Note: This project is adapted from a Lynda Barry project in her fantastic book Making Comics.

This exercise has two goals:

1. Help students get out of their character comfort zone! Often when we make characters, we reach for the same shapes – for heads, bodies, eyes, and other features – meaning that a lot of our characters end up looking suspiciously similar to each other! This can make it difficult for your reader to tell your characters apart – which can make a comic very confusing!

This exercise aims to encourage you to try different, weird, and silly shapes to make your characters – and see how quickly they take on their own personalities.

2. Help students make connections between how a character is drawn (external character) and who they are (internal character). Of course, in real life, we can’t necessarily tell much about a person by looking at them. But in comics, animation, and other forms of visual storytelling, everything has meaning: what shapes a character’s face and body are made of, what they’re wearing, even how they stand or the background we put them in front of.

This exercise challenges students to “read” the characters they make – what personalities does each tiny portrait suggest? What can we learn about a character based just on how they’re drawn?

Step 1:
Fold your paper into quarters, then quarters again. When you unfold it, you should have sixteen blank boxes.

Step 2:
Set a timer for five minutes. In those five minutes, draw a BLANK head and shoulders into each panel.

No two head/shoulder shapes should be the same!

Step 3:
Set a timer for three minutes: add eyes (again, as many different shapes as possible) to each character. Don’t be afraid to give them an expression! This will only add to your character’s sense of personality.

Repeat with three minute timer for:

– Hair
– Eyebrows
– Nose
– Ears
– Mouth

Step 4:
Take a look at all your characters! Who are they?

– Are they happy? Sad? Anxious? Angry?
– Are they virtuous? Mischievous? Good? Evil?
– Human? Animal? Alien?
– Rich? Poor? Brave? Cowardly?

Try to color each character in a way that accentuates your first impression of the character. A jolly, kindly character might use more reds, oranges, and yellows, while a sad and lonely character might be drawn with more blues.

Step 5:
Create a background for each character using the same technique. By the end of this step, your sheet should be almost completely colored: leave as little white space as possible!

Step 6:
Now for the fun part!

Throw a die, flip a coin, spin a top – the first two characters your item lands on must now go into a comic together! This step can be repeated as many times as you want – the more stories you make, the better you’ll get to know these characters!