Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Hey Good Looking - Area 5.1 Cartoon

No hints or tips this week, just a quick blog about "Hey Good Looking", my latest Area 5.1 cartoon, and a mention about how Facebook embeds images in the news feed.

The Cartoon Idea

I listen to podcasts a lot on my daily commute, so I hear a few adverts from the forward thinking companies that support this sort of media. One of them is Blue Apron who supply meal ingredients, and the main thrust is always "you get just the right amount of everything you need, so nothing is wasted".

That seems a reasonable thing to say, especially for ingredients that are more niche.

But it got me thinking,.. do you get a big box with everything jumbled together, or is everything individually packed? My idea was based around the latter, so lots and lots of packaging.

The answer to that question is available here if you're interested, a padded box, packaging, lots of cellophane and ziplock bags. It's the modern way!

The Final Frame.

Often I have a frame that I've struggled with, and "Hey Good Looking" was no exception.

The jokes about excessive packaging, so you can see in my first attempt that the focus in the final image was all wrong.

My final frame didnt work

Initially the image was going to be packaging sat in the bin, but I felt that it needed to be linked to the preparation of the meal. I decided to show the used packaging in the background instead, but now the bacon cake is in the foreground, so this is what you look at... it means that the joke gets a little lost.

The revised final frame

The fix required a number of changes:-
 - Add the outer bag to link back to the previous frames.
 - Move the plate so it's smaller and no longer in the middle.
 - Use white out-lining to ensure separation of the key elements.

Facebook Issues

My final point is about the job that Facebook does when displaying images from linked pages. It takes a landscape snap of the middle of the image so anything that's portrait ratio gets chopped off top and bottom. Look at the mess it made when I tried to use it today.

Facebook newsfeed image

I decided I'd had enough of Facebook cocking it up. I made a new image with just the first frame and added the "click to read comic" box. The stats are back up to normal, so I think it worked. Didn't bother using it for Google+ because for some reason it does a good job.

My new Facebook page link image

Anyway, that's it for now, I think I'll continue creating facebook images, and I hope some of you found that useful.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Rule of Threes in Cartoons

My Biker Safety cartoon evolved from the simple drawing of my son's Piaggio scooter into a full comic idea over a number of days. I'd initially planned for three frames, which wasn't a conscious decision, but after coming up with a good punchline image, I found that I couldn't think of a good middle frame.

I decided to put together what I had to see if I could get away with it, but my concerns turned out to be justified. It wasn't working very well in that format.

The first (two frame) version of Biker Safety

I wondered why this was and came up with the following observations:-
  • The pictures are too similar and there's not enough separation (so you look down to the last image too early).
  • There isn't enough misdirection to trick you into thinking the joke is about safety.
  • It doesn't follow the rules of three. (see what I did there?.. no,..ok I'll explain in a bit)

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

I like quoting Mark Twain, but before I start talking about the rule of three I thought it might be interesting to review the number of frames used for each Area 5.1 cartoon. I dropped the tally into a bar graph and it became obvious that I primarily use one, three or four pictures per strip.

There's actually more single frame work than I'd expected, but a fair amount of this was computer game themed "filler" cartoons from the first year. Back then I was still trying to ensure a weekly output, I've since given over to "a weakly output" of just a couple per month.

What does this tell us?.. well I'm not sure, perhaps that my preference is for ideas that need a bigger setup. Or maybe that I tend to split more wordy dialogue over additional frames to keep it manageable. But could it be that there's something subtle going on that I hadn't realised?

Three's a Jolly Good Fellow

OK sorry about that, couldn't resist it!.. so what's this rule of three then?

Quite simply it's the idea that things are more memorable if they are in threes. Consider the following famous examples:-
  • Friends, Romans, countrymen.
  • Faith, hope and charity.
  • Stop, look and listen.
  • The good, the bad and the ugly.
Or the Mark Twain quote I used for the title of the previous section. There's loads of them, they all stick in your head and have a certain resonance about them. We could say that three is the minimum number required to create a pattern, but perhaps it's the sweet-spot. Go much higher and it starts to get complicated or inefficient.

It's commonly used in humour and to illustrate I've included this great joke example from Laura Kightlinger that uses a shocking third element..

"I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead."

  1. Starting Point (waking up next to an unknown person)
  2. Misdirection following a common theme (can't remember how you met)
  3. Punchline (or why they're dead)

Fixing my cartoon

So I went back to the drawing board, desparate to find my misdirection element, and it wasn't until I switched from safety to other biker requirements that I finally found the answer. But it meant I had to finally give one of my characters a name.

The missing middle element

I hope you found that as interesting as I did,.. if you haven't already seen it, check out the finished cartoon here -->

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Page on a Page


My latest Area 5.1 comic, (A Tall Tale) is based around a real-world scam email that Shiela received the other week. The premise here is why would anyone respond to being called an idiot? But "dummy's guides" have been around for a long time now covering all sorts of topics, so perhaps we have become desensitised to this sort of insult. Or maybe the meaning has altered so most figure dummy just means noob. But it still feels like a bold sell!

I decided to take it in a slightly different direction and speculate about what is it that you'll be buying. I wanted to include the email, portrayed as a more traditional junk-mail letter, so it needed to look like a real piece of paper. Here's my starting image taken from the original screen grab.

The starting image

This blog takes you through the image processing required to create a 3D version of this page.

The Transformation Process

I used the open source GIMP software, but I'm pretty sure the tools I used are available in other graphics software (Pixelmator, Photoshop, or Pixl Editor on the web). It was a relatively simple process using a few simple transformations.
(nb. Before you start, increase the width of the canvas otherwise you'll lose the sides of the text when you stretch the page.)
  •  Rotate the image by 90 degrees and then use the Curve Bend tool to curl the edges.
(In GIMP you can find this in the menu: Filters > Distorts > Curve Bend)

Adding a curve to the edges
  • Do upper and lower borders, then when happy with the results, click OK and then rotate it back through 90 degrees.
  • Finally use the Perspective Tool, dragging in and down the top corners to make the page appear to tilt away from you, then press enter.
(In GIMP you can find this in the menu: Tools > Transform Tools > Perspective)

Applying Perspective
I then imported the image into Sketchbook, rotated it a little and then drew the page turn-up on the bottom right corner. I later added the background graduation so that the page edge didnt get confused with the frame edge.

The final result of the transformations

It didn't take very long to do and the results are quite effective. I hope somebody found this useful.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Providing Location Clues


This week's comic is based on the notion of mistake, or a couple of them to be more exact. But in order to make the joke work, I needed to make one or two things clear, ideally without having to write it into the dialogue. I'm a firm believer that people are turned off by cartoons with lots of text, so I try to minimise it as much as I can.

If you've not seen the cartoon yet then read it here first:

I'll show the artwork for each of the frames and explain my use of location clues.

Frame 1

The opening shot needs to set the scene and capture the audience. I needed the LGM's to be somewhere in the vicinity of earth so that a telescope would be feasible, or the joke wouldn't work. I chose Mars and made it as red as I dared.

Location Clue #1: I added the Curiosity Rover, because it's highly recognisable and commonly known to be on Mars. I could have used a sign saying "Welcome to Mars" instead, but it feels like a cop-out. It's better to infer it some way.

A Zoom with a View - Frame 1

After drawing the martian rover I wondered about why it hadn't spotted my Aliens and then decided that perhaps it had been de-activated. So I had it clamped.

Finally to give it that "Grand Day Out" feel, I added the deck chair and tartan thermos. I think there's something very English about those things, despite the fact it might sound a bit Scottish.

Frame 2

This very simple frame delivers the punch-line, but the joke's not obvious until you see the last frame. 

A Zoom with a View - Frame 2

Early plans had the zoom settings indicating scale:
  • Ultra - 1m
  • High - 10m
  • Med - 0.1km
  • Low - 1km
I discarded that idea, realising it would be too confusing. (KISS - keep it simple stupid!) I decided to devise a visual way of showing sizes in the last frame.

There's not much else to say about it really, other than I thought a background was unnecessary.

Frame 3

This one gave me a few problems because everyone knows that ants are tiny. If you draw them too small then it's not obvious what they are. Yet if you draw them large they look like monsters and the joke doesn't work. (Plus, I really didnt want to re-use the word 'ant' in the dialogue.)

A Zoom with a View - Frame3

The answer was to draw them both ways,.. small ants in the background appearing like cars on a highway, and a huge ant in the foreground for recognition purposes, so I put it on the branch of a tree.

Location Clue #2: I chose to add a matchbox to the scene because it was the right size (in comparison to ants), it's a recognisable discarded object and a common brand. It serves two purposes here; it confirms the location as Earth and sets the scale for the background insects dimensions.

But there's still a danger that the branch could look like it was on the ground with a huge ant upon it, so I used ground shading. It's subtle, but seems to work well.

Location Clue#3: It's not shown here, but I added a circular mask to the final frame to make it appear as a view through the telescope.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Come the Revolution

Lining Up the Ideas

OK, we like to steal ideas, borrow themes, or more ethically, be inspired by other peoples work and recently we were discussing line-ups, or identity parades (as we call them in the UK).

Shiela had an idea for the Yvonne the Sheep web cartoon; an identity parade featuring sheep, which are well known for looking identical. The joke pretty much writes itself... but there was a slight issue,.. what was the crime? (what misdemeanour could sheep do?)

We noticed when looking at other artists work that the dialogue appears to tell you very little, but it does serve to confirm who the protagonist is, so in the end we deduced the reason was unimportant. This meant that the focus could be moved onto someone in the line-up that didn't look anything like those around them. It's a well used idea with loads of good examples and sounded like a job for her boisterous crow character.

Take a look at the finished work here:-

Yvonne the Sheep #149:

But, it got me thinking and it wasn't long before I came up with my own line-up idea which revolved around different branded smart phones all looking the same - essentially copies of Apples original iPhone. It was to be a slightly surreal line-up featuring just smartphones.

Evolution or Revolution?

The more I thought about my line-up idea, the more things I threw into the pot. The policeman was going to say to Steve Jobs, "Can you tell me which one stole your IP", but that gave me a few problems...
  1. How many people understand what IP means,.. and is "Intellectual Property" any less of a problem?
  2. Everyone knows that Steve is dead,.. so do I show him as a ghost, or somehow backdate it?
Maybe it could be Tim Cook who's picking out the IP thief, and I could show Steve spinning in his grave. I pictured the late Mr Jobs being so animated about this that having him as some sort of power source popped into my head. This turned out to be a strong idea, but it now didn't fit in with the original line-up plan, so I needed something else that would famously have made him mad. What had Apple released to their consumer base that had given them a bad reputation, something that would have never happened under Steve's control?

The answer was obvious really - Siri

When The Internet Lets You Down

It's at times like this that I hit the internet, I needed a Siri fail that epitomised its shortfalls and wasn't a joke in its own right. But I couldn't find that simple idea, they were all too funny or ironic. Here's what I came up with in the end:-

OK, I gotta say right now, it's not my idea, Julie came up with it. Not sure where she got it from, but it's simple and it's perfect. I knocked up this quick hand and phone sketch and pasted in an image of the wibbly "Siri listening bar" to save time.

The main effort went into the last frame which I drew as a blueprint plan. This is the jokes punch, it had to be obvious what was going on yet carry enough detail to portray the well known idiom.

Starting to Draw The Blueprint

See the completed comic here -->

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Same but Different

Frame to Frame

Quite often in cartoons you get the same frame repeated multiple times, and you'll see the character has moved to provide some degree of interest. But look more closely, the pros will vary more than that, redrawing the frame or changing other things about the background.

But in the digital world is way to easy too add some variation by zooming in.

Add variation by zooming
In the example above I took the same artwork, altered the LGM (little green man) holding the phone and then changed the shading on the bedspread. It certainly looks better than just repeating the frame. Also in the last frame the 2nd LGM doesnt talk, so there's no point showing him.

Working On The Dialogue

Unfortunately sometimes you can have a nice idea but the dialogue can let it down. Here's my first example with its simple idea of the LGM with the phone setting alarm multiple times in the night to annoy the other.

Version 1 - Dialogue needs some work
The more observant will also notice the shading on the bedsheet is simple giving a very odd look. It just didn't look like fabric. But the biggest problem was the dialogue was just too simple.

Here's the re-worked version..

The Final Version - Phon-etiquettes

The drawing difference is subtle, the main change is the way that the LGM with the phone tries to hide the real reason why he keeps setting the alarm.

The finished cartoon here ->

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mend and Make Do

Inspired By The Goggle Box

I think I'm very guided by what I've seen on TV. Like most of us, I grew up watching it and I think we have expectations about how one show links back to another. A cliff-hanger gets revisited, replaying what had happened at the end of the previous show.

The cartoon world doesn't tend to do this much because it wastes a frame when you revisit an idea. It's all about being economical with your art. But when Mo, who's the amazing artist behind the Riddick Q Loss Tales cartoon read Drop the Anchor she made the comment, "Personally I think we are almost their slaves now."

That was all the inspiration I needed, but I broke those unwritten rules and built the first frame using elements from the previous cartoon.

Area 5.1 - Enslaved Cartoon

Plagiarise Yourself

Shiela and I have discussed re-using old artwork in cartoons a few times. It feels like cheating, but I don't redraw my logo every time (and that's OK), so surely everything's rife for pillaging. The notion of "Mend & Make Do" is an old wartime ethic to deal with shortages. It's still as relevant for most of us today, only these days it's time we're short of.
There's a lot of "recycled" images in use here, quite obviously that first frame's taken from the end of the previous cartoon. The TV mask has been used quite a bit now, I like the 70's feel about it, and then there's the sofa scene that I've used quite often. The hand holding the phone is reworked from the Funstreak cartoon You Have A Match, and mostly all I've done is alter the hand a little and change the screen contents.

Doesn't seem to bad from just a few hours work! (What do you think?)

The link to the cartoon --

Sunday, 9 April 2017

My Perspective on Vanishing Points

Adding Some Perspective

Following on from my last post about scene types, today's is all about drawing in perspective using vanishing points. My last comic showed a factory scene in one of the frames which I used perspective to show depth and give an idea of space.

A vanishing point is a point in the image where a set of parallel lines intersect in the distance. Think about railway lines converging at the horizon and you'd have a single vanishing point perspective.

Single Point Perspective.
(from Wikipedia)
It's quite easy to see that the vanishing point here is right in the middle just below the trees.

Using Double Point Perspective

My cartoon was set in a factory and centred around the idea of a robot taking revenge for what was being said by a TV anchorman. I'm going to use two point perspective to enable me to draw a machine that fits in with what I'd already drawn for the background. The idea is that the machine is going to be making these bins and the robot will be stacking them up.

Starting Point - X marks the spot.

I'd already made a stack of bin or garbage cans in the picture, and these had been overlapped and reduced in size so that they give the impression of perspective. The box with the X is where I want to draw the machine.

The shape of the bins follows two sets of vanishing points

I'm showing the lines that run off to the two vanishing points on this diagram. Both points should be on the horizon line which I've chosen as roughly mid point. And the blue point is well over to the right, off the page.

Add vanishing point lines for the machine

Now I've added vanishing points for the machine (making sure they are on the same horizon line). My tip would be to not add too many at this point or it'll get confusing, but try and mark out lines to help build the basic shape. These guide lines will form the basic of all horizontal lines in the box I'm about to draw.

The completed machine with shading

Add additional guide lines as you go where you need to add details. You'll find the angles often look a little odd, but stick with it, it'll look fine once it's done. My machine here is simple box with a conveyor spur, a control box and a fan unit. The writing on the sign is done in a similar way, add red guide lines and then scale the individual letters to fit.

Finally, I filled with colour shades of grey , then added a few extra details like switches and hatches. The additional of a bin on the conveyor ties it all together.

The completed frame ready for dialogue

Once the backdrop has been completed you can add your cartoon characters, and here I've used the white outline trick to give them a bit of separation. I've also kept the background free of colour to stop it from grabbing too much attention.

I have also added a little bit of detail that can't been seen on the published cartoon, but if you look at the completed frame you might find my slight obsession drawn within.

Strictly speaking I should have used the same trick when drawing the robot, it's close, but as long as the vanishing points converge on the same horizon line it should look OK.

See original cartoon here --

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Making a Scene


I like to approach my work as though I'm making a film and these cartoon frames are it's storyboard. You don't have to do this, it's just part of my style, but I think it makes it look more interesting this way,.. more cinematic.

I will use of the following basic camera shots to help drive the story or idea:-

Long Shot Medium Shot Close-up Extreme Close-up

I'll start off by showing my latest Area 5.1 cartoon which I will use as an example..

Area 5.1 Cartoon - Drop the Anchor
It's based on a discussion over the growth of AI and whether we thought robots would gain emancipation or always be treated like objects. There are some parallels with the slave trade in the 19th century and I think the real barrier to freedom (as it was then) is breaking free from ownership.

The Establishing Shot

It's probably more correct to call it an opening scene. It's there to serve as an introduction so the reader has some context for the dialogue. This example is unusual because there are two establishing shots.

Opening Shot - Frame 1.

The first frame is a close-up shot showing a TV screen. It tells the reader this is a news report and it introduces the anchorman as the main character. The dialogue bubble supports this using a broadcast (lightning bolt style) tail.

Opening Shot - Frame 2.

The second frame still shows our main character, but we're using a long shot to introduce the two main plot elements. The rubbish bins (or garbage cans) and the robot worker. (Note, I also show a factory background to add context to the story)

Removing Background Details

In the third frame I wanted to show the main character and the robot's reaction to what he was saying. I decided to not show the background because I wanted to keep the image looking uncluttered, and to focus the reader on the two characters.

It's left a lot of negative space and I did consider moving the two closer together and reframing as a medium shot. But I wanted to show that the space between had just been bridged by the robot over-hearing the anchorman's monologue.

The Final Shot

The final frame is where it's typical to resolve your story or joke. This image is a medium shot type, focusing on the robot's act of retrobution and I've added a 'Bong!' to highlight the action. Again, no background is needed, it just doesnt add anything to the story.

In Summary

There's plenty of cartoons that don't use these techniques. Most of the newspaper cartoon strips just use a mixture of medium or long shots with simple drawing to cope with lack of colour and reduced image size. But contrast this with a superhero comic book and you'll see a huge difference.

But it's all about style, there's no wrong or right,.. but I hope I've given you something to think about.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Madam I'm Adam

When You Got Nothing

My previous blog was all about inspiration and it included an example of where I'd recently found it. But sometimes I find I have the desire to draw, but there really is nothing in the tank. They seldom come fast with me, and from what I'd read this is a common issue with creatives. You can generate loads of good ideas at first, but then you run dry. Of course there are plenty of folks out there that can just crank the work out, and they make it seem easy too!

So, how do you break out of your funk?

By far the easiest thing to do when you're trying to find inspiration is to look at work by other people. I tend to target popular culture and well known works & ideas because it fits in with my main joke driver, WIKT ("wait, I know this"). This is what your mind subconsciously says when you see a joke. It's a powerful idea and it tends to appeal to our sense of nostalgia and belonging.

So earlier this week, knowing I had to get another Area 5.1 cartoon out, I decided to parody one of the greats. Something so well known that even the non-cultured would recognise.

Dancing on the Ceiling

The Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; my idea was a simple one, create a parody by replacing Adam and God with my aliens.

Starting Out - Overlaying my characters

I considered using my "Zambo the Great" character as god,.. it seemed fitting, but I haven't actually drawn this figure yet. Instead I stuck with the recognisable LGM's and mused that "god created man (alien) in his own image - Genesis 1:27."

[nb. I know, I don't normally quote scripture, but I was feeling googly!!]

After looking more closely at the painting I noticed that the god figure (let's call him Zambo) seems to be held aloft by a number of (what I assume are) mortals. A collection of men, women and children surrounded by some sort of protective cloak. I had to somehow keep that idea.

The Complete Artwork

My answer was to add more LGM's, clearly straining to hold the big guy up, and as they are flying, well they needed rocket boots!! The cape looks a little abstract now, but at the time I didnt really understand what it was meant to be. (A monsterous shell, or a hang-glider perhaps?) I coloured the mortals a darker green to push them into the background.

I think it turned out OK.

Cranking it up to Eleven

Rather than just leave it as a parody I decided to try and make it a jokeMy first thought was to have a frame before this with LGM looking up at the bathroom ceiling and saying something like, "What do you think, too much?"

Clearly the original artwork's location had struck a chord with me!

Shiela had just asked me for advice about a cartoon she was working on, so I ran it by her. It became clear that there was a better line I could use that worked on the assumption that one of them had gotten carried away. It also made more sense why they'd be painting in the first place.

I came up with this single frame idea where the artwork was actually graffiti on a concrete underpass column.

The completed cartoon

The final changes I made were to alter the green on Zambo and Adam so that it was different from my two figures in the foreground. Then in order to get some separation from the background, I added a white outline to the foreground figures. It's subtle but it works well.

Visit the final cartoon here --