Jeff Smith’s ongoing weekly webcomic, “TÃ¼ki” is already in Season Two online. To keep the wide horizontal layout the same as the online version, “TÃ¼ki” #1 is printed so that it must be turned sideways and read top-down. This first issue has excellent print quality and also some back matter including a letter by Smith to readers as well as a “TÃ¼ki” timeline.
The Dawn of Man is an ambitious and well-covered topic, the most famous and widely parodied version probably being the opening scene in Kubrick and Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Smith’s approach to the topic and the theme is memorable, not only for the medium but for his light hand. The first few pages establish “TÃ¼ki” as the hero, looking regal on the first page. On the pages that follow, though, Smith makes him alternately a figure of fun and the point-of-view character.
The sense of humor in “TÃ¼ki” is very similar to “Bone,” including the physical comedy and the near-silent sequences that follow a character around. The hunting scenes in particular are well worth the extra panel space for the way that they alter the reader’s focus to mimic the hunter’s watchfulness and patience. Tom Gaadt’s color work is beautiful in the sequence with a Saber-toothed cat snaking its way across a golden field of tall grass.
Smith also has an interesting mix of fact and fiction. Most fiction that handles this period portrays evolution as a straight line. As Smith makes clear, there were multiple early human species co-existing two million years ago, but survival of the fittest led to only one remaining species. Smith also correctly depicts TÃ¼ki as primarily occupied with locating food above all other pursuits. On the other, TÃ¼ki is unusually solitary for a member of a social species, and Smith freely mixes in mythology and science fiction with the archeological or scientific detail.
The central conflict is simple: TÃ¼ki is fated to expand the footprint of his species. His wants are simple, but in his quest for food, he is thwarted by the built-in difficulties of hunting as well as several interruptions from the other major character, an old wise man from Homo Habilus, who can create a Babelfish-like “potion” and acts as a prophet or shaman. These magical abilities are convenient to the plot and a little difficult to swallow. However, Smith uses them to build the catalyst for TÃ¼ki to leave. The conversations between the two characters are smooth, even if the dynamic is predictable. The “Old Timer” functions as both sidekick and mentor, providing both comic relief and knowledge as well as a dramatic foil to the main character.
“TÃ¼ki” #1 flows well both as a whole and page by page due to Smith’s comfortable pacing. However, as a debut issue, it doesn’t cover quite enough ground to strongly hook the reader on the plot. It does have other attractions, though, since Smith focuses on setting, character and comedy over action. He also seems to be consciously playing with themes of science vs. superstition in an era where the breakthroughs in adaptation and tool-making that will led to even greater divisions between early hominids. The introduction to TÃ¼ki and his environment is excellent, and Smith’s enthusiasm for the time period shows.