While putting Yokaiden 1 together, I was asked by my editor Dallas if I’d like to include character designs and other concept sketches in the back. I declined, because that would mean having less room for actual content. Now that both books are out, I’m posting these never before seen character sketches I’m required to show before I begin drawing any comic pages.
Lots of artwork and commentary within. There are also BIG SPOILERS so do not read if you haven’t read the books!
YOKAIDEN 1 CHARACTER DESIGNS
Hamachi’s design has changed slightly since I first finalized his design here. His shorts have gotten a bit longer, and the green fabric of at the top half of his clothing now spills past the shoulder line (the way it is here, it looks too much like his arms are detachable like an action figure). I became comfortable with his design by the end of volume 1.
I spent a lot of time thinking about Hamachi’s design. He was actually meant to be a young man at first — somewhere around 15 years old — and it was while I was trying to get on a good path towards his final design I realized he would be better as a little boy, considering his personality and the type of story I wanted to do. This was a challenge, as I never draw children and thus never had a child character.
More progress shots of his design. Lumi and Kuzu looked quite different in their initial sketches!
After getting his “look” down, I moved onto making him stand out as a character.
Any lesson on character design worth your time will tell you a character with a good design will be instantly recognizable from silhouette. An easy way to achieve this is by making them out of shapes. As shown above, I made basically made Hamachi out of triangles.
Hamachi, Lumi and Kuzu pass the test. Their silhouettes are unmistakeably theirs.
We only see Hamachi selling bamboo in one chapter, but I still needed to decide how he should look first.
The house Hamachi and Grandma lives in.
My goal with Grandma was to make her sour and unpleasant personality seep through her skin as best as I can without making her wield a cleaver. She’s not feeble, either — she’s quite lively and surprisingly strong.
Kyuumon was easy to design — he’s Nine Bucks from my webcomic Saturnalia, transported to the Yokaiden world. All I did was let his hair down and Japanify his clothing some.
Inukai Mizuki was named after the manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, famous for his yokai comics. Like Inukai, Shigeru was also left-handed until he lost his left arm (but not to a boulder — it was while he fought in war). I didn’t pay any mind to avoiding anachronisms (Yokaiden is meant to take place in an undetermined point in ancient Japanese times) — nay, I EMBRACE anachronisms — so his clothing was based on that of Fukuzawa Yukichi, an influential figure from the Meiji Era whose face is on the 10,000 yen bill.
In Yokaiden, kappa are a bunch of no-gooders so I gave Madkap a punkish look. I had fun with this one because there have been so many visual interpretations of kappa in the media. I wanted the other kappa to be non-identical to Madkap to show some diversity within their “race”, as kappa are supposedly found all over Japan under various names.
Lumi is a female, but I opted not to give her any typical cartoon cues to her gender (eyelashes, ribbon…an hourglass figure?). As a result, people who haven’t read the book think she’s male and even people who have read it forget. The only visual hint to her being female are the dots above her eyes. In the Heian Era, to conform to beauty standards, women would shave off their eyebrows and instead put black dots where their brows were with a thumb dipped in black powder. Their faces would also be painted white. (See: ko-omote masks.) Since Lumi is a white lantern, I thought a “Heian beauty” look would suit her well.
As shown in Yokaiden 1, typical umbrella ghosts hop on one leg. It took me forever to figure out a way to make Kuzu different (I have a billion awful concept sketches of him), and in the end, the solution was simple. Kuzu is essentially a dog inside an umbrella’s body.
Designing yokai is the most fun part of designing characters for Yokaiden, and also the hardest. Since Yokaiden is meant to be an introduction to yokai, I can’t stray far from how they’re classically depicted, but I wanted to put my own spin to them.
The nue was a challenge. A traditional nue looks like it’s been stitched together from various animal parts. Too much of a Frankenstein effect. I wanted to give my nue a sleeker look — not a creature made from four different animals, but looks as though it was (except for the tail). For the head, I referenced Japanese macaques, which makes me think a baby nue would be adorable.
YOKAIDEN 2 CHARACTER DESIGNS
Kyuubi and kitsune women are usually depicted in manga as young, beautiful, slender and powerful…so I had to go against the grain. While my version is much more plump, I didn’t want to make her outright grotesque. Hamachi will agree that she’s still quite a beauty! A lot of humans are obsessed with animals, and she’s an animal obsessed with humans. Crazy cat ladies wear clothing with cats on them, so she wears clothes with humans on them! Anime fans like wearing hats with ears on them (I too am guilty of owning a panda hat), so she wears a blonde wig. Her finger necklace is a parody of animal claw necklaces. Her servants look more like what you would expect when you hear “kitsune”, but I gave them all human masks. (In this design sketch, the servant wears a kitsune mask…I realized my mistake later.)
Book 2 focuses more on humanoid yokai, so I got to play around with clothing design. I had the biggest trouble thinking of an original design for the slit-mouthed woman, until I saw a creepy European-looking mask made of metal with slits for eyes and a mouth. I have no idea what it was or what it’s from, but I was instantly inspired.
Binzuru is one of my oldest original characters. He was originally going to star in a comic about Japanese gods and goddesses at least ten years ago. My favourite parts about his design: his stretched earlobes and messy blonde bleached hair. His design has remained relatively untouched until just recently.
The three drawings on the left here are some of my oldest Binzuru artworks. To the right are sketches of him in his new outfit, redesigned for Yokaiden 2. You might notice one major difference between this and his final design: his face. When I created him ten years ago, I wanted him to look caucasian for some reason. While I was happy with his new outfit, his design still wasn’t clicking with me and I couldn’t figure out why until I tried giving him more asian features. I liked it way better immediately. (I wanted to keep him blonde, so he now has bleached hair. You’re supposed to be able to see his black roots a little, but it’s hard to show without colour).
The haniwa being frighteningly powerful and intimidating was inspired by a Doraemon movie featuring villainous dogu, another clay doll from ancient Japan.
I like thinking up of how my characters’ parents look like, so I was glad I got to feature Hamachi’s in book 2. He got his face from his mother and hair from his father. My favourite part about Hamachi’s father is his almost unibrow, and I like his mother’s dimples. Like Hamachi, they are also named after fish.