Are you an aspiring comic artist struggling with basic character design? Do you even know what the basics ARE?
Well, strap in and join me on this live stream! I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned in 8+ years of drawing comics. Plus, I’ll show you some of my favorite character designs in media.
“But I don’t have time to watch an entire archived live stream!” Well, I DO encourage you to set the time aside to watch this. But here are some important bullet points to keep in mind:
The Silhouette Test – this is a tried and true method, and is even used by Disney’s animation team. Basically, does the silhouette of your character stand out in a lineup?
Symbols – what symbology is present in your world? How does that affect the character? Do they wear colors or symbols that resonate with them?
Contrast – If you’re designing multiple characters, how can you make them stand out from each other? Can you have different or complimentary colors to each character? What if one character styles their hair up, but the other lays it down? etc.
Similarity – If you’re designing a team, how can you indicate that – but still have them stand apart from each other? What elements do they have in common? WHY are they in common?
Simplify – when you draw comics, keep the design SIMPLE. You will be drawing these characters repeatedly. Don’t make it complicated or you will hate yourself.
And finally… Be Open-Minded and Be Curious!
I hope this helps you on your creative journey. Thank you for watching and reading!
So in Part 1, I talked about character design in comics, and what doesn’t tend to work. In Part 2, I talked about some character designs in practice in Validation and other personal works.
Today I would like to look at more character designs and how they can reflect or embody elements necessary to the story.
Let’s look at some characters from…Johnson & Sir.
Johnson and Sir are two opposites: Sir is the busybody tough guy who plays by the rules and runs a tight ship. Johnson is a relaxed joker who figuratively pokes the bear (the bear being Sir) to make him lighten up and joke more.
Sir is well-kept and nicely groomed. His mustache is always perfect and he’s almost always standing up straight and in-charge.
Johnson loves his dresses and is not afraid to wear them. He’s willing and able to break the expectations of society. He LOVES to do so. To match his flamboyance, he has wild hair and crazy facial expressions. While Sir is stoic, Johnson isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Of course, in the Fantasyville Police Force, there are characters that match up with Johnson and Sir, serving as mirrors.
Mirror characters are not new or even rare. Mirror characters are those who have the same experiences or functions of the main characters, but can oppose them in some way.
For example, Ackles is a mirror for Johnson.
Ackles is the nice in-between of Johnson’s heart with Sir’s rationale. Ackles is reasonable but accepting of the absurdity in Johnson’s attitudes. He’s not as by-the-book as Sir is, but he still follows the rules that society has placed, for the most part. He’s not all-knowing – in fact, he’s still new to the job as a police officer, and asks a lot of questions. He’s the naive curiosity to Johnson’s experience. His naivete and curiosity are what drive him to go adventuring with Johnson and do silly, absurd things.
To reflect these characteristics in his design, he has a well-groomed image like Sir, hair that doesn’t meet societal expectations like Johnson’s, and wide, emotional and curious eyes.
So now we know about Johnson’s mirror character, Ackles. Who is Sir’s mirror character?
Pranesh hardly ever speaks until the Haiku Flu arc. He’s a man of few words and somber actions. He doesn’t do exaggeration like Johnson or Ackles do. He’s a quiet, determined sort of man. That’s why he has the strong chin and jaw, the broad shoulders, the high cheek bones, and the tired eyes. He’s seen things, but he carries on in his quiet way. Like a superhero.
Pranesh is much like Sir in his stoic nature and ramrod-straight posture. He carries himself with dignity, like Sir (for the most part) does.
But Pranesh is a bit too stoic. We don’t see him smile. He hardly ever jokes, unless it’s in a deadpan, dry way.
He serves as the mellow contrast to those rare moments when Sir unwittingly lets an emotion loose, like humor or fear.
While Ackles is complimentary to Johnson, Pranesh is almost a caricatured personification of Sir’s dryness. He is what Sir COULD become, if it weren’t for Johnson poking him with the metaphorical silly stick.
So in designing these characters, everything plays a part – their facial expressions, their posture, their body language, their hair and clothes (when they’re not in police uniform). Keep these factors in mind when you create your own characters for comics and, hopefully, your characters will become much more real.
So did you like this 3-part series? Would you like me to keep talking about character design for comics? What have you learned from my ramblings about character designs? Leave your thoughts in comments below!
Also! Did you like Johnson expressing his inner Elsa? Because you can get it as a print to hang on your wall! Or your friends’ wall. Or wherever people need to burst into motivational song.
This blog post was the last one in a week of daily updates. Thank you to everybody who read my posts everyday! I’ll see you on Monday.
So in yesterday’s post I talked about what I feel like makes bad character design for comics.
To be fair, creating unique designs for characters is hard, especially in comics. It’s too easy to fall into formulas and make your characters suffer Same Face Syndrome, or its cancerous cousin, Same Body Syndrome. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? You should have been here yesterday.)
It’s not an easy question to answer, even if you’ve been making comics and animated works for YEARS. What makes great characters tends to vary from artist to artist.
However, I try my best to keep these points in mind. Good character designs in comics (to me)…
express the full range of human emotions,
are visually individual from each other, and
embody necessary elements in your story.
Let’s take a look at some of my own character designs.
Nada is a character I created for a work-in-progress, where she and several children are trying to escape a haunted house. Nada loves the wilderness, exploring, and practicing her survivalist skills. So in her design, I gave her sturdy hiking boots and a pair of pants that wouldn’t snag on anything from long sleeves, but still protect her legs from ticks and burrs. She’s still feminine in that she keeps her hair long, but she’s low maintenance and would rather keep her tangle of hair pulled back.
Let’s look at another story, which has the working title The Hoard.
Claire is a tough cookie. She’s also sharp and abrasive, which is why I drew her with sharper angles, especially in her face. She’s also muscular, having fought against the zombie hoard for a few years. Her clothes fit her snugly – she has no time for loose things to snag onto obstacles. She needs to do her thing quickly and get it done.
Let’s compare her to Tracy.
Tracy has softer edges and curves, including a round face. That’s because she’s much more innocent and timid than Claire is. Compared to Claire’s hardness, Tracy is squishy. She also has more introverted body language – she keeps her arms in and her mouth shut. Compared to Claire’s open and fierce body language, Tracy is quiet. She compliments Claire nicely for the story.
Ok, so what about in something like Validation?
Let’s look at the progression of Ally.
This isn’t just a comparison to see how my art improved over time. There’s some subtlety going on in Ally’s design.
When she first appears, her hair is much straighter, she’s quiet in her demeanor, and she keeps to herself for the most part.
As time goes on, she gets more outgoing, more outspoken, and that gets reflected in her appearance. Her hair is much looser and wilder, and she’s not afraid to wear a shirt that says “Boss.”
We can also see a change in Roxie, especially in one particular arc.
Roxie is a punk. She is loud, she is funny, she is energy personified. Even her hair is electric!
However, in a rather dramatic story arc, she hits a slump. She retreats inward and loses a little of her spark. Usually, her mohawk has vibrant color, but in her slump, her hair is apathetically white and lifelessly blank. Her hair is limp, her energy just sucked out of her. And instead of standing straight and proud and emphatic, she slumps over, drawing herself in, away from the world.
Thankfully the downturn doesn’t last long, but it’s still dramatic enough that her appearance changes to match her character.
There are even more character designs I want to show and discuss, but that will have to wait for tomorrow – I don’t want this post to get too long!