When comic creators are asked about their chosen medium, a common reply is that creating comics is like making a movie with an infinite budget. That being the case, comic artists do not get enough credit from the general public for the way they must perform as casting director, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, editor, and special effects supervisor for each and every panel.
In terms of casting, characters can be drawn somewhere on a scale from basic happy face dots and curves to something approaching photorealism. These comic players must communicate the story and connect emotionally with the reader. While the superheros of mainstream comics may be delineated by bold wardrobes, I've found it to be much more challenging and rewarding to bring an identity to an ordinary person.
In the case of the Oni Talent Search, writer Antony Johnston included detailed descriptions of his principal characters in the panel text of his sample script. Here's what he had to say about the lead female of the sequence:
This is LORRAINE BROUGHTON, also an MI6 officer. Lorraine is in her late 30s, with long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. She's very average-looking, neither attractive nor unattractive; exactly the sort of nondescript features that suit a spy. Lorraine is dressed conservatively, in a below-the-knee skirt, blouse, overcoat and low-heeled shoes, with a scarf wrapped around her neck against the November chill. She carries a satchel-style shoulder bag.
Without ever having talked with Antony, that's all I had to go by.
Below, you can see the progression of some of my sketches that helped me arrive at the design I finally went with.
Drawing 1: There's a tip in the old "How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way" guide that the more lines you add to a woman's face, the older she will appear. This seems self-evident, but you can descend down that path pretty quickly as you try to add detail. Although I like how the first drawing seems hard and no-nonsense, she appeared to be too old and lean for Antony's description of Lorraine.
Drawing 2: I had experimented with the idea of drawing the test in a more graphic, geometric style. Like a Euro-Dick Tracy. Again, this did not feel like Lorraine to me with these teen model, spider monkey proportions. It's as if Jennifer Garner were playing the part. Nice, but no Lorraine.
Drawing 3: The sample script clearly places the action in England and Berlin and I always thought it would be best if the characters actually looked English. Artist Alex Maleev was one of the first artists I saw capture the Russian ethnicity of Marvel's Cold War anti-heroine The Black Widow (now played by Scarlet Johansen). Alex often uses photo-reference for his characters. For Lorraine, I cast English actress Emily Mortimer. She's the right age and appearance.
I decided that this third drawing was the proper degree of likeness and abstraction and was "non-descript" enough but would be someone I'd want to look at over the course of an entire graphic novel.
Now, it's up to the reader (and Oni) to decide if it works for them and the story...