“It’s never a serious moment,” says illustrator and chibi artist Shiela Larson. “It’s always to accentuate someone’s emotions. A character that got upset at another character in a silly way would turn into a chibi.” The sudden transformation of a normal character into an emotional caricature can be narratively jarring, but that’s also part of the humor and effect. “I always imagine characters in a huff, like in a weird aside that’s almost outside of the plot,” says Stanton.
Chibi versions of characters also show up as fourth wall–breaking versions of characters, providing meta-humor and commentary on the plot, much like when a character in a movie or TV show turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience. This happens in print too. In manga, whole sections of the comic book are sometimes dedicated to chibi characters. “Sometimes there’s a full-page spread, and chibi characters will be superimposed over the panels,” says Stanton. “Often, there are a few pages of chibi characters at the end of the issue talking about what just happened in the volume.” In these cases, chibi characters are speaking both as themselves and also as caricatures of themselves.
Drawing chibi characters.
Chibi is, first and foremost, about finding features in a character that you can enlarge and accentuate. That nearly always includes wide, childlike eyes and large, expressive mouths, but when you want to turn a character into a chibi version of themselves, look at everything about their character design.
“Find exaggerations for characters,” says Larson. “If someone has a bow in their hair, make it the same size as their head. If you give them a sword, make it a really big sword. Everything needs to be oversized except for the body.” A chibi body is generally the same size or half the size of a character’s head. Most comic book characters are about six heads tall, but chibi figures are usually two or, at the very most, three heads tall.