Some cartoonists age their characters over the years, but most of the time, characters don't age. The Simpsons has been on TV for more than 20 years, and Bart Simpson is still a 10-year-old kid. Charlie Brown should be retiring to Scottsdale by now but doesn't look a day over 9, and SpongeBob hasn't aged a day!
No matter what core group of characters you decide on, you want to ensure that you draw the characters consistently. Doing so is important for two reasons:
✓ Practicality: Having your characters stay the same age makes your job of drawing them easier. Characters that stay the same age wear the same type of clothing over the years, keep the same hair style, and stay at the same weight. As the years go by and you get more and more familiar with their shape and design, you'll be able to draw them in your sleep.
✓ Marketing: When developing and drawing your core characters, you also want to keep them consistent for marketing reasons. If you're constantly changing the look of your characters, readers may have a hard time recognizing them. Furthermore, if the style and look of a cartoon character is always changing, promotional material like T-shirts or your Web site design also needs to frequently change. Doing so can be expensive, especially in the modern world of self-publishing. The best plan is to finalize the look and style of your characters before you get serious about marketing.
Even when characters change, they do so only slightly to keep their brand consistent. For instance, many characters go through what's known as a face-lift, in which characters created long ago are modernized by the current round of artists behind them.
One reason fans fall in love with these characters is because they develop a long-term relationship with them that's based on their personality traits. This relationship would be harder to form if the character changed all the time. Readers want to know that the characters will always be there for them, acting in a predictable way and providing a sense of security, much like the blanket gives Linus in Peanuts. And over time you find that you, too, become attached to them the way they are, like a favorite old family photo that reminds you of your carefree childhood.
Your characters may very well outlive you; Mickey Mouse looks as young as the day he was created, and Walt Disney has been pushing up daisies for decades. The most important thing is to create characters you enjoy.
One interesting and unusual example of a cartoon that aged its characters — and then reversed the aging process to recapture what was perhaps its golden era — is the comic strip For Better or For Worse, written by Lynn Johnston. Her core family started as a young married couple with small children and aged to the point where the kids were married with kids of their own. In 2008, Johnston made an unusual decision — she rereleased her original strips but updated the issues to make the strips more relevant to today. Rarely do cartoon characters have the opportunity to relive their youth in this way!
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