Note: click the "Latest" link above to see the latest RoboToons cartoon.
Robot Comics! Although the Japanese have had robot manga / comics for hundreds (some say thousands) of years centering around dramatic stories, epic battles and just plain silliness, America has had few to talk about. While robots have been a incidental part of many comic strips, wholly robot comic strips have been few and far between.
In this article we will review several American comic artists starting with Walt Perko and his RoboToons.
We "met" walt one day via his comics. Every few days he writes a new single panel cartoon. His manga is not about epic battles or anything serious, it's about seeing the world through a robot's sensors--it's full of robotoid silliness.
Robot Comics: Interview with Walt Perko
R&A: How long have you been writing robot comics? When did you start?
WALT PERKO: I started the RoboToons Cartoons a few years ago. I don't remember exactly when.
R&A: What got you started in robot comics?
WALT PERKO: I began the RoboToons Cartoons to answer some of the questions I read in robot club mail list messages.
R&A: Why do you write robot comics?
WALT PERKO: I kept seeing people asking what seemed really basic questions about beginning robotics so I thought maybe by putting robotics into cartoons that might help beginners and skeptics alike learn and understand the philosophy of home hobby robotics. I thought it might help others understand some of what goes on in the minds of roboteers as they imagine scenarios while building their robots.
R&A: Who are the characters in your strip? Do they have specific personalities or are they reprogrammable like real robots?
WALT PERKO: My primary character is BillBot. He's the little box with a Parallax BS2 chip on his back, a ping sensor for eyes and a tiny oval speaker for a mouth. He has a multi-colored LED on top of his head like a little "idea" light. It is an integral part of his emotions as it turns red for embarrassment or alarm, blue when puzzled, or green when he's happy. I use other colors too as what seems fit for the scene. Yes, all the robots are "programmable." That makes creating the RoboToons Cartoons easier and also demonstrates the dynamics of a well-designed robot.
R&A: Do any people show up in your comics?
WALT PERKO: Yes, I've posted my own face as well as other friends faces on the (remote) telepresence robots in some of the RoboToons Cartoons. It's a way of saying thanks for the support and gives me needed human faces for the RoboToons Cartoons.
R&A: Are they all just one panel?
WALT PERKO: Most of the RoboToons Cartoons are one panel depictions, but some are multiple panel stories, but I only publish them one panel at a time for now since this is a part-time hobby, not a job.
R&A: Where do you get your ideas?
WALT PERKO: Most of the ideas I just drill from my own brain, but I do get a lot of ideas from reading messages in mail lists. People express themselves very subtlety and it's funny, so I try to bring that out in the RoboToons Cartoons.
R&A: How do you generate your comics? PC? 3D software?
WALT PERKO: Since I'm a product design engineer I use SolidWorks 3D Modeling/Design software to create the characters and components of the RoboToons Cartoons.
R&A: Aside from writing robot comics, do you build real robots?
WALT PERKO: Yes, I built my first robot in early 2006. I've been a robot fan since the late 1960's when I was in high school. I actually took a part-time job working for a process control engineer who began my educational quest to learn about robotics, but I didn't start to actually build a robot until 1983 and then really still was only collecting parts. I had boxes and boxes of potential robot components until I moved back to the mainland from Hawaii ... then I gave all those parts to a friend in Hawaii as I figured he was more active to use them than I was. I was living in Tucson, AZ. at the time and realized an untapped niche in the current robot business so I decided to tap in and see if I could make something out of it.
R&A: Tell me about your involvement in the Home Brew Robotics Club.
WALT PERKO: I got started with the club while trolling the internet for robot information. I monitored a few different club mail lists and the HBRC was one of them. After moving back to the Bay Area I visited a couple of club meetings and that reinforced my belief that I am tapping into a neglected niche in robotics. I'm not a night person so I just monitored the mail lists rather than being an active club member. Now I'm too far away to go to club meetings anyway although I did go to one RSSC meeting here in the LA area.
R&A: I am guessing that you don’t support yourself through your robot comics, what kind of work do you do, or are you retired?
WALT PERKO: I did an early retirement back in 1999. Moved to Hawaii for a few years, then to Tucson for a couple of years. (I am) now living in Long Beach. I'm looking for work, that is work I enjoy, teaching young children about robotics, design and manufacturing. My idea is to get a small shop open I call the L'Robotorium Shop, similar to TechShop/AirLightSpace/CrashSpace except that my focus is on mentoring, formal classes, desktop machines and developing a small community resource center that provides access to the fundamentals. I figure if people want to do bigger projects they can join those more expensive shops.
R&A: Tell me about "OPEC of the West"
WALT PERKO: When I started thinking in terms of a business while living in Tucson (the Old Pueblo) I began calling my home the Old Pueblo Engineering Center, hence where I got OPEC. But since I was living in the old west and there's already an OPEC in the Middle-East I added the last part to be sure people could figure out where I was. This also helped me define the mission statement; "Instead of Drilling the Sand for Oil, we're Drilling Brains for a new and better use of Technology." Later shortened to: " Drilling Brains for a new and better use of Technology." The site is both commercial and sharing. The idea is to help promote home hobby manufacturing.
R&A: Tell me about "Castles & Crosses"
WALT PERKO: There are a lot of different games and competitions for hobby robotics, industrial robotics and even the military/police robotics. I wanted to create a game for children that would encourage them to learn: "Castles & Crosses". The R2Pv1 robot can play the games autonomously, but the preflight has the robot playing the game more efficiently so since the autonomous R2Pv1 robot are the only robots that can actually win the game for a team. It behooves the children to learn the lessons to preflight and "tweak" the robot to play the game as efficiently as possible.
R&A: I heard you are involved in some kids’ educational projects. Can you tell our readers more?
WALT PERKO: Yes, I've done a couple of short-term projects volunteering at the Oceanside Boys & Girls Club to teach basic robotics for a very large group of children. This was for National Robotics Week 2011. The week went well and so I continued to work with children for a few months afterwards as a robot club. This year I did a 1-week class for the Boy Scouts at the Long Beach Sea Base. There I gave them a basic background on robotics but the primary focus was on 3D Design/Modeling and 3D Plastic Printing. That went well too.
I wish I could get the L'Robotorium Shop open here so all the local people, adults and children, boys and girls could come and learn SolidWorks 3D Modeling and Manufacturing. I think this is an important key in the USA’s future.
R&A: Where do you live? Married? Kids? Animals? Your age?
WALT PERKO: I am currently living in Long Beach, looking for a place to open the L'Robotorium Shop. Then I would hopefully move within walking distance to the shop so I could hang out there long hours every day. I've never married, no kids of my own although I did raise a small flock of Cockatiels for about 20-years. I'm over 60 although many people say I look like I'm still in my 40's or early 50's at most.
R&A: Thank you Walt, and best of luck on getting the L'Robotorium Shop open.
Walt can be contacted through the HBRobotics (google) online group.