Malwan, facial recognition, and tattoos

Hey all. just wanted to share a couple of things.



This is the character Malwan that was introduced a few pages ago. He is a city guard, and I imagine is in his late 30s or so. He just has the kind of face that looks like he’s constantly ticked off, but he really isn’t.

When I started solidifying ideas with this comic, I ran into some issues with the character design, which I’ll go more in depth at a later date. However, one of the main problems I kept coming across was how difficult it could be for the casual reader to tell certain characters apart. I find that usually the more alien a character looks, the harder it is to not only relate to them, but it is to tell different members apart. The human brain is incredible at recognizing humans, and we practice at it every day. But, say, try to tell the difference between two iguanas.


(credit to the owners for the photographs)

From a logical standpoint, they have just as many differences in their faces as humans do. The second has a much larger jaw, shorter snout, and protruding lower lip compared to the first. It would be easy to recognize a human with these features compared to one without. But from a ‘human’ standpoint, there’s just something alien about these iguanas. Try to pick one of them out from a crowd of iguanas. I doubt anyone could.  Unfortunately this is also a problem with the species for this story, and one I see many people with non-human characters run into as well.

There are several solutions I can think of. Color is easy to do. Bill and Bob are both crocodiles, but Bill is orange and Bob is purple. Simple. Unfortunately, color also takes much longer than B+W, and I just don’t feel like at this moment in time I have the resources to do it.

Specific clothing to a character also helps a lot, helping the reader to associate a color or pattern or a clothing design to a character instead of a face. Unfortunately, without color this is much more limited.

Stylizing or exaggerating features of a non-human character can help, but I find only if you do this to an extreme degree. For this comic, I’d rather not.

What is my solution? Tattoos.

In Song of the Motherland, characters in many of the countries show their family lineage by tattoos on their faces (occasionally, arms or tails). It’s basically like having an ever-present coat of arms. Every family’s mark is unique in designs and colors. Men and women get theirs when they come of age, with men receiving theirs on their face, and women on… anywhere but their face. Later on if they get married, they will get their husband’s mark on their face as well, a symbol of uniting the two families.

I admit this solution may be a bit cheap, but I think it also provides some interesting opportunities to explore cultural depth and stuff. It may not help tell apart a character in a crowd, but between only two people talking or whatever it might just be the push that is needed to help the reader. That being said, I still try to make faces as unique as I can get away with, but this is more for the reader’s convenience than my own.



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