How to use character model sheets

In the last article, we talked about “How to write dialogue for your characters”. Today we’ll start working on bringing your characters to life on paper. This article is geared more towards people who are learning how to make comics, not those already doing it. Also, I will focus more around my own comic and what I’ve done, but the information will apply just as well to webcomics or traditional 22 page comics.

Take your character bios that you’ve written based off of my “How to write a story” article and start thinking about how you want them to look. Depending on how detailed your bios are, you may have to work out the specifics of what they look like before you put pencil to paper. Even then you may need to do several sketches just to flesh them out and refine them. I won’t be showing you -how- to draw, but I will walk you through the process of getting your comic going.

It’s very difficult to “wing it” with creating comics, even if it’s just a one off episode that you doodle on the back of a napkin. You need to have a clear idea what your characters look like before you begin. The best way to do this is to use a “character model sheet” for each one. This is a term used in animation, but it applies just as well to comics.

What this sheet will do is show you all angles of your character, as well as the different facial expressions that character may use. Even if you’re creating the whole comic yourself, it’s still a great idea because it will help you stay on model with your character. You don’t need anything fancy for this, just plain white paper and a pencil will do.

Frik Character Model Sheet Example

I will admit that the model sheet here for Frik is not the original one I made before the comic went live. The original had just a front view, side view, and back view, and that was it. At that time that’s all I really needed. This one goes into a little more detail, but even this isn’t as much as you would typically find with other sheets. I could have went even further and had both side profile views, but it’s rare for me to have him in that pose in the comic so I left it out.

Model sheets can also be used for specific body parts. You could have a sheet dedicated to just full body postures, or another that focuses on the head and facial expressions. Other sheets could show just arms and hands and the different poses they would make. A model sheet is really a character study in learning your character. The more model sheets you draw for each individual character, the easier it will be to draw them inside the comic.

Frank Character Model Sheet Example
If you go back to my Frik sheet, notice how there’s horizontal lines across Frik? This is used to measure scale. Every character should be measured by how many heads tall they are. In this case, Frik is 4 Frik head’s tall. This “Frik head” scale is what I use throughout the entire comic for all characters. “The Keeper Of The Ketchup” is 3 Frik heads tall. Look here at Frank, Wot’s assistant, who is one of the largest characters in the comic coming in at 7 Frik heads. By doing this, you instinctively know how many heads everyone is based on how big you draw your main character, no matter what size you draw them at.

I have three great resources for you to look at other examples of model sheets. Visit Academy Of Art’s Character and Creature Design Notes, or Pinterest: Character Model Sheets.

In the next article, I will discuss shot composition in comics, so stay tuned!

Creative Commons License
How To Use Character Model Sheets by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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