Now, this one deserves a little bit of a closer look.
I notice for the first time that in completing and publishing it I forgot to specify the year. Does that mean that the copyright is eternal? I don’t know, but a lawyer might. I drew it in the summertime, when thunderstorms are top-of-mind. You can see the big black cloud bearing down as the passengers wait on the platform. The nearest guy has an umbrella in his hands. He’s looking up at the sky – he seems to be the only one who sees what’s coming. The second fellow – the one in the white shirt – is leaning up against the wall, looking at his watch. The fellow in yellow appears to be reading a pamphlet – perhaps he’s looking over the train schedule. The green-shirted dude is just taking a nap – I imagine there are bird noises and other soporific sounds lulling him to sleep. Finally, if you look closely, you’ll see another fine fellow in the shelter there, peering out. I’ve just noticed he isn’t wearing any clothes. Clothes were still new to me at the time (and therefore new to them) so don’t read anything into it. I probably just forgot to give him a shirt. I don’t know what he’s doing in there. He might be hiding from someone, I suppose, or he could be deathly afraid of storms. Heck, he could even be watching someone out there, wanting to stay out of sight. All I know is when I drew this piece, he was there. And he wanted to be included.
But for one little detail, that’s about it. The detail is the poster on the wall, which purports to be an advertisement for a movie, but which is actually a complete re-rendering of the scene before us. It gives the piece a sort of ‘Russian doll’ quality, I think, especially because there’s another poster inside that one, and so on, and so on, and so on.
I’ve found over the few years I’ve been drawing that the audience often doesn’t see details like that. I’m not sure why, unless it’s that they’re in too much of a hurry or they’re only viewing the image on their phone. But it’s disappointing to me because little details like that take a lot of consideration and thought and imagination, and if the viewer doesn’t notice them then it makes me sad that they’re missing things. That said, the notion that my audience might occasionally be inattentive never once made me want to stop drawing. The KerDoodles wanted to be drawn. They needed to be drawn. And I, amazingly enough, was the one chosen to get it done.
As I’ve said, a lot of times what oozed out of my stylus was a tableau that just needed to be expressed. It came unbidden. Unexpected. Sometimes though, humour was the goal. A punchline occurred to me, and I followed it through.
Here, for example. I was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for a scan of my knee after a slip-and-fall. Anyway, while sitting in the waiting room a vision of this one flitted up into my mind, perched, and squawked at me. What if I left, I thought, and didn’t go through with the test?How would that look to the nurses? Well, this is what I came up with.
You can see that the nurse has come to get “C.K.” (that’s Clive Kerdoo) – as it’s his turn to go through the test. He’s gone, though, having left her a note – this nurse of the Nuclear Medicine department – that says simply: “Sorry. Gone fission.”
This next one is a variation on a theme. Remember on page 48 when the KerDoodles were spotted by the ghost hunters? Well, this is the same idea but perhaps a little more cleverly expressed.
You can easily tell it’s from a year later. The clothes, of course, but mostly the confidence in the drawings – the certitude. The faces, too, were becoming more interesting. Here, a group of eight KerDoodles in the dark show significant surprise when the ghost Hunter takes a flash photograph. I like it. It’s minimalist, and it has textures in it which I hadn’t used before. It shows how quickly my efforts were maturing, and how I was growing in the role of ‘chief kerdoodlator’?
Next, I started to write, er, draw, er, write… 🤔 a little historiographic elucidation of Clive’s existence. How had he come to be where he was in life? What even was the course of his life? The project was a highly stylized, wispy, hazy type of thing. A retrospective. I won’t reproduce the entire thing here, but I’ll show you the first one, of which I was really quite proud at the time.
The drawing is a response to the question, ¨If you could remember your birth, what would it look like?” I imagine that the first thing you’d see at your birth, if you could register it, would be the nurses, watching you emerge from your bodily cocoon, ready to grab your head, smack your po-po, check your vitals, and send you on your way. Of course, your eyes were probably not up to much in those first moments – blurry vision, etc, and time adds another layer of mystery and obfuscation, wrapping the world and your memories of it in an even more hazy and uncertain mist.
This was definitely an inspired drawing – I saw this in my mind long before I picked up the stylus. This is one of those cases, though, where I got to feel some pretty strong gratification at the result. Hey – look back. It’s just about as close to ‘art’ as I had come in that first year. Heck, it’s just about as ‘artsy’ as I’ve been able to get in the four and half years since! So, needless to say, I was quite pleased.
As a stand alone piece it doesn’t seem to mean anything, but in the context that I’ve given you I hope you like it.
I like this next one, too. For a long time I’ve been interested in the supernatural. Ever since my kidhood I’ve had experiences that strongly inferred a spiritual plane. You can believe what you like, but I have no doubts. Anyway, I’ve watched a few of those ‘ghost hunting’ shows over the years – not because I believe them, particularly, but because I believe that in every investigation there’s the potential to learn something probative about a very interesting subject.
In this piece the ghost hunters are in the KerDoodle environment. They’ve heard something and the KerDoodles are there, lamenting that people are more ready to believe in ghosts than in KerDoodles. I mean, ‘whaddup wit dat, homes?!’
You can see that the imagination is starting to match the delivery. It’s still fairly early on – 2018, but the way I handled the environment in this one is really starting to show some deliberation. There’s depth here. There’s a real sense of the up-close, and the far off. The ghost hunters are suggested by the lights in the distance – I didn’t have to attempt to actually draw humans to make this work. They are a part of the equation here and I for one like how they present.
Around that time I really started figuring out how to work with light. Light gives any subject life – it adds to, and takes from, the subject so that it shows in a unique way. You can see that I’ve learned, by this time, that erasing part of a dark layer ‘reveals’ the subject behind in a very effective way that creates mystery.
Here, for example, a KerDoodle is holding a candle in the dark – revealing his face in a pitch-black environment. There’s fear there – or at least concern. Who knows what nasty little surprises await him in the dark? In retrospect I think I could have brightened up the area near the candle a bit more, but… learning curve.
You’ll notice the ‘dark reveal’ more often as we go forward from here. I found it a very effective, artsy-fartsy way of creating mood in a drawing. Of course, I don’t go dark all the time, only when it’s called for, but it’s nice to know that the technique is there when I need it.
Like in this next one. This was definitely ‘inspired’. I was driving the school bus by this time and my daily interactions with the kids on board did provide a few KerDoodle ideas, and this was definitely one of them.
I told you earlier how most of my KerDoodles, when they needed a name, became Clive. I’m not sure why, but for some reason this fellow became Wendal instead. The name, of course, is not the important thing. Identity is important, but the actual name is not. I saw him before I drew him. He’s smiling and waving at the kids, and for some reason they’re scared of him. Care to guess what that reason is? It could have something to do with the shadow he’s casting. That’s a pretty terrifying shadow – even to me!
I’m quite pleased with this as another experiment in the use of light and shadow. Somehow, don’t ask me how, I drew that shadow behind him in only one take! It’s smooth and actually fairly accurate, and even at the time I remember I was quite pleased with it. Yup, he’s still naked. But that’s natural, and you have no reason to worry. You will never, ever, see a KerDoodle’s doodle.
Tomorrow… some rapid-fire, and a bit of a Russian doll.
As time went by the KerDoodles developed. As my skills progressed, so too did my ability to accurately express what I was seeing in my mind. Oh, there were moments – there still are – when the right line just wouldn’t come, when the right shape just won’t manifest. But in general my skills were greatly improved. The roughness of the early days was gradually giving way to a greater sophistication in subject and technique. Eventually, I was pleased to label some of my works as being beyond mere cartoons. I actually started producing KerDoodle art. But more on that later.
In the graduation phase I became better at eliciting a mood. My ability to show, or infer, movement improved, too, and more and more often the actual completion of the drawing was tremendously rewarding, spiritually. I got into a high-paced routine of drawing them, finishing them, and sharing them.
At this stage I still hadn’t come around to putting clothes on them all the time. They still had not learned the kind of modesty that requires them to cover themselves. To me, this is evidence that they were still more ‘in my mind’ than ‘of the world’. It’s okay, though. Plenty of time for shy and demure later on.
Here’s another homage. I’ve long been an enthusiast of the rock band, Pink Floyd, and this is a peek at one of their albums – The Wall. This little moment in time captures a KerDoodle listening to music which is much too loud to be good for him. As Pink Floyd’s album did, this speaks to the collective habit we have of submitting to our environment, and of immersing ourselves in the sensate and the evocative. In drawing it I wanted to point out, if only subconsciously, my appreciation for the critique. I know, it’s pre-clothing. Or, perhaps he’s just a rad kerdood lounging around his home with nothing on, to signify his resentment of the repression of ‘the man’.
Have I ever mentioned that I love the English language? I suppose I must, since my two little ‘pieces of paper’ relate heavily to it. One of the things I love about it is the opportunity it provides for linguistic play. ‘Word play’, as they call it, is the use of a word in a way that was not originally intended for the purposes of creating irony or a punch line of some sort.
By now, of course, you’re fully in tune with the ‘humour of some sort’ I like to hit you with. I like nothing better than to catch you off-guard with a linguistic witticism. A marriage of ideas, a dance of meanings. I don’t know if doing this makes you laugh, or groan, or throw things, but when it happens you can safely picture me somewhere in the room, tossing my hat in the air with glee. The need to do this led to this little thing, and to the creation of the KerDoodle horse.
Surely we all knew that sooner or later there would be critters in this village – in this KerDoodle world – that reflect our own wider experience. By this stage I’d already drawn dogs, of course, and cats. I’d messed with rabbits and birds. So why not horses? Anyway, all in support of the play on words (horse, hoarse – get it?) I started drawing a few equines.
In my mind I saw Thelwell. You remember him – a real artist, drawing cartoon horses, kids, adults, showing the world of equestrianism as he saw it. His art was brilliant, complex. His work was just right – ironic, subtle, often hilarious – and I’m still a fan. My horses looked like his in my mind, but once it came time to drawing them they seemed to be a little bit more… innocent. But that’s ok, because that’s what I can draw, so that’s what they are. This one’s a play on words. I got a chuckle when I drew it. Yes, I tossed my hat in the air.
Back and forth, and back and forth! Another early one, but one which I think deserves to be included. This one is me being witty. The quickie joke of course is that saying that all generalizations are false is in itself a generalization, therefore it’s a falsity. It’s a self-defeating affirmation. As for the KerDoodle, you can tell it’s an early one because…? Because he’s totally naked, of course.
At a military museum near me there’s a fighter jet mounted on a pole. Well, I had the idea one day to take a picture and give it a pilot, and this is what I came up with. I airbrushed the pole out of the exhaust area (rather expertly, I think). Then I lay the jet on an exciting blue background, and popped in a happy pilot. A relaxed pilot, too, as you can see from his having his arm up on the window sill. That’s one cool KerDood.
There’s nothing more to it than that. At that time I was seeing KerDoodles everywhere, so it just felt appropriate for there to be one in a jet plane too. After all, they can do everything we can do, so why shouldn’t they fly?
Did I not just now say that at that time I was seeing KerDoodles everywhere? Well, here’s an example of that. Another photographic backdrop (photo credit, yours truly), and boy were those guys industrious! There was painting going on, as you can plainly see, and the bridge was closed. “No pedestrian traffic at all, ma’am,” as the official-looking fellow in the front is probably saying. Somewhere there’s a carpenter, as evidenced by the planks ready for installation. And there, on the left, working on a ladder and on the ground, are some other workers painting the walls. At the time I thought it was rather clever of me to draw the brush marks up to the point that had been painted already – the white down below, and the darker colour above. The No-entry sign also has a distinctly KerDoodle-esque flavour to it. And the roofers are very clearly and cleverly strapped on for safety. After all, it is windy out there, and no one wants to get hurt.
Now that you know basically what’s going on behind the scenes, how about a little rapid-fire before we move on?
A hitch-hiking KerDoodle with no pants? Risky! But that’s what we have here. All on a rural Alberta backdrop.
On the day of the long walk in Toronto I also saw these fellows. All hard at work, though I think it was lunchtime.
Obviously, I didn’t draw that planet, but I did draw the KerDoodle. The statement being made is that they’re everywhere. And they are. They really are.
If you have ever wondered whether there are UFOs, take a look at this. Those little lights in the sky? Probably a KerDoodle, having a little fun.
So I’ve already shown you a couple of drawings which I placed over a photograph – the homage to Titanic, and the skydiving one. For a while, as I was honing my skills, I used photos as a backdrop on quite a few images. As I’ve explained before, this was quite deliberate. I knew I was learning, and I knew the best way to improve was to give myself the gift of perspective. The perspective which the photo backdrops allow is what kept the KerDoodles grounded in reality. They are just like us, minus all the negative stuff.
So in this chapter I’m going to share a few of the ‘drawing on photos’ things I produced early on. Some of these I could have included in the last chapter – Early Works – but as I look at them I think the largest part of what they are revolves around the photograph they’re on, and how I’ve used that to portray the business of the KerDoodle.
This was an early work, to be sure. No clothing, rough drawings. But the background of the ice hockey arena is telling. It was drawn in response to the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash of April 2018. Being a Canadian, and a hockey-loving Canadian to boot, this was one world event that hit close to home. I didn’t know anyone involved, of course, but I still felt it, and I felt moved to respond to it in the best way I knew how.
The adventurousness in this one is shown in the actions of the KerDoodles skating on the ice. Yes, I know, they’re naked – that’s the first clue that this was an early work. The motions are also quite rudimentary, and the copy and paste I used to create the crowd is by today’s standard quite lazy. But, that’s where I was at the time. In April 2018 I had been drawing for only five months, so if you think about it, this effort really was quite ambitious. In fact, I remember when I started working on it how overwhelmed I felt at the prospect. I had a sense of all the work that would be involved, and that was quite daunting to me, but I was determined to do something to show my unity for the victims of the crash, and this is what I came up with. I know, it’s not up to much, but it’s from the heart.
This one was fun. Also somewhat early, it stemmed from my long-time love of reading crimmies (crime novels) and watching whodunnits on TV. This one shows the murder victim and a Sherlock-esque detective checking the area for clues. Believe it or not, this one grew out of the magnifying glass. I wanted to draw something through a magnifying glass. Let me rephrase that: I wanted to see ifI could draw something through a magnifying glass.
I don’t know if anyone looking at it even notices that his left eye is bigger than his right – and the line between his eyes is bigger within the magnifying glass than without. Even the part of the nose inside is distorted as it would be at the edge of the glass. So this entire drawing flowed from wanting to see if I could draw the distortion within the glass. Did it work? Ask yourself, when you first looked at it, what did you notice? It was an exercise. An inspired exercise.
In this next one, what do you see?I posted it to my blog at the time under the heading, “How Many Ghosts Do You See?” It was an exercise meant for kids, but it also demonstrated a new tool I had been learning about: opacity. I learned that by adjusting the opacity of an object in a separate layer I could draw something solid which you could actually see through.
In the fall of 2017 I was in Toronto visiting family, when I went with a cousin for a very long walk. It was raining as we toured a few of the older buildings of the University of Toronto, rambling around downtown. My feet got wet, my camera got wet, but that was okay. At the time of this walk I had only just started drawing the KerDoodles. This was the time of the first experiments with the wall and the flower. But a year later I pulled those photos out and had a look at them, and the things I had learned about hauntings at the U of T resonated again and I decided to draw some ghosts.
As rough as it is, though, I like it. There are a lot of emotions here. I see worry, consternation, dependence, invocation, disappointment, and of course tremendous happiness on those KerDoodle faces. That the nose lines (the one in front of the eyes and behind the nose on the side view critters) are so thick also tells me how early this drawing was. Later on I figured out that a much narrower line was just as functional, and occasionally I’d even go out of my way to lose the line altogether. The title is also a little ironic. “Poker Face” means something other than is going on here. These guys are showing all their tells. They aren’t fooling anyone.
So that’s just a sampling of the early stuff. Remembering that I’m my own harshest critic I’m going to go out on a limb and say that some of it is, quite honestly, embarrassing. Some is good. All of it shows progress, and learning, and desire. I can say that I’m very pleased with the evolution of the KerDoodles at this stage. But I’m most pleased about what the KerDoodles are. They are flawed, sweet, kind, loving – occasionally irritable. They are what I think the ideal human should be. They hold no grudges. They have no preconceptions. They don’t pre-judge anything. They are full of the milk of human kindness, as I wish actual humans would be.
One last story before I move on. One day, again on the school bus while waiting at the school, I had a little junior approach me. I’ll call him Tony. He asked me if I’d draw him a cartoon. Well, knowing that inspiration is the largest part of my muse I asked him what kind of cartoon he’d like. He started to tell me what was in his young mind: a tall guy, big muscles, huge guns, camo unis, facial hair, a big scowl. These are not his words; I’m describing for you what he told me he wanted. I told Tony that I would think it over and let him know. He gave me some samples of the kind of thing he was thinking about, and that night I went online to look it up.
I was horrified! Absolutely horrified! I quickly told myself that big muscles, huge guns, camo unis etc could in no wise ever emanate from my proverbial pen. There was no way. That’s just not who I am. So the next day while waiting to set off we chatted again and I explained to him what I draw. “I draw love,” I said. “I draw sweetness and kindness, and caring. I draw funny. There’s no anger in any of my drawings,” I said. “There’s only understanding and curiosity and concern.” I apologized, but told him I’d be happy to draw him something from my heart if he’d like. He said, “sure”, and that was the last we spoke of it.
Later on I did draw a picture for him. I doubt he ever saw it, but this is it.
Perhaps I disappointed little Tony, I don’t know. I like to think that, instead, I introduced him to some softer, kinder words and thoughts than he was being shown already. Maybe I gave him a chance to avoid the incipient violence of our age.
Wouldn’t it be nice if my little drawings could do that?
Ok, all that said, how about some comic relief? A few more from the early works.
In brief, I think this was my first little sashay toward the fourth wall. You know the one. In theatrical speak, the fourth wall is the audience itself. In normal circumstances the fourth wall is ignored – the story plays out despite it, for it, not with it. This is a rule of sorts – the people in the play aren’t supposed to know the audience is there. Television and movie actors must never – ever – look into the camera. It’s a rule.
Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and in circumstances where the audience plays a part, or where the purpose of the story is inculcation, it is permissible to address the audience directly – to interact with the fourth wall. That’s what this KerDoodle is doing. “Hello, you there in the audience, wouldn’t it be nice if it was this easy to lose weight? Yes, you know what I’m saying.”
I believe it’s important to involve the audience, even if only obliquely, in the cartooning process. After all, the messages are for them. It’s the audience – the reader – who is to benefit from the laying out of ideas, so if they aren’t occasionally involved in a slightly more assertive way, isn’t something somewhere being missed?
This one is a joke for the sake of a joke. Sorry. It’s corny as heck, as all the best jokes are. It’s a play on words, as most of my actual jokes are. It’s quick, and it’s simple, like all the best cartoonists!
Next is an homage to Lady and the Tramp. Now, I talk about homages later on, but I’m dropping this one in now because there’s another issue that I feel needs to be addressed. Once upon a time, I drove school bus. One day after school while I was waiting for the junior cargo to climb aboard, I watched in the big mirror as some of the kids wandered up and down the bus looking at a few of my cartoons. (I’d turned the bus into something of an art gallery, for their benefit). One of them, in conversation with another, happened to say something that caught my ear: he said, “they look like dogs”.
Now I found this quite interesting. First, because of the Snoopy angle I mentioned previously, and second, because I had never actually considered that I was drawing dog-like creatures. But I was, really, wasn’t I? The more I look at them the more I realize that – facially at least – they do have the features of a dog. Big nose, often with a black tip, long, dangly ears. True, they walk upright and they don’t sport a tail, but in the face at least, there is a certain similarity. It was a truth I didn’t mind, too.
After all, I love dogs, and it’s true what they say – dogs are a man’s best friend. Loyal, kind, loving, (when taught to be that way), eager, and welcoming. So if the kids wanted to associate my little creations with canids, well, I was fine with that. Of course, it wasn’t my intention that they be dogs. They are, to me, people with long ears, big eyes, a relatively big nose, and a heart as big as Canada. They run their village in much the same way that we do, but with kindness and charity at the root, not avarice. They show many of the same characteristics as people. But not all. There is no hate in them. There is no intolerance – ever. There is confusion, occasionally. Puzzlement. Wonderment. Enthusiasm. But there is never hate. Even if there is distrust in any given situation, it comes from a position of understanding – or at least, of the desire to understand. And after all, isn’t that the way it should be? You know what? That’s the way it is for kids. Kids, when left to their own devices, don’t hate anyone. And we adults could learn a thing or two about that, couldn’t we?
This one was in the inspired category – I was inspired by the ability to cheat a little, by including a complete photographic background. Believe me, someone else did the jumping, I just did the drawing. The photo for this one I found online – I only ever looked for images that were listed as ‘free to use for any purpose’. I have occasionally used photos that I took personally, but not this time. For some reason I have always had a healthy respect for gravity and I’m pretty unlikely ever to go out of my way to check first-hand how it really works.
All the KerDoodles are original drawings, of course. This one I had a hard time with. “It’s just one line next to another,” I told myself. But it’s more than that. I was trying to get the perspective right – of his legs flying up behind him, but I think the head was so big there was no realistic way his legs would ever be visible, so his legs hang down, his ears flop up, and the movles show which direction he’s going. Silly me, though: I didn’t put goggles on him. Lord knows how many flies he hit on the way down, but I forgot to protect those big, big eyes.
Another one I ‘saw’ before it was drawn (there were so many!) was this tribute to an iconic moment in cinematic history. Can anyone tell me which movie it comes from? Of course you can! Titanic, with whatsisname and the pretty one. It isn’t my favourite movie ever, but I thought that moment as they left port was pretty strong, and I thought it needed to be honoured.
It’s on a photo backdrop, of course. It’s another cheat that I discovered along with layers, but in making this discovery I learned a lot about depth in my drawings, as I think you’ll see a bit later. Layers really are half the battle when it comes to cartooning. I do notice that I haven’t put pants on him yet. Don’t read anything into that. Again, these are the early works: plenty of time for pants later.
If there’s one thing I hope I’ve managed to express throughout my time drawing the KerDoodles, it’s the depth of my appreciation for Mr Charles M. Schulz, of Peanuts fame. I grew up with him – with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and of course, Snoopy. I loved them all. As a boy I read them just about all the time, and everywhere. I think I had them all – I certainly had a huge collection, and I loved them all. I still have a number of those books, now, forty seven years or so later. I’ve given quite a few away over the years – to kids, for example, from the school bus I used to drive – but I’ve kept some with special meaning. The one that made me laugh so hard I almost choked: I kept that one. As I did the one I was reading on a Wardair flight from Edmonton, Canada to London, England when I realized that Reg Varney, (On The Buses), was sitting in the seat right in front of me. He signed it for me, making me one happy little boy. I kept a bunch. Now it’s a bunch lite, but I still have some.
So it should come as no surprise that when I started drawing I thought of Mr Schulz and modelled some of my work on what I thought he would do. Nor should it be surprising that I wanted to honour him and his work at the earliest possible moment by referencing it respectfully with my humble offerings. Here are two such.
The first uses Lucy’s infamous psychiatric stand to deprecate my own shirtless character. I confess I chuckled myself when I drew that one. The psychiatrist, a female like Lucy, has been thinking about the patient’s issues, but has “got nothin’” and has given up. This is, of course, depressing for the patient, who looks quite choked.
In the second, Woodstock, Snoopy’s little feathered friend, has spied the shirt on this KerDoodle character and has thought him to be Charlie Brown. The KerDoodle politely directs him to his own ‘studio’, where he will find “Mr Brown”. I don’t remember anyone calling him “Mr Brown” when I was growing up, but I sure call him that now. The more I look at the work of Mr Schulz, today from my adult, cartoonist’s perspective, the more impressed I am with the fundamental decency and honesty which he brought to his work. There were life lessons for children who read his offerings. There was important information. But always without trauma. Even when Charlie Brown kept missing the football, he never really got hurt or angry.
Moving on! It’s all progress. Let’s see what happened next.
I love barbershop. Not the haircut kind, obviously, but the musical kind. Close harmony, to me, is a miracle of the way the human animal is capable of communicating. To be so close, so in tune, so focused on the presentation of an idea through musical means must surely be one of the greatest of our specie’s achievements. So, I had to honour that, didn’t I? Sweet Adeline is just about the first tune any barbershop singer learns, and these KerDoodles appear to be enjoying it very much. This drawing is the result of a combination of tools. The barber poles on the walls and the chairs are photographs laid into the image. The rest is hand drawn. I can count seven distinct layers in this drawing. The blue background, the brown wall and perspective lines, the chairs and poles, the two barbershop customers, the members of the quartet, and the customers’ and quartets’ clothing and capes. All that was quite ambitious for me, but this was another of my ‘inspired’ drawings, so it had to be. I love the facial expressions as they delve deeply into the music. There’s an innocence and enjoyment here which is, to me anyway, infectious. I know the tune, ‘Sweet Adeline’, obviously, so I can hear it in my mind now, but even if I didn’t I think the happiness of their endeavour would be palpable. They are clearly loving what they’re doing. I also seem to recall that this was one of the first times I realized how intensity can be increased by closing the KerDoodles’ eyes. Ok, next.
In this one – back in the pre-clothing era, I think I was feeling a little preachy. It occurred to me one morning, over coffee and muffin, that the first thing we learn in life is the word ‘no’, and that we just keep learning it, over and over. As children, it’s ‘no, junior, don’t do that!’ In school, at work, and perhaps even in Court, it’s the same thing. I don’t know why, but I thought it needed to be said. Occasionally, (sorry) my drawings express my inner horrors, my politics, my opinions and my beliefs, and on this occasion I was thinking how really, devastatingly harmful that word is.
Even to this day when I’m told ‘no’ on something, as mature and rational as I am, it hurts. Last week while out walking I came across a man who was walking about five or six dogs. I’ve got one of my own, so I asked him if it was okay to put my hand out and let them sniff me. His answer took me aback: he said, “Absolutely not.” Well, I accepted that, and in hindsight he might have been right, but I can’t deny that it hurt. Not being told to stay away from the dogs, but being told ‘no’ on any subject at all. No is a harmful word. It’s necessary, but in my opinion it’s so overused. It limits us far beyond its intention. The child wants a candy and is told no, but the meaning is far deeper than just the lack of a candy. The word means no you can’t have a candy, but it also avers the word, ‘can’t’, which is limiting in every possible way for the entire length of a life. It is negative affirmation, which is devastating in its effects. It’s a power word – transferring authority in that circumstance to the other, and perhaps even stealing self-confidence at times when it’s most needed. But methinks we probably use the word too much.
One of the greatest difficulties I have had throughout my time drawing the KerDoodles is duplication. Let’s face it: I can’t draw the same character twice. I just can’t do it. No matter how hard I try, the ‘pen’ just won’t glide the same way again. Heck, quite often I can’t even draw matching feet, such is my handicap, so you can imagine my consternation at trying to draw the same complete character over and over again, in an actual comic strip.
This cartoon would seem to belie this, but I owe it almost entirely to copy-and-paste. As with layers, the day I discovered copy-and-paste was liberating, for me and for the KerDoodles. That tidy little function has allowed for consistencies which my rotten hand would otherwise have denied me. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have a cartoonist’s eye, but the hand doesn’t always follow the brain – mostly, the hand goes its own way.
The day I discovered the power of copy-and-paste, I decided to put it to the test on a little positive affirmation. All I changed with each version of this KerDoodle was the limbs and the face. The rest was layers, and copy-and-paste.
There’s a little bit of copy and paste in this one, too. I built myself a few different kinds of strip boxes – from one window to four in a square, and four, side-by-side. These gave me the option to do different kinds of cartoons. Here, the male KerDoodle (dad) is clearly C&P’d in all three windows, the son (the Kidoodle) is also copied, though slightly modified, and the mother is different in the first window, but copied and modified in the last two. Nope. I just can’t do it. I can’t draw the same character twice without cheating. (No, James, it’s not cheating. It’s being solutions-oriented. It’s pushing for the best possible result, using the tools at hand.)
I hope this knowledge doesn’t lower your opinion of me, or of the KerDoodles. But if it does, all I can say is, oh well. I work with the tools that Gosh gave me, and one of those tools is Copy and Paste. Another is tracing, but that’s a story still to come. So what’s new in these three images? Confidence? Sure. Imagination? Absolutely. But if you said clothing then you get the silver fig leaf.
The discovery of layers brought the ability to put clothes on the little blighters, and boy were they grateful! On cold days, you gotta have clothes – even if you’re a KerDoodle. In public spaces? An absolute must – for propriety’s sake alone! Androgynous they may be, but sexless they aren’t, and they suffer all the same shame and shyness that people do, and more. More, because they are sweet and light and kind, and without guile (for the most part) and because they are reflective of we human beings, whilst also above and beyond us. The early ladies, well, they didn’t know any better. But with progress comes responsibility so they soon started wearing dresses. The men? The purple ones? Today they wear pants, but it wasn’t always thus.
And look at those movles! I learned that from every cartoon I ever read, growing up. When you want to portray motion in a drawing, you add ‘invisible’ lines that signify direction and vigour. So look at our young lady dancer go, as she shakes her booty round and round. This one is so very simple, but it definitely goes in the ‘inspired’ list. I saw her in my mind before I ever picked up the iPad. The smile, the wiggle, the movles. It was all there before it was there. No background, just a picture frame with a matte, and a happy, jittery young lady.
Around this time I started to appreciate the role photos could play in my work. The little table I drew, freehand, in the kickboxing strip should tell you how desperately I need such crutches. I make no apology. I think everyone should learn from this – use the tools at hand to get the results you want.
In these I think the progression is obvious. The line is better – a little more assured, I’ve learned to copy and paste (for consistency’s sake – I’ll unpack this in a little while), and I’m doing a better job of delivering my punchline. Remember I said that not all my cartoons come with punchlines (see montages, tableaus, etc, above)? Well, in the early days a lot of them did. In the early days, á la Hart, Schulz, et al, I felt the need to try to be humorous. In the early days I walked around in a bit of a stupor, most of the time, trying to think up jokes that Hart, Schulz et al hadn’t already used. I tried to be me, but I tried to be funny. I know: a bit of an oxymoron.
My mother tells me I have a biting wit – dry, acerbic. I have the gift of the snappy come-back, a deference to my youth in the Angel Isle. Part of my challenge, while I was still hoping to make my cartoons funny, was to also make them approachable. I had to consider how well my dry wit translated to the poorly-drawn cartoon. Even as I worked every day (sometimes three or four (or more!) drawings per day once I got it all moving) to improve my skills, I tried even harder to make my KerDoodles approachable.
Like this. It didn’t take long for me – a Canadian – to think up a jape involving apologies. We Canucks are quite well known for our apologetic prowess, after all. It is our national identity. This one comes from the ‘inspired’ list, and it was born at a time when we were all hearing – every damn day! – about cancel culture and how rotten we all are, even if we’re not. So, it was an attempt to poke back at the eye of the politically correct monster, whilst not actually crossing the line of being politically incorrect. Did it work? I don’t know, you be the judge. Looking at it in terms of conception and delivery I can’t help but be somewhat chuffed. It’s simple, but it has layers. The only thing I’d do differently today is put some clothes on him (he looks cold), and I’d make all the text the same size. I definitely give myself an e for effort.
Speaking of layers, I can see here that I’ve started to use the layers tool of the sketches app. The pale blue background for the KerDoodle was drawn behind the KerDoodle, and it was repeated for consistency. I think I used this also in the drunken bar scene, but in that one it was pure luck that I got the layers in the right order. Here, I did it deliberately. It’s a small thing, but an important one. As you’ll see down the line, layers became a more and more critical part of the complexities of my work. It was a bright day in Valhalla the day I finally twigged to the potential of layers.
A few more.
There was a bit of a double-entendre in this one. Everyone has days, right? Days when you wonder what it’s all for? Well, that’s the germ of this one. And in KerDoodle terms it was also me, the artist, trying to figure out what the KerDoodles were going to be. It was also me, the artist, playing with the concept a little – deliberately drawing my cartoon character in different ways in support of the premise. I liked it, and still do. The delivery is better, the lines more assured. The text is consistently-sized. And look at those poses! The traditional hands-on-hips look of the terminally ponderous, the elbow-on-the-hand wonderment of the intensely focused, and the others actually holding on to their ears. So simple! And yet, so effective. I remember being quite pleased with this one when it was finished. I remember how eager I was to get it uploaded to the website, so I could get instant feedback from my millions and millions of adoring fans. Never mind all that, though. As one who is constantly trying to figure out his place in the world, on a very personal level this one spoke to me.
So you can see the abilities are developing. The delivery is getting better. The presentation is improving.
Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at some of the early work. Not because of how funny they are but because of how mind-bogglingly awful they are. Saying this, of course, is a little unfair. I know what they became, but I still have to acknowledge their right to develop, and my own learning curve. The hand doesn’t just start drawing the correct line immediately. It just doesn’t. It has to have time to learn the pace, the curve, the slope. At the start I made a conscious decision to allow this to occur organically. I can’t count how many endeavours I have embarked on over the years which I have discarded, thrown out, deleted in disgust simply because it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. In my writings, particularly, the wretch-factor has often overwhelmed the need to give my work a chance. This is bad, so with the KerDoodles I wanted to be sure to give myself a chance. For this reason I set two rules for myself – the if-you-want-this-to-work-you-need-to-give-yourself-a-chance rules. Rule number one was to not throw anything out. Even if it didn’t come out quite as expected, the concept, or even parts of the output would always have some merit somewhere, and deserved to not be destroyed out of pique. Rule number two was to not put pressure on it. I knew I would never be a Schulz, Hart, or Larson (heaven forfend!), but even those genii had to start somewhere. Bottom line: don’t be too critical, let it be what it will be.
So are you ready? First, close your eyes like you’re squinting, like you can hardly bear to look. You’ll thank me later. For here is some of the early work.
The thing about learning to draw the KerDoodles was the technical stuff. The ideas came easily enough – after all, it was open season – but the ability couldn’t always keep up. Little things like what kind of stylus to use; the one I started with, at about an inch and a half in length, was far too small in the hand to last. After even a few minutes’ effort the hand kept cramping up, so that was no good. I wound up with one that was about three inches long, of good weight, and fairly resilient. I found it at my university bookstore.
But never mind the stylus. To begin with, the lines themselves – the one thing without which no drawing can even exist – just refused to cooperate. The app was new to me and I still wasn’t familiar with all its features. This is no small thing, you know. It’s like trying to cook without any dry ingredients. It’s like trying to read a book with your eyes closed, or driving a golf ball with a rolled up handkerchief. At first you’re excited, but then as the weight of your decisions begins to manifest, you figure out that what you’re doing matters; that each and every line in a drawing plays. Every mark which winds up on the page lends itself to the final result – even if only subconsciously.
Here’s the Sketches interface. I’m not going to do a sales pitch for the app, but you should know what I look at when I draw. I don’t draw on paper, remember. I draw on my iPad.
You can see that there’s an assortment of tools in the palette, from very small and fine pencils and pens, to larger, water-colour brushes, splash, smear and smudge. There’s an eraser, a fill tool, a blade for cut-and-paste activities, and a number of pre-defined shapes, should you need to use them – a square, a circle, a star and so on.
Each of these tools had a learning curve of its own, and because I was dealing with a tremendous handicap, I think my learning curve was a little steeper than most. Remember, I was doing this drawing thing for the first time in – what? – forty years?
Anyway, here’s one of the early works. It’s an ‘inspired’ piece, and a most adventurous one. I had the idea of delivering a punchline. In my mind I saw my character being vigorous somehow. Energetic. In my mind there were sunbeams, there was vegetation, there was context and perspective. But apparently only in my mind.
The reality, as you see, is somewhat more rudimentary. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’ve already sussed the flaws. The table is awful, though I applaud the effort, and the little computer monitors are square. I’ll give them that much, but the KerDoodle, well… what can I say? What is with those shoulders? That big, thick black line that forms his torso? His feet? Highly suspect. The best I can say in my defence is his face makes a slick stab at an emotion (though I’m not quite certain which one), and I tried hard to cross his arms. All-in-all I have to say, if a Breathēd or a Schulz had come up with this I would have skipped the punchline and quickly accused them of being on something. No, no, I have to be honest and signify my embarrassment at having produced this.
Having said that, contextually speaking he was one of my very first efforts, so there’s that. And there’s the app learning curve to consider – I was still very new at it, and the control wasn’t really there yet. It was also an original idea, I think, so I have to give myself credit for that. The process of the realization of an idea, I have learned, is rather like the throes of childbirth, and this was one of my very first children.
Quick! Let’s move on.
Ah, this one. From early 2018 – so long ago now. So much water under the proverbial bridge. I was so much younger then, and better-looking, and I was still enjoying a beer or two a day as part of my staple diet. I suppose that’s why the idea came to me to portray a bunch of drunks in a bar. I’ve grown up since then, so this kind of thing just wouldn’t occur to me now.
Ok, enact the critical eye – the one my readers first saw this picture with, way back when. Kerdoodles numbering five. Rude-looking glasses, crooked pictures. Perspective, ok – playing with perspective in the juxtaposition of the walls, the drunken sot in the background. Water-colour floors. A spill. Hmmmm.
The humour, of course, is in the facial expressions and the situation. There’s a little more confidence in the lines, but that falling-over guy at the bar – he’s living (sic) proof that I haven’t yet figured out how to, um, draw. And why the front guy has drifted completely out of the frame is totally beyond me. I wasn’t messing with the fourth wall yet, so I’m guessing it was inadvertent. Oh well.
But again, it’s early days and I’m giving myself room to grow. It was my adventurous spirit, and perhaps a little of the spiritual influence I referenced before that even had me attempting such a complex and intricate work, so… yay me.
I thought, contemplated, and mulled even more. He had to leave the wall behind completely. If this journey was to happen at all he’d have to figure out how to exist in different environments. The wall, the well, the tree – they were easy. They were what he knew. But he – by which I mean, ‘I’ – would have to figure out how to be brave, to go to new places and – frankly – to draw new things.
That was my fear. I didn’t trust my hand. As a young boy I’d doodled, of course… in my Bible, in the hymn books. But this… This was different. My mind was churning. Was this something I could do? Could I take these first, halting steps of a still-nameless creature and actually turn him in to something? I felt scared – actually scared. It felt like a responsibility, I’m not sure why. But, being an adult (allegedly) I knew I had it in me to figure a way. In the back of my mind I remembered that my maternal grandfather considered himself an artist of sorts, and I knew that if these little creatures were to actually become something, I’d have to use method.
First, and most important, was to remember to draw one line at a time. To avoid getting too adventuresome too soon. Thankfully, knowing my limitations is second-nature for me, so getting ahead of myself was not likely. In my mind I had a concept – one borrowed from my childhood – a creature who felt sweet and kind, and worth nurturing. All I had to do was figure out how to take him out of my mind and put him down on – if you will – ‘paper’.
Method and I are very familiar with each other. I’m not going to spout my resumé here, but I have in my time managed to secure two not insignificant pieces of paper simply by knowing how to organize myself. Not brilliance, just method. Being able to break the project down into its component parts is key, and by the time my purple friend was looking away from his wall, looking at that house, this is what I was doing. I was figuring out how far he might go.
Three more things before we finally launch into this little retrospective. First, the name. To begin with, I was going to call it the Doodles. Why not, right? After all, in my self-deprecating mind that’s what they were – just doodles. There was certainly nothing expert about them, though the abilities and the steadiness of hand did improve with time and practice.
This was the first drawing that I actually felt was worthy of publication. I posted Holy Doodle to my Twitter feed, and sat back and waited for my well-deserved thousands of responses. As soon as I posted it, though, I thought about copyright for the first time. I was quite sure that the word ‘Doodle’ was not going to be easy to lock up – even informally – after all, it’s a pretty common word. So I thought, and I pondered, and I wondered, and I hemmed and hawed, and I vexed and kvetched and gnawed at nails until I finally thought of KerDoodles. Don’t ask me why.
Ok fine, I’ll tell you. I have a vague recollection of thinking of my last name – the multi-syllabic ‘McDonall’ (meaning, literally, ‘son of’ ‘donall’) and translating that obliquely to the word doodle. McDoodle, of course, would be a little bit too much on the nose, so I invented the ‘ker’, and my characters (no longer did I consider them ‘creatures’) became the KerDoodles, or, literally, ‘sons of Doodle’. After an exhaustive search of the internet, not having found any evidence of anyone else using the term, I claimed it as my own, and thus were the KerDoodles born. So very quickly the Holy Doodle became the Holy KerDoodle, the Twitter post was corrected, and the rest is history.
The second to last thing before we launch is the nature of inspiration. As I exercised the drawing muscle – the one I didn’t really even know I had – I discovered that some things that made it to ‘paper’ did so because they simply had to be. I would close my eyes, and there they would be, waving at me from my mind’s eye. This has been the case since the very beginning, and is still the case to this day. It is possible, when drawing, to commit a line to paper, add another, and so build something from nothing, and quite often I have found that the results from doing it that way are satisfactory. But the best results have always come when I could see the image in my mind before I even began. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s true. Perhaps having the idea in mind beforehand gives it a ‘leg-up’ – a reinforced access to the font of creativity. I don’t know. But generally speaking as we take this KerDoodle journey together if I refer to a specific drawing as ‘inspired’ you know that I saw it in my mind before I ever picked up the proverbial charcoal. You know that there was never any doubt in my mind how the drawing would turn out – except perhaps for those enforced by the limitations of my ability. As I look back over all my drawings today I remember exactly which were born of inspiration, and which evolved from themselves. It’s singular: the ones I am most proud of are the ones that came from within.
Last, and possibly least, is my sense of humour. I grew up in England, so England provided the foundation stone of many of my thoughts – including my sense of ha-ha. My wit is dry. It is thoughtful, meaning it sometimes requires thought. I make no apologies for this. It is who I am, and since the KerDoodles are an extension of who I am, it is who they are. I know, even my guinea pigs (the much-loved mom and sis) occasionally told me they ‘didn’t get it’, but that’s ok. Hearing it made me look again, but I seldom went so far as to change the joke itself. The drawing, perhaps, but not the wit. Whether you ‘get it’ or not, the wit speaks to who I am – my flaws, my sweetness, my kindness, my irritations and so on. How can I possibly change that without looking to change myself? Ludicrous!
I learned during the course of my first significant ‘piece of paper’ at York University in Toronto that as a creator it’s my job to create the stuff and the reader’s job to interpret it. Yes, I bear some responsibility to make the content consumable, but the reader also needs to open his mind, to be a willing participant in the interchange of ideas which is taking place. In truth, the reader may or may not ‘get it’, but that doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t try. I don’t believe that, to be consumable, humour must always be ‘on the nose’. I know some of my humour is subtle, but I guarantee that if you think about it – if you exercise, as Hercule Poirot would say, your ‘little grey cells’ – you will find the little nugget of something in my little drawing that is meant to tickle your funny bone. There is no sledge hammer in my tool kit.
Finally – and this time I really do mean finally – the KerDoodles are not a traditional cartoon. They do not always begin with a premise and end with a punch line. They are not always intended to make you laugh. Occasionally they are merely the exercising of my creative muscle – the flexing, the coordination of pen, wrist, and brain – the urge to create and be satisfied. The KerDoodles themselves represent us. Like Hobbits, I suppose, they exist in their own little world (In The Village) and they experience life in much the same way that we do. Of course, there’s enough pain and angst and anguish in our own universe so I have never felt the urge to reference much of that in their lovely little imperfect place. They try to react to problems with humour, with kindness, with understanding and tolerance. Many of my creations attempt to entertain, but sometimes they are just an attempt to express – to show their world as they live in it. Tableaus, montages, images, inspired or not, are often just an attempt to show a state of being, without significant commentary. Perhaps in this way they will form an escape for you, as they occasionally have for me.
Now is as good a time as any, I suppose, to point out that in the absence of specific KerDoodle characters along the line of Charlie Brown, Linus, or Lucy, I pretty much refer to all the male KerDoodles I draw as ‘Clive’. So instead of saying things like ‘the KerDoodle’ all the time, don’t be surprised if I refer to him by his name.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little journey. The KerDoodles have become a surprising part of my own journey. I never, ever, in my wildest dreams saw myself creating anything like them. But… here they are.