Creating Characters for Comics
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
A new Instagram friend of mine, @galactic_creations98, asked me the other day how I develop characters and learned to draw them. I thought I would share my process - but I'd like to emphasize that there really is no one right way of creating comics. And the process described below has taken me since Christmas of 2017, so I'm sure there are better ways of going about it. Please share your experiences and tips for creating characters in the comments!
1) Anatomy / Figure Drawing
The first thing I did to begin learning how to draw characters, was to learn the proportions to draw with. You may have heard the rule of thumb for drawing faces, if you've ever taken any art classes or tutorials. So I downloaded a number of free PDFs on drawing figures and their proportions. I copied out the female figure and proportions, and set to redrawing it repeatedly until I could remember without having to refer anymore. I also copied out the male figure, but wasn't quite as motivated for drawing it as much as the female. Below are a number of PDFs you can download for free.
Two of my favourites are by Andrew Loomis:
If you have a tablet or iPad, I recommend downloading the PDF files there because they have applications that read the files like a book, making it easier to keep your spot and go back to favourite pages.
2) Character Development / Drawing Style
These two pieces went hand in hand. While I started drawing my first characters, I also drew from comics I was reading in order to figure out an artistic style I liked. The art in comics varied so much, so I wanted to figure out how mine would look.
Also, before I can begin drawing a character from my book, I need to know enough about who they are. My main character, Sloan, has many pieces of me within her, so she definitely resembles me in her looks. Her look did change quite a bit from 2017 to how she looks now, but setting out to draw her has always been easy. Jorn on the other hand, my other main character took me about two years to develop enough that I could develop his look. In the beginning, I just knew I wanted him to be a nice guy and Sloan's roommate. I needed more than that in order to draw him. Eventually, I came to know about where he grew up, what his family was like, his biggest fears, and suddenly it wasn't so hard to draw him and he really started to become a better rounded character. (See images below.)
Sometimes I intend to draw a character, and the way it turns out looks completely different from how I want them to be. When this happens, I don't discard the character, I just keep the drawing around because often I find a new character in the story who kind of fits that look and I can build off of it. This occurred between Jorn and Vex. I took parts of the early designs of Jorn to create Vex. I also looked to examples of Puck (Midsummer Night's Dream) on Pinterest because Vex is a spritely in his movements and is a bit of a puppet master. (See images left.)
3) Practice! Practice! Research! Research!
Learning is never over when you're working on something like a comic. Even after having my characters figured out, I still go back to tutorials to learn the basics. BardotBrush has put on a great tutorial series this year, with anatomy basics and character design - find the playlists here.
I find I sometimes get bored of drawing the same person in the same position over and over. I like to change up what they're wearing and what they're doing. For me it helps that I already have most of my plot figured out, so I can play with them in scenes and then it's more interesting for me to draw. When I do this, I often take a picture of myself in the position of the character and draw from that.
Another thing you can do to learn different positions is what's called gesture drawing. There are tons of examples online, and it helps you find fluidity and movement in your actions. Pinterest also has examples of poses (and facial expressions) you can draw from.
Once you've been drawing characters for a while, pause to think about what kinds of people you're drawing. Are they all of a particular gender, sexuality, or race? Do they look stereotypical or have you tactfully added detail? Don't just add diversity for the sake of it, but if you notice all of your characters are similar to each other, consider whether this makes sense for the setting of your story, or if more diversity would work. The more variety you can add to your characters' backgrounds and personalities, the more people who read your comic will feel like they can relate to them.
There is likely far more I have done to learn how to draw and develop characters, but mostly it consists of a constant loop of practicing and learning, along with developing who the character is through the writing and brainstorming process. Character sheets can be useful for this, thinking about what types of tattoos your character would have (even if they wouldn't get any it forces you to think about what's important to them), considering their childhood and family, favourite and worst memories, how they change in the book, etc.
Let me know how you develop characters in the comments!
Wondering about the writing process for comics? Check out this related blog post - Do You Write in Script Form?