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Designing Characters

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When designing character’s for a Webcomic there are a few things to keep in mind.

 

Are they Memorable?

Give your characters something iconic that truly fits them. There’s a reason why we remember certain characters like Ariel from The Little Mermaid’s bright red hair or Megamind’s big expressive eyes. You can accomplish this in many different ways from adding big bushy hair, vibrant purple eyes, or a wilting posture. There are even subliminal ways of accomplishing this as well. In my Webcomic Thorns my main character Maerkis was designed to have a consistent dynamic flow in his clothing. This is to reflect his grace and ease of travel. Just make sure whatever you choose makes sense for your character to have. If you have a shy reserved girl I doubt she would wear ruby red lipstick that pokes her out of a crowd when she’d just assume blend in.

 

Is it Simple Enough?

Details are always nice but a pain to consistently draw over and over. Truth be told your viewer rarely takes the time to appreciate each panels’ detail work. Put on an animator hat and think from their standpoint. Drawing cels over and over is a lot like doing panels for a Webcomic (Okay it’s really not, but let’s pretend it is). Both require drawing elements repeatedly over a length of time. You want it to be effortless. So keep the details minimal.

 

Now let me give you the proper way of breaking this rule. It is okay to add over excessive details in selected panels. Examples include establishing, dynamic, or introduction shots. What all these shots have in common is your making a point in showing these details for a purpose. By doing this you train your viewer to appreciate the times you do make the effort. An example would be when you introduce a character wearing an expensive elaborate coat complete with embossed buttons, intricate pockets, and frayed stitching along the seams. You would end up with two versions: The detail heavy, and a simplified version to use in continuing panels. The viewer will already get the idea of how elaborate the coat is since you made a point to let them know.

 

Note: You can do the same with your backgrounds as well.

 

Is it Relatable?

People like to compare everything (I have a friend that does nothing but this with any image, concept, etc. It’s extremely annoying, but useful). Not only does it create a safe haven for the viewer, but it makes them feel special. Most times it’s from a story or movie that stuck out to them enough to remember to compare the two. I feel if it was a strong enough impact for them to remember there had to be something that resonated with them. The viewer likes to think they have something in common or interest with your character/s which helps them feel connected and more willing to go on the journey.

 

What are the Differences?

Each character in your Webcomic should be different enough from the another so the viewer doesn’t get confused. We know in real life no one person looks exactly the same. Changing a characters hair color is not enough. What about the size of lips, eyebrows, body proportions, etc. Don’t give into laziness. Create some variety.

 

Is it Consistent?

I stated above that your characters should be different from each other. Now I need to make the point of maintaining your established design throughout. Your characters need to feel like their all apart of the same “world.” An example would be if you’ve established an angular way of drawing a character you need to do this same type of technique with others. Imagine seeing Kuzco from the Emperor’s New Groove in a movie with Pocahontas. There would be an odd couple that would stick out like a sore thumb (Yes, I love puns if you haven’t figured it out by now).

Preparations

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This is a crucial step. It will save you time, confusion, etc. There is a lot that goes into doing a Webcomic so being prepared is the smart way to go. I’ll try to cover as many steps as I can remember that will help you. All this might seem daunting, but trust me when I say this will save you time.

 

Spec List

You should have a form of documentation that tells all your characters, places, descriptions, and anything you feel will need to be on hand when diving into your Webcomic. This should also be in an easy to reach place. I have a character in my Webcomic with the strangest name spelling. It saves me time in trying to remember and/or hunt the proper way to spell it. You can avoid mistakes as well. There were times when I forgot certain eye colors of characters and if I wasn’t vigilant could easily escape by my radar. Also I should mention keeping a list of technical details (opacity settings, filters, sizes, etc) is also a priority.

 

Resources

Gather all your resources together in one place. I have websites I constantly use throughout the Webcomic process (texture websites, sound effect websites, references for environments, clothing, poses, etc). I keep a log of them on an easy to find document. Remember organization goes a long way.

 

Model Sheets/Plans

Staying on model is one of the most difficult things to do. Create model sheets for each and every one of your characters to reference. This includes head/body turns, clothing studies, style sheets, etc. There are countless ways of drawing eyes so document your character’s designs. Trust me when I say it is easy to forget without a reference. Once you enter into the robotic stage of your comic where everything becomes second nature it is very easy to accidentally draw different styles. The same goes for your environments. If a certain wall of a bedroom has two picture frames and a window. You want to make sure it will always have two picture frames and a window in those featured angles.

 

Color Swatches

Create a swatch page/s of the colors that will be used in the Webcomic. This can seem like a daunting task, but its well worth it in the end. Don’t be like me and color pick from other pages when you can have variables disrupting the true color (i.e. gradients, textures, etc).

 

Accessible Files

This would include files you constantly use throughout your Webcomic. As an example I have a file of a wooden texture that I have tiled to extend over a vast amount of environmental space complete with color range and filter.

The Flow

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Your story should go through the usual arcs of the plot, but there are some things to keep in mind.

Have an addictive plot

This is the most important since the goal is to keep your viewers coming back. A good example is the show 24. That damn show knows exactly how to keep you coming back with its twists (sucked me in hook line and sinker). You want to keep your viewer constantly wondering.

 

Keep the viewer on the edge of their seat

Create highs and lows within your story. Problems must arise every so often otherwise the viewers will get bored. I like to call it “shiny ball syndrome.” Not many viewers would care to read about a group of characters continuously journeying through a forest without something disrupting that flow.

 

Don’t fool the viewer too many times

I’ve already stated to have continuous problems throughout your story. However, you don’t want to overuse this power otherwise it will appear too gimmicky and fake. You don’t want your viewer to realize their being led on for no particular purpose. Too much of a good thing can get boring. Also all your “problems” must make sense to your overall plot. Remember not every “problem” has to be a monster or something popping up. It could be as simple as a character having to make a crucial decision and so on (Maybe your main character loves one of the other members in their group, but they don’t know how that member feels about them).

 

You need to have subplots in addiction to the main plot

This gives your story variety and muscle. Every viewer is reading your Webcomic for a particular reason. Some love character dynamics, romance, action, growth, etc. Nothing is one note in life or story. No character will get along perfectly with another…need I go on?

 

Create something Talkworthy

This is my favorite tool. There is nothing I love more than the satisfaction of being influenced by a particular movie, show, book, etc. enough to run to a friend and spill my guts on how greatly it affected me. You can accomplish this by using all the points stated above. The most effective I feel though is through emotion. Empathy is a powerful tool when used right. Once you get to the heart of your viewer nothing will stop them from gushing about it and doing you the favor of spreading it around. After all word of mouth is the best form of promotion.

Play to your Strengths

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When you write your story you need to consider your strengths and limitations. Everyone has them. Handling them the right way in your story can make all the difference. This article goes hand in hand with the actual art of your Webcomic as well.

Let’s start off with what you feel you know content wise. If you want to do a Webcomic about the Civil War then you need to have a good grasp of what actually happened. Make sure you do your research. It can not only help your story, but increase your enthusiasm for it as well. It’s never a bad thing to become an expert of the actual source your content is based on.

You need to consider your characters, environments, time period, etc that will be part of your story. If you struggle with drawing certain things (i.e. females, buildings, pirate ships) that you feel will be problematic when entering the paneling stage you may want to consider pulling it out and the best time to do this is when you’re working on the story. In the end you’re going to have to be drawing these things over and over. On the flip side, this is also a good way to get better at drawing your weaknesses. Truly take a moment and really think about what you are able to handle. Do you feel you can draw an Ogre for however long he appears in your story?

Choosing the Right Story

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Story is the first thing to consider when starting a Webcomic and arguably the most important. That being said here are some things to consider when choosing the right story. It should be noted that there is much more beyond this list. However, these are the most important and shouldn’t go unnoticed so we will focus on just these…for now.

 

Is this a story I will want to stick with for the long haul?

Webcomics are a commitment. Plan it to be long enough to capture an audience into investing their continued time. More importantly it should be something you really enjoy doing since your giving up your own time in return. It’s very easy to burn yourself out since comics are a huge undertaking. Creating a story you truly love telling is a great tool to have in fighting burnout.

 

How original is your story?

I know what your asking “Is anything original anymore?” There are varying degrees of originality. Ideas are used over and over, however, the method in telling and details can make all the difference. Make sure you’ve checked your story idea with what is already out there. The last thing you want is to create a story exactly like another or worse an existing Webcomic. Make sure yours is different.

 

Is this story compelling enough to keep viewers interested?

Really think about how interesting and compelling your story is. It can be hard to do this since you’re so close to it. A good rule of thumb is to bounce your idea off some of your trusted friends and get feedback. Reassurance is always a good thing to have since more than likely you will at times doubt your talent throughout the long process of the Webcomic.

 

Is this story aimed at a certain niche of people?

I hate to consider this when it can stifle what you truly want to do, however, it needs to be addressed. There are certain genres within the comic world that does extremely well (i.e. superheroes) and some that don’t (i.e. girl related comics). That being said there are many exceptions to the rule (you need to consider who the creator is and what hoops they jumped through to make it to the point they are in now. I’m willing to bet it wasn’t an easy road). Much of this is the fact that these niches were planted and grew over time. If your story idea is something that falls into the range of obscurity (i.e. girl related comics) then you need to make the decision if it’s worth it to grow your viewers yourself and be willing to handle the fact that there might not be a big enough audience for that particular story…yet. If your niche is something extremely popular (i.e. fantasy) then you may be better off…then again maybe not. Take into consideration that there are many comics under that niche already so you’re likely to be judged more harshly than say something that can’t be compared. I stress this because there’s no easy way to get around this. You will have to overcome hurdles in your Webcomic life and rightfully so!

 

Before diving into anything else with your planned Webcomic I suggest you write the whole script before paneling or anything else. If your plan is to do an ongoing story with no definite ending you still need to plan an ending. It’s okay not to fully script out your stories future, however, you should create an outline of your plot. It will give you an idea of the stories direction and purpose and believe me when I say there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t know the ending. Let’s say you don’t have a planned ending and your now into your second volume of your Webcomic and you want to end it on the third volume. Now you’re stuck scrambling on how to make everything fit (I’d wager you end up wishing you had changed a few things you previously wrote). You want your ending to make sense with the story you’ve told otherwise your viewers will feel short changed.

Having a formed ending doesn’t mean you can’t extend the story if you’re Webcomic does extremely well or you just have a lot of fun working on it. A good example is to think of Lord of the Rings. Frodo has to get the ring to Mordor to destroy it. Think of the journey in between this. You can add more adventures before he even reaches his destination without loosing the whole purpose of his journey.

The Process of Creating a Page

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In this tutorial I show you my own process in creating a page for my Webcomic Thorns. This may brush on some techniques you may not be caught up with, but for the sake of keeping this simple I won’t go into detail about said techniques. If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

 

Step 1: Thumbnailing and Working with Scripts

Initially I will write out the whole script for the book. It ends up looking like a normal manuscript as opposed to a “Script” (film), but for the sake of this tutorial let’s call it a script. After I’ve completed the Script I will write another separate document that involves instructions, notes, and details on how each panel should be. Since this project is done by myself I don’t have to worry about being too wordy or straight foreword. Just enough so I myself can understand it. Next comes the thumbnailing process. My thumbnails actually are very very rough. I don’t bother to flesh anything out and all of the sketches look almost a stage above stick figures. As long as the camera placement, layout, and positioning are great that’s all I need to work with.

 

Step 2: Layout and Penciling

This is my favorite step of the whole comic process. Since I consider myself a sketch artist first and foremost this stage is where most the organic magic happens. For this particular Webcomic I’ve chosen to do all pencils on a 14×17 sketchbook. I will measure out each panel and draw it out with a ruler. After that I will rough sketch out the character’s in the panels. Then I will refine and finesse. This step overlaps into the first step a lot where I will improve the idea of layouts and character position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Backgrounds

For the backgrounds in this Webcomic I chose to use the 3d Package Maya and created really simple objects to plot out the perspective of the backgrounds. Here is a picture of what the scenes look like in 3d. I will then rough sketch out the 3d image of the background into the background of the panels on my paper then i will start fleshing and detailing (drawing in the books making the primitive objects appear like objects you’d see in the real world *much like an actual elevator*)

 

Step 4: Scanning/Inking

In this step I will scan the page (for this book I used a professional scanner since the pages are quite large and I didn’t want to use my normal scanner). Once it is scanned in I will change the hue of the pencils to a light blue color and print it out on Water Color Paper. I’m left with a print out of the light blue sketch. From there I will start inking the page. For this Webcomic I’ve chosen stylistically to make the inking take the direction of thick vs thin line to offset the look since I’m not a big fan of using ink to crosshatch or shade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Flats

Now I will scan the inked page at a high resolution to work with in Photoshop. Here I will clean up any mistakes made during inking or modify lines. I use a plugin for Photoshop that actually creates dummy flats based on your lines. It will end up looking like the psychedelic coloring shown in the picture. Then I will take the color bucket and start placing in all the predefined colors that make up my story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 6: Coloring/Shading

For the shading I know I want to go with a type of cel shading  since my style in this Webcomic takes on an animated look. I will use the selection wand and select various parts (ie skin, clothes, hair) and start laying in the shadow flats.

Step 7: Details

The details can consist of many things. One of them is the use of a simple iris/pupil I want for the eyes. I will place all the eyes where they need to go and fit it to the

perspective. I add a light blush to the characters cheeks as well. Some scenes may require visual effects so I deal with that in this stage as well. Lastly some backgrounds require more of a painter look than others. It all depends on the scene. For this one since It’s the beginning of the story and sets the mood I wanted the bookstore to look visually appealing. So that was done in a painterly way with good old fashion rendering.

Step 8: Word Bubbles/Sound Effects

All word bubbles are created using the pen tool and dropped in where needed. As is the text for each bubble. Lastly the sound effects are placed in using a different font than used in the bubbles. Each sound effect carries a manipulation to help push the scene.

Step 9: Finaling

In this stage I will take a look at the scene as a whole and make sure there are no mistakes such as unclean lines, colors outside their predefined shapes, etc. Also certain sections of the borders will be cut out for the character to pop through based on the layout. Then all that’s left to do is save out a desired size. I work very large and save out small. It’s a good rule of thumb to work this way so you always have a large version in case anything should come up or you need to print your work.

Step 10: Done

I pat myself on the back, make sure I have enough coffee in the cup, and then do it all again with the next page!

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