When Humbug and I began Tales of Pylea in its third incarnation, amongst my tasks was fleshing out their personalities and early on, we tackled Arianhod’s design. I’ll admit, when I first saw Ari’s visual redesign my jaw dropped.
I believe my exact words were “Holy shit, she’s huge!”
As a male geek who grew up amidst classic superhero and fantasy comics, I’ve always been an advocate for the policies of “sex sells” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. So, completely baffled by this new direction, I inquired as to why ToP’s leading lady was now, to quote myself, “built like a rhinoceros that’s come up positive for steroid abuse”.
Humbug replied that she felt sexuality was frequently the be-all and end-all in a female character’s design, oft leaving said characters little more than cardboard cut-outs whose primary function was that of eye-candy and little else.
Above: Humbug’s early concepts for Arianhod and F’Nor in 2003.
As a girl-geek, she had never found a role model for herself amidst the plethora of superheroines in mainstream comics and with Arianhod, she wanted a heroically-built female lead and wanted to succeed where she felt others had failed.
When I began to write Arianhod, I looked to her fellow protagonist, F’Nor for reference.
When creating a dynamic between two leads, it is important that there be a striking contrast between them, as there would be little point having two characters fulfilling the same role.
While F’Nor is the head of this dynamic, Arianhod would be its heart. As a demigod who has lived decades in solitude, F’Nor displays the manner of a person who has grown accustomed to living in detached isolation. In contrast, Arianhod’s transformation is far more recent and as a result she is still fairly tethered to her empathy.
Throughout the first book alone, Arianhod displays her humanity with all its merits and flaws, from her conversation with her colleague Lair, where she feels there is more to life than her occupation as a debt collector to the alleyway scene where she spares a debtor’s life as she becomes aware of his plight.
Above: See that? That’s Disney Princess material right there.
Which brings us to her occupation; normally in the process of creating a character, I begin with the intangible aspects, namely their personality and narrative role; only after this is established do I try to establish their physical appearance.
With Arianhod this was reversed and as Humbug made it clear amidst my work’s parameters, Arianhod’s character would conform to her appearance. I then looked over her muscled, tattooed frame and I said “Hey, what if she was a thug? A legbreaker…” as an affiliation with the city’s criminal element and an occupation based upon violence would certainly explain her powerful physique and intimidating tattoos.
Despite being the more human of the two, this did not mean Arianhod had to be the more moral. After all, people are flawed in nature and I wanted her personality to reflect this. I have always believed that while a character’s traits define them, it is their flaws that make them human.
Above: Ari didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose her.
Since F’Nor was clearly a man of reasoning and intellect, I made Arianhod the muscle. A thug who has, due to her life and career choices, chosen to lead a life of violence and this would define how her mind works; that most problems could be solved via force or intimidation. It also helps that she’s a little silly.
To me, the most noticeable trait in which our hero and heroine greatly differ from one another is the matter of sexuality.
In the past I’ve seen others have trouble identifying muscled female characters in a sexual light, as though having greater muscle mass makes a woman asexual. At best they wind up being the ball-breaking man-hater (I don’t need men; I’m independent! GRRR!); at worst they’re the Guy-With-Boobs; the masculine strongwoman one puts into a game or comic to please movements of faux-feminists who seem to hate the very notion of a woman being attractive.
However, Arianhod is attractive, and she knows it. She’s fit, has a pretty face and would be, in the eyes of most men, refreshingly straightforward. A character can be strong and sexy without being solely defined by either.
As we see in the bar scene, Arianhod is a strong, capable woman who has no trouble getting tail on a Friday night…
… Most of the time.
It’s been a blast working with Humbug to bring characters like Ari to life, finding that sweet spot between our very different (and often opposing) views on characters and their design.