Image Comics hosted a treasure trove of creators today in their “Creating the Memorable Characters of Image Comics” panel which included Dani (Coffin Bound), Jeff Lemire (Gideon Falls), David Walker (Bitter Root), Darcy Van Poelgeest (Little Bird), Kit Seaton (Norroway), and Johnnie Christmas (Tartarus). Moderated by executive assistant Marla Eizik, the panel started by spending some time going over their COVID-19 lifestyles before diving into character and story.
The first question the creators mull over is whether researching for a story is driven by the characters or does the research end up shaping the character in a totally different way than you had anticipated. Jeff Lemire started by laughing and saying he never does research for his stories. “My stuff always starts with the characters,” Lemire said, adding, “Almost all my stories start from some kind of a core emotional relationship between a couple of characters.” From there the world sprouts. He went on to say it’s about keeping the spark you first have about the character alive in every issue.
Walker said he tends to talk in the voices of his characters while he writes and they originate from, “bits and pieces of a few key people in my life,” Walker said, “Their personalities inform the character.” He voiced a similar thought as Lemire in how the characters have a spark you try to keep alive. “I feel like I’m just the conduit through which their story is being told.”
Christmas said he agreed with Lemire and Walker in how if what you write isn’t true it’s, “like a bad jigsaw piece,” but when it is true, “it kind of changes everything.” Christmas said if you do research beforehand he tends to get proud of the research and wants to show it off. He added doing research at the end of writing enhances the world, but really when it comes to the character “It’s all about their deep core drives.” Poelgeest agreed research isn’t part of his process, “I try to avoid it at all costs.”
Seaton said research can help set limitations for the design of the story and characters. “That can be even as much as the character choices and how those character choices have consequences,” and in the case of her book, Narroway historical research is important. She went on to say her background in theater helps inform the costumes of characters and establishing set dressing. Dani agreed theater and comics have a hugely important connection.
The conversation moved onto how theater plays a part in creating comics and stories. “You have to play to the back of the house,” Walker said, “I think about that a lot as I’m writing…the most important thing is that emotion,” Walker said, “How do you say this character is feeling remorse or pain and how do you sell that to the reader?” Now that thought balloons aren’t in fashion it’s about spelling out emotion visually.
The conversation shifted from there as Eizik asked if there are techniques to make the characters more memorable. Poelgeest said that is something he thinks about a lot and it’s something that can be improved in comics in general. It’s about presenting characters that readers can relate to and feel involved with. “A relationship forms in that first part of the story. That’s what gets them to stay and keep reading.” He added he tries to start his story as late as possible, but that there’s a balance between the time spent with characters and getting the story going.
Walker added the trick is to reveal as little as possible while getting your reader emotionally invested in characters. He coined it the “Clive Barker Trick” since he’s so good at revealing almost nothing about characters in his movies, and yet we care about them. The Thing is an example of how you don’t know any of the characters, “but for 90 minutes you’re riveted who is going to live or die.” It’s particularly important in comics since the amount of panels and pages a writer has is so limited.
Seaton ended the panel on a strong note saying, “It’s an exciting way to tell a story because it has such interesting limitations and hopefully that will keep readers coming back.”
You can watch the full panel below.