Feeder Birds

One of my least-known side projects is a graphic novel I’ve been steadily working on for about five years now called Feeder Birds.

A while back, I had a house in upstate New York.  There was a nice back porch (the “sun room”) where you could sit and read and watch wild animals gambol through the back yard, deer and squirrels and even the occasional bobcat.

We hung up a bird feeder, and over the course of a lazy weekend I would watch the birds at the feeder and draw little sketches of them.

The behavior of these birds shocked me.  They weren’t friendly or chipper or pretty.  They were mean, vicious, cutthroat bastards clearly descended from the dinosaurs.  They fought amongst themselves over primacy of the feeder and brutally devoured everything in sight.

An idea started to slowly seep into my brain to tell a serious, complex gangster saga, but instead of making it about Italian Americans in Little Italy, do it with these birds at the feeder upstate.

And hereis some of our cast.


CARDINAL is the leader of the gang.  Months back, he freed the feeder from the clutches of the evil Squirrel gang and was unanimously chosen as leader.  Since then, he has discovered a way to ferment suet, which creates a substance he calls “Numbskull.”  He trades Numbskull to the local sparrows (the sparrows are the “civilians”) in exchange for regular birdseed.  The Numbskull trade is so successful that within months Cardinal controls every scrap of birdseed in the neighborhood.  The power this affords him is a great pleasure, but it also carries with it much trouble and responsibility, some times too much for a simple bird to bear.

DOVEY is Cardinal’s wife.  Dovey used to be married to Woody (a Woodpecker), a straight-arrow bug-eater and all-around nice guy.  But Cardinal wanted her, so he took her.  He had his two most vicious thugs go to her house, gouge out Woody’s eyes and peck him full of holes.  Then he swooped in to “save” her, providing her with food and shelter, and a daily supply of Numbskull to calm her shattered nerves.  Now she’s hooked on the stuff and unable to function without it.

FLICKER is Cardinal’s best friend from childhood.  Capable of eating both bugs and seed, he’s not really a feeder bird.  He doesn’t indulge in the brutal strongarm tactics of Cardinal’s gang, but nor does he turn his back on his friends.  His complicated loyalties will eventually get him into deep trouble.

CHICK is Cardinal’s major enforcer.  Not the smartest of birds, he has a quick temper and a foul mouth.  He explodes at the slightest provocation and will take on a bird of any size.

TUFTY is a mere child.  He worships the Feeder Birds for their style, high-living and strength.  When he grows up, he wants to be a vicious thug just like them.  His looks and ambition make him a valuable asset to the gang.  He can get to places that others cannot and his loyalty to Cardinal is boundless.

JUNKO is a lesbian soldier, Chick’s second-in-command.  She’s quite a bit smarter than Chick but no less efficient in her duties as an enforcer.  Chick has carried a torch for Junko for quite some time, a fact that Junko has heretofore been blissfully unaware of.

COWBIRD is a psychopath.  He’s not an enforcer, he’s a maniac.  Unable to speak properly due to the seething rage he carries within his heart at all times, he merely waits trembling and twitching for the opportunity to once again unleash his fury upon whatever happens to be in his way at the moment.

STARLING is Cowbird’s minder and the only bird who can understand his twitching, growling murmurs.  He is always at Cowbird’s side, ready to back him up in a fight and lend his muscle to the fray.

MR. GROSBEAK is the leader of a rival gang, the Finches, who have always ruled the adjoining neighborhood.  Grosbeak does not desire warfare, but if Cardinal expands too far into his territory he will be forced into conflict.  He is old, wise and completely amoral.  He’s seen a dozen birds like Cardinal come and go and knows every trick in the book.

I’ve been developing these characters and their story off and on for r_sikoryak‘s Carousel slide shows.  For the next presentation (Chapter 5, Part I — December 7, buy your tickets now!) I am taking the big jump into learning Photoshop.  These images were drawn using a Wacom tablet, a device brand-new to me.  They have almost none of the depth or nuance of my regual pencil-and-paper drawings, but one must start somewhere.
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10 Responses to “Feeder Birds”
  1. monica_black says:

    Hmm, bird drug addicts. Sounds rather interesting.

    • Todd says:

      Well, only the weak-willed, sheeplike sparrows (and the unfortunate Dovey) are addicts. The Feeder Birds are all strong, willful and intelligent. They know that the secret to running a successful drug ring is to never get high on your own supply.

  2. Just a bit reminiscent…

    … of the Goodfeathers from Animaniacs.

    When due you expect to shop the thing to publishers?

    • greyaenigma says:

      Re: Just a bit reminiscent…

      I was wondering if anyone else was thinking that.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Just a bit reminiscent…

      They are birds who are also gangsters. However, the Goodfeathers were city birds. These are country birds. The Goodfeathers also were not actually gangsters. They just acted like gangsters. Finally, the humor, once you see the actual book, is completely different. Goodfeathers was just silliness, made for kids. The humor here comes from actually trying to tell a serious, complex gangster saga but setting it in this world of rural feeder birds, with trees and hedges and yards instead of buildings and trashcans and public parks.

  3. greyaenigma says:

    I’d be really curious to see other representations of these characters. Cardinal, Tufty, and Grosbeak especially.

    And I wish you good luck in getting Joe Pesci to do Chick for the animated version.

  4. r_sikoryak says:

    I like the rough line you’re getting from the Wacom tablet. You might want to try doing the drawings at a smaller size, so that the lines are fatter and the ragged quality is even more pronounced.
    Often, when creating pictures on the computer, one’s instinct is to make everything smoother and cleaner, but in my opinion that can just make it duller and deader.
    (I’m out of town now, so if you want more feedback, it may have to wait!)