Tüki: Save the Humans (#1 -4) – Jeff Smith

5 out of 5

With writers, it often happens that I’ll go through an obsessive spate – collecting and reading a bulk of that writer’s work – until I hit a wall that makes me question what I’ve read before.  Depending on the length of the obsessive period, or the size of the wall, maybe I’ll continue along with reservations (e.g. maybe they don’t write X particularly well), but sooner or later I generally come around to an overall readjustment of my opinion; that writer is no longer obsessed over, and I might even rid myself of that which I’ve collected, the personal value having diminished.

Thems the ebbs and flows of a collector / obsessive mentality.

With Jeff Smith, though, the power of his Bone comic has never been questionable.  I’ve loved it then; I’ve loved it through rereads; I’ve loved experiencing it through new readers onto whom I’ve foisted the books; I’ll love it tomorrow or the next day whenever I reread it again.  I bought Jeff’s Shazam mini-series and was unimpressed; Rasl felt really wandering and almost sloppy to me.  But again: Nothing I saw / read in those titled had me doubting my feelings toward Bone.  In part just because of how good it is, but also because nothing in those titles disagreed with Smith’s landmark creation in terms of style or content.  It’s clear from interviews and his output that he writes holistically; that’s it’s not a seat-of-the-pants operation.  What that means, I’d say, is that it allows each work to truly stand on its own, as its made to fully gestate into maturity before reaching us.

All that nonsense being said: with Rasl in the relatively recent rearview, I wasn’t expecting much from Tüki.  And my first read through as it came out seemed to confirm that, that it was an open-ended historical adventure, sharing Rasl’s wandering design.  When print  production on it seemingly halted post issue four, I figured the majority of the conic buying public must have agreed with me.

A couple years later, I’m rereading Tuki to decide if I want to hang on to it or not.  You can see the rating already, so maybe that answers that.  But as fuel to the fire – and why it pays to reread – I’m now also reshopping for those Shazam and Rasl issues… (…so I suppose it costs to reread.)

While my basic description of Tuki is accurate enough, its an incredible short change orbthe story-telling skills Jeff has honed and which are on full display.  As Tuki bops around mountains and plains in search of food, he unpurposefully collects some tagalongs for different reasons: An ape-like hominid, who brings in some fantasy elements by talking and conceptualizing spirits who govern the land, and Pup, a young boy Tuki rescues from a monster, who gives Smith an avenue for exploring family / friend bonds a la Bone.  …And then Tuki continues to wander.  But what I missed on my first read is how deftly this is all enacted: How smoothly Jeff carries us from panel to panel and concept to concept, exploring bit of evolutionary history, without ever once revealing the guiding strings.  Bone had a quest to hang on; a clear endpoint.  And Tuki really doesn’t thus far, and yet the characters’ and story’s charms are in full effect.

The artwork is also phenomenal.  Working in color, the books are published on a horizontal to mimic the web layout from which it originated, which I think also helps to drive home the sort of organic flow of the story – something about it being a flipbook instead of a traditional comic / magazine.  True for any Smith work, the minor acting / comedic cues are always spot on to let you know what everyone is feeling, and Jeff especially has a knack for making his scenes feel alive in the sense that all characters are in motion, even when off panel; it’s not just conversations between two characters in a vacuum.

Of course, the downside to regaining appreciation for these books is that I’m saddened by the lack of more issues.  As we leave off, Smith is just starting to weave more of a mythology into things, and our characters have formed up for a more formal quest.  Hopefully one day will be able to know Tuki’s fate, and add this book back onto a stack of Jeff Smith’s masterpieces.