Saturday, January 4, 2014
This one is taking a while
I am re-designing this character over and over again, searching for the right approach. It is preliminary work for a project I've been working on with a friend, and so I don't want to go in much detail, but you can probably already see that it has to do with Sci-Fi, body horror, action, femininity and so on. I wonder how much of her back story is readable through her design? Listening to Witch House helps with the creepy, Sci-Fi mood (Crystal Castles, Balam Acab, Grimes... So good!)
One of the concepts I often struggle with is the idea of "appeal". I've heard many nebulous definitions in books and classes, but I think that the simplest and strongest explanation I've seen is by Andrew Loomis. In so many words, he states that an appealing character is one that's demanding an action from the viewer (a verb being the important word here). He cites the example of Uncle Sam by James Montgomery Flagg as one the clearest for character appeal, even if nowadays we wouldn't necessarily feel moved to action by his demand.
Popular media is so varied and targeted at the same time, that what calls one person into action is not the same for another. While I feel like hugging Pikachu (verb), punching Captain Hook (verb), or kissing Ariel (verb), the same may not be true for everyone else. We also have to consider that the emotional needs fulfilled by characters meet people at different emotional times: Goku was awesome when I was a powerless teenager (he is still awesome for me, in a different way), but now that I am older the characters that appeal to me have to do with different concerns (cute and sexy are more interesting for me, and less and less violence and power). Maybe when the zombie apocalypse actually starts I will find Marcus Phoenix appealing, but for now he just leaves me indifferent :P
Above all, what I enjoy seeing the most, and strive to create, are characters that are "fair". A fair character to me is one that allows you to make up your mind about his or her role in the story. Characters that are written and drawn to be fulfill a narrative need without questions are not so interesting to me. "He looks like that because he is supposed to be the villain!" - it's a bad place to start a conversation on characters, in my opinion. Of course, I don't always succeed in creating that fairness, and what makes a character fair will always depend on the viewers emotional state, but if at least I can get to the point where the character I am creating seems fair to me, that's a good start :)
The gold standard for character fairness (and for everything else, really) is Shakespeare. Think of Hamlet: He is the protagonist, perhaps even the hero, but during the whole play one has to question the conclusions he arrives to justify his actions! Even the villainous King Claudius has a moment to inform his fairness: kneeling in pray, he works out for the viewer why he committed his criminal act, and even if we don't agree with his reasons, one has to concede that there is certain universal understanding for his motives. I'm no literary critic, but I've never seen character fairness done better than in something like the role of King Lear, for example.
What I'm sayin' is I need to read Shakespeare, practice my drawing and hope to suck less and less :)