Sep 15, 2017

Archie and The Art of Character Design

September, 1947, Pep Comics #63, a gag short called The Mix-Up. This is old big-teeth Archie, but he's not quite as grotesque a caricature as early Archie Andrews can be. He's not an everyman, either. You could pick this dude out of a lineup easy. And, that's important, it's part of what helps Archie last decade after decade.

Archie and The Art of Character Design
Travis Hedge Coke

 "Sharp as a gumdrop," Archie may be, with his bowtie and idiosyncratic pants, but it's more important, to me, that whatever the expression meant back then, if anything, it fits now, too. He looks like a guy who thinks gumdrops are sharp.

His dad, too, is both individual and clearly his dad, without even needing to glance at the dialogue. He has a dad look, but also the expression of a man with a full and taxing life.

 And, Mama Andrews! That is a marvel of a design. Her face holds a new expression every panel, for her husband's one hangdog look, but the cut of her collar, her décolletage also communicates with an expressiveness. Seriously, The same collar is angry, is surprised.

Clothes, body language, body type, and faces all play strong roles in making these people, not types.

Note, when a salesman comes into play, while he has some of Archie's dopiness, the clothes set him immediately apart. The vertical lines of his suit do as much as his lack of chin to make this a particular man.

At the shop, the two workers are set apart by age but also by the style of cartooning. The older man, his head slightly oversized, is a caricature, while the younger is a cartoon so generic he could be the common man avatar of a thousand hopeful submissions bucking for a syndicated strip.

One last style change lies in wait to shake us up. The appearance of Veronica is like lightning. She's sexy, sure, she's our first young, and codedly available woman, but she also, simply, is not laid out like the others. The dysmorphic cartooning that gets you get lines lies not in parallel but in full stop.

Compare the elder Andrews ' silhouettes to Veronica's. While other characters are blown up for caricature or distended into broadness, she is tightened down, lifted up. And, here is where I remind you that this is a high school girl. Because, it is. She's a hypersexualized full stop, and she's a teenage kid. The design does not invite us to consider both simultaneously, downplaying any kid aspect. That's a little creepy, but it also is supremely necessary if these characters are to last as long as they have and will.

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