This month marks the arrival of the 5th annual 30 Characters Challenge, the excellent event run by ComixTribe publisher Tyler James, where participants have to create a new comic character for every day of the whole month of November. I participated in the first year, successfully completing the challenge with 30 badly-drawn characters of my own, but haven’t done it again since. I won’t be participating this year either, but thought it might be fun to spend each day writing up a little showcase to celebrate a new comic character who showed up in comic pages for the first time this year. Comics are one of the most highly inventive mediums around, and this has been a particularly strong year for pumping out exciting new stories packed with compelling new characters. Let’s take a look at some of my favourites.
Showing up in the first issue of new MonkeyBrain series Strange Nation, Joe is a stirring example of what I like to refer to as a “single service character.” Namely, someone who serves a particular purpose in a single issue of a larger story, before being set aside once he’s served that purpose and allowed the more enduring characters to progress forward in the narrative. These often tend to be disposable, forgettable figures, but when they’re done well, they feel like they have rich lives and full personalities of their own that we just don’t happen to be exploring in this specific story, and once they’re gone we’re left wanting more of them.
In the case of Joe, the gut-punch is that we don’t know he’s a single service character until the issue’s end. Up until that point, he’s a fascinating figure, one he imagine must surely be set to play a bigger role in the story. His backstory is hazy, but it seems like he began as a gorilla, before having his head grafted onto a human body, and somehow gaining human intelligence and the ability of speech. He’s been a victim of endless experimentation for his whole remembered life, and doesn’t dare take the opportunity for freedom when presented to him because his relatively comfortable cage is the only life he knows. When he endangers himself to save the protagonist of the story, we imagine he’ll come back into play later on. But instead, he is ruthlessly killed off, and it’s the kind of poignant, bittersweet moment Allor and Romera have both respectively executed so well in past projects.
Joe was the standout character for me in Strange Nation #1. With him gone, it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the ensemble rise up to establish themselves. Because if a single service character with just a few pages of existence to his name can feel so fully-realised, given a few issues I’m sure the rest of the cast will flourish.