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Here's a Design Primer for Creating Memorable Comic Characters

Learn character illustration tips from a titan in the comic book industry.
All images include panel selections from Injection. Illustrated by Declan Shalvey. All screencaps via

For the past two weeks Strip Panel Naked, the mini-comics masterclass, has been interviewing comic writer and illustrator Declan Shalvey on his work and approach to creating comics. In this week’s final webisode with Shalvey, Strip Panel Naked host Hass Otsmane-Elhaou digs into what it takes to illustrate a dialogue-heavy scene. When the fists aren’t flying, and the main characters aren’t dressed in spandex, what goes into creating compelling panels? To find out, Shalvey talks about his work on Injection, a graphic novel for Image Comics about a hostile version of our world that keeps getting stranger and stranger.

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Shalvey says the key to creating a scene without action is to balance detail and simplicity. “One of my strengths is I know when to put the work in,” he explains in the video, “and I know when not to put the work in. I know where it should go, rather than just laboriously working on every single thing.” To illustrate this point, the video focuses on a page where three of the four panels have extremely detailed background illustrations, but the fourth panel is just the main character against a white background. Shalvey goes on to explain the significance of this illustrative decision, and the power it has on the scene.

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Shalvey also gives advice to artists looking to create memorable characters. “They’re wearing normal clothes,” he explains of the characters in Injection. “They’re not superheroes, there’s no crazy costume design. So I need something about each character to be a visual touchstone to me.” And how did Shalvey create meaningful touchstones in this comic? “Injection took a while to get off the ground because a lot of it was just trying to figure out how these characters look, and how they move. I don’t act things out myself, but I have actors in mind in a lot of cases. Tilda Swinton is basically in my mind whenever I’m drawing Maria. I don’t know if that comes across at all, it’s not a perfect likeness, but I always look at her when I’m drawing Maria.”

Watch the video below for more tips on creating memorable characters, as well as parting notes of advice from this industry veteran:


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