“Fat Joe”

I’m currently taking a character design class online through My instructor is Stephen Silver, a brilliant character designer with a long list of credits in TV animation.

Our first assignment was to create a character called Fat Joe, so that Stephen could get an idea of where each student’s skill level is. The description of Fat Joe was given to us as follows:

You are to design a concept sketch of Fat Joe based on the play, The Long Voyage Home. Take it as far as you like.

SCENE—The bar of a low dive on the London water front—a squalid, dingy room dimly lighted by kerosene lamps placed in brackets on the walls At the far end of the bar stands Fat Joe, the proprietor, a gross bulk of a man with an enormous stomach. His face is red and bloated, his little piggish eyes being almost concealed by rolls of fat. The thick fingers of his big hands are loaded with cheap rings and a gold watch chain of cable-like proportions stretches across his checked waistcoat.

I didn’t know much about The Long Voyage Home (i.e. time period, storyline, etc.), and I couldn’t find much visual reference on the internet. As far as I can tell, it has something to do with fishermen (the kind that wear wool coats and stocking caps), and that John Wayne starred in the movie version.

Fat Joe is described as a dapper Englishman (waistcoat, jewelry, gold watch, etc.), but in my mind I couldn’t picture the owner of a “low dive” that is “squalid and dingy” being such a classy dresser. But that turned out to be a good challenge as it forced me to really think through the character. Who is this guy? Why does he dress that way if he runs such a dumpy, greasy establishment? Is he a back-room mafia type who owns the place but doesn’t run it? Is he a washed-up socialite? Is he a B-list scoundrel trying to impress people with the one greasy suit that he owns? The more I thought about him, the more I wanted to play around and explore possibilities.

Unfortunately, time is not a luxury for me right now. I’d love to have spent several days on this assignment, but I did the best I could with the few hours I had. I don’t think I nailed the character. I certainly would have liked to keep playing and experimenting. But for now I’m fairly happy with how the first drawing turned out (although he looks more French than English). The fourth one isn’t bad either.