Sketch Friday #65 – Geoff

I guess this is less of a Sketch Friday and more of a behind the scenes look at Chapter 4, but a sketch is involved even if it was drawn last year (and I posted a photograph of this drawing in the 2018 retrospective).

However, lately I have been drawing a lot of this guy and since those have been story and context-specific, they could be considered spoilers which I’d like to avoid, for what it’s worth. So, I’ll go back to the original sketch.

Geoff is a character we’ll meet in the still untitled Chapter 4, but he is quite a presence. He’s a traveling merchant of the Mono Basin, one who doesn’t own a horse; so, he walks everywhere with his entire inventory on his back.

He’s a character I’ve had in my head for a long time––there was a time I wasn’t sure if he would make it into the story at all, but a space opened up––and when it came to designing him, I quickly realized that a perfect model already existed.

To date, Geoff is the only character who is visually based on an actual person––everyone else is created whole cloth based on personality, narrative need, and history. In this case, the role existed but, based on the personality, I realized that he was basically a version of my father-in-law, Jeff Hastings.

And so, early on, the character became an amalgam of an in-joke with my wife and, for me, an homage to an interesting guy around whom I had built a fictional archetype in my head before I actually got to know him. It’s that archetype, more than anything, that Geoff is based upon though the actual Jeff pops through in surprising ways, which is a good way to describe the man.

Jeff Hastings––the man, the myth, the trickster (and the father-in-law).

Probably because I knew he would never see it nor care, I had no problem using his likeness as a character in the comic––in a sense, I got to manifest the idealized version of him I carried around in my head onto the page. It was fun showing the designs and talking about the character’s personality with my wife, and she became excited for the character’s debut.

The character took on a completely new air as Jeff passed away suddenly in February 2019. He wasn’t in good health––and he was stubbornly independent––and we were working with him to turn things around; however, after a stroke four years ago and multiple surgeries and medications, his body gave out.

When the dust settled (does it ever settle?) from his passing, I realized that I still had Geoff to contend with, and I didn’t know if it would be cool to have him in the comic anymore. He had gone from being a wholesome in-joke to a memorial, which was unfair to the character and, if that affected my use of the character, could harm the direction of the story, too.

But as I crafted thumbnails for the chapter, I found they fell together rather easily––Geoff was just a character in the story, nothing more. So, with the integrity of the comic standing tall, I charged into drawing it without worry.

Probably the closest the character has come to capturing his inspiration.

And then I drew the first pages with Geoff.

While drawing, I realized that I couldn’t avoid the Jeff of Geoff. As a way to keep distance, the only reference I pulled from was my memories of him (with the exception of looking at photos for his hair, which was magnificent). By the end of that first batch of pages, some of the faces and poses ended up being so spot on (to me) that I was blindsided by emotions.

Due to my own artistic predilections, Geoff is not a venerated character. His efficacy rests in his repose. I like drawing faces and poses and the more nuance I was able to give the character in these panels, then the more real he became. It would be easy to paint him as ineffable, and to respectfully draw him in the comic book equivalent of a bas-relief in marble. But that’s not Jeff, which means that it’s not Geoff, either.

So, after getting through that moment where the man and the character collided in my head, I got back to it and things have normalized. Sure, the Geoff now bears a little more weight on his shoulders than before, but he can handle it. He’s got business to get to.