Most character artists haven’t spent enough time learning the basics. You have to learn the rules before you can break them succesfully, i.e. learn basic anatomy before trying to make a six-armed alien-reptile muscle-man who is also a time-travelling space-marine.
Simblet and Davis’s Anatomy for the Artist: This is the book that I come back to time and again. The photographs are fantastic, the models are all superhuman, and the author does a great job of explaining how the body fits together. She is a master of anatomy, and clearly and thoroughly describes each section of the body. Rules for proportions are laid out and the author runs through her process of creating her figures. If you buy only one anatomy book, this is it.!
Next is Burne Hogarth’s Dynamic Anatomy. This is an old book, but it’s still in print – that should tell you a lot about the quality of Hogarth’s work! The content is still very relevant, especially for 3D artists. Hogarth breaks the human figure down into geometric shapes, creating practical guidelines for building characters by starting with standard primitives. His anatomy is often exaggerated and stylized, but most importantly, it is dynamic and very fun to look at. The guy draws hands that look like machines, very cool.
How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way
by comic legends John Buscema and Stan Lee. This book was a big influence on me, I wish I had read it earlier in life. Buscema is a very versatile artist, and this book spends a lot of time describing character creation. But time is also spent discussing movement and how to pick the most interesting poses possible. It sounds simple, but I feel like almost every artist and animator I’ve taught could benefit a lot from the tips in this book. Marvel Comics exploded in the 60s for two reasons – an interesting new take on superheroes (Marvel humanized them), and fantastic art. This book lays out the secrets of that success.
Anatomy, dynamism, and creation are only one half of creating characters. The other half is actually making an interesting character.
For that, I recommend New York Look Book: A Gallery Of Street Fashion. These are photographs of people walking down the street in NYC, they are all really put together and look larger than life (don’t let the hippie on the cover fool you). These are characters, the kind of person an audience immediately connects with and wants to learn more about. And these people do it with clothes, off a rack. They don’t have any space-armor or magic swords or muscley-spandex or any of the usual visual tricks that are used instead of creating actual characters.