How to Bring Your Comic Character to Life
You may have written an exciting, relatable comic character that you spent months creating a backstory for. Now you’ll need to bring the character to life on the page.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. You may be very skilled with the drawing pad (or pen and Cintiq, as the case may be). But no matter how great at drawing people you are, it’s not so easy drawing someone especially someone who doesn’t exist! – in their many different moods and expressions. And do so consistently.
I’ve learned the hard way. When I started out with drawing comics, I had been to art school. I thought Hah, drawing angry characters with exaggerated features is a piece of cake. When I had shredded enough drawings and killed enough characters because they never turned out to be as exciting on paper as I had imagined them, I sat down and thought about what I was doing wrong.
Then I went back to basics. I put a mirror on my desk. Disney animators do it, I expect, when no one else is in the room. I’d lock the door or put a Do Not Disturb sign outside my hotel room, to prevent casualties. Then I made faces like there was no tomorrow. I tried to be an actor. And I drew what I saw.
Nowadays, it’s so much easier to get the expressions right when I’m drawing faces.
Happy, angry, sad are easy expressions to draw. But slowly, as I became a better observer and my drawing skills improved.I was able to capture anxiety, understated fear, self-doubt, and the moment when betrayal leads to a broken heart.
Here are some other tips that I have to recommend to you, if you’re having trouble in this area.
- Never stop drawing. Draw everything you see, even when you’re not working on a character. Draw your family when they’re watching TV; draw people across you on the subway (make sure you do it subtly, or you might offend); always doodle with purpose.
- Learn something new about drawing. Take up a figure-drawing course. You’ll discover things you didn’t know. People spend a lifetime drawing human figures and still feel dissatisfied with their ability to capture the essence of people in their drawings.
- Don’t let frustration get to you. It’s easy to become frustrated when you’re drawing as well as writing your comics. The intense moment you’ve imagined can fall flat when you draw the scene. Walk away, rethink the scene. Think of the positions or the angles that best capture the mood, then try to recreate the expressions in your mirror.
- Take photos or a video if it helps you. Many animators do this. Then you can capture stills of different moments of an action, to see how your eyes, lips, eyebrows, nose, cheeks looked.
- Take pictures from different angles. Put the selfie stick to better use and take photos of yourself making the same expression from different angles.
I never said getting it right is a quick process. It’s going to take time, maybe even years to perfect your characters.