I posted a little bit on my twitter this evening about how I design characters as a writer who works with other artists. This is a little step by step for Juon Tiro, a character from a fantasy story The Deep Engines. There are actually a couple short stories featuring him on this blog if you want to check the Deep Engines tag.
To start out I do a basic write up of the character, background, place in society, general info.
This is what it looks like when I start out. Then I refine a bit with personal details. These are things that would suggest how a character would hold themselves, how they react to stress. Details that would be shown on the page rather than told. The notes section is pretty brief and staccato. I think that’s helpful for an artist so they can get the distilled info without being bogged down with a 3 page essay trying to condense every aspect of the character. Just easier to parse.
When I write for comics I cast it like a movie. If I see a photo of a model or an actor or whatever that I think suits the character it goes in a reference folder labled CAST. For Juon I stumbled over this guy who’s body type and facial expression would be at home in a scene.
Handsome, cocky, trim, long limbed, dark skin. I can point to this and say, “Here is the basic physical make up.” But I want Juon to have long hair that he takes pride in and a little bit of an impish look. Model Cykeem White was an ideal stand in.
With these references I have a visual I can point to and then refine. For example I’ve told artists who are interested in this project that the above model is a very good idea of Juons shape, but he’s a little too baby faced for Juons age and street wise experience.
So I take a crack at it myself.
Sorry about the quality but fuck a scanner.
Now here is some advice that may seem super daunting to writers who don’t draw at all, never studied art or what have you but i strongly recommend it. Try to draw your character the way you picture them. What’s the shape of their build? do they have broad shoulders and a narrow waist? Well, shit, you can draw a triangle. In comparison to the people who collaborate with me I’m trash and I can’t illustrate my ideas as skillfully as I can construct a sentence but it’s a starting point for what I specifically had in mind. Also I think it’s good for writers to see how the other half lives. I hear from some younger or just starting out writers complaining that an artist isn’t capturing their ~vision~. Cut that shit out. Sit down and try to draw you vision. Can’t do it? Well then if the artist you are working with thinks a character would look better with bangs I guess that bitch is getting bangs isn’t she?
Anyway, this is my pass at combining the details I like from the references.
I also have stacks of reference for costume. Juon is from a race called the Kef. Over all the Kef like bold, solid colors, geometric shapes, asymmetry, and gold adornments. However the details vary from location to location. Juon is from Benga Loa, which is tropical. The colors his people wear are brighter and the outermost layer would typically have an embroidery or pattern that would be considered a frivolous but Kef living in other cities.
Again, I have boatloads of images. When we get down to brass tacks of illustrating I can say, the color blue of the jacket, the shilloutte of the black costume above, but it would leave one shoulder bare.
Here are some sketches of Juon done by other artists using the information I’ve given them.
Juon by Dechanique.
Juon concept art by B. Sabo
Annnnnd by my frequent collaborator B. Sabo.
Last but not least, Anissa Espinosa.
Three different artists, one character. Three different styles but if you were to read a comic series with Juon and each artist drew a section you’d be able to spot him from the get.
Anyway your milage may vary, but for larger projects this is how I communicate with artists and it seems successful thus far. Just remember don’t dump all the visual leg work on them! Drawing takes a lot of time and if you know how something should look, find a picture or something that looks close or evokes the general idea and give it to them. It’ll save time and effort and wont necessitate (many) redraws. And if you can’t find a reference? Try drawing it yourself to figure out the look. Sometimes the frustration of drawing something actually makes me better at articulating the thought in words.