Creating Comic Book Characters:
Designing a Character from Scratch:
From my perspective, there are two ways to approach character design. Keep in mind that I am coming at this from the perspective that my characters are not human. I am designing beings from other worlds and therefore, there are no limitations to what I can come up with. However, I think that the methodolgy will apply no matter if you’re designing aliens or regular, plain old people. So let’s get back to my two approaches.
The first approach can be looked at as Design First. This is where you design the character and then write a story with them in it. The second approach is Story First. Here you will go about writing your story with characters that you have yet to design. And you use the story context and description to create them. I have used both of these methods in coming up with characters.
Most of the main characters in my comic book are characters I’ve drawn for many years, even before I wrote the comic.
One day I decided to write a book with them starring in it. Because, I had characters that I had already established, at least to me, all I had to do was tweak the design, come up with a back story and then start writing their adventures. I think it’s a little easier if you have the character first.
When I wrote my first Graphic Novel, Spectre: A Dark Matter, my main characters were set, and had been for a long time. However, I needed an adversary to act as the antagonist. So I created the character while I was writing the script. I wasn’t fully certain what he was going to look like. Below, I will go step by step through the process of how I went from a few sketches, and finally had it evolve into the final character design. A summary of my character design process is at the very bottom of the page.
Designing a Character: Step by Step
Very early, unfinished design for the unnamed villian in Spectre: A Dark Matter.
Above was a very early sketch where I was trying out some design options for my new comic book villian. I had originally drawn the little creature on the left a long time ago. I knew I wanted to use him in this story, maybe as a pet to the villian. At this point in the process, even though the story was written, I hadn’t even named the villian yet. I just called him the "Enigma."
During my brainstorming sketching, I knew that I wanted him to have four arms, and I was trying to see what it would look like. This is a real basic configuration. As you can see, it is not even a complete figure.
Very early head and legs design for the unnamed villian in Spectre: A Dark Matter.
The next thing I worked on was the legs shown on the right. I wasn’t sure where this design was going, but I wanted him to have thick, strong legs and wide feet. Based on those parameters, this design wasn’t working for me. I moved on to the head which was the toughest part of the design. The face and head are the defining feature of your character. This has to be perfect to your vision. These goofy little drawings above are really just that…Goofy! They don’t look intimidating or evil and that is not what you want in a villian. However, it did establish that I was looking to design a head that had several tentacles which would be used in the story. But again, if I was going to go in this direction, this design needs some major work.
Evolving, yet unfinished design for the unnamed villian in Spectre: A Dark Matter.
This is more like it. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s going in the right direction. He’s becoming more intimidating. Some of the finer details are getting incorporated into the design. Details on the uniform are starting to appear, like the shoulder flaps, arm bands and the special, wide boots. I’m happier with this design, but it still needs to be polished. Now, I’m going to take all of the elements that I liked from some of the earlier sketches and try to really finalize it.
Final Design, Searius and Ort from Spectre: A Dark Matter.
Above is the final design that I created before I started laying out my comic book pages. It took awhile and a lot of sketching to get to this point, but I liked the end result. This tall, lanky character with four arms and a tentacled head became my story’s main antagonist. I named him Searius and he is a Lorian from the Planet Loriar. He will have a profile in the Characters Section of this website.
Reviewing the Process:
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1. Whether you start with the design, or with the story, you have to just start sketching. Take out a sheet of paper and just start doodling. Make it like a brainstorming session on your paper. Whatever pops into your head, sketch it on the paper.
2. Review your brainstorming sketches. Identify the things or even pieces of things that you think will work for the character you are designing for. If you are sketching without a character in mind (in other words, you haven’t written their story yet), save these sketches. You may want to revisit them when you do have a specific character in mind.
3. Once you have a direction for your character based on the parameters you set, work on the refinement and detailing of your design.
4. Keep drawing and redrawing until you feel the character is exactly what you need it to be. Only you can determine if what you drew fits the description you have in your head. Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from other people. You may come up with new ideas from their comments.
5. Once you get close to finished, create a character profile sheet. This will be a finalized character design with notes and highlights that you can refer to when you’re drawing your comic book pages.
6. Have fun with this. Whenever you are doing something creative, its easy to get stuck and sometimes frustrated. But don’t take the fun out of it. If I could make a living doing something creative for the rest of my life, I think I could be happy with that. My job as an architect allows me to be creative most of the time. But, as in many jobs, there are some tasks, like paperwork, or code reviews that are not as fun to do…Guess which part of my job I like more?
Hopefully you’ve found this Character Creation Post helpful for creating your own characters. The process for creation can be applied to any type of character and any type of story. And for that matter, the process is not limited to just characters. You may have to design many other types of things for your story. Use the steps laid out above and it will help you come up with a great design. And the most important tip from this post is, keep a file of sketches and drawings from your brainstorming sessions. You absolutely will revisit them in the future. And you’ll be glad you have it. For more helpful information on creating your own comic book, check out my eBook, How to Create and Publish your own Comic Book.