AI Comic Strip Changes : New look, new software

Most comic strips evolve. Peanuts did. Dilbert did. Beetle Bailey did. I’m not saying Robonk is in the same league at all. What I am saying is that the cartoonist learns and evolves their strip. That’s a real thing.

Here’s the visual changes to Robonk in the first two years:

Alpha level : Spring 2017

Gotta start somewhere.

v1.0 : First real Robonk strip (#00000)

The robot got its own font. The title panels were massively improved.

v1.05 : (#000B9)

Same basic system as before, but some technique changes were developing. Robonk is generally zoomed in more and the talk bubbles at this point often have elements overlapped on top. Font size was reduced. This was the 177th strip.

v1.5 : (#00100) : The new look

The Robot is generated the same way as with the Alpha level strips (Tinkercad) but…

  • The bubbles have new individual looks for the robot and the human.
  • The human has a new font.
  • The background has a blue fade.
  • The bubbles are created using a newly written (just for Robonk) jQuery/HTML/CSS system called Bubblematic.

Bubblematic makes creating strips much, much faster. I used to spend a large chunk of time building the quote bubbles. Now, Bubblematic handles that quickly and with precision. Automation made the ELIZA AI writing process much more efficient (Robonkers system), and now the drawing side has a custom software tool too.

Here’s a screenshot of Bubblematic v1.0. I normally make prettier interfaces, but this is an inhouse tool for just me and it works nicely as is.

Bubblematic v1.0

Software doesn’t just write Robonk, it also draws the quote bubbles for the comic strip these days.

All the new software has improved the quality and speed of creating new Robonk comic strips. It makes me wonder what it’s like to actually write and draw a comic strip.

The Throw Rug and Shadow of Robonk

Sending an idea to a friend for some feedback. Throw rug is a go.

A few of the key design decisions made in the first 48 hours of Robonk included:

  1. Use of Tinkercad for the source 3D drawing of Robonk, the chair, and the clipboard.
  2. Use on screen rendering in the edit mode of Tinkercad for screenshots of the “drawings” used in the comic strips.
  3. Having the shadow come off of Robonk.

I was deliberately going for some character in the drawings, and the screenshot method worked there. After all, the land of comic strips isn’t dominated by 100% reality nor perfection, right?! Exactly.

Some of the character of the illustration style that shows through is the odd nature of the throw rug under Robonk’s chair. That is the workplane from Tinkercad, and if you look closely at the far left corner of the rug when it’s visible, you’ll notice the text “Workplane” is present. Pictured below is a closeup from the bottom left corner of frame 03 from strip #00004.

Before taking a screenshot, sometimes I have to resize the workplane so the shadow will be from Robonk rather than his chair. Shouldn’t it be on both? Technically yes, but this is a comic strip. Any time you add manual intervention and verification to a system, you’re asking for the occasional failure. Here’s frame 02 of strip #00007 as originally released:

Here’s the fix that was released later:

Consistency isn’t as critical with Robonk as other projects (commercial or hobby) I’ve worked on, but it’s nice to have things within whatever standards have been set.

Comic Strip Font, Size, and Proportion

Being new the at comic strip game, something I’ve struggled with a bit is fonts, specifically the faces, weights and sizes.

We’ll start with one of the initial five alpha-level strips.

Robonk strip

One of the first five strips. That’s the font I went with for the human and Robonk.

I chose that size and that font and went at it. I received some feedback that a robot font and/or talk bubble might be fun for the robot. I like the cleaner bubble, so that stayed, but after playing with some computer theme fonts, I found a winner. The human’s text got lost a little though, so I bolded it up. Balance achieved.

Did I pick the best font size out of the gate? Probably not. So, time for some trials. This is strip #00000 with the original font size, everything at 90%, and everything at 80%. This is not a perfect trial because with the smaller type, I might have gone with a different line breaks, but it gets across the basic idea all the same.

100%

Pre-release text trial at 100%
(View larger version)

90%

Pre-release text trial at 90%
(View larger version)

80%

Pre-release text trial at 80%
(View larger version)

I decided that 90% was the winner and am going with that. Time will tell whether that was a reasonable decision or not.

A Brief History of Robonk

Brock at Border Town Comic Con 2017

Brock at Border Town Comic Con 2017 in Ontario, Oregon

A friend let me know a Comic-Con was happening over the weekend and wondered if I wanted to go. I thought it would be fun to debut a comic strip that day, but I didn’t have one. So, I created one.

I started working on Robonk around noon on 2017-03-09 and by noon on 2017-03-11 I was debuting the comic on a small strip of a table in Ontario, Oregon. Some people didn’t quite get it, which is to be expected. Those that did really did like it however, and laughing ensued. This was encouraging. Robonk clearly isn’t for everyone.

A lot was created in the first 48 hours, including:

  • 80 scripts. Wanted to see how viable the concept was.
  • A drawing of the Robonk and the chair in CAD software (Tinkercad).
  • Five illustrated strips to show if it could be done. The title panels were less than ideal, but I was learning and you have to start somewhere, right?!
  • Deciding on the name and reserving robonk.com which was available.
  • A single sheet of paper (double sided) with the first five strips to hand out at the Ontario, Oregon event.
Robonk strip

One of the first five strips. Something done on the first pass was focusing on how many words could be used and how many panels were needed. This strip was one of the deliberately extra wordy tests.

As I write this first blog entry, the website is being setup, and there’s a facebook page and a twitter account.

Robonk is still less than a week old. We’ll see how things develop as time moves along. Thanks for coming along on the journey.