Monday, 12 March 2018

Cartooning - Return of the Little Green Men


At this time of the year there are a lot of coughs and sneezes about, and this idea is based on how annoying these involuntary things can be. Normally all miscellaneous ideas go into Funstreak, but due to the slight violence I decided it might be more acceptable to use my aliens.

It's also perhaps a good time to resurrect the cartoon, which hadn't had an update since September last year.

So what Went Wrong with Area 5.1?

I introduced X-Failes as a new stream to Area 5.1 last year so I could try a story based cartoon. But it was more work than I was able to cope with, mostly because it semi-detailed artwork and I was still trying to incorporate a joke into each submission. If I hadn't started experimenting with Funstreak then I suppose I'd have slugged on with it, but Funstreak was faster, gave me loads more freedom and opporunity to try different ideas.

I'd also become very uncertain about my use of shading, what level of detail to use and whether the new direction was the correct one. Self doubt had set in and although some said they liked the new stuff, I'd yet to convince myself.

In the end I cut the shading in the last cartoon "Run Like The Wind". I softened and slightly simplified the background to try and reduce time spent on the artwork, but I couldn't quite shake-off the idea that I was never happy with how the new characters were drawn. I was finding that the only way I could keep them consistent was by copy-and-pasting from earlier cartoons, but that just ate time.

I really loved the way my characters looked in the 'Investigators in the Field' promo, but I struggled to create alternative profiles. Here's a great example of what I mean..

Style Issues

You can see here in the front profile that I can't quite decide what's going on with those uni-body styles. I've used shoulders that are too realistic in the later drawing (on the right) and it's given him a thick neck (like he's been eating all the pies). I think it's fair to say that I wasn't comfortable with the body design, or happy about being able to draw it.

I think I went for the best option, I stopped work while I re-considered it.

Return Of the LGM's

So now I've gone back to the Little Green Men, and drawn this...

Returning To What I Know
It might not look it, but it's heavily influenced by my work on Funstreak. It loosely follows the 'Rule of Three' with the final two frames being treated as one, and the style seems a little more relaxed. I'm still finding I'm not consistently happy with all of the frames. (One and three I like,.. two and four not so much!), but it's a starting point for improvements.

In summary, after all this time you'd think we'd settle on how something should look. There must be something built into our psyche that stops us from being happy and pushes us to look for improvements. Perhaps it just shows that I still have a long way to go and shouldn't give up my day job.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

FunStreak Cartoon - Bone Appétit


I've done a few comic ideas based on lists. I enjoy them and think they give an extra dimension to my work. It's also a great way to get ideas from other people, allowing you to add their examples without concerning them about artistic details.

Two of my Previous List Based Cartoons

A lot of my work is based on word-play and lists allow you to take a simple idea and really run with it. The only down-side is the limited opportunities you have for using them. You're limited to written formats like:-

Bone Appétit

My latest example also features a list and was inspired by a joke I saw recently..

Dog says to puppy: Don't eat too much homework or you'll spoil your dinner.

(nb. Can't remember where I saw it, but it's similar to this Argyle Sweater from 12th Feb.)

I took the idea of a dog eating homework, although I don't think there's any real-world evidence of that actually happening. The etymology is often quite sketchy on these sorts of things, although the Oxford English Dictionary suggests late 20's.

That lame excuse is still very much in the common psyche, so on that basis, it's a good thing to build a joke around. I created a list of other things that dogs eat (but shouldn't) and built them into a menu.

Click image to view comic.

The punchline follows a different scheme, but I think that's OK because it's separate to the menu list. It could easily have been Hot Dog, German Shepherds Pie, or Chow Chow Mein. But you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Cartooning - Keeping Consistency


My recent "Bird Brained" cartoon was based on a conversation with a good friend about a real job interview that turned sour over just this question...

"If you were a bird, what bird would you be, and why?"

He was completely stunned by the question and failed to see that it was a psychological test designed to identify his character and strengths. But in his defence, it was asked by the Finance Director, out of the blue, with no real introduction. Like many people would, he saw it as "BS" and failed to give a good answer.

My cartoon explores the missed opportunities by both parties.

My Idea

I started off with the notion that the robin was in fact a good bird to select, and brain stormed a few ideas to help build the jokes misdirection:-
  • Tenacious.
  • Often seen on Christmas cards.
  • Gardeners friend.
  • Batman's sidekick.
So I googled around for image ideas and came up with a Christmas Card and a Robin sat on a spade handle. I'd also drawn a robin wearing boxing gloves but none of the styles matched. As a result the comic didnt gel together.

The first version didn't work so well

Fixing the Inconsistencies

Taking the fighting robin (being the most cartoon-like), I transfered the image across onto the other two frames. This gave me the opportunity to add a scalf to the winter scene.

Altering the Winter Scene Robin

And the gardener's friend received gum-boots, hat, flower and a trowel.

Altering the Gardener's Friend Robin

I tried to alter the look as much as I could to hide the fact it was a copy-and-paste job. I do miss the realistic look of that last robin, but the cartoon one is silly and so works better for the idea.

Link to the resulting cartoon here:

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Cartooning - Removing Confusion


Have you ever read a comic and thought, "I don't get it"?

Me too, it happens, even with the pro's, and while it can make things funnier if you have to put some work in, not everyone will persevere. There's a risk your reader will go away unfulfilled and never come back.

That's not a position you want to get into!

An Example

I had this idea about the lights around our building being tested during the daytime. It uses some degree of observational humour so the drawing is important.

Look at the first example:

First example can confuse

The man on the right is pointing towards a light that's not working, but it looks more like he's pointing at the one in the centre of the frame. So when he says, "They've missed that little one" it might not make much sense to you.

(You have to look more closely to see the broken one on the far left.)

The solution is simple, I took out the middle light:

Revised drawing
With only one light, the potential muddle has gone.

It might be better to have the broken light in the middle of the picture, but the joke replied on the pickup truck being ahead of it. This would then need the truck to be facing the other way, but they don't look as good when drawn from the rear.

Link to comic:

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Mirror, Mirror - Drawing From The Other Side


Sometimes I like to work back from the last frame because it's often the most important one. I can then take elements I've already drawn and use them in frames that come before it.

Drawing the Reverse
The animation doesn't look quite how I wanted it, but it shows that the drawing won't work quite right without altering the silouhette a little. The heads needed to be turned in slightly or looked wrong.

I did similar for the desk (notice the angles match), then the computer monitor, and finally swapped the order of the layers to give me the new scene.

The Completed Scenes

Using this technique saves a lot of time and provides a consistent look. But, just make sure your characters are different enough from each other or you will confuse the reader. You have swapped their positions in the frame so use as many tricks as you can to differentiate them.

Link to cartoon >>>

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Posting Your Comics on Reddit (Part 2)


In my last blog I talked about the pros and cons (mostly the cons) when using Reddit to promote your comics. But I also wanted to pass on some of my musings about the reason that one of my comics performed so well.

Let’s start off by looking at my submissions:-
16th Oct 2017
2 (75% upvoted)
16th Oct 2017
2 (100% upvoted)
16th Oct 2017
4 (75% upvoted)
16th Oct 2017
3 (81% upvoted)
16th Oct 2017
2 (63% upvoted)
17th Oct 2017
3 (100% upvoted)
18th Oct 2017
167 (90% upvoted)
19th Oct 2017
98 (81% upvoted)
20th Oct 2017
20 (75% upvoted)
22nd Oct 2017
6113 (85% upvoted)

What does this tell me?
  • If you look at the score, it shows that you nearly always get down-votes. The percentages look small, but when you start looking at Sauce of Genius, that’s a thousand people expressing their dislike. It reduced my score by a thousand, which impacts how easily it goes into (and stays on) the ‘hot’ page.
  • Comments tend to track Score, it’s not until you get a cartoon on the ‘Rising’ or ‘Hot’ page that you attract the attention of those that feel the need to tell you something.

So, why did “Sauce of Genius” do so well?

The Sauce of Genius

That’s a great question, because I didn’t think it was better than say “The Gas is Greener”. It’s not a bad comic idea, it's drawn quite well and has the following attributes:-
  • It’s relatable, everyone likes sauce.
This generated most of the positive comments, people talking about their favourites and what foods it's good for. Some even talked about alternatives they didn't like.

  • I had altered the label of HP Sauce to read “Brown”. 
Loads of people needed to tell me it was actually called HP, completely missing the point of the joke. In the UK it's all known as brown sauce, I just chose that one because it was so recognisable. This also generates conversations about the UK and how HP was no longer available in the USA.

  • Some of the statements are not true.
OK, here's where people started to really take issues. I took a lot of flak for Buffalo really being named after the place, and even my statement about Tabasco (which was true) was generally rubbished. Way to ruin a joke guys!!
Some asked if my intention was to be as inaccurate as possible, while others were amused that so many were getting hung-up on these details. (It certainly made me laugh)
Others started to get creative and came up with their own fake-sauce-facts. (very funny)
But generally I'm a bad person for doing zero research!

  • One of the pictures appears to portray Thousand Island as a tropical island.
This one probably caused the most friction. Yes, it’s really up by New York, but I never said it wasn't. People seemed to be genuinely insulted by this one. It also generated a lot of discussion about New York and what Thousand Islands is really like.

Lessons Learnt

Although unintended, this comic was a little controversial. At first I was a bit embarrassed that people were finding obvious holes, but it soon started to feel like a joke on the readers when so many were taking it so seriously. It's one way to generate interest, but I imagine it could easily backfire if enough people down-vote it as soon as you post it. You also need thick skin and should resist the temptation to defend yourself.

That aside, I think mainly people could easily relate to it and understood the joke.

Something I'm still uncertain of is whether post images directly into Reddit is better than linking to a comic site.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Mixed Blessings - Promoting Your Comics on Reddit

Moving to A Bigger Audience

Trying to grow your comic audience is a big challenge to most cartoonists, you can create the greatest material in the world, but if nobody sees it then you might as well not bother. Most artists find one or two comic hosting sites to post to, and find they can easily get some followers and readers from amongst their peers. But you always want more, which generally means promoting your work elsewhere.

I’ve experimented with a few such as Ello and Tumblr, but by far the biggest impact I’ve had so far is with Reddit. The first day I posted five old comics and pushed my site page hits to just short of a thousand, but it’s not without its problems.

Posting Cartoons To Reddit

My teenage son was surprised when I told him I’d started posting cartoons to Reddit, like he knew something that I didn’t. I could tell something wasn’t quite right because of all the Reddit user advisory notes down the right hand panel on the /r/comics sub-reddit page.

There's stuff about General Conduct, What's OK to Post, What's NOT OK to Post, and some tips for artists. There's similar in most of the other sub-reddits, so you get the impression there's been abuse of the system in the past.

The Bad

It's best to think of /r/comics like a toxic tank full of piranhas, but if you decide to risk it you can get incredible levels of page views. In my experience they’ll either swarm all over you or ignore you completely. (mostly the latter) This week however, I did have a cartoon that went surprisingly well. It was a bitter-sweet moment, and probably something I'll cover in another blog.

Let's just say I learnt a few things.


Let's for a moment consider reader's comments on Reddit,...
  • Don’t feed the trolls, try to take a back seat and don't get drawn in.
  • Some may be pedantic or picky about certain details in your work.
  • Some have a Asperger's level compulsion to correct anything they consider incorrect.
  • Any sort of self promotion, including posting a link to your site may be voted down, possibly with a few snotty comments.

Down Voting

If you've not seen Reddit before, you should be aware that user posts are up or down voted by the readers. Up-voting makes your cartoon more visible and down-voting has the opposite effect. So you may find that a perfectly good cartoon (one that’s been received OK elsewhere) immediately gets a few "down-votes" and ultimately bombs. This can be highly frustrating and may be an indication that your cartoon isn’t so well suited to this audience.

It’s well worth taking a look at the more successful cartoons, the crowd is “laddish” or in the US you’d call them “Bros”, so you might want to consider whether your cartoon is suitable.

Coping With The Swarm

Getting onto the ‘Hot’ page is not a simple matter and in my experience it involved a fair bit of luck. I found it helpful to consider every new submission to be an experiment and not get too attached to the process or the outcome. Your work is likely to fail here, but that doesn't mean it’s a bad comic. (keep that in mind at all times!)

Use the "[OC]" tag in the title and request “Artistic Flair” from the moderator. This generally involves putting a link back to your Reddit user page from your cartoon site (you can always remove it again afterwards). This highlights your posts with the name of your comic, but don’t expect this to grant you better treatment.

Most people don’t want to leave a comment, it’s just a fact of life, but some will be compelled to type these sorts of things:-
  • Witty comments (some are quite funny).
  • Corrections to your work that they feel would improve it.
  • How your work relates to them directly.
  • Reactions to other people’s idiot comments.
  • Thoughtful side discussion topics.
  • General scorn.
(It's a real mixed bag with a fair amount of negative stuff there.)

My son advised me to never reply or react to any comments. This seems very alien when elsewhere it’s encouraged, but based on my own interactions on Reddit I’m inclined to agree with him. Some comments may question you directly, but it’s best to sit back and see if somebody will answer on your behalf.

Here’s one of the comments I received when I tried to defend my posting of the comic site url..

OnlySaysHaas “You make some whiney-arse comment in every one of your comic submissions about people not having a sense of humour, or being downvoted. Grow up and take your criticism.“

Okay, you can block users who give you a hard time, but it’s best to stay out of it and let the chimps play.

(Go to part 2)