"Tuki" Review

Title: Tuki
Volume(s): 2
Creator(s): Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Genre(s): Adventure/Drama
 Young Adult

Despite being one of the most well-known cartoonists in America, Jeff Smith has never played by traditional rules of a comic book artist. Though he had a brief stint at Image Comics and colorized versions of “Bone” were published by Scholastic Books, Smith has largely self-published his works while dabbling in side jobs with DC Comics and the defunct Disney Adventures magazine. That’s why it was no surprise when Smith announced he was creating a webcomic by the name of “Tuki,” which was a prehistoric adventure of a cave man, a wise monkey, and some stray kids on a journey of survival! The series was Smith back in full form since he created “Bone,” as while the series did lean on the serious side, it also had his trademark sense of humor on full display as well as character designs that were on one hand child-friendly while on the other hand sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by adults.

While “RASL” was aimed squarely at an adult audience, “Tuki” (like “Bone”) feels like it would have made for a great Disney film during the Disney Renaissance era. It’s the kind of series I could see enchanting young readers who stumbled upon it on the web and it’s nice to know that Smith is still creating stories that people of all ages can enjoy and be inspired by. Back when he started, he had to lean on random comic book shops to buy single issues from him personally (and then have patient readers who were willing to wait months for the next issue to come out), but now with the internet at his fingertips “Tuki” could be shared with millions of people all over the world with fewer wait times between pages! Even though series like “Penny Arcade” and “PvP” have been entertaining readers on the web for years, many modern comic artists still have yet to embrace the internet as a true viable distribution method for their art without a parent company.

Jeff Smith probably looked at webcomics and leaped for joy: now he could FINALLY print a series without the need worry about things like shipping and production costs! I do sense, however, that Smith is still a fan of print. His book collections are some of the nicest books in the comics industry, so that “Tuki” would have its own printed collections should not be surprising to anyone. Ever the rebel though, Smith wanted to keep the copyrights to his IP, and so he turned to Kickstarter to get the funding from fans of the series himself. The project was funded within 48 hours, and we now have the first of two paperback books for the series, and I must say that the transition from web to print is quite…interesting, to say the least. Primarily because with a few exceptions, Smith has tweaked virtually every aspect of the story and structure in translating the source to print.

As explained in the post books notes, Smith structured the webcomics to be mostly self-contained, with each page ending with either a stunning visual or a punchline. Smith felt that to simply collect all the comics and put them in sequence would result in a tedious and predictable read, and thus many of the strips are redrawn and repurposed for a book format. Now story developments can span several pages. The punchline to a joke can occur in the middle of the page. The book is separated by chapters and the story is a much smoother read in book form. I do question a bit of the wisdom in presenting the series in this way, as several funny jokes and action sequences are either lost in translation or look very different than they do from the online version. Fans who discovered the series online may be disappointed to see certain elements are different in print form, and there is a real fear of the original versions being lost to the Internet Archives in the future without a proper archive of them.

I don’t want this issue to prevent people from getting the print version as Smith took very good care to make the story work as a book as opposed a series of strips you read in order, but I still wonder if – like George Lucas insisting that the ‘Special Editions’ of “Star Wars” is the proper way to view his movies – if Smith isn’t entering a grey area by essentially selling a new version of “Tuki” in print form?! Even if this is at some point deemed “the official way” to read “Tuki,” I sense people who discovered the series online may eventually want the webcomic version collected in print form regardless of the author’s feelings on whether or not “it reads right” as a result. “Tuki” is a return to form for Jeff Smith who has created his best series in years! With gorgeous black and white artwork, a perfect blending of action, drama, and comedy, along with a cast of characters that are easy to like, “Tuki” is an easy high recommendation! The two books are currently being shipped to Kickstarter backers first but will then appear in regular bookstores and comic shops in a standard retail edition. Consider this your heads up to keep an eye out for them!

Grade: A-

Your Comic Book Guy - Kevin

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