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: http://handspinner.co.uk/yvonne/149.html

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 --> http://funstreak.webcomic.ws/comics/8

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 -> http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/64/

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 -- http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/63/

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 -- http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/62/

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 -- http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/61/

Monday, 13 March 2017

When Inspiration Strikes

Fickle Inspiration

Even the most creative people go through dry patches, life gets in the way and the mind gets filled with mundane things that just have to be done. Other-times you feel like you have space to be creative, but you get the artist's version of writer's block. This might feel really bad when you're trying to keep something like a webcomic moving, but it's best to recognise it for what it is and not be so hard on yourself.

Generally speaking it's hard to make ideas happen, and when you do they can often feel contrived and of low value. But inspiration does strike in many ways, it's just the case of recognising when a good idea comes along and finding a way to use it.

When it Strikes

The other week a lady (let's call her Kate) expressed interest in me on a dating site. I'm not single anymore, but I still checked out her profile from a vanity point of view.

NB. A profile generally contains a little bit about that person and some photos. You'd expect to see pictures of that person, but you'd be surprised how often you find holiday scenes, dogs/cats, inspirational posters or bunches of people which leave you wondering which person you should be looking at. I know blokes are as bad, they pose with freshly caught fish, post photos of their motorbikes, tattoos and many of the things the ladies do.

Anyway the thing that amused me was Kate had posted photos of some cakes fresh from the oven, her dog wearing one of those funnel shaped collars, a couple more of the dog and two less than flattering photos of herself. (I've included the first two below)

Kate's Cakes

Kate's Dog

I don't want to make Kate the butt of a joke, but it did make me feel that there was an idea here that needed to be explored. So I looked around for other ideas, pulled them together for this comic and the final picture was added to make the joke (nobody was actually crazy enough to use a photo like this!!).

Funstreak - You Have a Match

I should state for the record Kate doesn't have a verruca or a drinking problem (as far as I know). She's probably a very nice person who just lacks self confidence.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the peep into the world of online dating and find this blog on inspiration useful. Here's the link to the comic.. http://funstreak.webcomic.ws/comics/7



Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cartoons - Breaking Up Frames


I recently saw a product from a health store with the bold claim "see the difference in seven days", so I bought some to try.

A week later I was asked, "has it made a difference", and while I felt it was too early to say definitively, I couldn't help but make this joke. Then in the absense of any other Area 5.1 ideas I decided to turn it into a cartoon, but it gave me a few layout problems that I wanted to share.

Designing the Layout

My intention was to go for two simple page wide frames, no background images, just a bottle of medication and my two LGM's (little green men). It seemed simple enough, but the second frame troubled me. I wanted him peering into the pill bottle, but it then felt like I was giving the joke away before I'd really had chance to set it up.

Area 5.1 Original Frame 2

The second problem with this frame is overlapping dialogue, the reader is forced to skip left and right to consume the information in correct order, even though it is arranged to read down the page. I felt that splitting the frame into two was perhaps a better option.

The Final Image

Here's what I ended up with..

Area 5.1 - A Weak Claim
I think the change reduces the chance that the reader will jump ahead. The dialogue still works because the clipped tails point to the next or previous frame providing a reference to who's talking. But, it did mean showing the LGM's facing different directions (or they merge together in the middle like conjoined twins), so a little bit of effort was required to ensure the reader could tell them apart. Traditionally I use two body shapes, but it doesn't work well enough here. Instead I resorted to two distinct styles of eye.

See the web comic here: http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/60/

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Shooting the Breeze


The cartoon was inspired by an upload from a fellow cartoonist who had in turn been inspired by a scene she'd witnessed in a store (or shop if you're english). The cartoon is called 'Spoiled Princess' (http://second-puberty.webcomic.ws/comics/573/)

It's a simple idea, a child wants something that she's seen and like many modern parents her Dad caves in. It got me thinking about what might happen if the child wanted something inappropriate.

The Drawing

I decided to illustrate this using the idea of two parallel father and son scenes with the initial idea of a young alien wanting a Death Star from Star Wars. I thought that if I demonstrated what damage a human boy could do with something relatively harmless (like a BB Gun), then I could leave the reader to imagine for themselves what the alien boy could do with a planet killer.

I wanted to find a way of doing this that didnt use words, so I imagined what a back garden would look like a few days after the boy had taken a BB Gun home. What sort of damage would you see? Initially I brainstormed some ideas and then pulled together a rough sketch of the garden with imported images from the web.  Once planned, I redrew the elements I needed.

Area 5.1 Cartoon - Shooting the Breeze

I was careful to make the two father and son frames to look as similar as I could, while still having them different. I came up with a new design of alien using the same eyes, mouth and ears and coloured them purple so they wouldn't be confused with the original alien design.

See the web comic here: http://area5-1.webcomic.ws/comics/59/

Thursday, 9 February 2017

How's your Handwriting?

The Idea

A recent social network posting showed a list of top 50 bad habits, and while I didn't bother reading it, I did consider that even aliens might go for this sort of trash too. So I set out to come up with a list related to aliens, and it turned out to be more difficult than I thought.

Here's my list:-
  1. Not washing the probe between jobs.
  2. Preoccupied with cows?
  3. Always holidays in Roswell?
  4. Abduction / Body Snatching.
  5. Obsessed with crop circles.
  6. Buzzing air force pilots.
  7. Ruling primitive planets.
  8. Always whistling the same 5 note tune.
  9. Leaving large drawings and lines in the deserts.
  10. Always needing more space?
  11. Taking Zambo's (God's) name in vain.
  12. Trigger happy?
  13. Prefer to work nights.
  14. No atmosphere at their parties.
  15. Watching too much TV.

OK some of those are just jokes rather than bad habits, but like I said, I (or rather we) struggled a little just to get this many. (Thanks to Julie and Shiela for your help, it would have been a small list without your input.)

Evolving The Idea

It occurred to me these sorts of things are commonly seen in trashy magazines, so I thought it'd be fun to create a parody. This got me thinking about additional articles so googled a bit and came up with the following:-
  • Fake advert for slimming supplement.
  • Gossip section.
  • What your raygun says about you.
But once I'd started drawing it up I thought it would be nice to draw a cartoon from the aliens perspective. I came up with Humanz, a simple stickman based strip, and dropped the raygun idea.

The Artwork

Here's the completed work..
Area 5.1 Bad Habits List Cartoon
There's not actually that much drawing on it, but because of the curve of the pages all the text had to be drawn by hand. It proved difficult and time consuming to get the style and size consistent across each article. It's the sort of thing that would have been simple with decent distortion tools.

When I came to writing in the bad habits I wanted them to be easy to read. (After all this was the primary joke!) So I chose quite a large uppercase style which limited the width of the text. This meant I had to play around with the words a little and even swapped out the atmosphere joke for an Erich Von Daniken gag. Some might not get it, but if it makes them google his name then I figure I've enriched their lives a little.