How to Make a Cartoon Character


The point seems obvious, but worth restating: The best comic characters are usually right at our fingertips. Many artists draw from their experiences, people that they know, or sometimes, through a complete makeover. The late Charles Schultz used one of his earliest strips ("L'il Folks") on the road to developing "Peanuts." Suffice to say, the only rule is that there are no rules.

Things You'll Need

  • Bristol board
  • Drawing pens and nibs
  • Drawing table (or good-sized area)
  • Eraser
  • India ink
  • Pencil
  • Regular sketchbook
  • Ask a basic question: What kind of character do I want? Once you've made that choice--whether it's a superhero, for instance, or a talking sarcastic cat--it's time to determine your audience and your aim.

  • Draw thumbnail sketches to outline different forms of characters. Nearly every well-known comic artist, like Robert Crumb, keeps an ongoing sketchbook to help them develop their characters' beliefs, life histories and experiences--whether drawn from the people they know or their own imagination.

  • Once you've settled basic details of the character's appearance, start fine-tuning their personalities. Are they crazy or logical? Outgoing or shy? Villain or hero? Where does your character live, and what do they do, if anything? Trying to answer these questions now goes a long way toward opening up more story possibilities later.

  • Draw your character in motion, as well as how they will appear from the side--and rear--to ensure a more lifelike appearance. Resolving these issues now should also give you a better feel for spatial relationships--specifically, how your character moves in the environments that you create.

  • Work out the surrounding cast of foils and villains, since your plots depend on how your character interacts with them--as well as the obstacles they may encounter while trying to get or achieve something.

Tips & Warnings

  • Familiarize yourself with famous comic characters to sharpen the development of your own original ideas.
  • Learn the basics of drawing and developing a comic strip, including blocking, inking, penciling and sequential art. Study your favorite artists' techniques to see what you can learn from their own approach.
  • Understand the three basic themes of good storytelling--man versus himself, man versus man, and man versus nature--until they become second nature to your own thinking.
  • Avoid wordiness and overly drawn-out exposition. You're developing a comic, not writing the Great American Novel. The stories and pictures should complement each other closely.
  • Don't settle for less character and story development. Readers should get a feel for both of them by glancing at several panels.
  • Keep a consistent tone to your character's actions, unless there's a good reason to break out of that form (such as a pacifist hero employing physical force in self-defense).

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