It's easy to look at cute animals and think they're just as pure and lovely on the inside as well. But are they really? For all that we know, they might have the same pessimistic thoughts as us. What if all those fascinating noises they make aren't so poetic and translate into nothing more than the same mundane conversations we have? We may never know for sure, but thanks to Joshua Barkman and his webcomic False Knees, we can at least imagine the answers.
The series takes a wild turn from conventional online animal stories, depicting woodland creatures caught up in various existential crises. Barkman found his angle and has the skills to work it, and his Instagram follower count is now creeping above 590,000. A resident of Kitchener, Ontario, he often draws animals native to the area in his frames, including the Canada goose and the red-breasted nuthatch.
"I've always enjoyed drawing, and though I didn't have access to much art education, I was fortunate to have a lot of encouragement from friends and family," Joshua told Bored Panda. "I first started drawing with pencils, then felt-tip pens and watercolor. Now, I mostly paint with gouache and ink."
Joshua's comics are incredibly beautiful. The strokes, the colors... His carefully crafted frames are like windows into nature. Juxtapose that with the gritty, nuanced characters and you've got yourself a really unique series.
The stars of the show are birds, although Joshua is still working on making some actual bird friends. "The neighborhood crows are not interested in the giant bag of peanuts I bought specifically for them. A few black-capped chickadees visit my bird feeder out of pity. It's not going great," he said.
While Joshua's path to such a concept wasn't a straight one, you could say it was intuitive. "There are a few reasons why I ended up creating bird comics. I was spending a lot more time outside in 2015 when I was training to be an arborist and I was becoming more interested in the natural world around me. Until that point, my comics were a sort of pseudo-reality of my life, and I was ready for a change. It also didn't escape my attention that my animal comics were far more popular than my autobio ones. But above all else, I wanted to make beautiful comics (and still do) and I think birds lend themselves to that goal particularly well," the artist explained.
Whether we're talking about the loud-beak crow or the easy-going pigeon, Barkman not only recreates the way the animals look but their behavior as well. No wonder—he does his research. "I'm spending more time going out with my camera to get better acquainted with wild birds. I also read about them regularly," Joshua said. "I get a lot of inspiration from other artists, and some of my favorites also paint birds. I follow and learn a lot from many bird scientists and photographers online. I find them endlessly fascinating!"