In which Penny Dreadful takes a break in her busy schedule to celebrate the 1-YEAR anniversary of the strip with a moment of self-reflection.

NOTE: Today’s strip is a blog entry. If you’re disappointed by that, come back Friday, or here’s the most recent strip (

3D wireframe of Scott McCloudThe one-year anniversary of anything seems a natural point for some introspection. This is especially true of a strip birthed from a concept such as “dropping the cow.” my daughter and chief proofreader expressed surprise yesterday that I’d been doing the strip for a year now. I don’t think I’ve ever pursued any non-job, non-family effort for this long ever before.

Concurrent with this milestone, I’m reading several books: How to Make Webcomics by Scott Kurtz, Dave Kellett, Brad Guigar, and Kris Straub; Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (yet again); Essential CG Lighting Techniques with 3ds Max, by Darrin Brooker, and finally a bunch of miscellany on the Uncanny Valley theory as it applies to robotics. This particular jumble of input provides a compelling background against which to ask a few reflective questions.

What am I doing with this strip? Why am I still doing it? Will I still be doing it this time next year? Does anybody really care?

Answering that last question firstโ€ฆ well, not really. I am immensely grateful to the few loyal readers I’ve gathered, who’ve stuck around despite my being too busy to read their – or anyone else’s – strips much at all. Seriously, thanks, all of you.

3D clay render of Scott McCloudStill, loyal though they are, my readership remains relatively small. But is that why I started doing this? Not really. I just wanted to make a strip that I myself would like to read.

I started this incarnation of DtC to fill a few voids I’d long lamented in the comic scene: strips that meshed with my particular job scene and view of corporate America, well-done 3D/CGI strips, answers to the question, what happens when a hacker has to go straight? A fourth area here is strips based on the premise of LEGO® blocks coming to life. Since then, I’ve discovered there is a broad base there, many of the best of which are represented in that Brick Comic Network drop down to the left.

I’m certain to date myself when I confess to war-dialing from my high school in the early 80s – before I knew there would one day be a name for that activity that would one day be a crime. Yes, I was a teenage hacker! ๐Ÿ™‚ At the same time that my buddy, Jim Redacted, and I were sneaking about in local computer systems for fun, not profit, I also was creating a weekly ASCII character-based animated show called “The Uncle Chucky Show” on the school’s Commodore PETs. Since that time, I’ve held to the belief that these cool new toys (computers) could be used to produce art. My college art professors, Greg & Doug scoffed at my ideas, but the gave me my art degree nonetheless…

3D coloured wireframe of Scott McCloudSo, taking the long way around to those questions… Are 3D/CGI comics viable? I think so. Many of the ones I’ve seen so far suffer from the Uncanny Valley syndrome. Rather than launch into that, I’ll refer you to the Wikipedia article on the subject. This obviously wasn’t an issue with Uncle Chucky, and I don’t believe it’s a problem with Penny Dreadful and crew. The iconic Lego minifigure is instantly recognisable (and the design trademark has expired, or I’d be in hot water), and represents a singularly sympathetic character image, as explained by McCloud in his discussion of icons and iconic characterisation in chapter 2 of Understanding Comics.

This version of Penny, Johnny, and the others is probably the 5th that I’ve done, but the first one that worked for me. I can draw – and have done so professionally – but I still like the idea of CGI comics.

So, why not use one of the more “realistic” versions I’ve done over the years? Today’s strip image gives the answer for that. It’s just not as good. If it’s good enough, CGI tumbles into the uncanny valley for me. Slapping a word balloon into that image would be lunacy.

Why not create stylised CGI characters, like Pixar does? I’ve done that, too, but they just weren’t as funny to me. The mental image of a stiff, plastic minifig Penny smacking a user with a cricket bat still tickles me at a level that nothing else I’ve tried does. Am I lazy in using the Lego minifigure? Am I just intrigued by the idea of toys having lives of their own? Maybe on the first count, definitely on the second.

3D cel render of Scott McCloudThe past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with what to do with the strip. Should I change it up and draw with a pencil? The occasional sketches I’ve peppered in have met with positive response. I haven’t drawn much in a while, but it’d come back, I’m sure. Should I work toward an adaptation of my unfinished Penny novel in Webcomics form? Either one of those would be too much a departure, and I’m still having fun in the strip’s present form.

I guess that’s what it all comes down to. I’m having fun. I’m learning. I can’t ask for much more than that, can I? If people read it, I will thank them – and I’ll try my best to reward them with the best stuff I can produce, even if it’s just a few folks.

Thanks, everyone, for a great year! See you this time in 2013!