Cartoonist Jeff Smith Kickstarts Two New Comic Books, Set to Publish This Year

Cartoonist Jeff Smith launched a campaign to raise $20,000 to offset the cost of two new graphic novels.

Peter Tonguette
Art from "Tuki"

Columbus cartoonist Jeff Smith used to run a column for fan letters at the back of his popular comic book series Rasl, but as he explored other genres (including a children’s book), that sort of fan interaction waned. “I don’t do comic books anymore, so I don’t have letter columns,” he says. “I don’t have that feedback.”

In early May, however, Smith put his latest project directly in supporters’ hands. To offset the cost of two new graphic novels, he launched a campaign to raise $20,000 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, a natural fit for the self-published artist. He soon realized he had a hit.

“The person who is in charge of publishing at Kickstarter sent us a meme at the 10-minute mark [of the campaign] with a space shuttle taking off,” says Smith. He eventually raised over $250,000 to support publishing the novels, which take place in the same prehistoric universe as his 2013 web comic Tuki.

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Smith walked away from the original Tuki a few years later, but during the pandemic, he revived the idea in earnest. “Tuki: Fight for Fire” will publish this summer, with “Tuki: Fight for Family” coming in the fall. Like the web comic, the books unfold during a time when multiple human species coexisted. He was drawn to Kickstarter for the first time to gauge the value of the renewed project and discovered a rabid fan base. Backers could pledge their support by prepurchasing anything from a digital book ($10) to a whole Smith-produced collection ($5,000).

Beyond the financial boost, he appreciates the good old-fashioned fan feedback. “You’re communicating directly with your readers.”