Are my characters any kind of believable now?

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Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby Jin-roh on Sat Dec 26, 2009 12:28 pm

When I first started my comic back in 2005, one criticism is that my characters were flat and they were not very expressive.

Now, several years later, I am hoping that I've improved in that area. My next "long story arc" will probably be another romantic dramdy. I am developing a few new characters for it. I have also been reading Scott McCloud's book on making comics. It has given me a lot to think about.

Can any other artists out there offer me some feedback on what I've done? It would make me happy. Chances are, I'll look at your comic too, since I am likely to start a blog dedicated to reviewing comics.

Here are few stories in chronological order, ignoring the gag strips in between each one. The comic is about Quarter life Christianity, and other things about College.

Whine and Chocolate - Exactly how badly can you blow a perfect opportunity?
Finals Week - Just before summer, everyone must freak out... except the lazy roommates who don't go to College.
Help Me Know - What was the religiousity worth anyway?
Halloween 2009 - "Jealously... turning saints into the sea..."
The Date - It's about time, Andy!!

I know it's a daunting to ask to read all of them... but if you picked one or two, I think you might actually enjoy it. After that... please comment and I will make my comic better.

1. Any particular characters jump out at you?
2. Did the characters make you want to continue reading the story?
3. Can you read their emotions?
4. Believable, and not flat? Any characters that still remain flat?
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby mikemacdee on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:27 pm

1. Any particular characters jump out at you?
Only Ian, and only because he always seems to be browbeating people over something.

2. Did the characters make you want to continue reading the story?
Not especially. Nothing about the characters or their situations makes me care about them: they still seem like shells exchanging lines of dialogue, and not always with an apparent punchline. Adding new characters won't help that, either. Studying how to write in the literary sense, especially character traits, motivations, and development, should help if you're diligent. Plots are easy enough for this sort of thing: two characters with opposing traits get in conflict with each other. Making the reader give a shit is the hard part. You may have to do small side-projects as practice until you figure it out: reading will only help you so far, and practice has to do the rest. Characters are the way they are because of their upbringing. You should know the lives of all your characters up to the point you feature them, and you should ask yourself "how did this affect him/her back then?" and "how does it affect him/her now?" for everything that's happened to them. A weird boy who can't fit in has a hard time making friends because the other kids are mean to him or avoid him because he's creepy. After many instances of this, the boy becomes reluctant to try to make friends. Depending how badly he's treated and for how long, he may end up clingy or even completely antisocial in his adult life. Maybe his parents encourage his artistic ability and he grows up to be an artist, expressing his loneliness in paintings; or maybe they're completely un-supportive and he kills himself before he's thirty. The reader never has to know about any of this, of course: but YOU gotta know it so you can understand them and bring their personality out.

3. Can you read their emotions?
More or less, but greatly exaggerating the faces and body language would really improve it. Try copying pictures of Spongebob and Ren & Stimpy to get a feel for what the artists are doing. Practice gesture drawings, too, to polish your anatomy: it's easier to make expressive characters when you know how to draw the human figure accurately. Incidentally, learning to gesture draw will help you draw anything you could ever want, too -- human or otherwise.

4. Believable, and not flat?
Well, the February 4, 2008 strip is a big fat "no" on believable. Two single, good looking young college women would have men lining up to date them. They would only remain single in two situations: 1) They don't want boyfriends; 2)Their standards are so ridiculously high they turn down every suitor they meet. If you made the baristas in that scene men instead of women I would totally believe it. I would also believe a story arc about the characters forming a sex toy black market in the no-sex-toys states (doing a single joke about the possibility of that plot is pretty weak: frankly, in a lot of cases, the subjects of the characters' conversations would make way more interesting comics).

It's great that you're actually taking steps to improve -- most artists and writers never bother because they're too egotistical or immature or whatever. You still got a way to go, though, and I hope you find a wrench that fits yer bolts in this medium.
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby Jin-roh on Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:06 pm

mikemacdee wrote:
3. Can you read their emotions?
More or less, but greatly exaggerating the faces and body language would really improve it. Try copying pictures of Spongebob and Ren & Stimpy to get a feel for what the artists are doing.


Hmmm... I'd have to take a 2nd opinion on that... as Spongebob and Ren & stimpy annoy the hell out of me, and I'd be hesitant to allow something that (for lack of a better term) cartoonish be my practice material.

Practice gesture drawings, too, to polish your anatomy: it's easier to make expressive characters when you know how to draw the human figure accurately. Incidentally, learning to gesture draw will help you draw anything you could ever want, too -- human or otherwise.


Not sure where to start on all that.

4. Believable, and not flat?
Well, the February 4, 2008 strip is a big fat "no" on believable. Two single, good looking young college women would have men lining up to date them. They would only remain single in two situations: 1) They don't want boyfriends; 2)Their standards are so ridiculously high they turn down every suitor they meet. If you made the baristas in that scene men instead of women I would totally believe it. I would also believe a story arc about the characters forming a sex toy black market in the no-sex-toys states (doing a single joke about the possibility of that plot is pretty weak: frankly, in a lot of cases, the subjects of the characters' conversations would make way more interesting comics).


I guess I wasn't clear about the subcultural aspect of the comic. I've seen a lot of attractive girls in that situation and have listened to more than a few of them offer a litany of complaints about being in it.
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby Harishankar on Sun Dec 27, 2009 12:49 am

One of the greatest lessons I've learned about webcomics is to take all the advice you can, evaluate and then judge for yourself. Because everybody seems to have a different meaning to the term "comic" and expect something when they get something else. If you draw silly cartoonish characters, people will say your characters aren't realistic. If you draw ultra-realistic characters, they won't appear to be interesting or funny. On the other hand, if your characters are unique and offer something different, they'll always be eye-catching.

The thing about drawing a comic is about being eye-catching and interesting. You can use the pictures for that effect, either through exaggerations or wild use of colours or even by your own unique style. Writing is again so important, I'm surprised not many webcomic artists pay so much attention to it.

I love drawing for the fun of it. I myself don't possess a superior or very technical knowledge of art and I am indeed nowhere near the skill level of some of you people, but I do have a good eye for what looks right and what doesn't. Ultimately I get the maximum fun out of trying to improve each and every time I draw and enjoying the process of bringing an idea to life in the form of pictures.

Experiment, be bold and don't worry about being believable or not.

My own tips for what they're worth:
1. Focus on the writing a bit more and the characters will come to life... Too many comics use the same stale old punchlines and situations.
2. Just increase the size of your characters, use more facial expression variations if possible to give them a unique flavour.
3. If you care for a wacky drawing style, go for it. Webcomics are the ultimate medium of creative expression and a lot of fun, especially if other people get some pleasure out of it. That's what I would aim at myself! Wacky characters are a lot more memorable than plain old human beings in strict proportionate perfection.

My own observation is that I don't necessary read the comics with the best artwork, but the ones with the most interesting plots and characters.
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby Jin-roh on Sun Dec 27, 2009 9:52 am

I know this question is completely open ended, but I have no other way to ask it.

What makes characters interesting? I have always assumed that my comic is within its own niche, and I get lauded by people who are in the niche audience, but how can I make the weirdo-isms of quarter life Christians more palatable to a broader audience? For that matter, how can make the less religious characters in the comic stand out in comparison to others.

Cliche is hard to avoid. I don't know if I've done it...
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Sun Dec 27, 2009 2:59 pm

I'm trying to think of the best advice I can give you in regards to your recent post.

You've been working with your characters for a long time. You know them better than anybody else. When telling a story like this part of your job is to introduce the audience to your characters and familiarize us with them. Whenever you get to a new plot point or segment of dialogue, it's important to have the mindset of how you can convey your characters to the audience in the most efficient manner. The way characters act, the things they say, the way they say them, even the way they dress all ideally will contribute to a reader's understanding of how those characters work.

If you feel like you're not quite content with the amount you know about your characters, just try different ways of putting yourself in their shoes. Look around online and take some of those doofy personality quizzes while pretending to be one of the characters. Pretend your character has been asked to write his/her own biography and write from their perspective.

In terms of making characters interesting, this is something I myself have grappled with over the years. What I've found works best is that flawed characters are infinitely more interesting than "good" ones. Try this if you'd like: Make a list down a sheet of paper of all of the key characters in your comic. Next to each character, write down what you consider to be that character's greatest and most impressable flaw- something that may not affect every single thing that they do, but gets pretty close. Something that other characters would know about them, and most importantly something that the audience should know.

You can expand on this by adding secondary and tertiary flaws as well. Repeat by identifying their greatest strengths- what could they be complimented on? These are broad things, not in the line of "Marvin has good handwriting" (which would be a skill rather than a trait) but "Marvin is a hard-working perfectionist" (which would actually explain why he has good handwriting).

Hopefully as you do this it will come naturally to you and if not, that it may give you more insight into your own characters. The next step would be to make sure that these traits are reflected through your characters' actions and words so that ideally an audience member would be able to look at your list of flaws and strengths and agree with and not be surprised by them.

Hope this will help you some, and good luck.
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Re: Are my characters any kind of believable now?

Postby Jin-roh on Sun Dec 27, 2009 5:52 pm

Okay...

I tend to think of flaws in terms of the 7 deadly sins, but also in general DSM-IV type issues. If I were to list, the character flaws, it would be this:
Ian - Pride and judgmentalism. Also, his epicureanism can work against him.
Andy - Anger, bitterness, pride.
Mark Collins - Sloth, high anxiety,
Mark Guyer - Overconfidence, sloth, shades of narcissism
Becca - High Anxiety, caring to a fault, dreamer
Jenn - Pride, perfectionism, "flightly"

It is interesting that you mentioned those "silly internet quizes." I actually created a facebook quiz dedicated to all the main cast.
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