I’ve always tried to come up with my own visual looks for my characters, instead of basing them on people I know. It gets a bit tricky sometimes, having to remember which faerie has the curly blonde hair and which has the glasses with the big round frames, but I’m happy with the process overall. However, there are exceptions to almost everything, and the biggest by far was Beth.
More years ago than I care to think about, I was an active participant in a Usenet message board centered around a then-popular animated show, with a surprisingly large older teens and up component in its fan base. There were several organized get-togethers for the posters, and I attended two of them.
One of the other attendees at one get-together – and while I remember her name, I will not reveal it or the TV show we were fans of out of respect for her privacy – struck me right away with her tomboyish look. She wore jeans, sneakers, a plain white t-shirt, and most importantly a green army-style jacket. She was in her mid-teens, and I got the impression that she didn’t care too much about looking “nice” as much as she did in projecting an image. Oh, and she had (at least in my memory) long blond hair and glasses with wire frames.
When I started coming up with the concepts that became the original Monkey Queen series (which was then stuck away until a lucky discovery in March 2013, but that’s another blog post), I realized that Michiko needed a companion, someone who (among other things) could serve as an audience surrogate when something needed to be explained. And I thought of the girl in the green army jacket, and Beth was born. Her first name came along right away; her last took some work. (You have no idea how close she came to being “Beth McGillicuddy”. Thank goodness I shortened it.)
A lot of the elements in today’s Beth were there from the start, most notably the fangirl aspect. Beth took that from her visual inspiration, partly because I saw the joke potential at the time and partly because I realized that it would be the perfect background for someone who was being dragged into a world she didn’t know existed. However, I changed her fannish interests around, as well as aging her up to her late teens.
Jump ahead to 2013. Things had changed since I set the original Monkey Queen synopsis aside, and when I rediscovered it, Beth ended up changing with them. She was still the fangirl, but her interests had expanded, in part to serve the plot and in part to fill the joke quota. And where old Beth was just a Patrick Stewart fan to explain why she was worried about a certain poster, new Beth had (and still has) a crush on David Tennant.
More importantly, women were getting tired of being marginalized in fandom. After the insanely stupid “fake geek girl” controversy, I realized that Beth wasn’t just a fan, she was a geek girl and proud to be so. (And so I immediately stuck her in a setting where she was pretty much the only geek girl within 50 miles. I’m so mean.) And her outfit changed to reflect that; her t-shirts changed from plain to reflecting her fannish interests, and she had patches all over her green army jacket.
Then, Willow got involved. She picked up right away on Beth, and it shows in this early sketch, which I hope she doesn’t mind me posting here:
I think the only real problem we had with her design was getting the green right on her army jacket. The patches somehow became buttons, but I suspect that was a language thing. (I really should ask Willow sometime what’s on that button covered up by Beth’s hair on the final cover. The other two, if you can’t see them, are a Dalek and the One Ring.) I mentioned the TARDIS in the original descriptions, and Willow drew it on Beth’s t-shirt, and it stuck. And the glasses got changed from wire frames to horn-rimmed, but I’ve come to like the look, like she’s the lost Doubleclick sister.
And I look at Beth and I see the geek girl she is, and bits of what she may become as the series goes on. And I still see a bit of the fangirl in her teens with the green army jacket from so many years ago.