Picket Line Character Design

Friday, July 15th, 2011

I mentioned that the sketchbook process brought my characters to life, and I’d say that each of them was born in those sketchbooks really, except maybe Rex, who was also born in a sketchbook, but that was right before the writing process began. Everyone else was conjured up as the story stumbled in their direction. The first character that we meet is the protagonist, Beatrice. So let’s get the most frequently asked question out of the way – is Beatrice me? Well, considering how she has the same nose as my cartoon self, and a very similar name (especially when you go with the nicknames, Bea vs. B) it’s a valid question. Furthermore, like Beatrice, I moved to northern California after college, I took a job with a small, family-owned business (though that was in San Diego) and I had some exposure to environmental protests. But I can assure you, with the exception of the emotional core (for which I drew heavily from my own experience) this story is total fiction.

That being the case, I needed to invent characters to carry the story. I talked about how Rex came about, and soon after Beatrice. The first character who entered the story after these two was Rex’s daughter, Liz. As you can see, I didn’t spent a moment of time considering her appearance before adding her in:

She was not pretty, but she was born. By her second scene, I had a better sense of how her personality – sharp, snappy, tough – might dictate her look. She settled on a shaggy pixie cut with a barrette, while still wearing tomboy clothes. She’s the woman I imagine Susie from Calvin and Hobbes might have grown up to be.

Eventually I did draw my main characters outside of my sketchbooks to have a more solid idea of who I was working with:

While writing the rest of the sketchbooks, I developed a shorthand for the characters that allowed me to keep writing without getting slowed down too much with drawing details, but I continued to learn more about their personalities, their mannerisms, their desires. I know that writers can sound a bit crazy when they talk about their characters, but I truly believe that a character will do much of the work to define itself if you give them room to do so.

One of my favorite characters, Derek, really took on a life of his own. I had one thing in mind for him when I started (especially since the other characters talked about him before I ever met him) but drawing his goofy haircut and tattoos made him much more likable, and his characterization reflected that. Between finishing the first draft (sketchbooks) and beginning rewrites, I drew a sketch of Derek in attempt to capture some of his raw, unrestrained energy:

The next stage of writing was text-only, so I didn’t think much more about the characters’ appearance until I was about to begin illustration. Once I committed the characters to the final inked pages, I knew they were more or less set in stone. Given the simplified anatomy of my drawings, they didn’t change much from their sketchbook forms, except for being less sketchy. By the time I was drawing them on the final pages, though, I felt like I knew them intimately (yes, again, writers are creepy) which was helpful, as I was still making changes to the dialog and even the plot right up until the end. Still, knowing your characters well always makes for a more fluid storytelling process.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink