In November, Jeff Smith will return to the type of journey-based epic that filled the panels of his groundbreaking Bone series when he launches Tüki Save the Humans, a new, free webcomic.
Smith's Bone was not only one of the best-selling collected comic series of all time, but one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed, with a whopping 10 Eisner Awards and 11 Harvey Awards to its name. The series told the epic-yet-humorous adventure of the Bone brothers and the fantasy characters that filled their world.
Since Bone ended in 2004 (although its been reprinted and remarked in multiple languages ever since), Smith worked in various other genres, from his superhero take on DC's Shazam to his recent sci-fi noir comic RASL. But with Tüki, he return to the type of journey-based cartoon epic that made him such a treasured comics artist.
Newsarama talked to the artist about Tüki Save the Humans and the important historic journey it depicts.
Newsarama: Jeff, what's this I hear about you doing a new webcomic?
Jeff Smith: Yeah, I was working on it when you called. It's called Tüki Save the Humans. It's a prehistoric story that takes place 2 million years ago. And it's the journey of the first human being to leave Africa. Humans were going extinct during a dry spell there.
Nrama: So if this one person wasn't brave enough to leave, humans would have gone extinct.
Smith: Right, exactly. This is actually based on the most current speculations of scientific experts, that some time around 2 million or 975,000 years ago, there was a big Ice Age that locked all the moisture on the planet up in the Ice Caps.
So Africa became dry, and all these jungles where all the hominids, the early human prototypes, were living began to disappear. And the savannas opened up, and a lot of the living creatures in Africa began to go extinct, including the apes.
But there was one early human who left. Somebody did it. Somebody was the first one.
But my story, of course, is going to be a little more fantasy oriented.
Nrama: So you'll have this single human "prototype," leaving Africa. But does he have other characters coming along?
Smith: Yeah, there will be actual spirit guides and ancient gods trying to stop Tüki from leaving the continent.
Nrama: This is going to be a webcomic, so is it free?
Smith: Yep, it's going to be a free webcomic that starts November 1st on Boneville.com.
Nrama: And you're writing it and drawing it. Are you formatting it for the computer screen?
Smith: Yeah, I'm doing it in the letterbox ratio. It's horizontal. I'm drawing it to fit the screen, and it's a different page grid than I'm used to, but I'm kind of liking it.
I really like the character of Tüki so far.
Nrama: How short are the chapters? Are they just one page?
Smith: We're calling them "seasons." We're trying something new. I think I'm going to do five weeks worth. So they'll go up every day for five weeks. And then we'll have two months off. And then you'll get five weeks again every weekday.
And we'll do that for awhile until there's enough to make a book, I think.
Nrama: You mentioned you're working on it now. I assume you're working ahead, since you need one for every day starting in November?
Smith: Yes, yes! But I'm not as far ahead as I would like. It is me, after all. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Is it black and white?
Smith: No, it's going to be in color.
Nrama: It's like a hi-tech version of the old days when you were doing comic strips, isn't it?
Smith: Exactly, but I'm kind of doing a Sunday page every day. And I'm really having fun.
Nrama: The story sounds more like Bone than RASL.
Smith: It's like halfway between RASL and Bone. It's a little more scientifically based. It's got more humans. But it's also got humor and a lot of trees.
Nrama: And fantastical characters — these gods and spirits.
Smith: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Nrama: No little Fone Bone spirt though?
Smith: There is actually — there are these little creatures that are following Tüki, unbeknownst to him. And he will learn that they are the last of very ancient creatures called Australopithecus. He won't call them that. They'll just call themselves, you know, the "older brother." But they're actually Australopithecus.
And one of them is named Lucy.
Nrama: Oh, how fun!
Smith: Yeah, so they're, like, the oldest protohuman that walked upright.
Nrama: Well, and Lucy — she's the skeleton that's been found, right?
Smith: Oh yeah! Yeah, Lucy's going to be a character in the book.
Nrama: So it's kind of quote-unquote reality.
Smith: Yes. Yes. Like I said, I will be taking some liberties. But it's not wild. There are no dinosaurs in it. It's not that kind of prehistoric thing.
It's based in the climate-driven exodus of man out of Africa.
Nrama: But it's one character's journey through the world, and knowing you, the story has the feeling of an epic.
Smith: Yeah, yeah, it's a journey. And it will be a epic.
Nrama: What else do you have coming up this fall? There are several projects, aren't there?
Smith: Yeah! Late September or early October, Best American Comics 2013 is coming out, which I edited, which was really fun. I looked through an entire year, from September 2011 to September 2012, searching through these mini-comics and self-published comic, indie comics, hardback graphic novels, and pamphlets, and had a lot of fun sitting around reading comics.
So I got to weed them down, and it was a very difficult process. There are just so many good cartoonists now. It's really struggling. And they're so young.
That was a really wonderful project and I was really happy to be part of that. That's coming out sometime in October.
The other project is, I think, coming out in October, which is the IDW Bone Artist's Edition, which is going to do the whole "Cow Race" story arc in the original art pages, in the original size and everything.
I mean, if you know what the artist's editions are, you know. But they're one of my favorite things happening in comics right now.
Nrama: Those don't have commentary, do they? Just the art?
Smith: Yeah, just the original art.
Nrama: So you see all your notes and white out marks.
Smith: Yeah… well, yes, white outs, where you set your coffee cup down, there's a little ring. And I know there's a little drawing of Batman that I did on the corner of one page, and I don't even remember doing it.
Nrama: Those pages of yours are down at Ohio State at the Cartoon Library and Museum.
Smith: Yeah, they're there. Ohio State did the scanning for IDW on this book.
So anyway, yeah, there are three big books coming out, and I'm launching our fourth project, all within, like, a 30-day period.
Nrama: So it's a mad, crazy fall for you!
Smith: Yes! What was I thinking? I don't know. I didn't really plan it. I started all these things at different times, but then they all started lining up so they were all coming out in September and October. It's an exciting time. And I can't wait for everyone to see Tüki.