Note: It's safe to assume that everything in this journal is not a scientific fact, but personal advice from an artistically opinionated person.
Insight belief number one: everything you create is a result of everything you absorb. Artistic inclination holds a similar weight to the Law of the Conservation of Mass or "equivalent exchange" meaning absolutely nothing is created or destroyed, simply reconstructed.
What the universe was born with is what it's had since the beginning. That's it, and the same goes with art. There is nothing new; everything is only mutilated beyond recognition and rebuilt to become original in the hands of the creator.
What is "SFS?" I'm not aware if it's an officially accepted term somewhere or not, but it's something I call "Same-Face Syndrome." Are you ever reading a comic or watching a cartoon and (at some point) get confused because you mistake one person for another? This is more likely to happen in comics, particularly manga, and happens when there's a lack of visual difference between the characters among other factors.*
Here, I'm going to be focusing mainly on the face and head because as a comic artist, that's 90% of what the reader should be seeing. You might be untalented in character design if your characters look strikingly similar to someone else's work and/or you have trouble straying from a particular set of features. Try new things and get uncomfortable! Draw ugly features and see where it goes...
Every person is visually different but we don't usually think about it (because honestly, there's no reason to). Practice using people in real life by comparing two faces side by side and noting exactly what the difference between the two are. It's the extreme slight differences that separate people: how long or wide the face is, how big or small a feature is, shapes of said features, how far apart said features are, and so on.Adjustability
of individual facial features (based loosely on my own style):
Ears: (none, regarding human characters)
Personally I've come to realize that, of all things, the mouth is what I most look forward to drawing. You can convince me that the eyes and the eyebrows are the most important vessels of expressiveness, but the whole mood is never ever felt until the mouth is put on there. Positive or negative? It's all totally ambiguous until you draw it.
There is no limit whatsoever when it comes to design, but within your own style, there should be established standards between what's enough and what's too much. If I'm reading a comic like Peanuts
I don't expect a character like Sailor Moon to walk into the scene and expect to be taken seriously. It would be too corrupting to the established universe and perplex my emotions.
For a personal example, I have two comics. The Silhouette Shore
is a creepy mystery that takes place in a mid-1800s western town. To suit its tone and setting, I've decided to use a consistently "sketchy" drawing style to help convey its emotions. Djinn Hearts
is a spiritual fantasy-like story that takes place in ancient Japan. As a homage to my grand manga influences, there are a lot of traces of an anime style but it doesn't go all the way. In fact, it is my only comic where the characters have colored irises.
As a broad topic with an immense amount of flexibility, those are my main tips on designing characters. If you like the language I'm speaking, feel obligated to ask more specific questions and I will answer!
*However, in manga and anime, this is mostly due to the culture and style of the medium. Some may have a better ability to differentiate the characters than others, I'm just using manga as a general example. I apologize but confusion can happen to the best of us dummies. By "other factors," what I had in mind is the fact that most comics are colorless.