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

New Release for 10.23.14: Multipage Installment 35!

installment 28 cover

Find all four pages of today’s multipage Installment 35 in the main comic viewer above!  See you on Monday for our next exciting release!

New Release for 09.29.14: Kamezou takes some heat for Ian

submerged in sleep

Kamezou puts on her lava-proof shoes to give Ian some rest in an otherwise awful nightmare.  See you on Thursday for our next exciting release!

New Release for 09/26/14: Multipage Installment 34b


Find all three pages of today’s multipage Installment 34b in the main comic viewer above.  See you next Monday for our next exciting release!

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!

New Release for 10.13.14: First Panels Volume Four

other first panel one

Greetings and Salutations, Totems Readers!!

We’re back with part-four of our First Panel series of blog posts. You can find the first three posts
here (1)
here (2) and
here (3).
And, once again, this is Roby posting in the column usually occupied by Lewis.

Without further ado…

Installment 18: As Installment 18 get rolling, it starts to become clear that the “business as usual” model of conceiving of the nightmare spirits and their nocturnal visits needs to be thrown out the window, and replaced with something more disturbing. Hierarchies. Leadership. Plans. Suddenly, rather than simple being defenders against opportunistic oneiric vermin, the Totems begins to see the shadowy outline of an actual enemy. An organized enemy. For me, when I think of systems of opposition, the linguistic turn that usually comes with it is to think of binary opposites. Its a terribly oversimplified way of thinking of opposing forces, and one that usually gets scrubbed (who wants to see black/white, good/bad, them/us conflicts, really? What is this, 1935?)… it still crops up. So, in reflecting on my own views on binary opposites (and because I’m a techmonkey in my recent history), I thought… to myself… why not use actual binary? Totem Pole stood in easily as a “1″, and the Totem heads tend to be somewhat roundish in their current incarnations, so they made find “0″s… and so we have 18 rendered in Totemic binary.

Installment 19: Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes. We once again revisit the Go board, but this time with the appropriate (read store-bought) 19×19 model. Whereas in our first encounter with the black stone, it was the center of a mystery. Now… we begin to see the shape of our enemy, or at least perhaps the hint of their strategy, showing itself. Nothing quite so clear as to have a Totem involved, since they’re still working their way out of cluelessness. In terms of the image itself, I’ve always been disturbed by the sight of human shapes seen through frosted  glass- I think I was scared by someone hiding in the shower when I was very young. There’s something about the idea of a 3d shape deforming visible against a 2d barrier that gives me the creeps, and glass is one of the few barriers that you can be on the OTHER side of and see this happen… so I wanted to try and replicate this somehow. Lewis did a great job taking my hazy conceptual notion and making it seem like a Shadow Person was trying to force its way across some kind of boundary (press up against the barrier as it were) to influence our world… and the arrangement of stones really nailed that. I was really pleased with this one.

Installment 20: 2oth Installment. 20th card. Here, the glorious calling to rise by The Host is replaced by a bone-horned call to rise by the as-yet faceless Shadow… sleepers casting off their blankets and rising from their beds, rather than coffins. I’d been wanting to do a Tarot-based FP or cover for a while, because I have a soft spot for the symbolism of the cards (among the many “WTF was I doing with that job?” employment stints I’ve done, I spent 6 months as a phone Tarot card reader). In this instance, I didn’t go for the meaning of the card so much as its visual resonance for me. The main draw was the apocalyptic overtone, and the notion of a day which marks the end of all days before and the beginning of a new era… which I was loosely tying to the beginning of regular patrols in the comic, and the overall change of approach that the Totems were implementing in response to Fat Tom’s tale of the shadowy invaders. Also, and this is totally tongue-in-cheek, I’ve always enjoyed imagining the “dead rising” as a more zombie-like affair, and the main nemesis in this Gottlieb combat arc is a skeleton nightmare. It just seemed like the right time for a card to show up.

Installment 21: The 21st Installment’s First Panel was a bit of a muddle for me. I hadn’t gotten the card thing out of my system yet, and I was hung up on 21 being US drinking age. When the idea of Blackjack hit me, I immediately imagined Gottlieb in the classic role of the Jack: a knight-like warrior of good standing, as opposed to the more gruff, drill sergeantl-like Polar Rat, or Sindri in his role of leader. But once I settled on the card idea, the suite had to be decided, and there was no way we couldn’t use the “spadehead” nightmare bringers as a model. All of the elements are related to the immediate goings-on of the comic, but this was really a First Panel where the need for the number and the strength of the visuals kind of took charge.

Installment 22: The story arc “He Nevertheless Recovered.” begins with Installment 22, and given the drug-fueled rampage that arc was set to become, I wanted something meds related. The sometimes guesstimate-based prescription system that many of my psychopharmacology-bound friends have been subject to (and the frustrating amount of guesstimation my psychiatrist friends have to do to try and help their patients) has often given me the impression that psych meds are doled out at random. After giving it some thought, the idea of filling out scrips and throwing darts at them to see which ones to hand out struck me. As I was researching the image, going through the fairly extensive notes we keep on each of our Installments, I came across what I think might be the first administrative/communication error to have slipped by us in the Totems production process- so I’ll share it here! The document we use to record the ideas for our First Panels (and also our covers) appears to have been overwritten with a blank version of the form (almost certainly my fault), so I can’t tell exactly what happened, but… I think initially this First Panel was supposed to go in Installment 23. All of this gets done, sometimes weeks or months in advance, and we are usually dead-on with corrections when we change our storyline or production cycle, however this time I think, weeks after writing the scripts up, I had a better  idea for Installment  23, and as we still hadn’t done Installment 22′s art, I replaced  it with the old 23. Unfortunately (and this is guesswork, since the notes for all this have disappeared)… I think I copy-pasted 23′s  First Panel over, and forgot to revise  it from 3 prescriptions to 2.
So, now we have a dartboard, with a maximum outside ring score of 20, and 3 prescriptions pinned to it with darts…  rather than the 2.
Totally should have caught that in review, but we’re only human, and the occasional goof slipping through makes for  good story. Or at least, given the amount of text I just spend explaining the mistake, hopefully it does. :)

Installment 23:  Hail Eris! Hail the Law of Fives! 23 Skidoo! Or something. As we moved into the our trippiest art-story combination to date, a little Discordianism surfaced in my personality, and what is the point of having a weekly webcomic if you can’t work that stuff out in it? Two burning piece of incense, curling as they shift themselves over to ash, in a golden apple-shaped ashtray. Hopefully Robert Anton Wilson would have been pleased with the Installment. :) Which is to say, when you’re working with numbers, sometimes they just declare for themselves what you will be doing with them.

Well… that’s it for now. We’ll be back again with more First Panels before too long, I imagine. Hope you have enjoyed them so far!

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