Mike M's Board Game Comics
Mike Mayer
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I wanted to learn (re-learn) how to draw, but the problem with learning any skill is you have practice and I'm not the greatest proponent of practicing for practice sake. So I decided to 'practice' by aiming to create fully-realized pieces of 'art' (for a lack of a less pretentious word).

I rationalized, "If I work to create something that's meant to be a complete idea then I won't mind the practice." Then, after drawing a number of various pictures, I randomly thought, "You know, I should try drawing a comic strip. Can't get much more fully-realized than that."

The first idea that sprung into my head was a board game joke, and so was the second idea, and so was the third idea, and...

And so it began.

I posted the finished 'art' on BGG and people have been kind and encouraging with their thumbs-up and messages, even when some of the drawings are a bit sketchy and some of the jokes, in retrospect, need retooling.

But I think I'm learning and getting better. So if you like to take a look at my 'practice,' you'll find it collected below in chronological order.

-Mike M.



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1. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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My first effort was aimed at a highly specific audience: Dominion players who care for absurdist economic humor. I think the joke is fine, if a bit wordy, but the colors are off. I was drawing using my laptop and its screen is a bit wonky when displaying true greens and yellows. That, combined with my slight color blindness, led to some interesting hues.


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2. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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The idea is fine, but I think this is a step backward in the execution department. I was frustrated at how long it took me to draw the first comic, so I wanted to see how quickly I could put an idea down on paper. Lesson learned--you'll get faster when you get faster. Don't rush it.

Remember Dave Trampier's Wormy? I think I stole a nose from one of his dwarves for the non-speaking character here.
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3. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I came up with the idea of this comic early on, but I knew it would take an effort to get it down on electronic paper. I almost didn't try, but I'm glad I did. Doing so gave me a better understanding on how to create characters and how to visualize them from different angles, which, you know, is important if you want to draw things like people.

The rhythm of the joke, I think, owes a little something John Kovalic. There's an early Dork Tower that 'sounds' a bit like this.
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4. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I drew this one in color but turned it into grey-scale because I was aiming for an old New Yorker comic style. The joke is one I re-purposed from a joke I made on a geeklist long ago. I like the joke, but now I realize it's not enough to just visually depict something that's funny. If it's funny to begin with, then the visuals are basically redundant. I've learned you have to find a way to have the drawing increase the 'funny' of the words.

That said, I am proud of the 'secret' joke floating in the background of the comic.
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5. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I'm was getting more confident with drawing this stuff now, which told me I needed to look at some professional comics to smack me back down to humble. If you look closely, you'll see a bit of Calvin in the kid character, and a bit of Opus in the other guy (and not just in his nose).

I worried a bit about the kid looking too young, and therefore the joke seeming more cruel than funny. Then I decided, what the hell? Don't worry if it's a little cruel. Did Charles Addams every worry about such things? Not a chance!

I liked that I was expanding the emotional range of my characters in their facial expressions here.
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6. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I was going for a plastic-y style that I've seen in a few nameless Facebook cartoons that came my way. My art program has a embedded human-doll model that you can pose for reference or tracing, and I used that here. It worked for the effect, but it's not much fun to trace stuff, I think.

I do like the hand I drew, despite it being nothing of importance. On the other hand, I think I put one of her feet on backward.
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7. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I'm not sure I wedded the idea of this thing with the execution. I think I rushed it a bit. I used a higher resolution template, but wound up making a pretty rough drawing.

I do like the perspective of the 'Wham' panel.

Considerations: I made sure the main guy's hair was red, thus neatly avoiding having to decide what to do about the implicit 'blood splatter' issue I would have faced if it were any other color. Too much blood for good taste? Too little? Nope--it's not even blood! It's only hair.
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8. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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Something of a break-through comic for me, I think. The girl is a caricature but also seems to have a real quality about her, like someone you might know or want to know. The color and line work seems improved to me too.

I originally was going to end on the panel before the last. I'm glad I didn't. I learned the value of the 'joke-after-the-joke.' effect.

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9. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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Rough draft of a comic that appears earlier on this list, just to show you a bit of the process I go through to draw this stuff.
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10. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I pulled out my old Charles Addams' books for inspiration on how to draw this one. It started out as a single panel (just the first panel you see here). Then I decided to draw a 'sequel' with the exact same joke. But I couldn't decide if I had made two separate cartoons with the same idea, or part 1 and part 2 of the same cartoon.

So I changed the words of the second panel and put them together at the last minute before posting. I think I made the right choice.
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11. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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A first for me: I'm returning to a previous character and trying to duplicate a previous style. This strip is part of planned three-strip story, which I'll return to after a brief interruption from another strip idea I have.
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12. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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It's a simple drawing so I tried to spice it up with some reflections and shadow/highlighting.

The tag-line gave me problems. I alternately tried, "The abstract gamer's dilemma", "The abstract gamers' dilemma", "Analysis Paralysis of the Abstract Gamer", and "The abstract gamer considers his next move." But discarded them all for various reasons.
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13. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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Continuing a story for the first time. Trying to push myself on some of the drawings: adding weird perspective, some sybolic emotional stuff, and a cat. Gotta have a cat!

Edit: tweeked resolution to make text more readable.
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14. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I wanted to try out a more cartoony style. The simple blocks of color certainly made things easier in the coloring department. I had to hold myself back to keep from adding unneccessary shadows and tints. Shadows and tints have their place, but I think sometimes you just have to walk away and leave thing be.


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15. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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And so ends this storyline, but her life will go on in other strips I'm sure. Art-wise, I'm letting myself be looser with things like perspective and proportions, and I'm trying to fit in little details when I can without overwhelming any given frame.
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16. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I'm taking more time to arrange the elements in any given frame now. There's actually quite a bit happening in this one, and I had to think about things for awhile before I could come up with a suitable arrangement. Even then, when I was 'finished,' I was worried the fish wouldn't stand out enough, so I added some shading and brighter coloring. I think that did the trick.

A lot of work for a silly pun.
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17. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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Decided on a more 'relaxed' style this time. Basically it's a cleaned-up rough sketch with some coloring added in. It was nice to not have to draw back over what I've already done just to sharpen up the lines.

I wanted to consentrate on showing most of the story through the faces of the characters and opted for a more realistic (albiet still cartoony) portrayal.

Funny thing about faces. A weird sort of blindness can overcome you when you're drawing them. You think they're perfectly symetrical, but if you flip the image like in a mirror, you realize they're nowhere near symetrical enough, even for a comic.

Subject matter considerations: I thought of casting the doctor as the standard guy in a doctor uniform, but it felt so generic and I couldn't hear the character's 'voice' at all. So I opted for something less standard, and I think it works better.
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18. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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This is the result of my second go at this subject. The first go got scrapped. There was nothing wrong with the first, but there wasn't much right about it either.

Not counting Catan, there are at least 17 references to other games in this comic.

I realize the 'story' of what they heck is going on here is not necessarily clear. Something's going on. Something funny, perhaps. Or something weird. But what exactly? I knew exactly what I intended with the strip when I drew the thing, but I wonder if other people see the same thing. Or does it even matter if anyone sees the same thing? I think it's the sort of 'joke' that can be left somewhat ambigious.

What I think is going on:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The Cult of the New does sacrifices. So who do they sacrifice? Older games that displease them. Then, in their insane glee, they incorporate the remains of the sacrificed games into their garb. They wear their skins, as it were. Yes, I know it's a bit convoluted for a single panel strip, but I had fun drawing it.
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19. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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As you see, I'm branching out into cartoon animals. I thought it would be easy since I was sticking to simple lines and black-and-white, so of course I decided to make a 23-panel comic. But the thing is, when you stick to simple lines and black-and-white, there's nowhere to hide. If a line is off by even a tiny degree, the whole thing looks whack.

The shape of the characters evolved while I drew, so I had to go back and continually redraw the earlier versions to make them match. This wound up being a good thing, since it helped me get my mind around what 'defines' a comic animal.

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20. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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I originally decided to make the background a star player in this comic and spent a long time working on it. In the end, though, the details were a bit too much, so I wound up smoothing most of them away and keeping the background in the background, where it should be.

The character is one I've done before (I've got to come up with a name for her), but drawn in a slightly different style this time.

The sentiment of the joke is one I've done before, but coming from a slightly different angle this time.

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21. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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Sometimes I just want to go all punk rock and get something down as fast as possible with no 'overdubs' or finiky corrections. Let it be rough! as it were. I don't know if this makes for better art (probably not), but it can be satisfying.

If this sort of thing is not your sort of thing, no worries. Next time I'll have something really finiky.

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22. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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This is the first time I tried to depict an actual recongizable face. It's all freehand. No tracing! The final version is a bit different from my draft. Alfalfa orginally had teeth and a darkened mouth, but when I looked away and looked again, I saw a weird negative image that made it seem as if he had a strangly fat mouth with a thin mustache. I couldn't get rid of the illusion until I erased the teeth and the shadow.

There are other possible uninteded things with this comic. First, I wonder how many people even remember or know who Alfalfa is, and of those, how many will wonder if Alfalfa had anything to do with board games in the Little Rascals tv show (he didn't) and thus mistakenly try to find some hidden meaning. And when I showed my wife, she informed me I had misspelled Alphalfa. When I told her this misspelling was sort of the point, she just nodded politely.



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23. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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So my latest innovation... block shadows! I like the result, but I can see how in a few places I added shadows just to add shadows. But I'm still getting a feel for things, so that's okay I think.

Character design: Even now, I'm still having trouble visualizing how a character seen from the front should look like from the sides. There seems to be some sort of leap of faith going on in comic-land for this sort of thing. Look at Peanuts for example. Charlie Brown should not look like he does from the side, given his front. He should look more like a South Park character with a bump for a nose and no inward slope, if anatomy was completely consistent.

But, of course, consistency is not really the point. You just got to find something that works (however you want to define "works").

It was nice to return to a story-type joke. I love absurdist stuff, but making a 'real' story work is very satisfying.
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24. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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You know how they say some games are overproduced. Well, here's an overproduced comic about games.

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25. Board Game Designer: Mike Mayer
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This is a comic I had in the 'can' for a while. Its publication got pushed back because I didn't want too many single panel comics coming out in a row, and then it kept getting pushed. But it's here now!

There's not too much innovation going here, but I'd like to point out that I'm quite proud of how the figures are composed. It's not easy jamming in so many farm animals with people at a gaming table. My biggest worry was wondering if the reader might think the speaker is talking to the cow. But then, come on! no one ever talks to cows in cartoons, right?

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