When Bill Watterson first drew Calvin, his haircut covered his eyes. An editor suggested combing that hair back. Watterson saw the logic in this immediately. The best way to see a character’s expression, his mood, his intent, is in his eyes. How much can you know about someone whose eyes you never see?
When I designed Carver the owl, I tried giving him a mouth. The inherent problem was that his beak is his mouth. It looked about as weird as you think it would. Like a person in an owl suit.
Over the years I’ve expanded Carver’s expressions mainly using his eyes. Normally almond-shaped, they widen in disbelief and narrow in anger. But I’ve discovered that, even though his beak looks much better closed than open,* there are still possibilities for expression.
His beak gets curvier the more agitated Carver gets:
When Carver is happy or cocky, his beak tilts slightly:
Here’s a good progression. Carver starts off very agitated, then gets more complacent. His beak slowly loses its curve:
I also like this particular strip because you get to see the pupils in Pam’s eyes.
These are probably things you ought to think about before you settle on the character designs for your comic strip, but I prefer to figure this stuff out as I go. Fortunately none of my characters in Falling Rock have required a complete makeover; I just change a few details over time and hope nobody’s paying attention.
*It’s too bad Carver’s beak looks so weird open. That makes it harder to draw him eating something. I also realized it’s hard to draw Carver puckering to kiss, but I guess that’s okay because real birds don’t kiss. Or do they?