Cartooning: From Suck to Suck Less

I’m not sure what I was thinking I would do when I got my drawing tablet. Actually, no, I know exactly what I was thinking – draw each of the Fuzzy Knights in such a way using layers that I could reposition them as I see fit, and endlessly recycle after that, allowing me to focus on the humor and story instead. Just one good picture each, that’s all I needed.

I did mention I was lazy, right?

But first I needed to know what the tablet could do, so I took my first kick at the can using a simple paint program called Sketchbook, which had a text feature, but not a very good one.

Yeah… I mean, I wasn’t expecting miracles or anything, and it was just a test run, but… woof.

But honestly? Writing Fuzzy Knights was always about the simple gaming humour and just having some fun. So I kept going, doing the best I could with direct toy references and just having some fun with some poses.

Consistency, thy name is NOT Noah… That stuff’s all over the place.

Nevertheless I decided just to have fun with it and draw some single panel cartoons. By this time I had decided on Infinite Painter as my drawing app for various reasons, only it didn’t have any kind of text feature… so I had to write by hand.

I do not have neat handwriting…

I wasn’t discouraged, however, because I wasn’t really trying. Just having them look “close enough” and having a punchline was enough at that moment. I was having fun. I was also trying out other tools in the paint set – stencils for rock or brick, brushes for grass or clouds, shading…

Still had no clue what I was doing, of course.

Those of you who didn’t read the old Fuzzy Knights comic are probably picking up on the tone and dynamic going on here. In a nutshell, Mossfoot (the green bear) is the Game Master. Adventurous and level headed. Violet (the purple bear) is aggressive when provoked, and she’s often provoked by the other players. Target (the cat) is a bit of a coward, but also cunning. And Ben…. Ben is chaos personified. Acts first, thinks never. Sometimes it works out for him… but usually it doesn’t.

Now, around this time, the inconsistency was really starting to bother me. And even though I don’t know how to draw exactly… I am familiar with the theory behind it. I read up on some books about drawing anime before leaving for Japan, I took art classes, and I remembered some of the stuff I learned then… and, um, stuff I saw on TV.

I was like “Hey, don’t the pros like create pencil sketch reference models where all the basic shapes are broken down or something?”

The next thing you know, I’m taking what I’ve remembered, watching videos about basic cartooning, asking for advice from friends online, and decide to try and take this seriously. See if it improves my game.

Somewhere in the back of my head I’m hearing, “We can rebuild them. We have the technology.”

Yeah, some of the old lessons were coming back to me. Break things down into shapes, use lines to figure out proportions, try and get a consistent look from all angles… and just by doing these exercises, I wound up seeing a big improvement.

Well, let’s just say I sucked less.

Now I’m not trying to say this look is ready for prime time or anything, but I was amazed how much of a difference it made. But there’s still a lot of work to go. And I realized one of those things were the expressions.

Something I had to accept was that I wasn’t trying to recreate the toys exactly. I was trying to come up with a pleasing look that was close enough to the toys to be recognized. Mossfoot’s jawline is consistent with the toy… but doesn’t look right here. Ben’s nose never sat right with me. And the eyes I think were using TOO much pupil, which would cut down on the range of their expressions.

So that was my next exercise. Study simple comic expressions and apply them to some newly tweaked head models. The result…

Well, it feels like progress to me, anyway. I’ve either stumbled upon or picked up online that’s helped with these looks, using layers to separate each stage (pencil, pen, ink, shading) to make it easier to fix mistakes or try new things.

In Ben’s case above, his eye was initially smaller and his nose was still of the two slits variety, just like in most of the other pictures. Because of the layers, it was easier for me to change those elements and keep the rest intact.

I mean, sure, Disney won’t be knocking on my door any time soon, but it’s only been a month. And you gotta admit, it’s a hell of an improvement over this

So the journey continues. I’ll update this as things progress. After all, I also have books to write and edit!

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