking about doing Tüki when I paid a visit to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library Museum here in Columbus [Ohio], and they happened to have a Hal Foster Prince Valiant Sunday page, just out. They were filing it or something. And I just looked at it and I thought, "Wow!" The Golden Age of Sunday comics. Artwork was king, you know? And Alex Raymond, and Milton Caniff. And some of the Sunday pages are just spectacular pieces of art.
And I thought, that should be how I approach Tüki. And so, I thought of the horizontal shape of a computer screen. And instead of just doing a straight grid of comics, I tried to think of it as, you know, a Prince Valiant page. Or the way Bill Watterson was doing it in the '90s.
Nrama: I used to read Prince Valiant religiously. And those Sunday comics were the same shape you're using on Tüki.
Smith: Yeah, the Sunday page. You'd get it Sunday morning, and you'd look at it, and you'd just have one installment of the strip. So you spent more time with it, you know? You look at all the artwork, and you won't see it again until next Sunday.
That's just some background… I mean, it's not important to the strip, but that's just how I approached it.
Nrama: And you're releasing this as a print comic too?
Smith: Yeah! Well, I think people know me more for my black and white, self-published comics. So that's what Tüki will be too. It starts in July. Tüki #1 will come out. And it will be in black and white, for all the luddites and black and white fans. And eventually, at some point, although there's no plans yet, I'm sure we'll collect them into a graphic novel. But for now, we'll be releasing the black and white version.