Over the years a handful of readers have written me to ask why Tina looks sad. She never smiles, they write, She looks despondent, or worried. What’s wrong, people say, Is she depressed?
No, Tina’s not depressed — no more than any other person. When I started the strip I didn’t know a lot about her, but I did know what I didn’t want her to be. I didn’t want my main character to be sappy and sickeningly sweet. I wanted to write her as a girl who had real-world traits who just happened to be nice in a normal, non-mushy way. I gave Tina a few of my own traits, and many others that I myself am not fortunate to have (for one, I’m way less tolerant than she is!)
Also over the years, I’ve analyzed the smile matter and made a discovery that may explain Tina’s “sad look”. It’s the character’s design — how she’s drawn — that I believe is causing Tina to look less cheery than what she may be feeling below the surface. What I hadn’t anticipated was the effect of how I designed Tina’s hair — in particular, her bangs. (This will be a good example of how a few lines can alter a character’s expression.) Look at these sketches:
The hair bangs are drawn downwards at the same angle that you’d use to draw a “worried eyebrow” expression. So when there is no clear smile drawn on her face, and I need her to be in a neutral expression, like in sketch #2, then the result is that she looks slightly worried, or, you might say, even sad.
I never anticipated this. The thing is, I don’t want Tina to be smiling in every situation — that would be sappy — and so many times she wears the expression you see in sketch #2, which gives her the look people are asking about.
It’s amazing what a couple of small ink lines can do. They’re capable of changing a reader’s perception about what a character is feeling. Now that puts a smile on my face. Isn’t this stuff great?