“Dead Words” is a strange chapter for me, creatively. Being a standalone chapter (in a sense), I had a lot of opportunities to flex my creative muscles and do new, fun things that are hard to insert into an in-progress plot line. To that end, one of my favorite things in the world is designing characters. And, usually, doing so is not much of a problem. The beginning of this chapter presented a brick wall I wasn’t expecting in the form of the bartender, Larry.

The truth is, I don’t have a problem designing major characters––protagonists and antagonists, messengers and gatekeepers (to borrow from Campbell)––but designing incidental background characters can be a bit of a chore. I think part of it has to do with not wanting to waste a design. So, sometimes, I use very bad likenesses of people I know or amalgams of people I know to fill in the gaps because it’s just easier that way (I have always tried to always work in appearances of myself and Josh Tobey into crowd scenes––we made an appearance on the previous page).

Keep an eye out for these two fools.

If you have followed the website and its Sketch Friday entries you know that one of the major characters in this chapter––Geoff–– is based (mostly just physically) on a real person. But, that is a different situation, an off-hand joke made with my wife that started in a sketchbook and worked for the character I was building for the story.

With Chapter 4, however, something unexpected happened. I should have seen it in the thumbnail and scripting stages, but a character that I wholly thought was just a background character stepped out from behind the bar, so to speak, and became a bit more than just a face in the crowd.

Concept design for Larry, the bartender of The Broken Barrels. (click to enlarge)

Though we’ll hear the name soon enough, the bartender and owner of The Broken Barrels is a gentleman named Larry. And Larry’s design was initially meant to be a shout-out to a friend of mine named André. It wasn’t until I started laying out the pages, penciling them, and seeing them in the context of the entire chapter where I saw Larry became a pivotal character within the context of this chapter.

André and I met through the podcast I make with our mutual friend, Andrew. André was actually a guest on the show when I couldn’t record one week. Soon, we realized we had a strangely profound affection for the X-Men and have subsequently spent many hours discussing the philosophy, canon, and possibility of that franchise like evangelicals meeting on a Sunday morning. He’s a thoughtful guy and proved to be a capable sounding board for creative and personal ideas that came with earnest critical engagement and no judgement. In our talks, he got me to attack ideas in new and problematic ways, leading me to question, in a constructive manner, a lot of my ideas with relation to storytelling and the comic. While I can’t say for sure if these talks affected Long John, they certainly focused the lens through which I view the comic, allowing me to make it even better––and more authentic to my voice––than before.

That aside, once I realized how active a character he was, I had to gather the gumption to ask André for permission to base this character on his likeness, albeit an exaggerated one (as all good character design is). It was awkward for me. It was like asking someone to the prom. Luckily, he was cool about it and even grew to become proud of the cameo.

We’ll see quite a bit from The Broken Barrels and a bit more from Larry in this chapter, but it’s interesting to see how a place meant to be a haven for strangers turned out being populated by people I like quite a bit. There’s a trope of storytelling that advises writers to not grow too precious with their characters because part of a good story is to see what obstacles and trials the characters can surmount. I completely agree with that idea when it comes to main characters. There are some characters, however, that just need to be given their own space because it makes the world a better place. So, even if it constitutes a spoiler, Larry will always be behind the bar at The Broken Barrels, asking you no questions and giving you only drinks instead of problems.

The thumbnail for this page. You can see the design hadn’t even begun in the thumbnail.