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King Warrior
Character Design

King Warrior was a passion project six years in the making, my first published graphic novel and a joy of a collaboration with authors Jay Bulckaert and Erika Nyyssonen.

It was also a project that produced a wealth of artwork which never saw the light of day — page after page of brainstorm sketches, moodboards and conceptual designs:


Concept Artist




For the main character Afrah, I drew inspiration from a number of sources … but the images that kept ringing in my head were Aang from The Last Airbender, and Oh Hyuk (lead singer from my favourite band, Hyukoh).

To help distinguish him from real world Afrah, we wanted fantasy world Afrah to wear a super-cool Arctic-themed war paint.

Afrah’s costume pulls inspiration from all over the world, from Viking furs and Korean Joseon-era armour, to traditional Somali warriors and contemporary Northern fashion.

Early colour tests for the book:

Afrah’s sword:

The final character designs for fantasy world Afrah (left) and real world Afrah (right).


When I first saw the script for King Warrior, the character of Kosugi immediately brought to my mind images of famous black cowboys like Nat Love and the more contemporary (and brilliantly-dressed) Ellis Harris.

In my mind he is the Gandalf to Afrah’s Bilbo Baggins.

Kosugi was all about finding balance. He is physically imposing, a renowned warrior and Afrah’s mentor — but he is also Afrah’s best friend and (at least in Afrah’s mind) sidekick.

I kept going back to pictures of prospector Keish (Skookum Jim) from the Klondike gold rush. His face has the self-assured gentleness of a man of great physical and mental stature. I wanted to capture that same aspect for Kosugi.

Author Jay Bulckaert, however, had a very specific person in mind when writing the character: his hero, master martial artist and 80s-ninja-movie superstar Sho Kosugi. (I suppose the name should have tipped me off).

Kosugi’s costume drew more directly from Japanese Samurai armour, with a long fur cape to give him a monolithically imposing silhouette.

Kosugi’s final design:


Afrah’s father works as a cabbie in Yellowknife, where he spends his spare hours drawing comics and writing stories to send back to his son in Somalia. In Afrah’s mind, he is the proud king of the mystical arctic kingdom of Jaÿrikas. He wears a crown of antlers and armour inspired by Korean Joseon warriors, but his sash and cape pull from traditional Somali textiles.


Guled is Awale’s best friend in Yellowknife, and a fellow cabbie.


Originally, the thug who appears in a pivotal scene of the book was meant to be a real-world analogue to the evil Samatar. My first few sketches of the character showed how he would look in the real world, as well as in the fantasy realm.

Even late in the process of illustrating the book, we were struggling to nail down the look of the character (option A ended up being the final design).


The jealous brother of King Awale, Samatar attempts a coup and is banished to the underworld where he mutates into the evil Water Dog.

Final Samatar design (inspired by Guled, because they are both sort of Afrah’s uncle):


Afrah’s mom was one of my favourite design challenges in the whole project. As ‘Queen Warsan’ in the fantasy kingdom of Jaÿrikas, her costume blended ‘arctic ice queen’ motifs (here’s looking at you, Jadis) with contemporary Somali textiles and colours.

Initial character design sketches:

Locking down the character design and some crown / headdress inspo.

In earlier drafts of the story, Queen Warsan had the ability to transform into a giant raven. Even though this plot element was eventually trimmed out, a raven-feather cloak survived all the way from my first round of costume sketches to the final designs.

Colour options for Warsan’s final costume designs:

Warsan’s headwear was a crucial part of her character design, and she sports several distinctive looks throughout the book. From to the simple hijab she sports at the end of the book in Yellowknife, to the regal shaash worn by Queen Warsan, she always projects patience and resolve.

Final Warsan character design:

You can find King Warrior at your local bookshop, or buy it online from Indigo or Amazon. Or get a signed copy from me!

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