A little after 11 a.m., the Writing Great Characters panel at Baltimore Comic Con 2015 begins. The panelists jumble in and take the stage to much applause, followed by introductions, directions to booths, and of course, more applause.
The panel is moderated by Christy Blanch, co-owner of Aw Yeah! Comics and is manned by such greats as Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Louise Simonson (Power Pack, New Mutants, Steel), Jamal Ingle (Molly Danger, Supergirl), Mark Waid (The Flash, Iredeemable, Superman: Birthright), Thom Zahler (Love and Capes), and Amy Chu (Sensational Comics: Wonder Woman, Girls Night Out).
The first question is laid on the table right away: how do the panelists, as writers, approach the concept of writing a character that is most decidedly not them? It is noted that diversity is an important process in comics, and no one is only limited to what they know. The panel was in consensus:
- Start with a question, usually “why.” Why would the character do what he or she is going to do? Why does the character want what he or she wants?
- Write about people you want to know about. Write about people who you wish would talk to you, but don’t.
- The author needs to find a piece of his or herself in the character. Regardless of how small, finding that “nugget of me” as Mark Waid said, will help connect the author to the character.
- Research and Observation! “Research helps put me into the brain of the character,” says Amy Chu. “The character doesn’t have to be me, but I have to be in that world.”
Overall, writing characters is about writing people, not just specimens. Terry Moore gives an example in the form of the brief story of a boy who’s mother packed him a lunch and on his way to school, bullies attacked him and threw it away. He then added detail to the story, saying the boy was ill with a disease that would trouble his teen years, his mother was suffering from stage 4 ovarian cancer, and on top of that, it took all her strength just to make him lunch and include an “I love you” note that now he will never get to see. Wow. “Don’t just write characters, write people,” he concluded.
The panelists agree, the reader has to feel for the character and want something for them, even if it’s comeuppance. The more a reader can connect with a character, the better.
The panel concludes the way it began, with applause.