written by roby duncan illustrated by lewis lain
updates every monday and thursday

New Release for 04.02.15: Multipage Installment 44b!


A new friend is made in today’s multipage release.  Find all three pages in the main comic viewer above. See you on Monday for our next exciting release!

New Release for 03.19.15: Multipage Installment 44

installment 28 cover

Find all Four pages of today’s multipage Installment 44 in the main comic viewer above. See you on Monday for our next exciting release!

New Release for 03.16.15 Face-off!

masking the stage

See you on Thursday for our next exciting multipage release!

new release for 10.27.14: how to build a resonant glass generator


lewis here.

when i’m not drawing totems, i work as a full-time visual artist ( see my work here ). i recently had the opportunity to produce an installation for Anysquared’s Because Art Residency at Hairpin Arts Center in Chicago.

i decided to build a ‘resonant glass generator.’


my non-digital work explores the idea that non-conductive, mundane material can contain energy generated by human contact with the material. for instance, when we look through a window at a tree outside, the light energy from that tree passes through the glass, hits our rods and cones and produces a visual of the tree. i suggest that some of that light energy is trapped in the glass every time that occurs. i have learned that when i focus my eyesight on glass that contains a critical mass of this energy (generally old windows from rehabs) it will come together and freeze into an image i can then trace with acrylic and cardboard–recycled cardboard can also contain this energy and becomes very sculpt-able.

i have in my possession several 2’x4′ panels of bullet-proof glass. they do not currently contain the ‘resonant energy’ that i have seen in windows. i decided to use the installation as an opportunity to fill the glass with energy and turn it into ‘resonant glass.’ this would require the building of a generator–an interactive circuit where the viewer stands on one side of the glass(load) and observes a diode in the ‘conducting path’ that pushes the energy back at the load.

the installation runs from october 10 til november 2. the windows i have been using have had 30-40 years of human interaction to build a sufficient charge. i realized this would mean i would need a ‘diode’ that was ‘supercharged’ to direct and magnify greater energy in a shorter time-frame. it would be a sculpture.

enter ‘smaller totems.’
roby and i have been working on totems for quite some time, it is no understatement that it has had a major impact on my arc as an artist. i decided the diode would be a physical manifestation of the smaller totems icon made from the boxes of my computer, tablet, and chair (my illustration tools). it would be massive and i would cover it with linework (frozen resonant energy). the hope is that sculpting with such intentions would build a powerful diode to focus and magnify the energy back into the glass.

building the diode:

1. i began by selecting the finest cardboard logs i could find. i use only reclaimed cardboard in my work.

2. the logs are carved into blanks that will be the base of the totem pole.

3.  the blanks are interlocked with a mortise and tenon-type process. the pole is ready to be sculpted.4web

4. the sculpting process is free-moving.  i cut and fit pieces together on the fly to create the faces of each of our totems.  i am working from an illustration of the original totem pole, but i am not taking measurements or working with any sort of calculated scale.  the blanks are nearly 9 feet in height.  sindri, kamezou and polar rat take form.


5. charlie, fat tom, and gottlieb follow suit.


6. a base coat of color and black wash is applied to each segment.  black linework is painted onto the finished surface.  the base that will hothe glass is constructed from 2×8, 2×4, and 2×2 lengths of lumber.


7.. the finished heads are locked together at the installation (but can be disconnected for travel).  here’s a detail of fat tom’s painted face.


8. the finished ‘diode’ is installed.  it is marked with red gaff tape to create the circuit.


9. the load (glass in the holder) are installed and marked with gaff.  an ‘x’ is placed in front of the glass where the viewer is to stand to complete the circuit.  when they look through the glass at the sculpture, the light energy from the totem pole passes through the glass and hits their eyes.  the same energy that causes their rods and cones to fire, gets trapped in the glass, building a charge of resonant energy.  when the exhibit is de-installed, the charged glass will be used as a canvas for a future painting.  11

viola! a resonant glass generator with components directly inspired by smaller totems, built from the materials responsible for its creation.

humbly submitted for your consideration,


receptionfrom opening reception.  photo by john bambino


New Release for 10.20.14: First Panels Volume Six

other first panel one

Greetings Totems Fans!

Welcome back for the last (for the time being) First Panel blog!

This is part-six of what is now six parts: you can get to Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five via the links you just read over.

Now, once more into it, shall we?

Installment 30: The 30th Installment was a particularly simple one- as we got further into the action-oriented “Room for the Mouse” storyline, there were fewer relevant plot details to hint at (without getting ahead of ourselves) so we just stuck to the basics. A triple line of Roman numeral “X”s, and we were good to go. I gave Lewis the clear to be as weird and abstract as he wanted with this, but I think with all the abstract shadow-animus stuff going on in the Installment, he opted to stick to a basic, size-uniform depiction of the Totem numerals.

Installment 31: For Installment 31 we wanted something that tried to stay consistent with the combat theme, so we decided a three-on-one pitting Furdinand against the shadow armors would be good. Also, in a way, it was a touch of foreshadowing. The sizing on this was nice, because sometimes it gets complicated trying to keep track of the comparative scale of all the Totems and nightmare spirits they clash with.

Installment 32: You don’t get to have a cold-based Polar Bear/Rat character and do a visual representation of 32 without focusing on the temperature Fahrenheit at which water freezes. The image of our surly little friend freezing the thermometer seemed like a simple, yet interesting concept, which let us stay focused on getting the complex fight scenes ready to go for each release date. I love complicated, but sometimes simple is just fun.

Installment 33: Installment 33 made me smile. I haven’t gotten to do much with the Wyrd, our small gear-and-skull friend from the land of the upper bookshelves, but this seemed a great opportunity. With 33 bones in the human spine, capping it with our strange little observer (whom some of you might not even remember from the Charlie-training story arc) just seemed like a logical option. Since so many of the characters were created at the same times, but have been introduced and released slowly (oh so slowly) over time, any chance I have to keep the characters active in my head is a welcome one.

Installment 34: So, in today’s day and age, if you’re going to create a mature-themed comic about stuffed animals, and put it on the internet, you have to at least entertain the possibility that someone, somewhere (provided anyone reads yours comic) is going to draw furry porn with your characters. For Installment 34, we went for the silly, and had Sindri looking up Rule 34 with a look of confusion and consternation on his furry little face. We have kidded, half-seriously, that we’ll know we’ve hit the big time when we do an image search for Smaller Totems and the results are horrifying :)

Installment 35: With Installment 35, I spent some time trying to imagine the POV of the comic in a cinematic way, which I used to spend a lot more time doing (before I shifted focus to character development and teasing out plot points). I won’t say too much about Installment 35 until it is out in front of your greedy little eyes, but suffice it to say, when the script was done, the attention to imagining “camera shots” easily translated into the 35-as-35mm film First Panel.

Well, that’s it for now- we’ll be back to the regular Installment/Single Panel release cycle later this week. See you Thursday!

New Release for 10.16.14: First Panels Volume Five

other first panel one

Hello Again, Loyal Readers! Welcome back to Smaller Totems.

We’re back again, again, with part-five of our First Panel blog posts.
You can get to Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four via the links you just read over.

Now, where were we… ah yes.

Installment 24: In this Installment we firmly planted our flag in the middle of the intersection between numerical necessity and the desire to purposefully produce something “cute”. In honesty, it wound up a little meta: we have Kamezou, who has a shell, sticking her head out of her shell, while coming out of an egg shell- all in an Installment in which we see Ian beginning to come out of HIS shell. Sort of.

Installment 25: Though Installment 25 was obviously a whole number Installment, it immediately struck me as a percent. 25% became a quarter became a crescent moon. Wanting something that managed to do more symbolic heavy lifting than just a moon out the window, we opted for a reflection in Sindri’s eye. Now, the image is the reflection of a waxing crescent, with the moon about to lapse into the full darkness of its new phase (I was sort of playing around with the concept of increasing the darkness), but the image we see is the waning crescent (I liked the idea that even though the darkness was increasing, in Sindri’s eyes, the investigations are starting to shed some light on the situation). It was a simple little visual play, but I thought it went well with the arc of the story.

Installment 26: Installment 26 is all about setting up the ambush and trap. Half a deck of 52 playing cards is 26, which meant I could split a deck into black and red cards, and show the black cards as face up, while the remaining cards- presumably the Totems and their plan, remain as yet unexposed. As much as I wanted to play around with more of the spadehead nightmare spirit imagery for the cards, I thought a shadow person would be more appropriate, since the plan is about capturing a nightmare spirit in order to interrogate it and find out more about the shadow people- the focus seems to be on them to begin with. Of course, as we’ve seen at this point, the enemy hadn’t shown  its cards as  completely as the Totems had thought.

Installment 27: So, I was watching Young Guns… which is a movie that I love from my childhood… when I came across my favorite scene, which involves Chavez leading the group on a spirit quest of sorts. Sindri isn’t really the sort to conduct a ritual to attain spiritual guidance (at least not at this point in the story), but I knew I was going to be telling the story of the springing of the trap from his perspective, and when I sat down to draft the Installment’s script I couldn’t manage to shake the Young Guns out of my mind. The Installment went through a couple of drafts, and I managed to edit the western out of it, but when I began looking for 27 correspondences and came across the bone count in the human hang… I suddenly had an image of Sindri, in Chavez-like facepaint, sitting in the palm of a skeletal hand. You don’t set a trap to catch something that might kill you even if the trap springs properly without making some degree of peace with death, or at least, I don’t think Sindri would.

Installment 28: 28th Installment. 28 dominoes in a full set. Dominoes get set up specifically to be knocked down in certain patterns, and in the setting up of those patterns, one mistake can send the whole arrangement banging down the line. It felt like a really solid link up: dominoes set up to be knocked down paralleling the Totems setting a trap that was about to go terribly wrong. Sindri, as the current leader of the Totems, on one side of the domino stand, and one of the shadow people on the other… with some lingering uncertainty in the image as to who will be the first one to trigger the collapse.

Installment 29: In Installment 29, Fat Tom manages to simultaneously defend Charlie from an unseen assailant and also completely blow what was left of the element of surprise, and do it all without twitching a whisker about the consequences. To Tom, that he is the center of the universe is obvious, and he feels little need to explain or justify to anyone else. It takes Saturn just over 29 years to complete a trip around the Sun, so I opted for a more comical First Panel, in which Tom has modified a planetary diorama in order to better represent his true place in the nature of things. As is frequently the case with Fat Tom, it is a little hard to tell whether he did it because he thought it would be fun, because he thought it would piss people off, or because maybe those two things are one thing to Tom.  It felt nice to give him a fun little “fist pump” visually before kicking the crap out of him in the coming Installments.

That’s it for us now, kids. Check back next week for more! As soon as we’re done with this next First Panel, we’ll be bringing you Installment 35!

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