Before I get to the conclusion of my three-part look into the character creation process behind the development of The Crimebusters co-lead Trixie Trouble, just another quick progress update. I’ve had some health issues that have slowed me down some, but I am plugging away nonetheless, and am currently working on page 24. My best guess is that the linework will be completed the last week in February. My hope at this point is to also get all the first draft dialogue and word balloons in place before March 1st. Fingers crossed!
Okay, so in the previous installments of Asking for Trouble, I covered the process of designing the character from the ground up in terms of personality and history. That leaves the most basic thing, though: what she actually looks like.
In a visual medium like comics, coming up with the right visual design is key. With that in mind, I again looked at what I already had, which is the visual design from Crimebuster.
What I wanted to do was come up with a visual look for Trixie that worked on its own, but also which complemented and contrasted with Chuck’s design. And what immediately jumped out to me was less color and more light and dark.
Though Chuck’s colors are all bright, they are also all on the darker side: deep red, deep blue, navy pants, black hair, etc. That immediately suggested to me that Trixie should be on the light side.
The first thing I settled on was that Trixie would be blonde with blue eyes. Then I took a look at the color scheme for her clothes. I wanted to use classic, simple colors that could have been in use during the Golden Age of comics – primary colors mostly. The four color printing process wasn’t really great at doing things like coral or magenta or teal – it’s for blue, yellow, red.
I eventually came to the conclusion that I wanted Trixie to have the same colors in her costume as Crimebuster, just with different emphasis. At first, I considered giving her a blue top, but as Trixie is also a bit of a tomboy, I planned to dress her in jeans. Since I didn’t really want to do blue on blue, I finally hit on the idea of a white top, with blue and red accents, as opposed to Crmiebuster’s red top with blue and white accents. Giving them the same color scheme would help them visually fit together as a team (on the covers, that is, since the interior is going to be black and white), but having white be Trixie’s primary color would further the visual contrast in terms of light and dark shades.
There was still the issue of what she as actually going to wear, though. I wanted something graphically simple and bold. Again, I derived my main inspiration from Chuck’s costume. Originally the C on his chest was supposed to stand for Culver, the military academy he was attending in his first appearance. Later, it supposedly stood for Curtiss Tech, the college he is current attending. But in both cases, of course, it really stands for Crmiebuster.
I realized I could use this same conceit to give Trixie her own letter T – for the Tech in Curtiss Tech. As it happens, monogrammed letters, and letterman sweaters, were a big fashion trend in the mid 1950’s, when The Crimebusters takes place, so giving her a letterman sweater with the Tech T on the breast was thematically perfect.
I finished the design with a pop of color via the red shirt underneath, and some hints of her rebel nature with the offset rolled of pant legs and the saddle shoes.
And that’s it! No doubt going forward, design tweaks may present themselves as the characters and situations evolve — these outfits are fine for the fall of 1956, but n a couple issues, winter will be approaching and something warmer might be needed. For now ,tough, I’m pretty happy with how Trixie’s design turned out!
Thanks for reading, and check back next week for another update!
Before I get to the second part of this exploration of the creative process behind the design of my co-lead character Trixie Trouble, just a quick progress update on The Crimebusters #120: As of today, I have completed the linework on page 13, and am starting in on page 14. There will be a slight delay, as I am taking the weekend off to attend the Arisia science fiction convention in Boston, but my hope is that by this time next week I will have completed page 15, which will put me at the halfway point now that the story is set to be 30 pages.
Okay, so back to Asking for Trouble! In the first installment, I looked at why I felt it was necessary to create a co-star to appear alongside Chuck Chandler. This time around, I’m going to look at the process of actually creating the character that became Trixie Trouble.
The first thing I had to do was look at the dramatic necessities of a co-star. With Chuck Chandler, I had a defined quantity. Chuck has certain character traits: he’s smart, honest, dedicated, loyal. He has a sense of humor in that he appreciates other people’s jokes, but he’s not a jokester himself — he’s serious, straight laced. He’s also very self-confident, a man of action: he’s not introspective, but has a very strong sense of wrong and right, and doesn’t question himself when it comes to what is just and unjust. Above all, his paramount principle is fairness.
In order to have dramatic tension between Chuck and his partner, the partner had to challenge Chuck. The partner had to be someone who wasn’t like Chuck — someone who would call him out on his shortcomings, and push him to think about things.
In other words, I felt Chuck needed a partner who he could argue with, rather than agree with all the time. At the same time, though, the new character had to be a true partner, rather than a sidekick. Watson challenges Holmes all the time, for instance, except Holmes is always right and Watson is always wrong, so they don’t have an equitable partnership. I wanted a true partner, which means someone who has a point of view which is different from Chuck’s, but equally correct. Both Chuck and the reader have to respect the partner, or else it doesn’t work.
I quickly identified some traits I wanted my character to have. The most important was a sense of fun and adventure, which brings with it a sense of humor. Chuck, bless him, is a great straight man, but he embarks on most of his investigations out of a sense of duty. I wanted someone who enjoys mysteries, who embraces the unknown, who gets excited about cases — someone whose enthusiasm will drag both Chuck and the reader along for the wild ride.
Since I had already decided I wanted to add some hint of the supernatural to my stories — ghosts, ghouls, creatures, and whatnot in the best Scooby Doo tradition — the idea of a Mulder and Scully type relationship quickly presented itself to me. Chuck isn’t the type to believe in any of this nonsense, but more important than being a skeptic is the fact that his curiosity is limited by his need to take action. What I mean is, if an alien kidnaps a cub scout, Chuck’s priority is going to be rescuing the kid; the fact that it’s an alien isn’t important.
I wanted someone who could act as the eyes and voice of the reader and express a sense of wonder and excitement at the weird cases they encounter — someone who would be amazed and thrilled to see an alien. Heck, she would much rather it be an alien than not. Just as Chuck is less of a skeptic and more of a pragmatist — if it’s not germane to the case, it’s irrelevant — the partner would be less of a believer and more someone who wants to believe.
As I mentioned before, I also pretty quickly decided that the series needed a strong female voice, something that Chuck’s previous adventures in Boy Comics were sorely lacking.
That gave me this list of traits for Chuck’s new partner:
adventurous – brave
sense of humor
excited by mystery – curious
delighted by the unknown
These all felt reminiscent of the classic girl detectives like Trixie Belden, especially the idea of a character who loves mysteries so much she just wants to believe everything is a mystery — to the point of it routinely causing trouble for her and everyone around her.
But these traits also seemed to me to have a lot of overlap with another classic literary trope from the same 1930’s-1950’s time period: the girl reporter. Lois Lane is the perfect example of a character who has all of these traits — rushing headlong into danger because she needs to solve the mystery is pretty much her entire schtick.
With that in mind, I started to craft an identity for my character. As an homage to classic teen detectives from the same time period that Chuck Chandler originated from, I decided to give her the first name Trixie. But I also wanted her to be a reporter. Starting from there, I worked out a backstory: as a youth, my Trixie was a rambunctious tomboy, athletic and adventurous. But two big events as teen had a big impact on her: her parents divorced, and then she was stricken with a serious illness that left her bedridden for a year.
Confined to bed, she had to turn to reading so she could experience adventures vicariously. She voraciously read detective magazines and crime novels, as well as newspapers. By the time she fully recovered, she had gained an encyclopedic knowledge of detectives both real and fictional, as well as a love for the written word. She decided to attend college to study journalism, with the aim of becoming either a private detective or the next best thing — a journalist.
Along the way, she couldn’t help but insert herself into all sorts of situations where she didn’t belong, solving crimes and getting herself and her friends into massive amounts of trouble.
Which is where the name came from, of course. I wanted a name that had the classic comic book alliteration of a Chuck Chandler or Peter Parker. So I began a list of words and names that began with TR to go with Trixie. I soon narrowed it down to two: Trueheart, and Trouble. Trueheart sounded more like a person’s actual name, and was nicely evocative of her spirit, but I liked Trouble as well, so I decided to just give her both: real name Trixie Trueheart, but her nickname is Trixie Trouble, because wherever she goes, trouble surely follows.
And this brought me back around to the idea of someone who could challenge Chuck. One thing that struck me reading through Chuck’s adventures is that, unlike most superheroes, Chuck was never really a vigilante. Very early on he became a protege of Loover, first when Loover was at the FBI, and then when Loover was the New York City District Attorney. So Chuck has always had the benefit of working with the authorities, meaning he’s never really had to think about or question his belief system. But what would he do if he had to work outside the system — like Trixie? Would the ultimate boy scout actually choose to break the law in order to serve a greater good? What’s ultimately more important, order, or justice? The ends, or the means?
Chuck has never had to think about that sort of thing. He’s someone who has always seemed to think there’s simply a right way and a wrong way to do things. But with Trixie on board, she’s about to bring him somewhere he’s never been: the moral grey area. And I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading! Next time I will discuss some of my inspirations, both for this issue and series, and just in general as a creator. And then the following week, I will conclude the Asking for Trouble series with a look at how I designed Trixie look! See you then!
The original impetus behind this project was my love of the Golden Age, public domain character Crimebuster, and a desire to continue his comic book adventures. It wasn’t far into the development process, though, that I realized I need to create a new partner for Chuck to work with, which is how I ended up creating the all-new character Trixie Trouble.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the character creation and development process from start to finish, so in this first installment, I’ll look at the reasons behind the creation of Trixie Trouble and how I slowly drilled down to the character I have now, and who will be making her debut in The Crimebusters #120.
Though it ran for 117 issues over 14 years, there were surprisingly few recurring characters in the pages of Crimebusters series in Boy Comics. There was Crimebuster himself, and his sidekick Squeeks the monkey. There was also the district attorney Loover, Chuck’s mentor, and the villain Iron Jaw, Chuck’s arch enemy.
And… that’s it, until Chuck went off to school in #107. At that point, writer Charles Biro introduced a whole new group of supporting characters in the form of other students at Curtiss Tech. Stu was Chuck’s new best friend and roommate, Jabbo was the new archenemy, an Iron Jaw toned down for the college set. And there was also a sporadic love interest name Annie, who appeared in a whopping three issues. That, however, also made her the only recurring female character in the entire series history.
When I began developing the story that would eventually, after years of work, morph into The Crimebusters #120, I felt the biggest problem was actually Squeeks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Squeeks. But there were three big issues with Squeeks:
1. First and most obviously, Squeeks is a monkey, which means he doesn’t talk. This means when Chuck is working out cases, he can monologue at Squeeks, but he can’t have a conversation, which severely limits the writing options. I felt Chuck needed someone not just to talk to, but someone who would be able to challenge him (more on this in the next installment), and that’s not Squeeks.
2. Secondly, as a monkey, and Chuck’s pet, Squeeks is inherently subordinate to Crimebuster. I felt that what Chuck needed, though, was a true equal and partner rather than a sidekick. Squeeks is always going to be a sidekick — a great one, but a sidekick nonetheless.
3. Finally, my choice to pick up the original continuity presented a problem, because Squeeks was essentially written out of the series when Chuck went to Curtiss Tech. He does appear in a couple Curtiss Tech stories, but for the most part, he’s absent, which makes sense: the school isn’t likely to let a student keep a pet monkey in the dorm. If I wanted to use Squeeks, I’d have to really come up with a weird rationale to have him around.
Once I ruled out Squeeks, it was also pretty easy to rule out Stu. Stu doesn’t have the same problems as Squeeks; Stu is an equal to Chuck, he can talk, and he’s at Curtiss Tech. But he has a different problem Squeeks does not have: Stu is boring as hell. I do have plans for Stu that I think will prove interesting, but he just didn’t fit.
With all those factors in mind, I settled on the idea of creating a female counterpart to Chuck. I felt this worked thematically very well. By the end of his series, Chuck was firmly operating in the classic teen detective genre, and that is filled with great female characters like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Veronica Mars, and many more. It also filled a major gap in the storytelling. Annie, god bless her, was about as nondescript as possible in her handful of appearances. Boy Comics, after all, was aimed at boys, and didn’t really consider girls much.
That doesn’t appeal to me, though. I wanted a strong female character, a detective who could match Chuck as an equal partner. Someone who could stand on equal footing as a main character in her own right. My story, I realized, would need to be as much about her as about Chuck.
And once I realized this, the parameters for actually creating Trixie became clearer. With Chuck, after all, I had a known quantity. After reading 117 issues worth of Crimebuster stories, I had a good idea of his personality, strengths, and weakness. For narrative and dramatic reasons, I needed to create a character who offered something different — who had different strengths, different weaknesses, different quirks. Someone who could challenge Chuck, and vice versa.
But she couldn’t just exist as a compliment or foil to Chuck — she had to be interesting enough in her own right to pique curiosity, command attention and carry the narrative. She had to feel like she had her own 14-year backstory of adventures and experiences.
In classic comic book terms, this had to feel like Power Man and Iron Fist teaming up for the fist time: two leading characters who just happen to work even better together.
The process of designing that personality, and the process of designing Trixie’s look, are things I will explore in the next installment.