Creating cartoon characters

When it comes to cartoon characters, pretty much anything goes. And that’s what makes them so fun to create! There aren’t any rules for how emotive they can appear, they don’t conform to skeletal or muscle structure, and they can look as distinctive (or as “normal”) as you want them to.
When coming up with your own cartoon character, it definitely helps to have a couple of your favorites in mind. Two of mine are Bill Watterson’s excellent Calvin & Hobbes strip, and the much lesser known Groo series by Sergio Aragonés. If you aren’t familiar with either of these, I urge you to go take a look. Think about your own favorites; what are the most interesting aspects about their appearances?
On the topic of Sergio’s work, I realize now that I’ve unknowingly been copying his nose designs since I was a kid. But just take a look at them – they’re massive! Bulbous, irregular, and completely silly. And that’s the main thing to take away from cartoon characters: it’s OK for them to be that way. In fact, I absolutely encourage you to make them as odd in appearance as possible.
Take Mickey Mouse as an example. Now, why does he have a black body with a peach face? Mice don’t look like that. They certainly don’t wear gloves. Their feet aren’t big enough to warrant gigantic shoes, and their ears aren’t really circular. But does it matter? Of course not! A lot of people who love Mickey Mouse find actual mice repulsive, but Mickey just doesn’t seem like the kind of rodent who would creep around your house at night. To a lesser extent, think about Tom and Jerry. People who hate mice root for Jerry as he deftly evades the cat. The point being, cartoon characters can represent anything you want. They are transcendent.
All that being said, I’ll introduce you to one of my favorite creations. He doesn’t have a name. He’s balding, and wears a baseball cap to try to hide it. He’s overweight, and wears a hoodie proudly proclaiming that he’s a weight watcher. I basically created a character that represented everything I don’t want for myself, and yet I love him. I suppose you could call it artistic therapy. So what’s funny to you? Or even better, what do you dislike about yourself? Because I think that’s a fantastic starting point.

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Matt Smith is an art teacher currently living in Michigan.

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