Joseph Buehrer Character Designs

Joseph Buehrer is a close friend of mine and fellow OSU student who is majoring in graphic arts and digital artwork. Shortly after October of 2013 when Joe and I met for the first time, we began work on concept sketches for the characters. David Spada handled the monster and creatures of the story, while Joe, with the exception of the early Ankeerean concepts, concentrated his efforts on the human characters.

Originally intended as a graphic novel, these sketches were intended as references for those pages. Now that the project has transformed into a novel however, these pictures are proving useful for our illustration process.

Among one of the earliest sketches was the sinister Slight, River’s murderous uncle. The original likeness appeared as such. While very well drawn, it was not entirely appropriate for the character.

Sir William Shrunk - Copy

The reasons for that being that he appeared sinister already.

Slight is a member of the nobility, a revered hero adored by the people. As such, we both felt he should appear nobel, valiant, and so perfect as to appear sculpted. Just the kind of guy who would be the lead in a more conventional fantasy epic. In other words, a Disney Prince appearance.

Joe used Beast’s human form from Beauty and the Beast as our starting point, and this is what he came up with. Joe also designed Slight’s armor, a suit worthy of a famous hero.

Slight - Copy

In regards to the four side characters, a lot of work went into them. Though we wanted them to have distinct looks and attire, we didn’t want their costumes to define them. For these characters, in particular during the final sketches, a lot of work was put into their faces to give them a great sense of individuality.

First was Blondie, and intelligent orc with prolific careers in teaching, history and archeology. Blondie is an intelligent orc, so finding the balance between someone beastly and civilized was a challenge. An early sketch shows Blondie in a very relaxed state. Joe felt that while she always tried to make herself beautiful, but never shied away from her roots.


The first illustration of Blondie the orc from the Never Heroes fantasy book series. In these early sketches, the female orc wore a headband.

The following sketch was a step in the right direction, removing the headband and putting a greater emphasis on her body and build. Her face was also made a bit more beastly as to bring her a little closer to a classic orc. The contrast of her character with her appearance made her more interesting.

However, she still appeared too beastly, so this design was later scrapped.

Blondie 2 - Copy

For the final appearance for the character, Joseph started from a classic orc and restrained it a little at a time until he came up with someone who appeared well groomed and professional. Slicking back Blondie’s hair and giving her more school appropriate attire, the end result was this, and it is so far one of his favorite designs.


The scholarly female orc from the novel Never Heroes, Professor Graga Kelpla, known as “Blondie’ to her friends and associates.

Hunter, the wizard and comic relief of the story, was a challenge.Everyone knows what an elf looks like. Slender. Pointy ears. Perfect features. Slick hair. So how to make Hunter look at least a little different from other elves was the main focus. An early sketch showed him posing on a tree, and defiantly appears more like the classic idea of an elf.

Hunter 1 Contrast Correct - Copy

On later sketches, we decided to make his hair brown or black as opposed to the usual blond or white. The first sketch showed a battle wounded Hunter, while the second was decided on for the basis of the character’s final look.

Hunter 2 and 3 - Copy

For the final sketch, little variation from the previous look was required. He was given light clothing and his staff was added into the picture as a reference. Both of us are quite happy with the final product.


Hunter ‘Sparks’ Nightshadow, an elven wizard and friend of the Major’s. One of the secondary characters in the novel Never Heroes.

The Ankeereans were also a chore to churn out.

Simply being large snakes, making the serpents’ faces appear somewhat expressive and perhaps even a little human was difficult.

More work will be done on them in the future, though these first sketches do show a more creative angle to the design, especially the folds on the top of the head.

Glaive 1 Contrast Correct - Copy

Major Celice Arietta was quite difficult not only for the design of her armor and weapons, but also finding an appropriate face for her. As she was written as a tough, gruff and hardened soldier who had a fair amount of bodies under her belt, her face had to reflect her character.

The character of Vasquez from Aliens was used as the starting point for the face.


This first sketch was a design concept for Celice’s armor. Many elements of this design were carried over into her final look, though the tassel was removed. Her lethal katara were given a very distinct hook, making the punching knives appear even deadlier.

Celice Early Sketches

The sketches of the face were done along with a picture of Celice’s body in order to give a better feel for her build.

The sketch gave Joe a better idea of her basic shape, and allowed him to skulpt the armor on top of her, as opposed to going from the armor in. Her features captured her personality perfectly.

Celice is not a woman to be taken lightly.

Celice 1 - Copy

At my request, her hair was lengthened, but still made to be disorganized and slightly tangled in appearance. Celice does not concern herself with appearing pretty, so she lets it go.

Celice Corrected Hair - Copy

The final sketch was this one, which shows her armor and her bandolier of crossbow bolts prominently. Her two main weapons, hand crossbow and one of her katar knives are both shown in high detail. Her face also appropriately reflects her character’s personality. Celice was one of the first characters we designed, but also one of the last to complete.


The final concept art for Major Celice Arietta, one of the supporting characters in Never Heroes.

The most challenging character to finish was that of River. The character is not very detailed in appearance and doesn’t have a lot of parts to his costume like Celice and Blondie do. Instead, his character is one of subtlety.

His name should make it obvious. He is a tribute to the late actor River Phoenix of Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and My Own Private Idaho. His features were sculpted based on the actor.

River PhoenixRiver Face 1 - Copy

For his costume, River’s past was taken into account. He is a street kid who had not grown up in a steady home. Shortly after meeting Zhyx, the dragon does get him some new clothing due to not being able to stand the smell, but the attire had to be appropriate for extensive work outdoors.

Aside from his late mother’s morning star, River travels light. He does not wear armor and choses his clothing based on what allows easy and quick movement, and not a lot of weight to carry. The first result was this. This costume was interesting, in particular the arm bracers meant to make handling his weapon much easier. Still, we were not quite satisfied with it.

River Full Body 1 - Copy

For the final design of the character, he was given even lighter clothing with the arm bracers removed. His boots were also made to be more sturdy in appearance. Finally, the look of his hair was completely changed, shortened and slightly slicked backwards. His morning star was also shrunk down in order to make his handling of it more credible.


Final concept art for River the Flatlander, the secondary hero of the Never Heroes fantasy adventure novel series.

These sketches concluded the concept art stage of Joseph’s work, and they have proven instrumental in keeping the illustrations moving along at a brisk pace.

Joe is a passionate and dedicated worker. Though graduate school and his own projects have been taking up a lot of time, he still works hard and dedicates whatever time he can to this project. The early days of making these sketches were in many ways the most enjoyable for both of us, and now with the project in full swing, everyone involved is putting in their time. As you are well aware, his completed illustrations are breathtaking.


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