I taught a workshop this week called “Telling Stories with Pictures,” in which my crew of Wiz Kids and I discussed storyboarding, character model sheets, and illustration.
At one point, I was explaining to them how a lot of characters get reinvented or change over time – if you’ve ever seen a really old Mickey Mouse cartoon then you know what I’m talking about. Mickey used to have a sharper snout, smaller feet, and those big black button eyes. In fact I think it took him twenty years before he earned proper pupils!
Of course, my conversation with the Wiz Kids eventually turned to my own character of Kendra and how she evolved. There’s no doubt she’s changed a lot since I first introduced her in the Box of Whispers.
Partly she’s changed because I wanted her to—for example, since the first book she’s changed into the robes of a wizard’s apprentice and her braids have become even more funky. But the other reason she’s changed so much visually is just because I’ve gotten more comfortable and experienced at drawing her.
That’s one of the challenging things about illustrating the same character over and over; inevitably I want to make changes to the overall design after the hundredth drawing!
Like any of my characters, Kendra started as some simple sketches. At first she was going to look quite cutesy, like a chipmunk. Then I thought she might look more mature and graceful. I guess I settled for a look somewhere in the middle.
Kendra’s main trademark, of course, is her braids. In the first book, The Box of Whispers, Kendra’s braids were long and straight—in other words, rather plain!
Then, after the book was published, I found this groovy picture of a braided girl in this free tourist magazine at a tube station in London. I remember wishing I had a time machine so that I could go back and redo every picture of Kendra to give her those wild sort of braids.
Luckily, I was already planning to do a Kendra sequel and, even better, I had a built-in excuse as to why her braids could be more strange and crooked the second time around. (You’ll have to cast your mind back to the end of The Box of Whispers to remind yourself about what happened to her braids).
To make a long story short, I tore out that photo and taped it into my sketchbook for future reference (incidentally, I also came up with my idea for the cover illustration for Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger on that same trip—but that’s another story).
So in Book 2, Kendra was given her crazy braids and in Book 3 she earned her long robe and wand of Eenwood. For Book 4, I’ve decided to keep her mostly the same . . . at least for the start of the story. There’s no doubt that we’ll get to see Kendra in a way most readers have probably never imagined!