How to make the environment the protagonist

In this article we will show you guidelines and tips from great drawing artists, to make the environment, the main character of the stories.

Of course, they take reality and alter it, creating, for example, unique scenarios.

Don’t miss the secrets that these great artists reveal today in TFC.

Stop at each of them, and read on!

But then how do you make the environment the protagonist?

These artists have made the setting the main character of their stories.

When we create our comics, we usually imagine them from characters that will guide the story.

In most comics, the one who drives the game is a character that the reader encounters issue after issue, adventure after adventure.

However, there is another way of thinking about a plot, and it is the one explored by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters in their Dark Cities project.

Dibujo que muestra: Cómo hacer que el entorno sea el protagonista

In this series of fantasy comics, which began in 1983 and continues to this day, the story revolves around different scenarios of an imaginary continent located in a parallel world.

Let’s take a look at some of the strategies used by the authors to create fabulous scenarios.

First: Taking the city as a unit

For the authors, the setting is not a secondary element, but rather, from it, the whole narrative is organized.

A city is what gives each story its unity. In the case of Dark Cities, the settings are entirely fictional, but they could certainly be set in a parallel universe.

Imagine Gotham City, it doesn’t really exist, but we could think of another dimension in which it could have taken place. It is indisputable that its aesthetics is determinant to narrate the adventures of the bat-man.

For Schuiten and Peeters, the city must create the atmosphere, and must also suggest the general tone of the story.

For example, in one of their scenarios, everything is circular and enveloping, in every detail of the story. However, in another story, everything is square. We can even see that the plot develops in a more mathematical way.

The importance of linking the environment and the plot

Cómo hacer que el entorno sea el protagonista, dibujo informativo

The authors thought the idea of the style of the city, and the type of story, almost at the same time. It is fundamental to think that, for a certain type of story, a certain scenario is imposed.

What they decided was to choose the environment that best adapted to the development of the narrative plot they wanted to tell. Therefore, they did not start by looking to create spectacular or aesthetic and beautiful cities, but rather, contexts that help to give the desired meaning to the story.

Creating a coherent space is fundamental

Once you choose the type of universe you will develop, Schuiten and Peeters recommend nurturing it. To do so, we will give it as much credibility as possible.

You must imagine a coherent space, that is to say, that the characters move and react as easily as if it were a real city.

Pay attention to the following tips, from these great authors, so that your scenario has coherence!

An important aspect is to take reality and alter it.

We can develop a universe just different from the one we know. Take elements from it to make your own.

Schuiten and Peeters imagine what would have happened if there had been a temporary defect, that is, if instead of evolving in the direction we know, architecture and technology had just deviated from a certain state to follow a direction that was not taken in reality.

Think of a world that would have continued to build Eiffel Towers everywhere… You’ll get a shocking new scenario, won’t you?

entorno de desastre, dibujo futurista

Don’t forget to radicalize historical trends

Researching historical trends can be a great tool to create a coherent space.

Schuiten and Peeters started by working with futuristic objects conceived in the past.

Futuristic projects from around 1900 imagined cities of the future. In this way, and even curiously, they gave a lot of information about the time in which they were made.

A clear example, Verne, imagined the trip of a rocket to the moon inspired by what already existed: a projectile ejected by a cannon!

Authors built on these imaginings and radicalized them to the extreme.

Learn to develop encompassing styles

The settings must have a total presence in the plot. Schuiten and Peeters imagined their cities based on encompassing movements such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

They had a global vision and wanted to involve all levels of reality.

They were not only interested in architecture, but also in all the objects that could be taken into consideration, such as wardrobes, tableware, furniture, etc.

When these styles did not give the authors the information they needed, they simply resorted to others nearby.

You have to keep in mind that what is important in this type of story is not historical accuracy. What is important, for example, is an architectural environment favorable to the script, which is present in each of its corners.

Environments of power, story settings

entornos de poder escensarios impactantes

Encompassing styles were used by various authoritarian regimes for the purpose of doing a management job. People were to feel crushed by the monumentality of the architecture and the presence of the style in every corner of the city.

They relied on these “power styles” because they suggested theatricality, i.e., they were excellent stages for ideas.

In the Dark Cities stories , the characters have very strong relationships with power, as they are dominated by the stage, and by an authority, to which they must react.

The strong presence of the scenario in a story generates interesting questions such as: What element can disturb that authority? Is it possible to fight against that scenario?

dibujo de escensario de historieta


In this article you have been able to observe the secrets of these great authors, if you read their comics you will realize perfectly how they were used.

As we mentioned during the article, do not forget to relate the environment and the plot, as well as to investigate historical currents, in this way, you will create formidable scenarios for your stories.

These are some of the secrets and strategies used by Schuiten and Peeters to make the scenery the main character of the story.

We invite you to read their comics and see how these secrets provided by the authors were used.

Of utmost importance: imagine your own universes, and create fabulous stories!


Dialogue between Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters, Totem magazine n°33, Rome, Nuova Frontiera, 1984. Edited in Historieta para Sobrevivientes, Carlos Scolari, Buenos Aires, 1999.

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