De­sign­ing a pic­ture book char­ac­ter

Shaun grad­u­ally de­vel­oped the look of his lat­est char­ac­ter, Ci­cada, over the course of eight years

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Some­times Shaun’s char­ac­ters start off as draw­ings with­out a sense of place or a sto­ry­line. “In the case of Ci­cada it was very much about the con­text, and I knew im­me­di­ately that this was an in­sect work­ing in an of­fice,” he re­veals. The ci­cada’s 17-year life cy­cle also played into the de­sign, and tied into the story of a dull work­ing life lead­ing to a glo­ri­ous re­tire­ment.

“I have a very early sculp­ture on my desk from about 2010,” says Shaun. “I’d been think­ing about this char­ac­ter for a long time so I thought I’ll just make a lit­tle model of it to see if that helps. I found a sham­poo bot­tle and I just worked some clay around it and made this lit­tle sculp­ture of a ci­cada. You couldn’t tell what it was be­cause it was an ab­stract sculp­ture where he’s just do­ing some pa­per­work, and that’s been kick­ing around in the en­su­ing eight years be­tween that sculp­ture and it fi­nally be­com­ing a story and a book.”

Even be­fore mak­ing the sculp­ture, Shaun was sketch­ing the char­ac­ter do­ing pa­per­work and hang­ing around a wa­ter cooler. “Of­ten the sketches in­volve some kind of abuse at the hands of his co­work­ers,” Shaun adds. “There’s also fur­ther anx­i­eties cre­ated by the fact that the ci­cada is an ex­tremely ef­fi­cient worker and never re­acts to any­thing, so that was al­ways the core idea. Just this bug be­ing very good at his job, and by be­ing quiet he brings out the worst in hu­mankind.”

Model Em­ployee Early drafts of Ci­cada in­cluded darkly hu­mor­ous im­ages. “In one scene, the co-work­ers take his com­puter away and re­place it with a tree stump.”

Strong Suit Quiet, over­looked char­ac­ters are a com­mon theme in Shaun’s work. “It might have some­thing to do with draw­ing it­self. It’s not a so­cial ac­tiv­ity.”

Ci­cada Sculpt Shaun rea­sons that down­trod­den char­ac­ters like the ci­cada work be­cause “im­me­di­ately they at­tract the au­di­ence’s sym­pa­thy.”

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