Say Hello Jack

That's not his full name of course. That's a long embarrassing story for another time.Paul-bodies


Jack is one of three main characters for a little comic I'm working on. More on that later, as I want to spend this post primarily talking about character design.

I'm trying something new with this comic. It's called *designing* my characters, instead of just making them look like the first thing that falls into my head and looks mostly okay.1

To that end, I've been doing research. Internet research! (Don't worry, all links in this post are SFW) Here's a little list of things I've been reading to flood my brain with quality, with notations on what I'm trying to learn from them.

- Family Man: I'm showing you the introduction rather than the homepage/current page because A) I don't want to spoil things for you and B) later in the plot there's some blood and boobies, and the current page has boobies. But what initially drew me to Dylan Meconis's work was a talent for suspending disbelief of a visual exaggeration. Her main character has a physically impossible nose in an otherwise realistic setting, and you (the reader) accept it. This talent is fairly common among what is euphemistically termed speculative fiction (We called is science fiction in my day. Damnkidsgettoffmylawn.) But you don't see it done visually very often. Additionally she does drool-worthy backgrounds. I'm still negotiating with myself the level of detail I'm willing to commit to replicating throughout a comic, and Dylan sets a pretty damn high bar. Annoyingly she is *also* a good writer, and knows how to balance textual versus visual information in a scene.

- Hanna is Not a Boy's Name: I'm continually re-reading this one as an example of economy. (Also, I like the story.) Tessa makes lush settings with what appears to be a damn good grasp of color and the texture possibilities of digital media. Her pattern seems to be to give you a fairly detailed drawing of a setting, and then just echo the color palette after that unless some physical detail is relevant to the story. Sneaky, smooth, and temptingly less time drawing backgrounds.

Also the face practice block is modeled directly after some face practice for one of her own characters she posted to her gallery. These 'mixed' expressions are much more useful than the 'primary' facial expression charts I'd seen elsewhere. At the moment Jack's body shape owes too much to reading through the entire archive of Hanna Is Not A Boy's Name, I expect it to come back a bit toward my natural style with a little more practice.

- Gunnerkrig Court: This one starts off cute and a little clunky, but rapidly improves both in artistic merits and writing. It's an old favorite to read, but what I'd really like to pick up from Tom is his use of selective detail. Objects that are  further away are simplified in a way that strongly mimics how humans actually use their eyes to focus. It has an effect similar to watching a 3-D movie: he can make sure your attention to what is in focus even in a visually complicated scene, and when everything is out of focus the words take precedence.

- Indistinguishable from Magic: If you don't know Dresden Codak and are reading this, stop reading this and go read Dresden Codak.

Indistinguishable from Magic is Aaron Diaz's blog, and honestly I read it because he's so very much better at this than I am. And he clearly loves it. It's out of my league to try to emulate him, but trying is a good way to learn. I actually decided to try and build my characters this time instead of the haphazard technique based on one of his posts about character design. So, um, thanks Aaron. This promises to be interesting.

1Although if I'm to be fully honest, that is how this story got it's start. I think it's okay to let your subconscious chime in from time to time or give you a jumping off point, but I'm trying not to rely on it. See, the subconscious isn't terribly original. There's a lot of overlap for people that grow up in the same culture and even if you do have a few original ideas you'll find them continually coming to the surface. It happens with all sorts of creative people: When it's an actor people will sometimes say that they play the same character regardless of what movie they're in. If it's a writer, they seem to be telling the same story in every book even if the names and places change.

Relying on your subconscious (or you can say relying on your subliminal cultural assumptions, if you're anti-Freudian) shouldn't be confused with being *bad* at something. People who are just not so good tend to improve with practice, people who rely on their subconscious get less interesting the more of their work you see.

TLDR: Holy God, I did not sit down meaning to write that much. Feel free to just click the pretty links and figure it out for yourselves.