Although I’ll be talking about how to create interesting characters for your webcomic, I’m going to have to start by talking about movies from the 1980s briefly. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.
If you’ve ever seen “The Breakfast Club“, you probably know what I’m talking about when I say stock characters. One of the things that makes this movie such a classic is that each character initially represents a particular attitude and/or a subculture, but they gradually turn out to have more depth. They start out as stock characters and then turn into something slightly more than that.
It’s very easy to write stock characters, and there’s a good reason why all types of writers sometimes use them. One of the easiest ways to add humour to your webcomic is to just put two characters with contrasting personalities together (eg: a slacker and a neat freak, like in the early series of “Red Dwarf“) and see what happens. This is is one of the oldest dramatic techniques in existence and the technical term for it is a “foil“.
When you’re planning out your webcomic, it can be a good idea to use personality types or subcultures as a starting point. For example, when you’re planning out your characters, you can make one a stoner, one a conservative, one a goth etc..
After all, this is probably what you would notice if you actually met these characters for the first time and, if you’ve just created them, then you’ve just met them. So, get to know them better. Sketch a few practice comics and spend a bit of time with these characters. Write dialogues between them and the other characters. Just spend some time with your characters.
Because stock characters are a shallow collection of basic personality traits and/or appearances, they don’t really last very long if you’re constantly writing things about them. After a while, you’re going to have to start coming up with other details about them, you’re going to have to think things like “what does this character think about this subject?” and, gradually, your stock characters will begin to have more depth.
Of course, if you don’t have time for this, you can just start actually making your webcomic and let your characters evolve in front of everyone else.
To give you an example from my intermittant long-running “Damania” webcomic series (you can find some recent episodes here, here and here), Rox (the woman with green hair) originally started out as a generic punk/goth character when she was first added to the main cast in 2013, and she later became something of a geek and a retro gamer too. Earlier this year, she also gradually evolved into a retro technology geek too:
Following on from this technological traditionalism, she found that she had more in common with Harvey (a traditionalist detective who was added to the main cast in 2012) than she used to, so the dynamic behind these two characters gradually changed from a very slightly antagonistic one to a more friendly one:
Well, most of the time anyway:
So, another thing that can help if you’re worried that your characters are turning into stock characters (or haven’t evolved beyond being stock characters) is to introduce a new character who is similar to one of your other characters. This is a bit of a risky strategy, but it can work.
For example, if your comic now has two goth characters instead of one, then you’re going to have to do something to set them apart from each other. As such, this forces you to make each character slightly more distinctive and complex.
Going back to my “Damania” webcomic series, before Rox appeared in 2013 most of the punk/goth-based stuff in the comics revolved around a character called Derek. Here he is in an old comic from 2012:
When I introduced Rox to the comic, Derek gradually became slightly more interested in heavy metal (to create some contrast between him and Rox). In fact, I eventually posted a comic update about this earlier this year:
He also became slightly more of a foolish character too. Again, this was to set the two characters apart. But, he was still slightly generic.
It was only later last year and earlier this year, that he finally started to come into his own as a character again – he occasionally has slightly more of a dark side (like in this comic), he can still be fairly foolish and he can also can be fairly opinionated sometimes too. Like in tonight’s episode of “Damania Restricted” (you’ll have to wait and see) and in this comic too:
So, I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that there’s nothing wrong with starting out by using stock characters in your webcomic. However, it’s usually a good idea to find ways to make them evolve beyond this as soon as possible.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂