Quick character design for comics
In this tutorial I will show you a quick way of creating effective character design for comics. Character design in comics is all about communicating clearly who your character is, as well as making your design easy to replicate in hundreds of panels. When designing comic characters you need to focus on simplicity and clarity, while still making your characters unique.
The mage character I will be designing in this tutorial
The first iterations
In this step simply draw the first ideas that come to mind. The objective here is to get out whatever initial ideas you have and put them down on paper. This is the time to relax, draw what you're most comfortable with, and have fun. You will soon notice that you are going back to designs you've already used or designs that look like somebody else's design. However, it is still important to explore these initial ideas and get them out on paper.
My first few ideas
Get to know your character
Now it is time to replace drawing with writing. Write down who this character is using a few key words. I organize these words into 3 categories: past, present, and future. I always like the final design to reflect their backstory, their current situation, and their aspirations. The next few steps will be all about generating new ideas related to these key concepts.
You need to know who your character is before you design it
Choose keywords from each category (past, present, and future) and combine these words to create drawing prompts. These drawing prompts should be a description of a type of character such as "A brave and intelligent girl." The reason why I do this is to forget about my character and just try to create iconic characters that represent these characteristics. After I've done 3 quick drawings for each of the 4 prompts, I make some notes on some of the things that I've repeated almost unconsciously in all these designs.
Quick doodles are best at this stage, don't waste time making a masterpiece
Look at all the ideas you've generated and find elements that they share that you think can communicate who your character is. Make notes on this elements and decide which of them you would like to keep or expand on, and which you are going to ignore or drop. This is the time to focus on your visual communication, what are you trying to show your readers about this character? Which elements of the design communicate your message best?
The circled "R" is to indicate what I am going to research
Now is the time to get out of your own head and search for reference. I do the research at this stage because if I do it before, I might get lost in an endless loop of research. Now that I have distilled what I want into a few key words I can research more efficiently because I know exactly what I'm looking for. I'm looking for vivid details. I'm looking for shapes for the witch's hat, for hairstyles that match the swamp she grew up in, and other such specifics that a good half an hour of research can provide.
For this project's research I used Pinterest
Once you have the reference pictures combine them to create visual prompts. These visual prompts are exactly the same as the sentences I used as prompts in step 3. The aim is to create original mash ups of these images to generate new concepts for the character.
In this prompt I focused on the shape of the hat and dress
Choose your favorites
Now it is time to line up all the ideas you have generated and choose the ones you like best. You need to consider which ones communicate better who your character is and which you personally like best. After all, you are going to draw this character hundreds of times so, you need to pick one you like too.
Continue iterating until you find the character you're looking for. Take as long as you need and if you're not satisfied and can't tell why, take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes the following day.
After 4 hours of work, these were my favorites
Explore the final design
Once you have the final design draw it a few times in action. Make sure you understand how this character moves and emotes and make sure you can replicate the design with ease. Make changes if necessary, eliminating unnecessary detail and adding elements that enhance the design.
3 different poses of the final design
Top Tip 1 - Focus on generating ideas, not masterpieces
When designing, draw as if nobody is looking, the aim of these drawings is to explore ideas and see how they work for your character, not to make a beautiful illustration.
These aren't pretty but, they helped me understand what I wanted
Top Tip 2 - Take breaks
Even though this process took me 5 hours I did it over three days. Getting a fresh perspective after a good night of sleep is the best way to make quick decisions about your design.