When Uptown Girl was a monthly comic series, I created a lot of characters. It gave me a chance to introduce new villains and bad guys whenever I wanted. It was a lot of fun. Some characters struck a chord with readers (Chesspiece Face as a popular one, which really surprised me) and some seem to be a dud (I still like Halloweenhead). Now that I think of it very few villains had a back story. They just showed up, ruined Uptown Girl’s day, and went away. Some characters returned, some did not.
One character I really liked was the King of Birds. He showed up in (I think) issue 19 of the series. Typical of Uptown Girl bad guys, he didn’t have an origin or anything like that. In the story, he was using his ability to talk to birds and having them steal stuff. Uptown Girl found her way back to his lair, outsmarted him and he ended up going to jail. Boom. Done.
I liked him. He was creepy. The lack of back story was intentional this time. I liked the idea of some mysterious guy just showing up with no explanation. I always wondered where he came from and what his deal was. At first, he wasn’t meant to be an evil wizard, however. When I first started thinking about the King of Birds, I originally imagined him being some fat, delusional man who sat in the park and made the geese chase people away. I had no idea where the story would go, but it was sort of inspired by my sisters being chased by a Canadian goose when they were out for a run. Did you know the proper term for them these days is Canada goose? We’re leaning these things TOGETHER.
I couldn’t really come up with a story that I liked for this character, so I scrapped this idea. But there was something about a guy who could talk to birds that I liked and kept trying to come up with an idea for him. I remembered there was a character in the 1980’s version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon called the Rat King. He was some guy living in the sewers who could talk to rats. But the thing that stuck with me about this guy was that he was completely insane. He truly believed that the sewers were his kingdom and the rats were his servants.
Soon the King of Birds wasn’t a fat guy in the park, he became a creepy villain who lived in a tower. He looked pretty different that the other bad guys who appeared in the comic. He was tall, thin and a wide, toothy, creepy smile. In a way, he was inspired by the Joker and the Sandman, I suppose. I always liked the King of Birds, and I wanted to do more with him. Once I made the change from monthly stories to annual graphic novels, I realized I could reinvent certain characters. The first book reinvented the Walrus and Mr. Roboto, and I wanted to tell a new story about the King of Birds. Inspiration for the new King of Birds came from a few different sources, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and pictures of doctors from the middle ages. During the time of the black plague, physicians would wear these creepy bird masks. They wore them for two reasons. They would stuff the beak part of the mask with herbs and other things to protect them from the disease. The other reason is they believed the plague was caused by evil spirits and the mask would frighten the spirits away. Creeeeeeeeeepy.
The new King of Birds went through a few changes as the story changed. In the original story from the monthly comic, he was an old man who didn’t move much. I thought about de-aging him a bit and making him more active. I thought about having him perch in trees watching Uptown Girl and her friends. I thought this was pretty creepy and play up bird-like characteristics and make him more supernatural. I came up with a new design for him inspired by the physicians mask and cloak. I liked this design a lot. I decided not to use it…and I wish I could remember why. I do remember these was a very good reason why I didn’t…but I’ve been working on this book for so long that I can’t recall.
Anyway, I like how he turned out in the final book. He doesn’t appear that much in the book, but to be honest. In the end, yes, but what I was going for in the book was capturing his ominous presence when he wasn’t around.