Bone Creator Jeff Smith Talks Tuki, His Newest Graphic Novel Project

There's about two weeks left to support Tuki, the upcoming prehistoric family adventure from Bone and Rasl creator Jeff Smith. Smith, whose deal with Scholastic Books has made Bone one of the most-read comics to debut in the direct market in the last 30 years, launched the series as Tuki: Save the Humans, an online-only, full-color comics project back in 2013. After a hiatus, Smith has come back to the project, with a bigger and more ambitious take on the story -- but a return to his black-and-white, print form. He's funding the project on Kickstarter, where he has already raised $213,000 -- more than ten times the $20,000 he was aiming for in order to produce a pair of collected editions.

So what's the difference between the two? We asked Smith to break it down during a broad conversation we had about the project, its precursor, and what's next for the acclaimed graphic novelist.

"It was an experiment online," Smith told ComicBook. "I was trying to dip my toe into the online web comics waters, if you will. And I've had Tuki. It was in my mind. I'd been thinking about it for a little bit. I hadn't really plumb the depths that much, but I did come up with an ending. I kind of knew the direction of it. So I thought, and I was just fresh off of RASL. So, that was only seven years ago we were talking earlier. Well, maybe eight. Who knows. Anyway, my idea was I will, for this new medium, I'm going to, I'll do it landscape to fit the shape of the computer screen. And since usually you put like a one-page a week or so, I thought this would be really fun to do as a like Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant, like a classic, a golden age, Sunday funnies type of a thing."

"I did that for just a little over two years, and I had a lot of fun doing it," Smith added. "I worked hard on it. There was some really good drawings in there, but when I printed them, I collected them and printed them in like four comic books. I don't know if you remember that part of it, but I did, but it didn't work. Well, for one thing, because they were landscape, you had turn it sideways, so you had to hold the book like it was a calendar or something. Some people just hated that. The fact that it was like these Sunday pages that were like almost meant to stand alone be continued, didn't allow the story to flow in a way that satisfied me at all. It was kind of stop and start. And I thought, 'I'm going to have to go back and rework some of this in order to make it flow.' But then there was something more important, and that is when the children entered the storyline, the characters of the kids. I realized this is really a story about family and I actually need to go back to the beginning and start over. And that's what I did. I mean, I did try to save as much of that good art as I could, but a lot of it was repurposed. I added panels. I added pages. I changed word balloons. So it's essentially a brand new book."

There are print copies of the old one, and Smith says that he has considered making some of the old material available again -- but not as part of the new comic. Instead, it would be essentially bonus features, giving fans a look at where the idea came from.

"It's similar in that it's the story of Tuki, this mysterious traveler who is wandering and wanders into the territory of arrival human species -- because we're one of the conceits of this is real life 2 million years ago, more than one human species existed at the same time, like the Australopithecines, and the Homo habilis, and the Australopithecus sediba, and Homo erectus, which is what Tuki is," Smith explained. "So it's not quite real setting. It's grounded in what really was going on in East Africa 2 million years ago, but there's some gods and some giants hanging around, too. The main difference is that it starts with the kids, and once the kids come into the story, it has a different vibe than I had in the comic. And I think it's a warmer, better vibe, and it tightens the whole story. It makes me care about the characters a lot. And that's what I got to make sure is that I care about it, because if I don't care about it, you guys don't care about it. One other big change was, I didn't realize this when I wrote the web comics, is that 2 million years ago, there was another pinpoint in our prehistoric history. That's when we first discovered the ability to control fire and started to eat cooked food. And in fact, that's the dividing line between all the hominids prior to 2 million years ago, Homo habilis."

There was, as you might imagine, a good deal of research into the fossil record and evolutionary theory that went into making Tuki a reality.

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"Because they were also shaggy and had big guts, they walked up on two feet, and they had, would've eventually and would have bigger and bigger brains and develop tools, but it was Homo erectus that shows up and is eating cooked foods and controls fire," Smith said. "And that's when we're here for the first time, that we lose the hair, we lose our body hair for the first time, and they know all this from, they can test genetic things like head lice and stuff and figure out when they split off from pelvic license. I know that sounds kind of gross, but we can't really do that. And that all happened 2 million years ago. They started eating cooked foods. They didn't need miles and miles of intestine to digest raw root vegetables or raw meat, and so all of a sudden, it's that fulcrum. It's that moment right there, that crossroads in the history that changes everything that I wanted to tell this story about. This version of is much more about that. But you have the other, the old guard is still there, right? So the stakes are high. They choose not to adopt fire. What do they think of that? Is it blasphemous to them? Well, that's where I'm going with the story and it's a lot more fun. "

The first volume of Tuki will be delivering to fans in July.