Building a Character to Make a World: Our Project Continues

About a month ago, I said that Angela O’Hara and I would working on a comics collaboration together. So here is an update on our Project thus far.

I gave Angela a whole list of comics artists to research in order to get the right aesthetic for our world. The following inspirations were Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown, Chris Ware’s “The Super-Man” stories, Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, the rugged elementalism of the anime Gurren Lagann, Sarah Howell, and Neil Gaiman’s run of Miracleman.

At the time, Angela was not completely sure how to go about this: which was fair given the fact that all I had seen of this world I’d envisioned were a few scenes and figures inside of my own head. It’s amazing how something in your mind cannot always be so easily translated into real life.

After a summer of proposing this Project, I was galvanized into action when Angela said she was going to be pursuing her drawing career full-time now: which is excellent because she is a gifted illustrator and a comics-creator. This was when I realized I needed to give her what I had and, once I did, I realized I gave her more than enough to work with at that point.

In the end, I created a fairly detailed back-story (or at least something far more detailed than what I thought it would be), some character outlines and descriptions, and even some notes on the minions that I’m keen on including in this strange new world of ours. So armed with artistic inspirations as well as character descriptions, names, a background story, and a rough idea of the main plot Angela began drawing.

It was when she sent me these first pictures that the challenge really began. As you can see, they are all excellent illustrations of the main female protagonist. Usually, I could have just selected a few and suggested some details here and there, but her features were not as distinct in my mind as I would have liked. Then I started to think about what the world would be like: specifically what we wanted our aesthetic to be.

For two days, I thought about this and luckily Angela and I managed to talk about it. She told me that she wasn’t completely sure what aesthetic–of the inspirations I chose–that she was supposed to use so she decided to draw different pictures of our character in various styles. I felt really torn: because I wanted to see this world as an elemental place of basic shapes but some very realistic elements, but Angela drew all of these really good illustrations. It made me question the fundamental substance of what I wanted our world to look like.

But Angela has a good way of asking the right questions. Not only did I manage to answer some of her questions, but I started to add some details of my own. Another question that really got me was how old our protagonist was going to be and what she would be wearing before she got her costume. These were definitely questions that I needed to answer and in the end we decided on her being twelve or so, with rudimentary clothing that she had been forced to create herself.

Angela was also curious about what costume our character was going to have. She experimented a bit and showed me this:

This is what prompted me to tell her the idea I had with regards to the main character’s costume: and how that was going to fit into the plot. Let’s just say: it’s less than she chooses the costume, but rather that it chooses her … and in unexpected way.

Finally, Angela had an “Aha!” moment and after I chose a few of the profiles that she created and made some suggestions, she managed to mix together something of Saint-Exupery, and something very reminiscent of Mark Buckingham’s drawing style in the illustrated story section of Miracleman #20: Winter’s Tale. As you can see, our protagonist looks like she is painted and has very bright colours. And yes, you’ve seen it right: she is red. 🙂 As of right now, this is the closest working illustration and aesthetic that we have and Angela is still working on it: along with drawing out a few more of our characters. It is just so beautiful, lush, and artful.

Another excellent advantage to having this working model of our whole aesthetic is that I have inspiration. There is nothing more buoying than seeing something you envisioned becoming as close to a tangible image as can be made possible to really encourage you to keep creating. The added bonus of this feeling is that with our last Project, Thebes was supposed to be based off of our re-interpretation of mythology: of stories and characters that already existed. With this Project, we are making something relatively new: something that didn’t exist before quite the way we see it.

I mean, I know: I understand that all superheroes are archetypes and variations of Superman or older mythical figures, but the characters in this story have their personalities and I try to look at the basics of what they can do as much as possible … of which I am now figuring out. It is also very helpful that, right now, Angela and I are on a very similar wavelength in figuring these details out.

In fact, all of this is a process of figuring things out: as though Angela and I are spying on another world and trying to translate it into ours as much as possible. When we’ve done more work on this–and I create at least a rough outline of the booklet–I will start calling the characters and our Project by name. Until then, both will be as silent and as wordless as our comics work itself.

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