Whether or not you have an illustrator working with you on your comic book, developing a concept art can help you visualize how your story will look on the page. When collaborating with illustrator Dicky Siregar on The City, I first presented him with a treatment to pitch the concept. From there, we moved on to creating concept art by developing a mood board that captured the tone and feel of the story, along with detailed references for each character and the different districts of the city. Although we could only work on the project on Saturdays, our thorough preparation paid off: the concept art process took around six months, but we encountered no major issues during the actual pencil and inking stages.
Here are some tips to create concept art for your characters and world:
- Write down basics such as name, age, height, hair color, body type, etc. What’s their motivation or overall goal in the story, and how does their backstory affect this? Personality? Does he like pizza? Is she addicted to drugs? Do they have ticks? Bad habits? Foreign accent? By listing down traits, it makes it easier for the illustrator to visualize and imagine how this character might act in certain situations.
- Conduct research. Once you have a basic idea, research similar movies, comic books or graphic novels to get an idea of the style and tone you want to achieve. Make sure to bend, break, or exaggerate features so it’s not an identical copy. This will help you develop your own unique style and aesthetic.
- Collaborate and brainstorm. Start brainstorming ideas for your comic book concept with the illustrator or a confidant. Think about the characters, setting, and story you want to tell. Write down everything that comes to mind, even if it seems silly or unrelated. You can refine and narrow down your ideas later.
- Who/What was the inspiration behind the character? What is the basic concept for your character? What do they represent? A lot of the characters that I write are often inspired by characters that I see or read on movies or comic books. So for me, the starting point is always the actor that portrays the character in the movie or a single characteristic trait a comic book character might have, like a scar or a hair style. For example, Lil from The City Chapter 3 is inspired by Edward Furlong in Terminator 2.
- What are they wearing? More importantly what is their backstory? How does your character’s outfit showcase their backstory? Since comic books are a visual medium, it’s important to allude to readers visually on what the character’s backstory might be. In The City, we created a ‘dress code’ for each district to show difference in social classes. Rowan who is introduced in Chapter 4, always wear haute couture inspired clothes, while the terrorists of the Ruins are first shown wearing rags but eventually begin to wear better clothes. Preparing a mood board of clothes in this sense will greatly help the illustrator. Some characters like Grims or Comox, carry around personal accessories such as katanas or a backpack.
- Iterate until it’s right. For The City, illustrator Dicky Siregar and I drew the major characters in scenes as an exercise. Jericho having dinner with his affiliates, Elvis teaching Comox how to assemble a gun, and K and his terrorist comrades having a rooftop bbq. Go back and forth with the illustrator until the concept is at a sweet medium. If stuck on opinions, get feedback from colleagues to get an outside view.
Remember, developing a character takes time and patience. Take the time to think through each aspect of your character concept, and don’t be afraid to make changes as you go. By creating a well-rounded and interesting character, you can engage readers and bring your story to life.