Trader Don’s 3: Character Design & Population

This is a series of articles I’m writing on how to develop a new comic strip, as I actually develop a new comic strip called “Trader Don’s”  – I’ll be covering my journey from creation through launch, business… all of that… so book mark, and stay tuned! If you missed the other articles, here be links!

Okay, so today I’m going to show off some preliminary character designs and how I go about populating a world of characters…

The Character Pool

The Character Pool Graphic

click to view larger

At this stage of development you basically want to take a sheet of paper and figure out what kind of characters would inhabit your world or setting. In my case, Trader Don’s revolves around a classic tiki bar, so I just started writing down a bunch of options for that theme. Really think your whole theme out and jot down anything that comes to mind. It’s not set in stone, in fact, many of the character ideas you throw in “the pool” may not make the final cut. The important thing here is to really THINK about your concept and try to exhaust all the ideas for different characters. My thought process went like this.

  • I started with Trader Don and his grandson “Will ROngo”, both are main characters and this world sort of revolves around them.

Then I ask… what kind of characters would be hanging around in the kind of tiki bar I envision? If I have additional thoughts for the character immediately I jot them down. That goes for little head designs too… don’t overthink it, but if something immediately comes to mind, jot it down in the pool…

  • Bartender... no brainer there. That’s easy. Maybe he’s an old school mixologist though. He frowns on those who come in expecting bottled beers. Not in his bar!
  • Waitress... of course she’ll be very pretty and eye candy for the boys… but I’d like to make her a bit more dynamic and not just a token “hot chick”
  • Urban Archaeologist / Tiki Expert / Know it all. Since “Trader Don’s” is a historic tiki location, someone like this could be a local. Maybe base it Sven Kirsten?
  • Gift Shop attendant
  • Tiki Carver Dude / He possibly takes care of keeping all the bar’s tikis in order, and or restores old classic stuff. He could open his coat trying to sell tiki necklaces like watches. :)
  • TikiPhiles… of course. The lovers of all things tiki. They travel far and wide to visit sites like Trader Don’s
  • Lani & his Aloha Maids — every good tiki bar needs regular entertainment. Lani is a character over on my Bigfoot and Tiki comic strip, and he once featured his “Aloha Maids” 
  • Don’s Sidekick, and old grumpy guy who was once Don’s sidekick, so he knows all the old stories. He’s always on his stool.

You’ll find that you’ll come up with “happy accidents” for characters as you do this. I came up with two antagonist characters:

  • Evil Land Developer – Ronald Frump… based on Trump of course, who Tiki fans know once closed a Trader Vic’s in New York because his wife thought it was too hokey. Ronald Frump wants to buy the land and demolish Trader Don’s to make way for a new Casino.
  • Jimmy Buffett Bar people / Parrotheads… There’s a “Margarettaville” type bar down the road who are always trying to outdo Trader Don’s, or proclaim their “tikiness”, much to the dismay of old skool tikiphiles. They are also notorious for stealing drink recipes from Don’s…or trying to!

And of course you can get a little “wacky” – the more I thought about talking blowfish and tiki mugs, I went a little nuts:

  • Tiki characters… use Hawaiian god names, etc..( Lono and Ku.) – These are the little beings who inhabit the bar that only “believers” can see an interact with… or maybe it takes a SPECIAL recipe to see them? Hmm.
  • Talking Shrunken Head
  • Barry the Blowfish
  • Tiki Mugs

See right there? That was another happy accident. I really, really like the idea that there’s some “secret” drink or concoction that allows you to see what’s really going on and converse with the natives of Trader Don’s. There have been several comics over the years with imaginary friends or characters like Hobbes in Calvin & Hobbes– so this would be a new twist on that, but give it a definitive reason for being able to see and talk to the characters. Everyone else will just think you’re drunk when you’re talking politics with a Blowfish.

Remember, don’t get stuck thinking about one character too much…. just throw everything that comes to mind on paper and the good stuff will shine through and the strong things will start writing themselves.

Can you hear them?

A good sign that you’ve created some strong characters is that you can start hearing them speak in your head… no, you’re not crazy! Well, at least for me, maybe because I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s important to me to “hear” the characters and that they don’t all sound the same. I give them a little life and then let them speak. Toss a situation at them and listen to what they’d say. A lot of times, beginners comic strips stick out like a sore thumb because it sounds like one guy’s voice through a cast of characters. Avoid that like the plague if you want strong, memorable characters.

See who floats…

Now that you have a bunch of potential characters thrown in “the pool”, it will be pretty obvious to see who’s floating. You can then pick those individual characters out and start working on their own character designs…. here’s one I did for “Lono & Ku”

Lono and Ku

In Hawaiian mythology, Lono is the god of fertility, peace, love. Peace a love! The optimist.

Ku however is the god of war and bad stuff. The pessimist.

A classic optimist vs. pessimist set of comic characters. I was originally going to make a set of main tiki characters, but it might be TOO MUCH. When in doubt, keep it simple. There can still be other tiki characters who come and go, of course,  but these two should be the stars.

If you follow my work, you’ll notice that “Lono” is basically the same character I put into my other comic strip “Bigfoot and Tiki” - because “Tiki” was based on the love god…. so why mess with a good thing? I’ve been drawing him for years, so now he’ll appear in two strips… only in this one, his name is “Lono” and only people who have dranken the SECRET drink can see him. :)

Have I mentioned that I’ve been having a BLAST developing this stuff??? I mean, it’s always fun to do, but when you find a topic you really love and are passionate about, it’s even better.

Meet Will Rongo

Here’s the character sketch and notes for Will Rongo, one of the central characters in the strip…

(click to see larger) Will is 30 something year old grandson of the legendary “Trader Don” – Since they’re related I figured they may have the same angular head shape or chin. I want him to look similar when he has the hat on (if he ever puts it on?) just not as “manly” as Don was.

Will’s story is that he had a pretty modern job, I’m thinking something like “Social Media Developer” or something tech related and “boring” to regular people. He thought he was a pretty “social” person UNTIL he found himself reluctantly inheriting his grandfather’s bar and interacting with “real” people. Suddenly, all of his “conversations” aren’t interesting to normal people.

So, Will has to re-learn what social networking is really all about. :) Ah, lounges and campfires.. the original social networks.

He vows to never get married or have kids. He hasn’t really had success with the ladies in the past, so he’s sort of given up a little on thinking he’ll ever have a love life or find the right person to settle down with…. BUT… that goes against the interests of the inhabitants of the bar who need and “heir” to the Trader Don’s throne to keep it alive. Hijinks ensue. Expect to see Tikis giving him (terrible?) love advice and trying to “hook him up” according to their own agendas.

FANTASTIC! I’m developing a strip about a Tiki Bar, and I have some cool characters and situations… but where is the Tiki Bar located, and does it really matter???

Next time I’ll be talking about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

What do you think so far? Let me know your feedback below!

1 Comment

  1. That character pool thing is brilliant. That would’ve never crossed my mind.

    Good stuff, man! I’m takin’ notes. I’ve got another project on the back burner and I’m following along with your process to see if it’ll work for this, too.

    Reply

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