The Hero, the Villain and Archetypes

Carl Jung introduced the term archetype in 1919 to explain themes he identified among dreams, waking imagery, private ideas, myths, religious symbolism, occult disciplines and tribal lore.

He proposed archetypes were underlying templates that shape perception, imagination and understanding. That transcend cultures and time. That cause people to apprehend and respond to the world in a distinctly human way.

Jung put forward the term ‘collective unconscious’ to describe these psychological motifs as the accumulated experience of humanity within individuals. Archetypes are revealed through dreams, fantasies and aesthetic creations.

Archetypes include:

  • the Wise Old Man,
  • the Great Mother,
  • the Child,
  • Paradise,
  • the Anima (feminine principle within a male)
  • the Animus (masculine principle within a female), and
  • the Shadow (disowned parts of the personality).

Since Jung first described archetypes, findings in various fields have added support for a ‘deep structure’ of the human psyche.

Reference: Archetypes, David Feinstein. From Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 1. Published by Oxford University Press, 2000.

Why Archetypes and Comic Characters?

Archetypes present a character ideal encompassing the full spectrum of good and evil.

Character ideals such as:

  • the Hero,
  • the Villain,
  • the Fool,
  • the Mentor, and
  • the Trickster.

Generally, a character designer wants clear archetypes for the story’s clarity.

Typical comic art archetypes include:

  • a brave, selfless, helpful hero/ine
  • a villainous enemy, a ruthless shadow character who is evil, defining the hero/ine though interaction, and
  • a cast of supporting characters, maybe a confused fool constantly challenging everyone, maybe an anima/animus as a love interest (for the main character or the audience), maybe a mentor with profound knowledge, or a trickster causing doubt.

If the audience is asking ‘who-dunnit?’ the character archetypes may be blurring, and creating mystery, suspense or horror. A character can change archetypes at any time.

To write a comic story figure out the archetypes behind the story, and the story behind the character. Everything must always point towards and support the story.

Reference: Good Character Design, Bryan Tillman. Published by Taylor and Francis, 2012.


Published by

Shirley Burley

Artwork Craft Creative Writing Graphic Design Photography

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