creative writing, graphic design, illustration, sequential art

underlying components of good character design vs. good writing

This is just a note to myself as regards the graphic novel issue.

I’m not entirely certain how deeply I should get into this, but I happened to check out a copy of X-Men:  Eternals a while ago.  Attempting to read this made it clear to me why the X-Men movie series was so heavy-handed and apparently one-sided.

I don’t have a great amount of literacy in graphic novels — I can recall reading Bone and Blade of the Immortal; and Generation X before the franchise-wide reboot of the X-Men series (which really ticked me off), plus a couple of more mainstream Japanese things like Fushigi Yugi (which I didn’t particularly enjoy, much as I didn’t enjoy Tenchi Muyo! [though I only saw the latter in anime]) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I got into because of the anime).

Then there are the series which I picked up even though I was at the time fairly illiterate in Japanese, like Inu Yasha and Bastard!, along with Yuu Yuu Hakusho (the flame-like banter in which I was not entirely aware of, until I happened to read some of it in English translation), and which I incidentally only got into because of the doujinshi (and because I was at the time learning to read Japanese).

What I’m thinking is that the same traits which can make a person a great character designer can also cripple them when it comes to good writing.  I’m not saying this is true across the board — it’s just something which has come up in specific regard to my own trials with trying to script establishing scenes in “graphic novel” formats, and I see it reflected in what I read going on with X-Men:  Eternals.

If you’re designing a character so that all elements of the character attempt to describe that character in a visual manner, that is fine.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  In reality, the way people look does not always (I would say often does not) relate to who they are.  This may not be quite as easy to see when the makeup of society is more or less homogeneous.

But when you have multiple minority categories in a society, and these minorities have strength in numbers and voices in regard to their own portrayal, it makes it clear that the thoughts which come to someone’s mind because of the way people look is not equivalent to who those people actually are.  This is especially clear if you happen to be one of those minorities and you happen to see how people constantly misread you (in addition to misreading your family).

This is a way in which my own philosophy diverges from what I’ve seen…whether we are looking at older American comics or whether we are looking at the less-complex graphic novel material coming out of Japan.  What people look like is not equivalent to who they are.  Of course there are materials coming out of Japan which acknowledge this (for example, in Legend of Zelda:  The Windwaker, in which the fairy who accompanies you acts like someone who would ordinarily be drawn as a big, tough male character who had the burliness to back up his language — but this is used to [actually, quite delightful] comic effect).

What I’m trying to get across is that in a good piece of writing, it’s very often the case that characters are not one-sided.  Characters are complex and have many different layers.  They’re often not surface-readable — you don’t immediately know what their role is just because you can see what they look like.  In graphic design, and I believe likely in character design, the goal is the opposite:  to be able to look at an image and glean a more or less solid idea of the intended communication fairly immediately, just from the visual elements of the composition.

I am not certain how to reconcile these two perspectives, but I wanted to make a note of the conflict.

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