Friday, 22 August 2014

Worshipping The Wicked + The Divine #3

Or a look at character design in The Wicked + The Divine #3
by Kieron Gilen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Good character design is one of those ineffable comics elements which has a profound effect on storytelling that maybe gets lost a little bit. If all you read is superhero comics character design might be invisible to you: Spider-Man looks like Spider-Man because he has looked like Spider-Man since before I, and maybe you, were born. The character design of long running characters has been subsumed by brand identity. But the way characters look is really important, and when they are designed well, it can provide us with a huge amount of information about that characters and make us feel certain ways about them.

Team WicDiv are wizards at character design. The subtle way they create visual motifs for their characters that are believable and iconic is really well done. Like, take Lucifer, with her androgenous styling, sweet white suit, and black devil-horn forelock. She looks sexy and subversive, business-like and stylish, and just the right amount of dangerous. She also look's like no one else in the comic. Character design is really well done across the board.

However, WicDiv #3 has a perfect example of great, effective character design that I think is worth taking a longer look at.

There will be *SPOILERS* for The Wicked + The Divine #3 in this post.

WicDiv #3 is largely an introduction to The Morrigan who apparently exists as three different aspects. Along with the regal, well known Morrigan persona, The Morrigan also transforms into furious, feral Badb, and placid, detached Gentle Annie. While the way these characters emote, speak, and act certainly inform their identity, a gigantic amount of information about them can be gleaned entirely by how they look, how they are designed.

First, from their design it is obvious the aspects of The Morrigan are linked. All three versions of the character sport her striking green eyes and have cheek piercings which, while still very human, are a somewhat idiosyncratic choice of piercing. All the aspects of The Morrigan also sport a goth-punk aesthetic, clothes that have a certain gowney structure, and involve motifs of ravens, feathers, and armour. And of course all three aspects sport a sleeve of raven tattoos on their right arm and some sort of black face makeup (or at least I think it's makeup?). You can look at all of these aspects and see that they are variations on a central theme.

Yet the key differences between the aspects are also really obvious from their design.

The Morrigan looks regal and poised. Her hair is stylishly cut and styled, shiney and black with cool blue highlight tones. Her black face makeup goes horizontally across her face like a mask or a veil and has a shape that reinforces a neutral facial expression (eyebrows level, mouth pressed into a line). Her clothing is a structured black gown with a high collar that looks like something royalty might wear. The entire effect is that The Morrigan looks controlled, powerful, and queenly. 

Badb on the other hand looks wild and unrestrained. Her hair is a gigantic tangle of red fiery locks, wild, unrestrained, and big. Her eye makeup looks like a mask of a different sort, with sharp lines that emphasize an angry expression (scowling eyebrows and cheeks drawn back in a snarl). Her face also has additional piercings: a pair of snake bite lip piercings give her fangs and a nostril piercing emphasizes her nose and gives her a bullish, wild aspect. Her fingernails are sharp black claws. Babd's clothing, while still gown-like is heavily influenced by armour. Her dress is highnecked, her bodice looks like a cuirass, and her left arm is sleeved in apparent scale-mail with a pauldron of feathers. Collectively Badb looks dangerous and powerful and angry. She is a wild warrior woman to the constrained royal of Morrigan. 

Gentle Annie feels entirely different with a design that is otherwordly and peaceful. Her head is largely bald, with a pair of tufts white-grey hair. This is a look that is deliberately strange: few young adult women deliberately shave their heads, and those that do seldom leave behind slightly asymmetrical locks of hair. This is also a hair style that is evocative of a variety of wildly different groups: there is something childlike about it, and something elderly, something sickly, and something reminiscent of monks and wellness.  Groups of people with interesting perspectives and, for a variety of reasons, peaceful demeanours. Groups that are also deeply paradoxical (one cannot simultaneously be old and young). Then there is her assymetircal face makeup. Instead of being across her face and eyes, the black is a vertical stripe on only one side of her face. This is a strange choice that is contrary to fashion and is also outside the paradigm of the other Morrigan aspects: Gentle Annie operates in ways that are outside of the other Morrigans. She also has wildly asymmetrical ear piercings with one naked ear and one ear with multiple studs and hoops: asymmetry is weird and contrary to the rules of biological attractiveness. Gentle Annie is also dressed in a much humbler outfit than her other aspects with less structure and showing more skin. She is dressed more like a goth monk or hippy than a queen or warrior woman. The net effect of the design of Gentle Annie is someone who operates outside of conventional thought and wisdom and who has a spiritual nature. Basically she looks weird but peaceful and kind.

This is all information you get just from how the characters look. Which makes this great bit of character design a great tool for informing and emotionally effecting readers. 

Such good comics.

WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions
WicDiv #2 and the use of black-space

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