Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

Making use of characters
CharleyHorse at 9:32AM, Dec. 24, 2008
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We were discussing characters on another forum and it occurred to me to think about how I use my characters. I have at this point six permanent characters for my gag-a-day strip plus one villain that periodically puts in an appearance, but I don't consider him part of the daily crew.

When I develop a gag concept unless the gag just cries out for one particular character, I decide which one hasn't had much ‘air time’ lately and see if he or she will fit into the concept. I DO take into account the character's personality and background. While, for instance, the witch might kill someone, it's far more likely that the onus or pleasure would fall upon the broad shoulders of the strip's professional killer. On the other hand, she would be a natural to do anything of a magical nature – good or bad.

The gag itself, however, has to fit the character. My witch is a far less pleasant character by nature and actions than my resident demi-god and so he – being what he is – could possibly pinch hit if the magically orientated gag calls for niceness.

While I did not consciously create these characters to fall into specific personality niches, they have done so in a very short amount of time. I even have two robot bartenders and while their personalities are quite similar I do distinguish between them and might have the less hard-edged of the two fall into a scenario that a naturally naive character might encounter in a way different from the more cynical character and his possible range of responses.

The thing is that I make a real effort to have these characters remain true to their own personality types even more than to their range of skills. The witch, for instance, is far more likely to do something really nasty for the sake of revenge than would the professional killer.

Is any of this similar to the way that you handle your characters whether for a gag-a-day strip or for something with an ongoing story line?

last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
angry_black_guy at 10:09AM, Dec. 24, 2008
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Glimmer is still pretty new and even with 20 strips already scripted I only have a handful of reoccurring characters. It's a "gag a day“ but rather than creating a character for every situation, I've made the handful of characters that exist dynamic. It's not ”realistic“ but I'm not shooting for realism and the focus is on the characters and not the gags or silly situations they get themselves into.

Comics where characters are just tossed in because they haven't appeared feels forced but it's usually because the writer doesn't bother changing the situation to suite the character. Unless your comic is specifically written to do so, it's a good hint that you're a bad writer if every character is capable of doing the same thing as every other character and the only reason you give them ”screen time" is to balance out the otherwise large cast of characters.

last edited on July 14, 2011 10:53AM
CharleyHorse at 10:30AM, Dec. 24, 2008
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angry_black_guy
. . . it's a good hint that you're a bad writer if every character is capable of doing the same thing as every other character and the only reason you give them “screen time” is to balance out the otherwise large cast of characters.

Well said. What I find interesting is that although I did not plan to have a main character when I started the strip, gradually the professional killer is becoming the main protagonist because his character best suits my brand of humor. Although I have only nineteen pages posted so far, I have everything tightly scripted in scenes and dialog to page fifty in a yellow legal pad, and so I know how it is gradually evolving. Some of the twists and turns are surprising me but all I'm doing is following the character traits and fitting them to the gag types as those arise.

Oddly enough, the character least used is the most powerful character, the demigod. The killer and the witch are used most often because they seem to have the widest skills sets.

Until I wrote this I wasn't certain myself why I was favoring one character over another. Now I know.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
kyupol at 5:30PM, Dec. 24, 2008
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from what I've learned, I must say that less is more when it comes to characters.

The less characters you got, the more you have time to develop them. But if you got a whole bunch of characters, you need to have at least 50 chapters or something in order to properly develop them.

I remember doing Brood Knight in where I had a whole bunch of characters. It ended up only focusing on a handful of them and the rest just ended up being “fillers” and then I totally forget about them sometimes. It still didn't work when I did in where I tried to delete and revise a whole lot of stuff. Too many characters is too much to handle.

Thats why in MAG-ISA and Brood Knight, I develop characters one at a time. In BK it was only Cedrick and Claudita in that whole span of 20 chapters. In the MAG-ISA storyline, so far, I've mostly did Eman as far as character development is concerned (in a span of 8 chapters so far).


NOW UPDATING!!!
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:26PM
lba at 8:51PM, Dec. 24, 2008
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I started out using a cast and having each character typecast to a particular set of jokes and personality, until I realized that I wanted non-sequitur humor and I didn't want to create a storyline necessarily. I also realized that using a set cast was severely limiting the number of jokes I could do and forcing me into that storyline, because there were a number of concepts I tossed because they needed a “bland” normal schmoe who would never reappear to be funny and the jokes I developed off the personality chicles required you to have read along and know them. After a while I just dropped having a cast and just went with plain ol' random chicles and adapted them to their environments and the jokes.

It's netted me a lot of criticism for not having a “focus” and for playing the balancing act game, but a lot of people fail to remember that a lot of non-sequitur humour comics lack a singular subject they focus on ( The Farside often used animals, but the situations and subjects of the jokes were incredibly varied when you really look at them all. ). And as far as the whole “balancing act” thing goes, I think it's pretty hard to be tossing characters in just to balance the casts “screentime” when you don't have a set cast and you simply use whatever random chicle was walking down that particular mental street at the time of the joke.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:29PM
CharleyHorse at 7:43AM, Dec. 25, 2008
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I understand about character restrictions in that I keep hitting temporary writer's blocks where the next gag series is going to come from or be directed toward. I hadn't intended mine to be a regular cast membership and yet I am rather fond of them at this point and so I continue to toss gaga at them. So far it has worked. I think I got up to page fifty four last night in the yellow legal pad I use. But I worry about it.

I can see the day arrive when I simply cannot think of anything for this group to do or anything for them to react to that I would consider amusing. But so far so good. It seems to help me to have a large buffer. I can miss a couple of days, while I invest in thought, without panicking.



last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
Senshuu at 6:51PM, Dec. 26, 2008
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Hehe. I think of it a lot now.

In Millennium there are very few main characters and many supporting characters, all with a definite purpose. In the script, they're all pretty well established within a few scenes of their introductions, so what's left in the story is for them to explore and react to things that happen to them, most of them things they couldn't possibly ever have expected. None of them can do what the other can, but they do learn how to work together (eventually) and become greater than their sum, hee.

In LF there are a ton more characters that are important to main storylines, and LF has the potential to be a lot, lot longer than Millennium (which is already planned to be very long)… There's also a lot more variety among them, and while their development was pretty random, writing (I have two volumes of script done) has proven them to be amazingly able to relate to each other in some way, whether friend or enemy. They all bounce off of each other in different ways and it's just fun. Some of them seem to have pretty interesting mutual growth, too.

Both of these are graphic novels as opposed to gag strips. I like this type of character development most, which is also why I don't read many gag strips. I'd like to make one of my own someday to see how these kinds of characters would shape a gag comic, but I'd need the motivation and a bit more wit, lol.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:27PM
CharleyHorse at 8:15PM, Dec. 26, 2008
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Senshuu, I started out doing continuing story ‘tooning and sort of devolved into doing a gag-a-day strip. My greatest difficulty is resisting the temptation to allow the gag strip to evolve into a continuing story format.

I don’t mind inserting mini-stories that last for upwards of five pages or so but I really don't want to do the continuing and gradually evolving story thing with this strip. Alas, my characters tend to WANT to get involved in long storylines. Baaaad, stubborn characters!
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
Senshuu at 10:09PM, Dec. 27, 2008
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Maybe the continuing story can be a kind of subtle underlying thing. If such a thing is at all possible.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:27PM
CharleyHorse at 8:07PM, Dec. 28, 2008
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Yes, there is an aspect of underlying continuity in what I am doing. The trick is to keep things lose rather than tight. The more I stick to an ongoing story line the harder it becomes to tell gags. It's a bit of a dance and sometimes I come down with a bad case of two left feet! 8D
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
confusedsoul at 11:16AM, Dec. 29, 2008
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My characters are actually based on physical attributes than personality, normally. For example, the vampire is the only main character with hands and legs, so he often gets bigger parts as I can draw more emotion from him. He normally ends up with other smaller-part characters too.

The Twig is the smartest character so he often gets lumped with somebody stupid as a foil. I normally use him more as a character in my sisters comics as none of my characters seem quite dumb enough.

The sock is just malevolent, so he's normally in a situation which ends in violence or requires tactless thinking.

My ghost is a bugger to use as he only speaks using bill boards, so to be seen as “speaking” he has to be in the panel. He's had the least use so far.

Most of my comics humour seems to come from cruelty, so it's normally a matter of “Who hasn't been picked on in a while” and setting the other characters on them.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:44AM
CharleyHorse at 6:12PM, Dec. 29, 2008
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The title of my strip came from what I perceived to be the general attitude of the characters themselves. Although they are not necessarily cruel they do have bad attitudes, and so it goes.

I don't know why it worked out that way, but as long as I can generate gags from them, I'm happy. :)
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
Senshuu at 8:36PM, Dec. 29, 2008
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Hee…
In one of my comics, the characters are based off of elements. One could say, “ohh, she's water-like,” or, “hey, he's kind of windy.”
In the other, the characters are based off of Shinigami types I made up. Of course, many of the main characters grow into those types, and all the Shinigami have their own personal spin on them.

My characters' personalities tend to develop on their own, however, even independently of these things or my own will. I go with it. I see how all the different factors conspire to make them do things. And ohh, it's fun.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:27PM

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