Should Your Comic Characters Age In Real Time?

2016 Artwork Should your comic characters age in real time

It always absolutely fascinates me when comic creators mention that their characters will age in real time. Some notable examples of this include the characters in Peattie and Taylor’s “Alex” cartoons, as well as in comics featuring Alan Moore’s “John Constantine” character (and I really must read more comics featuring him, since I’ve only seen about three comics that he appears in).

One thing that always used to fascinate me was how the creators of these comics kept track of their character’s ages and how they showed the subtle process of ageing in their comics. Of course, these characters are often similar ages to the people who created them, allowing the writer and/or artist to keep track of the character’s age and to reflect this with relative ease.

There are many reasons why comic creators might choose to do this. One obvious reason is that it makes the comic seem more realistic, by showing how the passage of time affects the characters. This also reinforces the characters’ humanity (and their mortality), which subtly helps the audience to see them as characters rather than “cartoon characters”. Of course, this only really works with long-running comics, rather than one-off comics.

In addition to this, if you’re making a comic about topical issues, then ageing your characters realistically is a subtle way of showing that your comic is up to date. In addition to this, it allows the creators to reflect elements of their own lives as they grow older too.

I ended up thinking about this subject recently whilst making the tenth comic in the webcomic mini series that will begin appearing here tonight ( as usual, you can check out the previous mini series here, here, here, here and here).

I included a line in this comic that was initially meant as nothing more than a throwaway joke, but I later realised that it implied that the characters were about the same age as when they first appeared in 2011/12.

Yes, the characters have undergone visual changes (as well some character development) since their first appearances, but the visual changes are mainly due to my art style improving, rather than the characters ageing.

Even when one of the characters suddenly gained some designer stubble last year, this was only to reinforce the fact that he was in his early-mid 20s (since he tended to look slightly younger in some of the early comics, even though he was meant to be 20-25 years old) rather than to show that he had aged.

 [CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, four or five years have passed and these characters are still roughly about the same age, despite lots of art changes. And, yes, I know that Rox's first comic appearance was different to the picture in this chart. But, thinking more about it and doing more research , she -technically - first appeared as a nameless character in a "concept art" sketch for a spin-off comic that I made in late 2012.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, four or five years have passed and these characters are still roughly about the same age, despite lots of art changes. And, yes, I know that Rox’s first comic appearance was different to the picture in this chart. But, thinking more about it and doing more research , she -technically – first appeared as a nameless character in a “concept art” sketch for a spin-off comic that I made in late 2012.

In a way, this suits the comic perfectly – since it’s more recent inspirations include animated sitcoms and syndicated newspaper comics (it’s original inspiration, believe it or not, was actually “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” – it’s come a long way since then…)

Newspaper cartoons and animated sitcoms are, of course, two genres where the characters rarely age in real time (I mean, realistically speaking, Bart Simpson should be in his late thirties by now).

Not only does this lend these comics and sitcoms a “timeless” appearance – which also allows for easy re-runs – but it’s also because the emphasis of these cartoons is on the stories and the jokes, rather than just the characters.

In addition to this, not ageing your characters means that they are instantly recognisable to occasional readers (or viewers). This is also the same logic behind why many cartoon characters usually wear the same clothes most of the time (which is something that I do in my occasional webcomic).

I guess that the decision about whether your comic characters should age in real time or not should be influenced by the type of comic that you’re making. If you’re making a grittily “realistic” comic or a topical comic, then it makes sense that your characters should age. But, if you’re making a more stylised, comedic and/or light-hearted comic, then realistic ageing really doesn’t matter.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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