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bRoken elvis

Character development workbook 2012

All material contained within is Copyright of Kristian Thompson 2012. All Rights Reserved, no reprinting or publication without direct consent of author. All enquiries:

Broken Elvis is the title for a series of narratives within a fictive world which I am developing. It’s the kind of dystopic, urban Narnia that might come about if Dr Seuss struck up a friendship with Grandmaster Flash.. in Manukau.

The majority of the work outlined here was completed in late, 2010 before University forced it onto the backburner in 2011. The earliest ideas for the work starting popping up in my sketchbooks around 2004 however. My inner Jim Henson is not amused.

Without giving too much away, the work is driven by a dynamic arising from the protagonists’, Broke and Elvis, complimentary personalities. Broke represents an indigenous nature, physical, relaxed, opportunistic, clever and (more or less) in harmony with his environment. Elvis on the other hand represents the modern and industrial. While also good natured, he is proactive, aggressive, and possessing of a more abstract intelligence. He uses all the energy and technology he can muster in order to dominate his environment and achieve his goals.

This workbook focuses on my development of the character designs for Broke and Elvis. I’d love to try and communicate the larger story, ecology and economics of this still unnamed place here, but it’s not quite time. The story hasn’t finished telling itself to me yet.

Jim will have to wait until graduation.

The Elvis character design is really what set the whole saga in motion. While I often sketched ‘cartoony’ characters, they were generally one offs or doodles. This little guy was the exception, as he kept showing up in the margins of pages I nicknamed him money. Later on I saw a likeness in him to a childhood friend of mine and rechristened him Elvis.

When in 2010 I took a serious look at the design I noticed a similarity in construction/physiognomy to Watterson’s Calvin character. While Elvis’ architecture was already fairly resolved, revisiting Watterson’s work I gained some insight as to how to better manage stylistic discrepancies between his profile and front views.

Looking at Watterson’s work alongside Charles Schultz’s peanuts I was also struck by the deliberately ‘candid’ line they both used. Suspecting there might be a link between the looseness of line, the reader’s imagination and the popularity of the icons they produced I set to scribbling. These artist’s works also led me to lower the apparent ages of my characters in order to make the stories more widely marketable.

The Broke design originated from a fib I heard in my youth, a crafty bit of misdirection which inferred that a very local graffiti artist was in fact very large Maori boy from one of Auckland’s rougher neighbourhoods. That and a sketch of eyes hidden by a cap.

I looked to Murray Ball’s Wal character to see how much expression could be conveyed without the eyes and decided to colour the character’s basketball jersey black as a bit of a homage to one of NZ’s finest. The remainder of the process was slowly determining a basic shape and form for the character that wouldn’t prove culturally insensitive and then teaching myself to manipulate that form into the various action poses I’d require. Luckily 2d cartooning allows for a lot of flexibility of form - what’s a fat tummy one moment can become muscular bulk the next. Converting this design to 3d showed me the difficulty involved in developing a rig versatile enough to translate this malleability through to CG.

Once both designs were sorted individually, I sketched them together repeatedly, refining and adjusting their individual proportions until I felt happy with their combined geometric harmony. In researching this I looked to Albert Underzo’s Asterix and Obelisk, Hanna Barbera’s Yogi and Boo Boo and Fred and Barney, Kevin Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob, and of course Calvin and Hobbes.


The title font is titled Broken Straights, it is based on ‘Auckland Straights’ a uniquely prevalent regional style of graffiti dominant in New Zealand street art since the late eighties. In 2009 I redrew and digitized the letterforms into a cohesive font, adding in the extra glyphs required for international usage.

Art Direction

The messy style is something that interests me as a narrative device. Stylistically, it could provide the work with an original patina; thematically it’s the urban organic, a representation of our capacity to find beauty in the most unlikely of environments.

Other Characters Presented

Wheelz, The Seal of Freshnuss, the Cuzz brothers, my ex’s evil daughter, Fush, Chups and Agent Mako.

Broken Elvis Workbook  

Outline of character design and narrative development.

Broken Elvis Workbook  

Outline of character design and narrative development.