Are you cool enough? Last update: (unresolved tag pubdate)

(unresolved tag blurb)

First toon (October 21, 2000)
First toon of v2.0 (October 21, 2006)
Previous toon with source
Today's toon with source


OK, if this is your first visit to Toonbots, I want to level with you. Most of it doesn't make much sense, even to the initiated. Toonbots is generated from XML specifications by Perl code called the Toon-o-Matic, which you can now use yourself, if you want and if you're really cool enough. To me, the Toon-o-Matic itself is the work of art. The strip is a by-product. Like hot dogs.

There are some conventions used in Toonbots which make it slightly less impossible to understand. This mini-libretto is here. It all kind of grew over many years. It may help to check the archives.

(June 18, 2008) (the toon)
Now that the Toon-o-Matic is online and, well, working, it's so much easier to write a toon! Sure, it takes me 30 seconds to write the script, and a pleasant half-hour to debug the Toon-o-Matic, followed by a lick and a promise and a bug report for something to do in later (snort) spare timehahahahaha, but it's much easier than it used to be.

So hey, maybe I'll keep it up. And -- of course -- maybe I won't. That's for the Muse to know, and for us to find out!

(November 11, 2006) (the toon)
Soon, I suppose I can get back to actual Toonbots instead of all these Toon-o-Matic test scripts. That would be kind of nice.

If you're following along at home, you'll know that this episode was delayed not only by the brand-new-after-six-years feature of dialog and free drawing, there was also the matter of a little national midterm election whose results had me grinning ear to ear for a couple of days. Hee.

(November 1, 2006) (the toon)
Wow. I shouldn't be spending this much time on this stuff. Looks nice, though, doesn't it?

(October 31, 2006) (the toon)
So yeah, text handling now works in Take 2. Better than before, actually, by a long shot, and the implementation is also much more flexible to start with. I'm hoping that this same code will be recyclable for speech balloons, for instance. It's cool. Soon I'll get the construction dust brushed off the code so I can display it; the new process is pretty neat.

(October 27, 2006) (the toon)
This was kind of what I always wanted to do with the Toon-o-Matic. To get these arrows to work out correctly, I have to do two things. First, when I specify an arrow as "next", that means that I have to calculate the direction from the current panel in which the arrow should point to the next panel. Second, if an arrow overlaps a panel, then the overlapped panel needs to be drawn first, not "next". And so I'm doing some mild manipulation of geometry here.

I'm pretty sure my next trick is going to be drawing text. Since I'm finding it much easier to work with the SVG nowadays (six years have passed, and as always technology has improved and I've had time to think about this stuff) I think I'm going to tarry there for a while, and do real speech balloons before going on to resurrecting the cast.

(October 25, 2006) (the toon)
Obviously, I don't want to jinx it, but my Muse may have returned. I've been wanting to do arrows on the panel boxes for a very long time indeed (since roughly November of 2000), and it's gratifying that I was able to string enough minutes together to make a stab at it. And that stab came out pretty darned nice, didn't it?

(October 13, 2006) (the toon)
So there I sat, looking at the Best Nancy Panel Ever Drawn, and suddenly, a toon happened. I had to do a lot of loading of components and debugging, too -- ImageMagick has gone up more than a full release level since I last metatooned, and Ghostscript by a half. I've rewrapped my Perl XMLAPI library and made it a proper module, but it doesn't quite support the same file reading semantics, so actual code updates will have to wait.

The least convenient bug was the ImageMagick SVG renderer's default behavior for rectangles (failure to specify a fill style used to be fill:none, but now it's fill:black, not the look I was hoping for), plus the coordinate offsets for text is now from the top of the letters instead of the bottom, so all the captions came out 20 pixels too low. But a relatively brief hour-long debugging session later, I had a two-second cartoon finished. And then my FTP program didn't connect... In disgust, I went to bed.

(March 1, 2005) (the toon)
Yes, the blurb was autogenerated. Ain't I a stinka?

(February 18, 2005) (the toon)
Is this an episode dreaming it has a blurb, or a blurb dreaming it has an episode? I'm not really sure....

Well, our future is in its usual uncollapsed wave function: it's still not at all clear whether we're moving to Budapest (again) or staying here in the Caribbean. I know, I know, it sounds like my life is pretty cool (and I'm not saying it's not) but this sort of thing gets expensive and is tiring, even if I do work entirely online.

(February 13, 2005) (the toon)
So after the election, I stayed up watching returns far, far too late, then went to the beach the next day and backed the car into a tree. Sigh. Then I went on a drunken binge in Tijuana for a few months in honor of our President, but eventually I thought I'd better get back to work.

Anyhow, here's a toon. It really was an outtake, but when Emsworth filed his Comixpedia review of Toonbots, which I loved, I thought I might write an episode, and this was lying around in the directory. So I figured, eh, what the heck, let's dust it off and post it. Couldn't be worse than that flag for another few months.

(November 2, 2004) (the toon)
Remember when we all thought it didn't really matter who won the Presidency? Regime change begins at home: participate in your democracy, assuming you're a U.S. citizen and not a resident of Puerto Rico.

(October 26, 2004) (the toon)
Remember when Toonbots was fun, easy, and daily? This episode took me 18 minutes from idea to publishing. Now that's hot dogs.

(October 21, 2004) (the toon)
I was about to blow this off, and feeling kind of guilty about mouse actually asking for a fourth-anniversary toon, and then here I was, sitting here and translating, and the Rolling Stones live Sympathy for the Devil came on my trusty WinAmp, and well... Heck, the point of the Toon-o-Matic is that it's trivial to knock out a toon, right? So I knocked out a toon. Feast yer eyes. Cheap and quick, like hot dogs.

(October 11, 2004) (the toone)
I must admit, when I looked at the archive to find the last installment of the Pickle Crisp Massacree storyline, I honestly thought I had misread the date. Yeah. It really has been three fricking years. That's truly scary.

Anyhoo, this episode was really written late on the 10th, but my fix to the messageboard archives broke the toon archives, so I decided to debug that before I actually published it. And now I have.

Today we took a little ferry out to Isla Caja de Muertos, "Coffin Island", which is a beautiful little island eight miles off the coast of Ponce. I am now sunburned to the consistency of pretty decent bacon, but it was worth it. We made an abortive attempt to hike up to the lighthouse, but realized that what with the rains lately, it was courting anemia from the many very hungry mosquitoes. I honestly don't know what the mosquitoes eat when people don't happen to be around (this is a true desert island). Lizard blood, I guess.

We saw the largest hermit crab there I have ever seen in my life. It was like, the granddaddy of all hermit crabs,with a shell about three inches across. Then we saw a couple of others nearly as large. Very cool.

A beautiful little island, with great beaches.

(September 26, 2004) (the toon)
The appearance of S. pyogenes is, yes, another instance of my personalizing a threat to my being. The last week has passed for me in a haze of pain and medication -- I had strep throat, and indeed tonsilitis, for the first time in my life. It's really amazing how painful this disease is. Only yesterday could I swallow without intense pain (only not-so-intense pain), and only today could I move my tongue without the same intense pain. Horrible.

But hey, life goes on, and I kinda like this episode.

(September 13, 2004) (the toon)
Tropical Storm Jeanne winged us this week, and for some reason known only to the power company, they turned off the power to the entire island. Without warning. To anybody. For 13 hours. Five hours before the storm hit. Then they turned it back on in the wee hours, and did it wrong, apparently, because then it went out the next day for no reason, for ten hours. It was a nice way to waste two days, I have to admit, and most of Puerto Rico seemed to agree (lots of grilling going on, anyway). Of course, it's an election year, so there's a whole lot of verbiage flying. Turns out they didn't actually follow guidelines in suddenly turning off all of Puerto Rico. Congressional investigations are being threatened. It's all very fun. I like it here.

The really weird thing: they said they turned off the power for reasons of safety. But for nearly two days there wasn't a working traffic light on the whole island... The people here drive like maniacs in the best of times. Without traffic lights it was ... actually kind of fun. HAHHAHAAHAA!

Anyway, I realized a bit late (since Ivan is now up in Tennessee and no longer quite the scary monster he was there for a while) that I'd kind of written an episode along in there. I actually took the snapshot around the 6th or 7th, and yes, it's really satellite imagery of Ivan, just as Frances' two aspects were really satellite pics of that late lamented. And yes, Ivan was indeed the Tropical Depression 9 I mentioned on the 2nd. Turns out that model was bang on the nose on escalation to Category 4 in three days. I'd considered some play on that in this episode, but eh. You can't do everything.

(September 2, 2004) (the toon)
Holy schemoley, what is this, a new age?

I can't remember the episode idea I mentioned on the 30th there, so I just made up another one. And hey, Dot decided to show up. I missed her.

Frances, by the way, missed us entirely. I mean, we were squarely under it, from the satellite pics, but from the underside that big old swirl is just a bunch of regular-looking clouds. It rained a bit. Apparently you really have to be closer to the eye than the approximately 100 miles away we were, to see much of that hurricane stuff. Although my sympathies to the Bahamas at the moment, and Florida on Saturday.

The quick reference to Tropical Depression 9 there is real -- our next potential hurricane. The meteorological analysis says one model is really enthusiastic about TD9 (the commentator's words, which struck me as funny) and has it blowing up to Class 4 in three days, but that's really rather unlikely.

(August 30, 2004) (the toon)
Man. I guess this thing is still on. Another episode happened. And just now, eating the last of the quesitos (little bitty cream cheese turnovers; Puerto Ricans make everything as a turnover, yum), I thought of another possible one. We'll see if I can take the time tomorrow.

My only quibble with this episode is that by the time Frances is scaled to the strip, you can't actually see the lesser Antilles. But if you notice that little brick-like shape on the left -- that's Puerto Rico. Yikes!

Logically, from these satellite pictures I'm making Frances from, you'd think I'd be able to see some clouds which would represent the barest edge of Frances. However, it's mostly clear right now (with a full moon, "the moonlight showwwws us for what we really arrrrre"), although there are some visible clouds moving quickly south, and I'm guessing those are my first hurricane-related condensate entities.

(August 29, 2004) (the toon)
Um, hi. Is this thing still on?

Hey, if anybody is still here -- a new episode happened. Is it any good? It made me chuckle. That's really all I ever cared about. And you know, I feel a lot more chuckle-y nowadays. My boy is off his allergy meds, we're all tan and much more relaxed, and I kid you not, as soon as we actually decided to leave Bloomington, the paying work started to come in a deluge. I've translated more than 100,000 words in August. That's going to pay a lot of bills. It's the best month I've had since late 2001.

Not only that. I finished a project (well, it's still not completely finished, but they're down to checking database entries now; the programming is done) and nearly finished another. I got a new paying technical customer for the first time in two years, one with an actual budget, actual specs, and an actual timeline for development. Like in the old days. The guy read my résumé and convinced himself he needed me. Like in the old days.

All in all, a lot of things are starting to feel like the Good Old Days. I'm actually getting up in the morning and working, instead of getting up and reading politics until I can't stand it any more. My wife isn't staying up nights crying. My son isn't getting ear infections. My daughter is back homeschooling and is really starting to open up and become a member of the family again -- and she's also roaring through the algebra problems I'm setting up for her (did I mention she's 10?)

And we actually have friends of ours in our house in Bloomington, not just paying (somewhat low) rent but he's a home-improvement addict. I pay materials, he fixes things. They'll be in Bloomington another three years. That's a lot of fixed things. There's nothing nicer than having tenants you know aren't going to break things -- but to know they'll be unbreaking things is sheerly impossible. Except this time.

I could get used to things working out for a change.

Anyway, I hope you like this episode. Given that it's the first in nine months, it couldn't be worse, right?

(November 3, 2003) (the toon)
Well, as those of you who follow the forum know, I'm back in beautiful Bloomington again. I've been reading way too much news lately, trying to second-guess the backswing on the ol' political pendulum, and as always, this has had two effects on me: one, I don't get enough work done and that depresses me, because I'm self-employed and so less work=less money. And two, I realize how truly and bone-grindingly stupid most people are, at least when they vote (and twice that when they don't), which depresses me.

I spent most of 2002 in a news-reading wallow of depression, but this spring my mother told me it was stupid, and she was right. And thanks to the wonders of modern telephonic technology, she was able to do so again this evening.

Moms are great. Mine is especially great, even though she did once bring a carrot cake to my birthday party instead of a chocolate one. But besides that one gaffe -- and surely one mistake can be permitted even the most ineffable of beings -- she's pretty much spot-on.

(July 19, 2003) (the toon)
Might be coming back Stateside soon. If, of course, they let me in.

(July 12, 2003) (the toon)
Did I miss anything?

(That was the sound of a lot of really depressed blogging getting tossed onto a separate page. Read it only if you're thinking of grad work in psychoanalysis or something.)

So what, you may be asking, or likely not, since you are no longer reading Toonbots, have I been doing with myself for five months? Saving my lily-white ass, that's what. The IRS may still hunt me down, but by God I have the mortgage covered now. Also took it upon myself to save my wife from utter depression by bringing her home for a couple of months, so I'm writing from Budapest again. We took a cruise ship. A really cheap one. $1200 to get the four of us from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona, nine days of free day care and a 24-hour buffet, in two staterooms.

So here I am.

More of the same from April/May 2001.
More of the same from March 2001.
More of the same from February 2001.
More of the same from January 2001.
More of the same from December 2000.
More of the same from November 2000.
More of the same from Octember 2000.
" While the reaction in the third panel was a bit too high a horizontal to vertical ratio for my taste, the fourth panel, which had Classical Greek proportions and just the right amount of pregnant pause, more than made up for it. The final panel worked wonderfully, but again, only because panel 4 set up the payoff so tantalizingly.

Excellent first effort."

-- Boxjam

" The Toon-o-Matic receives the gopher approval. "
-- gopher

" I appreciate more than you can possibly understand the lengths that you've gone to for this toon. I laughed out loud. At every panel. "
-- nd

" Toonbots. What more can I say? I heard the title and the fact that it's a no art comic and I said, "Who the f*** does this guy think he is?" Then I read it. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The characters were very real. The plot was a lighthearted romp into the realm of personal expansion. The layout, while crude, was absolutely beautiful. It sucked me in from the first moment. Keep up the good work, Michael, and we'll all be out of work."
-- Pyromancy

" ... it is destined for success. Toonbots is Minimalist Humor at its sublime best. "
-- Lee Herold

" Toonbots is raw, unadulterated genius. "
-- damonk13

" dot bot dot bot dot dot WOW!!! "
-- Paul Roustan

" Dear, sweet, holy mother of all that is good and sacred. I have seen the light of a brighter future, and it is the Toon-o-Matic. "
-- Chalain

" ... I applaud your totally original approach. It's like Feng Shui as applied to Humor or something. "
-- KareNin

" You're the Orange Guy. "
-- BoxJam

" The coolest cartoon drawing ever. "
-- Google

The calls and letters just keep pouring in. You're wonderful people, all of you.

  • Reviews of various Webtoons
    I love the Webtoon phenomenon. We're literally in a Golden Age of cartooning, right this very moment. So, because I love hearing myself talk, I've scribbled down some musings on a few of my favorites. I'm resisting the urge to write about the ones everybody already knows (like Sluggy Freelance and CRFH!!!) and instead I'm writing on the ones maybe you haven't heard about. With any luck, there will be more than just seven eventually.
  • The Toon-o-Matic
    If Lee Herold can draw with an Exacto knife and a sponge, I figure I can draw with Perl. Right? Right.
  • Link to who?
    What's that? I could have sworn you said you wanted to link to Toonbots. You did? Wow. People can be strange. Well, if you're serious, you can use this graphic:

    The XML is simple:
Toonbots. Are you cool enough?

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