Monday, March 06, 2017

Intro to Comic Craft: Step by Step: Character Design

This series is also made possible thanks to the generosity and interest of my Patrons on Patreon.


My Patrons have expressed interest in content on the comic making process, and I am happy to oblige.  Comics are one of my passions, and they're the reason I began this blog in the first place.  It isn't always easy to share comic content here, but their generosity has made it easier to set aside the time and resources necessary to doing so.  Writing about comic craft in depth requires research, setting aside time during the comic creation process to document my progress, and a lot of thought, and I feel is best served through longform series such as the Intro to Comic Craft: Step By Step series.  If you enjoy this series, please take a moment to share it with your friends and loved ones on the social network of your choice, leave me a G+ comment, or send me an email using the sidebar form- your feedback is important to me!  If you have specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask via email.

As part of this series, my Patrons have exclusive access to behind the scenes comic creation content, including the entire plotform synopsis for 7" Kara, the 7" Kara beat sheet, the Chapter 7 Synopsis, the Chapter 7 tight script, and loads more.   If you learn best from working example, joining my Patreon will give you access to those files.

Approaching Character Design for Comics


There are multiple approaches to character design, and which approach you use is up to you, and the needs of your comic.

For other methods of approaching character design, please check out my Outside References section.

My core goals when designing characters:
  • Represent a diverse cast without perpetuating stereotypes
  • Design relatable characters inspired by people I've encountered
  • Design clothes that are practical and suit the character
  • Feature women and girls positively and prominently


Designing Characters in Batch:

Useful for shorter works, or to establish a main cast.

Momotaro- Black and White

Designing historical characters based on information gathered on site (Tokyo, Edo-Tokyo Museum, photos and sketches) during the Japan Trip.










Critical Missy- Inkwash Grayscale

For Critical Missy, I needed to design two groups of characters- the fantasy themed DnD characters (a mage- Missy, based off magical girls, a half orc barbarian, and an elf archer), and four humans.



Designing Characters or Appearance by Chapter:

Useful for longer works that require multiple outfit changes, larger casts, or characters that evolve over time.

Pre-Comic Design:

Kara:









 Meldina:



Rowan:




Naomi:

Original Design

Naomi Revision:



 Pancake:



Tanner:




Even before Chapter 1 began, Kara as a character saw significant evolution.  Early versions saw her older, and taller- a teenage Lilliputian, but my thesis research showed a need for independent, younger female protagonists.  I decided to have her a little younger than originally planned, at 11 years old.

7" Kara- Color

Chapter 1:



Chapter 4:



Chapter 6:

For chapters that show a montage, cover several days, or require a costume change, I research and design the chapter's outfits ahead of time.  Here are a selection of the outfits used for Chapter 6.






Chapter 7:

Chapter Seven not only covers three characters, but features a montage where Kara models a variety of doll clothes inspired by Barbie clothes throughout the decades.  This required some research beforehand, and I found it handy to start a Pinterest board dedicated to the chapter.








Chapter 7 designs in practice:


My goal is to depict Kara as a well dressed, but actively little kid.  While I do often put her in dresses for promotional art, the majority of her chapter outfits feature shorts or pantaloons, as they're more practical for a small person exploring the huge outside world.  I wanted Kara to represent the notion that femininity can be practical and can cover a spectrum even in a single person, rather than conventional treatments in comics, which tends to either only present the most practical, tom-boyish outfits, or overtly feminine, covered in frills, impractical ensembles.

Designing Characters En Masse:

Good for time crunches, large casts, short comics

Knight School- Color




With Knight School, what started out as a very tame pitch- grandmother knight cares for her recently orphaned grandchildren, spiralled into dangerous territory when Lady Knight requested that early contributors (even comic contributors) massively up their knight count.  In the end, I had to design 13 knights, show aspects of their personalities, and make them all stand out as individuals- in 4 pages of comic.

Since I had so many knights to design, I decided to represent as many personalities and nationalities as possible.  Although their names are all traditionally Germanic,  Viveca, Adair, Cerdic, and Lenna are all African, Magnilda is German, Halfrida is Korean, Philiberta Irish, Karlotta and Bethilda are Indian, Minetta is Hispanic, Selma is English, and Uta is Chinese.  The girls are also a range of ages, from five to seventeen.

Transition to Color:


This was an opportunity for me to embrace diversity and showcase a variety of girls who all embody what it means to be a knight by the chivalric definition.  I would have loved more space to explore their personalities, but early contributors to 1001 Knights were asked to up their knight count and lower their page count (a bit cruel if you were submitting a comic)

More on Knight School

Cicada Summer- Black and White

Using tracing paper to design a large family

Materials Used:
Sketchbook
Colored Leads
Inexpensive tracing paper, torn to size

Each branch of the extended family is color coded with lead.


When designing characters, I begin with fairly basic shapes.  The torso is blocked in with rectangles or hourglasses.


From there, I begin to build out the skeleton.  An egg shape for the rib cage, a rectangle for the pelvic box, sticks to determine the gesture of the arms, cylindars for arms, legs, and neck.




Only after the basic form is fleshed out do I begin worrying about clothing design.  For this comic, which is set in Picayune, Mississippi in midsummer, everyone needed to be dressed practically.



For such a large cast, it's helpful to have a baseline of comparison.  In this case, it's the main character, a 13 year old girl.

She was sketched directly in my sketchbook, and when designing other characters, I tape the tracing paper on top.


And use this for size reference, rather than relying on measurements and hashmarks.



For large families like this one, the tracing paper can really pile up, but it's helpful to maintain size relationships and reinforce familial similarities between characters.

The crawfish boil pitch chapter from Cicada Summer requires me to design and draw 20 total characters from four different (but related) families.

Although I'm drawing my own family, there aren't photos from the time period, so I'm having to rely heavily on memory.  Photos would make this much easier- so if you have photo reference, use it!

Tips for designing large casts, or casts that are related by blood/marriage
  • Baseline height is set off the main character. 
  • Familial relation is designated by lead color.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Design ahead, and make sure your designs are clear enough for you to read later.
  • Collect reference ahead of time- this will make designing quicker
  • To speed up the process, pick a stock pose that shows all important features of character and use it when designing all characters.
  • Consider using a doll or a base for quick character designs
Outside References:


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You can read about Kara's adventures exploring the human world on the tumblr or through the standalone site.  Too impatient to wait?  Pick up your own copy from the Natto-shop.  Your support of 7" Kara helps me out in so many ways, and since Kara has only recently launched as a webcomic, your support is particularly important to me right now!  So please, share it to your Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram, and make sure you tag me @Nattosoup for a signal boost!
 

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