My first NaNoWriMo isn't going well exactly, but my story is absolutely progressing.

One of the most encouraging developments has been the fleshing-out of my villains. When I started I had some idea of what they wanted, but very little of the why, and even less of what they looked like. As my eventual plan is probably to draw this story up into a graphic novel, the visual vagueness of these two very important characters was a serious problem. 

Interestingly, I found that as I gave these characters a history and a setting their appearance developed quite naturally. (This is a bit of an inversion for me- historically I'd come up with a cool looking character, and then have to make up reasons that they looked that way. Which maybe had something to do with why, historically, my plots were underdeveloped.)

Her name (at least until I decide to change it) is Ethelinda. He is Ofure. This is a picture of them in younger, happier days. At this point they are the heroes of their own story, not the villains in someone else's.


Underpants Sketch

I finally feel like I'm learning to sketch on my Wacom tablet. It's a different skill from paper sketching, maybe because the physical motion of the pen doesn't have a static relationship to the movement of the cursor, (a tiny movement can have very different consequences depending on how zoomed in you are) and maybe because the picture is appearing on an entirely different surface from the one it's being drawn on. Regardless it's taken me about four years of practice to get reliably tolerable results.

So I had a passing fancy to draw my three main comic characters in their underwear. I justified this on two counts: One, I should really know what the character's body looks like, not just their clothes. Two, I think one's choice in underpants can visually say something about a character.

Here's Adiyenko. She's all about practicality and is even a little modest, but she's also entirely aware that boyshorts flatter her butt. (Digitigrade legs predispose towards some serious butt.)





Character Study #3: Shapeshifter

I saved this study for last because it was in some ways the easiest. She was the first of this set of characters so I have the most practice with her and have a pretty good handle on how she stands, glares, and holds a sword.

Because the universe has a sense of irony, she's also the hardest.  I need her to be demonstrably the same character while having two different appearances: One as she actually is, and one a disguise she wears to not freak the squares.

So I tried to make her appearance as consistent as possible:

-Though I loath the  'all women wear 3-inch heels' aesthetic, (It's stupid. The character design should reflect the character. Heels aren't a default, they're a decision.) in this case it actually made sense. I decided that the glamour she's wearing to create a human appearance has limits: it can't make her look like someone else, it can only obscure details. And it's not very good and being sensorily consistent: her hooves click as she walks. Heels help explain the sound plus her her height (digitigrade legs give you leggier proportions) and the glamour does the rest.

-I designed her to have large areas of solid black. Keeping these blacks in the same places on both forms helps her look consistent. If she were done as an eight-bit character, she'd look much the same in both forms. Being able to identify a character even in a fuzzy or simplified form is one indication of good character design.

-Her hair, face, and jacket only have minor changes. Readers don't pay nearly as much attention to limbs as torsos: changing the shoes on a person doesn't make them harder to identify, but changing their hat definitely does.

Character Sheet #2: Eris

Eris-bodies Eris-faces

Having already done one character sheet, I had a pretty good idea of how this one should go. Which was a good thing, because children are hard.

Particularly this one. Eris is in latest, most gangly childhood, which I think makes her about eleven years old. This is the skinniest she will ever be, but she also has an adult-size head on a child-height body. Which kind of makes her look like a pez dispenser.

But the challenges I've set for myself don't end with Eris being a child. I've also made her mixed race.

Comic artists handle racial indicators in different ways. The simplest is of course just to use color. But I want my comic to be done, oh, this decade, so I'm mostly going to be sticking to black and white.

In black and white, there are three options: Blackface (awkward), hashmarks, (which generally looks like some kind of skin condition) and actually being goddamn good at your job and drawing faces with a specific shape to them.

So... I'm trying to go with that last one.

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.