This week, Quinlan shows off his acrobatic tree-leaping skills as he takes the shortcut back home to Terria.

Every once in a while, Rachel or I will receive a question that takes on numerous forms, but generally means the same thing: “Why did you pick animals for your comic world?” Well, the answer partly has to do with scenes like this – Quinlan, as a squirrel character, can perform massive leaps and zip through the treetops of the Western Deep with inherent skill and readers will be able to accept that without any explanation. Squirrels leap through trees – we know this as fact – so when Quinlan does it, it seems natural.

If Quinlan was, say, a human, then him making that large leap and being able to fly through the trees as he does in this page might seem strange. Unnatural, even! This sort of mental shortcutting is one reason why we went with animal characters – we want them to be able to perform cool things without them seeming unnatural. We want our world by default to be filled with cool creatures doing cool things, so Tamian can launch themselves through trees, Lutren can do the same underwater, the Canid are burly berserkers with razor-sharp teeth and a killer instinct, etc.

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Another reason we picked animal characters was because of the range of expressions we can give them. Humans and their fantastical counterparts (dwarves, elves, and the like) generally have normal-looking faces that act in ways we’re familiar with. You can give them larger eyes to emote with, or more exaggerated eyebrows, any number of things, but eventually you wind up exaggerating them beyond the point of believability and they seem too cartoonish. By using animal characters, you can bring body language more into the picture – so an angry Canid may not just grit his teeth and narrow his eyes, but the fur on the nape of his neck may bristle, or he may hunch over a bit to look more like a feral beast. When humans try this, it can come off as silly, but when an animal does it, it’s perfectly natural, giving Rachel a lot more room to experiment with fun expressions for all of our characters.

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Though of course, individual characters are the most important in the end, regardless of species. What sort of story would this be if they all reacted the same to any given event? Here’s an experiment Rachel did not too long ago – using a set of prompts to explore how Quinlan and Dakkan emote differently.