Middle school was basically when I truly realized I wanted to be a visual artist. Or, better yet, when I really started trying. I doodle, scribbled and made sketches on whatever scrap of paper I had available, mostly during class. That I did before and continued to do… well, until today.
The peculiar thing about middle school is that it was the time I drew comics, quite a bunch of them.
The large majority of it were Pokémon comics, some of which I’ll probably come back to in the appropriate section. This is about one that wasn’t.
Eternal Glory- Raptor, the Guardian of Earth (2007)
While I did also draw a couple loose comic pages for the very first version of Dawning Bastards, I only completed one fully original comic at the time.
It was called “Gloria Eterna- Let Thy Power Free”, because of course I had to be edgy and use “thy” in the title. Those were the years I started to listen to epic metal, and it shows.
As was also the rule for my comics when I was 12, this one did not feature humans. Instead, it was a short fantasy action story featuring two antropomorphic animal characters, featuring the titular Raptor, Guardian of the Earth as the hero.
Original Story and Raptor Concept
The original comic starts with Raptor waiting in a desert called the Fulcrum Plain, crouched on a rocky pillar. By the way the place TOTALLY DIDN’T look like the token desert area with pillars in which a ton of DBZ fights take place, why do you ask?
He is waiting for the arrival of Aerostryx, an antropomorphic owl and Guardian of Air, who challenged him to a duel for control of the Plain itself. The reason, explained during the fight, is that Aerostryx wants control of a pillar located in the plain that has a powerful link to elemental energy of Air. However, the Fulcrum Plain is Raptor’s assigned territory, a place where Earth “energy lines” cross (I really liked what I understood of the concept of leylines at the time), and as Raptor states, Aerostryx already has a dominion of his, a crossing of Air energy lines.
Problem was that, as portayed in the story, Aerostryx was a bit of a greedy jerk. And obviously, since I wanted to draw an action story, Raptor was not the kind of guy to turn down a chance to settle a dispute via combat.
So they duke it out, and they do not hold back much. They fight is bloody and they go relatively hardcore for what’s supposed to be a non-lethal duel between two allies. I still love to have combat scenes between non-enemies in my stories, by the way, I find it an interesting opportunity.
In any case, there was plenty of back and forth. They fight with weapons, various kind of elemental powers, plus a lot of superhero-style mockery and bad puns while they’re at it.
I think I made Aerostryx’s puns more irritating/cringy on purpose, to drive the point home that, while not evil, he could be quite the jerk.
There also was a number of loosely physics-based exploits in the actions, some of which made some sort of sense in the intention (probably slightly more than the average superhero cartoon) but still are in the realm of superhero physics stuff whose primary purpose was to LOOK cool and smart.
Anyway, after a long and bloody fight, Raptor finally unleashes a devasting Earth Guardian magic combo and knocks down Aerostryx, which begrudgingly concedes the fight.
Last panel of the story is a smiling Raptor concluding that “It’s evident that what the angels assigned to each of us must remain ours.” That’s also the last bit of lore of that world presented by the story itself, outside of which there is not much remaining.
Basically the only other stuff that I know and is not mentioned in the comics directly is some other bit of info on the Element Guardians, 4 unique creatures that presided over sites of power linked to the classic 4 elements, apparently entrusted to them by the angels.
I used to avoid having deities explicitly present in my stories back then, let alone God, so angels where as far up the metaphysical ladder I went.
If and who was above angels is an open question, but still, that means the Guardians were a force of good, or at the very least protectors of the world. Aerostryx showed that serving good did NOT mean the Guardians were always super-nice people.
My memory is a bit fuzzy on some aspects of the remaining two Guardians. The Guardian of Water (or was it of the Sea/Ocean?) was a turquoise-skinned woman with piscine characteristics, and the one with the less animalistic appearance. Basically a pretty blue girl with fins. Think Ruto from Zelda, but with “fin hair” instead of the weird pyramid-fish extra eyed head. Why did she looked like that? Probably because I had a thing for mermaids since youth, and honestly, because pre-teen years.
The Fire Guardian was also a weird case because I distinctly remember imagining two characters tied to that role. Both were feline humanoids looking like gold-striped black panthers (yep, not tigers, for some reason, at least that’s how I remember it), one male and one female. I also remember the female one having dark red/reddish brown human-like hair, but I am NOT sure whether she had a panther like head like the guy or a more human head. If the latter was the case, again, pre-teen boy.
I also remember them being a couple. What I don’t know anymore is which one of them was the actual Guardian of Fire (maybe it was the male, then I thought of the woman to balance the group out, then I decided to keep both for…reasons?) or if they were both Guardians at the same time. I don’t even remember if I had decided at the time.
Both options would be weird because I am pretty sure the Guardians were supposed to be one-of-a-kind creatures. I am pretty sure there are no other lizard guys like Raptor roaming this world, which is presumably mostly inhabited by humans (some of which apparently can get powerful enough to face TWO of the only 4 or 5 angel-hired Element Guardians at once. Kudos), so how are there two similar beings related to the Fire Guardian role?
Was it split in two aspects of Fire? Was the Guardian of Fire somehow the only slot taken by members of a normal species with multiple individuals? Were all the guardians just ascended humans transformed by their role? Maybe one of the Fire couple is the Guardian and their lover found a way to gain the same form? I don’t know, and I don’t remember if I ever knew.
So… that was a fun dive back to something I did when I was 12. Then what?
What I still like, and the 2016 redesign
Well, the point is mainly that I still like that comic.
I like the characters, the atmosphere, the all-out action, the idea to tell stories centered on this small group of legendary Guardians that sometimes protect the world, sometimes fight each other, and sometimes are challenged by mortal champions that get so powerful that their feats inspire the Guardians themselves.
And most of all, I still love the concept of the main character, Raptor. I’m still very much the kid whose first dream job was to be a herpetologist, who grew on dinosaurs, dragons, Pokémon, Digimon and Gormiti (the original toys, I found the cartoon kind of crappy).
And then there were Spiderman comics, no way around the fact that original Raptor just IS a “Earth-bending” heroic fantasy take on Lizard. Like, what if Lizard wasn’t a villain but just the coolest of heroes?
So yeah, Raptor is pretty much my fanboy dreams on steroids. And I see no wrongs with that. A big strong lizard-person with a cool over-the-top arsenal and magical powers is just COOL. If nothing else, it can make for a silly awesome action fantasy character concept, and just a fun design exercise.
And even if I don’t know what will be of the world of the Element Guardians in the end, there’s simply no way I can just let him fade away, prisoner of old notebook pages. Why let childhood dreams die when they can just grow with you?
So the question is… how do I reboot this guy? What would Raptor look like, if I re-design him 13 years later (oh my, how OLD am I feeling right now)?
Well you’ll find out. I’m about to attempt it.
Actually, you saw I already did once, about 4 years ago during comics school. That 2016 sketch made with Autodesk Sketchbook was supposed to be the start of a first attempt at redesign, but I guess I was worse than today at finishing things. And besides, I wasn’t that happy with the results even back then. There are, however, a couple things I liked or learned doing it. I’ll go over them soon enough.
Setting a Goal
What I want here is to stay as true as possible to the core design concept, while expanding on the strengths of the design and rooting out or reworking weaknesses. I want to show that I can evolve the design, give it more personality and a more professional development, while still keeping the awesomeness I wanted to convey as a kid.
So, what’s the “Core Concept” of Raptor? Let’s go over what we know of him, to isolate key characteristics of the character.
–He is an anthropomorphic lizard.
In the comic, Raptor is a bipedal lizard, with the physique of a very muscular man, clawed humanoid hands and more reptilian clawed feet. He’s wholly covered in variously hardened scales and the original design features prominent plates on the head, small “horns” and spikes running down the neck, and a spined tail.
The comic is black and white, but Raptor was inspired by Spiderman’s lizard and regular common lizards, so the default color was supposed to be mainly green, with greyish platings on the top of the head.
–He is the “Guardian of Earth”.
Raptor has a clear role in the very structure of the world he inhabits, which gives him an established purpose, with duties (like watching over the balance of his element) and prerogatives, like ruling over the location most associated with said element. Which is typically a place where “leylines” of the appropriate elements cross.
This role is bestowed upon him by angels, which perhaps means he has to maintain himself worthy of being a Guardian. Aerostryx proves that this does not mean always being morally irreprehensible, though perhaps the virtues a Guardian needs to embody vary for each element. Beyond that, what exactly is entailed in “Guardianship” is an open question.
–He is probably a unique creature.
Besides the previously mentioned Fire Guardian conundrum, each Guardian was supposedly the only being of their kind in existence. This begs the question of their origin and how they became Guardians. Were they created to be such? Where they transformed into Guardians? Are there previous guardians to one or more of the elements? This is just scratching the surface.
Also related to this, Raptor presents himself as a decidedly male and masculine figure, but given is presumably unique nature, the degree itself to which he even has a sex or gender is an open question.
–He has unique weapons.
This one’s easy to figure, and only appropriate for a legendary Earth Guardian. In the original comic his main weapons were clawed gauntlets (with a sort of drill mode) and a transforming weapon that can be sword or chain-mace, while also having a belt pin “mode”. Neat. He is also drawn with an axe on its back but he never uses it, so there’s that. As for armor, the original design had a sort of skintight “shirt”, presumably of leather armor and He-Man like “slips”… yeah, Imma change THAT. Core thing is he uses very light armor, and his claws and morphing sword should be the main attraction.
–He can use Earth-related powers.
During the fight Raptor uses a variety of Earth-related magical abilities, with the “Earth element” being conceptually quite wide, encompassing stuff like plant control, soil/mineral manipulation and lava-based attacks. More on that later.
Occasionally, a rune-like Earth symbol is seen lighting up on his bracers and once even in its eyes while using such powers. It could be interesting to speculate to which degree this are powers tied to being the Guardian. Like, could he use the same powers if he somehow lost Guardian status?
He also can use some techniques or abilities (like the thing about reducing its mass to then burst out of the ice) that are probably not tied to Earth, but still require extremely advanced martial trainings and probably some supernatural resource. Also at one point he spits acid. I’m really not sure if that’s supposed to be his biology or an Earth power. I probably never knew.
–He is a heroic, honourable character, but also a primal creature.
Pretty self-explaining. In the original comic, Raptor appeared to be quite reasonable but certainly not one to turn down a challenge. Maybe he doesn’t resort to violence as the primary way to solve conflicts (in the comic he even makes one last attempt to dissuade Aerostryx mid-fight), but he definitely enjoys fighting AND fighting no holds barred.
In the comic he appears as a smart fighter that respects the strengths of opponents, does not only rely on brute force (which he gets plenty of since well, giant magical lizard) and his attitude about the territorial dispute with Aerostryx seems to indicate he values both fairness and duty.
However, he is also was not above lashing out in a rampage at his opponents, or viciously mock an adversary (even with some cringy or dad-joke level puns, in the original comic), and there are a couple moments in which he basically just goes “BIG LIZARD RAWWR SMASH, MWAHAHAHA!!”. However, he also seems to hold zero grudges once the fight is over. The end panel had him basically going “Heh, told ya. You chill now?” And I am pretty sure to him it’s over like that, past in the past.
Well, that sure is something to go with. Let’s get rebooting.
Sketch A- Lizard Revived
So, first and most apparent thing to go over is going to be physical appearance and looks. Spoiler alert: this is going to be the most substantial change.
Most of the rest, like weapon design and general rendition, is just a matter of adding personality and a better, more professional execution. But as for the way Raptor looks, we’re taking a new route.
Drawing an updated 1:1 rendition of Raptor’s original look, while probably a funny and bizarrely challenging exercise, won’t work for me. I think some parts (like the extremely pronounced head plates and quasi-horns) would look very weird, ending in something reminiscent of an He-Man character, a slightly altered old-school Lizard, or some other very old school cartoony big reptile. Something like the Lizalfos from Ocarina of Time, maybe.
I have the impression that this effect was somewhat mitigated by the very childish style of the original comic. And while there is nothing inherently wrong that in itself, it just doesn’t cut it for me in this occasion. I feel it’s not what I’m going for, and it’s a bit off target from how I pictured him in my head when first imagining him.
And so we come to the 2016 sketch, AND design A. Both of those go in the direction of staying as close as possible to the original design idea while not being 1:1 identical in every detail to the goofy proportions and appearance. They are big lizards with a regular green lizard colour scheme, and plated head. They also incorporate the light blue spots and some of the patterns those lizards have, which is probably the most original aspect of this iteration that I know of.
Seen plenty of green lizard men in fantasy, but the majority tends to be very crocodilian or iguana-like, and mostly fully green or with at most a different colour belly.
However, besides that fact… at his core, it’s still a regular anthropomorphic green lizard. Something one of my art teachers observed to me at the time of the 2016 sketch. If I recall correctly, he observed that to him that generic aspect made him look more like a regular member of a lizardfolk species rather than an unique creature.
Besides quality issues in the sketch, that comment stuck with me.
I do still have affection for the original conception, and I liked the idea of incorporating some cool elements of normal lizards that are rarely used in typical anthropomorphic reptilian characters. And as for his genericity, I somewhat liked even the weird contradiction between his sort of plain lizard look and the fact that he’s probably the only one in the world who looks like that.
Nonetheless, the observation makes sense, especially because a lot of similar character do exist out of universe. And also, he had his home in a desert in the original comic. While as “Guardian of Earth” he is probably at ease in a variety of environments, he probably wouldn’t hurt looking a bit more like a desert dweller, would he?
I still sketched design A, both because I wanted to take a shot at drawing him with the original idea at my current level, and to get a feel of the head proportion and geometry I wanted to use. Didn’t make the quasi-horns on this one either, and it’s probably for the best. I did one pencil sketch attempting that, and I don’t like the results much.
Also, A made me experiment with skin, making Raptor scalier with some bony short spikes and crests running down, instead of the relatively smooth skin implied in the original. It’s not bad, but still very much generic lizardfolk territory. So, where do we go for a new direction?
Design B- Bearded Dragon version
…and then, it hit me. Bearded dragons.
Still very much lizards, but they got the spikes, the desert dwelling and a rarely used distinctive element in the nominal beard. Let’s try that.
B1 and B2 came out, bringing a new, shorter skull anatomy, of which I like the feel, and that could somewhat help in expression. Head plating is somewhat both more pronounced and less intrusive, and this time I gave him actual distinct horns, which I think look nice, and conceptually recall the original while being less weird. I think I am going to keep the wide, strong neck to make him both bulkier and less humanoid. As for palette, I actually had the intention of making the switch to brown from the start, but still wanted to try out a greenish color scheme, in memory of the old times.
Brown and orange are kinda obvious for an Earthbending desert dweller, but they are so in an effective way, appropriate for the species, and I think it looks good. It also still less overused than green for this kind of character.
Also, Raptor is both a lizard AND gifted with magical power, so there’s really not much preventing us from deciding he’s got at least some degree of colour-changing capability. I’m gonna leave this possibility hanging here, just in case.
As for the “beard”,funnily enough those sort of “flaps” he has are probably due to me misinterpreting myself due to some time passing between the paper sketch and transition to digital. I think they look somewhat interesting and there are reptiles that have similar structures, but yeah, those can use some additional work. A friend of mine was not really enthusiastic about them, and he’s got a point.
Lastly, while I like the new eyes (I dig that “huge eye-socket with a lot of wrinkled scaly skin around the eye” look of some reptiles), they are way smaller than the original and as such harder to notice and express with. I don’t want to exactly replicate the old expression (which was kind of goofily funny and very cartoon lizard-like), but I wouldn’t mind trying other approaches.
First attempt after that was BB which is… really weird and funny looking, but did something right.
The original paper sketch was an attempt to both get closer to the bearded dragon model (B1 and 2 are still somewhat of a compromise with the old look) and to give him more prominent eyes. The first digital line sketch went ahead with the flap-beard, before I decided to course correct.
With coloured BB, I finally made a full attempt at using the actual spike beard. I also tried accentuating the design of the mout, both with protruding fang-like scales and actually exposed “canines” like the original and… yeah, I don’t like THAT very much, especially the teeth version. And the eyes DO look goofy on this one.
Howewer, I do like the armored scale structure on the shoulder, the idea of making the eyes at least somewhat bigger, the purple in the eye socket skin, and actually using the spike beard. So we come to design B3, which is the current head design.
For B3, I went back to B1 and 2 and integrated the overlapping, slightly raised shoulder scales from BB with the three bone “studs” from B 1-2, made the eye slightly bigger and included a spike beard of three partially distinct rows (which were a bit of a hassle to properly rotate around the skull).
I think this IS the right direction to go, but I still want to try some further adjustments, like seeing how does the beard look if made bigger, and trying to make the eyelids more similar to the ring-like ones of bearded dragons. Also, I’d like to think about whether or not I want to keep the spikes under the chin. I’ll try to get back to it when possible, and we’ll see if it brings other changes with it.
But for now, I think we are on track with the gist of Raptor’s new face… it’s time to look at our lizard’s pal body as a whole!
Fun fact: I really do not know why the pose sketched here has a shield. I sketched it very much on a whim while trying to make another rough sketch for the armor redesign, and just… put a shield there, only to look back at the comic and realized I got Raptor mixed up with Aerostryx, who actually HAS a shield on his back. The only thing Raptor actually carried on his back was the axe he never got to use, and that I’m probably cutting anyway.
As for the armor, we’ll get back to it later, but I do lean in the direction of having him mostly unarmored and mainly just wearing belts to carry weapons or gear. With how hard his scales probably are, the leather skin tight body he wore in the comic is probably useless in addition to looking… debatable. Not sure if he’s going to have pants in the end, too.
On the anatomy, as you can see leg design is the main concern here. I do lean towards humanoid legs just for posing and general shape reason, since it makes the upper body more prominent and imposing, but even the more reptilian legs might work with some adjustment of the proportions.
It probably will depend on how much I want to be able to draw hin kicking, running and climbing in a humanoid fashion, and on some more sketches.
As for the tail, I’m pretty sure I’m going with the bearded dragon reference once more, by making it armored in short sharp scales throughout the length instead of just having some long stegosaurian spikes at the end.
I think it would be both a more original, better looking approach and give weight to the tail as a whole. Regardless, I will still try to highlight the final segment of tail, even if just as a nod to the original.
So, this is what I have ready for now, but there is more in the works. Next up, we’ll talk weapons and armor, and I hope to soon have more material to show you. Raptor the Earth Guardian is coming back, piece by piece.
Thanks for keeping me company, in this journey to the past and back.