Character sketching is one of my favourite things to do. When we read a book, we all immediately visualise what these characters may look like. Time and again we are disappointed with film adaptations portraying our favourite characters ‘wrongly’, but of course everyone’s imagination is different, and sometimes we can even prove ourselves wrong.
When I got the text for Isabel Atherton’s ‘Zombie Cat, the Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’, an image of a haggard, boney old fleabag sprang to mind. I sketched out some rancid looking object, felt immediately sorry for him, and realised this cat needed a whole lot more charisma. And this is the beauty of these character sketches: they evolve into the personalities you might not have at first visualised. ZC fattened up, developed a twinkle in his (one) eye, a Cheshire Cat grin and a swagger.
Supporting roles are important too – Atherton’s ‘Smelly Ghost’ needed an army of spooky friends, and James Duffett-Smith’s ‘A Curious Robot on Mars’ had a few surprise characters to bump into. I needed to think how each creation would appeal to the reader, but also to me – I have to draw them and things can get pretty dull if you’re drawing a character you don’t care about. This is where humour comes in. Smelly Ghost’s friends are a selection of weird monsters, so it was fun developing improbable eye stalks, sharp-toothed grins and a small quantity of unidentified slimy substance. I liked the idea of a semi-ridiculous collection of weirdos, basically – and for that to be happily normal in its setting.
Sometimes I can come up with characters quite quickly, though I can feel guilty about that. If I have a really good feeling about a character early on in the process, I feel I have to carry on drawing in case I’m wrong, like some kind of penance. If I do that, my drawings get sadder and sadder, as if saying to me “Why are you drawing sorry little old me. You don’t even like me. Why am I here?” So I have to apologise profusely to them and tuck them into the ‘miscellaneous’ folder I have for all the pathetic old Toy Story-esque rejects.
The Funny Bunny Fly was my excuse to write a book which allowed me to draw a creature I really wanted to draw. Something surreal, cocky, and disgusting. I’m sure you’ll agree that’s a bit of an attractive combination.
No one wants the horror of realising the star of your book doesn’t work half way through the process, so you have to go in with all the confidence of a Big Brother contestant, your winning sketch perched jauntily in front of you as you begin.
Bethany Straker Website|Twitter
BETHANY STRAKER is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website, www.bethanystraker.com