Blue Skieson July 29, 2011 at 12:01 am
Did you miss me?
First a little business: congratulations are due to my partner on this endeavor, Mr. Rucka, for receiving his latest Eisner Award at Comic Con this year. Wish I coulda been there.
One of my favorite parts of this job is creating characters. Sure, it can be fun to get to work with the big icons (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, etc.), but you know no matter what you do, someone will come along in six months and change everything to their own specifications.
Greg and I did a Huntress mini-series and when I researched the costume I found that no two artists drew it the same. So, I gathered together all the samples I could find and tried to design something that was a distillation of all the previous work. I simplified some parts, made some parts more practical, and came up with something I thought was a good compromise. Recognizable, yet streamlined. I even took the time to diagram what was in her utility belt, where it was located, and how it worked.
So, we did the series, it came out, and less than a year later, Jim Lee redesigned the costume for Hush. I rest my case.
But here, Greg and I get to decide what the characters look like without that frustration. The creation of a character can happen in many ways. Maybe I’ll make an offhand remark about something and, the next thing I know, Greg has taken that idea and turned it into a major character. You’ll see the results of that in Chapter 2. Sometimes Greg will have a great name for a character, and that name alone is enough to suggest the look. There are times when we need a certain type of character and we’ll decide to design the character against type. And then there are actors.
In the movie business screen writers have a term, Blue Sky Casting. When writing a script they may indicate the type of actor they imagine in a given role by mentioning their name: a Robert Redford type, a Nicole Kidman type, a young Clint Eastwood, in hopes the producers will attempt to engage the services of the actor for the film. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t. Comic writers and artists do the same thing.
Greg usually has an actor in mind when he creates characters. He’ll tell me who it is and I’ll find as many photos as I can of the actor, from all angles. I put them together and study them for a time, put them away, and then come back to them later for more study. When I actually start the design work I don’t reference the photos, and work from memory impressions of the person. I try to break the image down into a subtle charicature of the subject, focusing on the things that most stand out in my memory. It could be the nose, the eyebrows, the chin, almost anything.
The great cartoonist Al Hirschfeld had a unique way of working out his wonderful charicatures of Broadway actors. He would sit in the audience at a performance and with his hand holding a pencil in his pocket, would attempt to draw his subject on a piece of paper, also in his pocket. That way he concentrated on the shapes of the various parts of the subject’s visage. Seems like sorcery to me.
So here, Greg and I have the job of populating the world we’re creating with people you’ll find compelling, people you want to spend time with every week, hopefully people you believe in and care about. It’s a daunting task but, for me, it’s the best part of the job. If we’re lucky the characters will take on a life of their own and start telling us what they’ll do. Some characters may break out and become much more important to the strip than we initially intended. Some may take the story in a direction we hadn’t thought of.
It’s the alchemy of drama: character creates plot creates character.