Sometimes, comic artists are famous (or, more likely, infamous) for having very little differentiation among their characters.
Excellent artists, though, can create a vast array of physiques and faces for characters, thus making them easily distinguishable from each other; these artists are masters of character design, or so it seems...
It's only until you get to the artist's collected works that you realize that he is halfway cheating — using some of the same characters over and over again, in different works, as though they were "actors" playing "roles."
This doesn't always detract from an artist's work, however, as this is often done purposefully when one character in a story plays a similar role as they did in an earlier one; in fact, knowing that this is the artist's style can greatly help the audience identify The Hero, The Big Bad, and everyone in-between by their "actor." It also offers the potential to have an "actor" Play Against Type.
Such troupes are what are known as "Star Systems": a collection of Animated Actors who play different "roles" in different "productions," just as Real Life actors would. In fact, this used to be the way it worked in Hollywood; actors would be signed to a studio, not a production, and would appear in production after production with the studio's other stars. Taken far enough, this might be a Virtual Celebrity.
Note that this trope falls much more towards the Cast of Snowflakes end of the character design spectrum, trying to shy away from Only Six Faces. While a body of works of a particular artist may have reused designs over the course of several works, each individual work tends to be a Cast of Snowflakes; conversely, multiple works of an artist featuring characters who all look alike simply reinforces the notion of Only Six Faces.
Compare Universal-Adaptor Cast, which is much more explicit that these are the same characters in a different setting.
- One of the Protegent commercials features Proto mentioning the Protegent software's data recovery features to a man whose computer has crashed. The latter character uses the exact same design as the former, but with a mustache and an orange-colored work suit.
- Alex Ross. The problem arises when you realize Mitchell Hundred looks kinda like Starman...
- Robert Crumb does this a lot, openly and without irony. Sometimes this is highlighted on the opening page of a strip, with names and thumbnail portraits of the characters appearing. It can be a little jarring when more "cartoony" characters (e.g., dots for eyes, Cheeky Mouth) appear in their original styles alongside more "realistic" ones.
- Mickey Mouse Comic Universe:
- European Mickey Mouse comics do this in-Universe. Several comics are about Goofy telling Mickey about his draft for his new novel (Goofy is an amateur writer in those comics), in which the main character always looks like Goofy, his sidekick or occasional Decoy Protagonist always looks like Mickey, and if there is going to be a villain, he will look like Pete.
- They also play this trope straight, using the same method the old cartoon shorts do of putting Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (and their supporting casts) in different roles. Some of these roles are recurring, resulting in multiple comic universes, where Mickey might play a wizard in a fantasy world, a hard-boiled noir detective, or a Tintin-like modern day adventurer.
- Lampshaded in the detective stories, which sometimes began with Mickey sitting down in a movie theater to watch himself play a private eye.
- Jason Shiga has a handful of different characters that appear across his various works. For a particularly odd example, the main character and his love interest in Empire State appear in his most recent work, Demon as a father and daughter (sort of. It's complicated).
- Gary Larson did this in The Far Side. Lampshaded in one comic, where he goes over all of his "actors", including the cow, the nerdy kid, and the woman with glasses and a beehive hairdo. Note that while they all appear in a single work, they're usually seen in different roles.
- Gustav (or Gustavus) from the series of the same name reappears as Uncle Oscar in the Hungarian cartoon Mézga család in brief speaking roles, voiced by the same actor who had supplied his grunts in the original shorts. The only differences between them apart from the names are Oscar's bushy beard and upbeat demeanor.
- Attila Dargay from Pannonia Film Studio reused some of his character designs for Lúdas Matyi in his later movies. Jónás, the protagonist of Treasure of Swamp Castle looks like a twin of Matyi himself, whereas the geese in Vuk the Little Fox look nearly identical to Matyi's goose sidekick.
- Disney Animated Canon
- Some of the earlier Disney films were pretty guilty of this, particularly the use of Bambi's mother in The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Rescuers and Beauty and the Beast.
- In The Jungle Book, the Jungle Patrol elephants are based on the elephants from the animated short Goliath II. The elephant Colonel Hathi is based on the elephant Goliath I.
- In Robin Hood, Sir Hiss resembles Kaa in The Jungle Book. Prince John resembles King Leonidas in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The most blatant example is Little John, basically Baloo from The Jungle Book with clothes, different fur color and hands instead of paws.
- In The Great Mouse Detective, Basil resembles Water Rat of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
- Some Disney movies and shows do this intentionally as Shout Outs to earlier films, such as a beaver in Lady and the Tramp resembling Gopher from Winnie-the-Pooh, as well as the Old Lady Squirrel in The Sword in the Stone, and a gopher appearing in an episode of Goof Troop. The design of the Little Girl Squirrel in The Sword in the Stone resembles Chip 'n Dale. A fairy resembling Tinkerbell appears among the Fair Folk in The Black Cauldron.
- The Weasels in How to Be a Detective, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Prince and the Pauper, DuckTales (1987), House of Mouse and the Toon Patrol in Who Framed Roger Rabbit are similar to the Weasels in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
- Anna and Elsa from Frozen have similarities to Rapunzel of Tangled, however just how similar is a point of contention with fans.
- A toddler seen in Ralph Breaks the Internet bears heavy resemblance to baby Moana. The fact her name is "Mo" is Disney acknowledging this.
- Gaston in Beauty and the Beast is Brom Bones from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
- Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was touted as a step forward animation in that they could take the near photo-realistic character models and reuse them in future films, particular was the main character Aki Ross, taking Animated Actors to the real world. The underwhelming performance of the film nixed the idea.
- Terry Pratchett tends to use his Discworld version of Death in his other books; there's subtle variations depending on the culture being represented, but Death will always have his characteristic accent.
- In Alice in Wonderland's sequel Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll included the characters Hatta and Haigha, who acted a lot like the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The Tenniel illustrations are very much the Hatter and the Hare in new costumes; Hatta is even wearing the Hatter's topper with its advertising card.
- In the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, a bit-part alien "poet" was represented by a CGI alien design that had previously been used for the Villain of the Week in the Torchwood episode "Greeks Bearing Gifts". Presumably this was a less criminal member of the species.
- Shows featuring Muppets tend to reuse puppets from previous shows a lot. Since shows like Sesame Street, productions starring The Muppets, The Animal Show, and Mopatop's Shop require an awful lot of one-shot characters, it's usually much easier to just recycle a puppet from another production than build a new one. Here is a list of all of the puppets that have been recycled.
- BLACK ROSE, the second "season" of Kotonoha Project, reuses all of the designs from the first season and puts them into a western Victorian mystery setting instead of the Urban Fantasy they were in before.
- David Gonterman has a few he loves to recycle... most, scratch that, all of them are some form of self insert.
- Scarlet Foxfire - The sentient alien/biomechanical fursuit.
- Jim Goodlow - Appears as a cartoonist once, the other time as a Straight Gay cop. He's the guy in Scarlet.
- Adam Packbell - A magical boy, teen or young man whose powers either come from Magic: The Gathering-esque spells, or being a Lost Boy. He usually has a coffee addiction and a fetish for robot girls.
- Pippikin - A bunny fursuit much like Scarlet. He typically appears as a villain who takes over the minds of his hosts and engages in sexual debauchery, but has one incarnation where he's good.
- Davey/Eric/Etc Crockett - The standard self-insert of infamy. Typically ends up thrown into another world, and becomes Mighty Whitey or a furry or both.
- There's also an android Sex Bot that he reuses with a variety of names.
- Some of the main characters of Cuanta Vida will have small parts in the author's next comic, This Is the Worst Idea You've Ever Had!!, which, in turn, has revamped characters from her first (abandoned) comic, The Rift.
- Most of them are also focus characters for Sin Pararse.
- Characters in Ryan Armand's various comics tend to look very much alike, possibly due to Generic Cuteness.
- Some of the demons' designs in My Best Friend Marneao were previously used in Sea Snail Studio's other work, Salvatore. According to El Autor in his twitter, they are actors, similar to Tezuka's famous star system.
- In Arthur, King of Time and Space, several character designs are recycled from the artist's earlier fanfiction comics. The Arthurian power trio are based on the power trio from Star Trek: The Original Series: Arthur is Kirk with a beard and without a toupee, Lancelot is Spock as a human, and while Guinevere doesn't look much like McCoy her father does. Merlin is the First Doctor with a Wizard Beard. Galahad is Superman. The irreverent Sir Dinadan is based on Hawkeye Pierce.
- My Mamma is In Burned is Out!: The six science lovers who show up to give arguments are nearly identical to the one who proposes "Burned", only the former wear shirts with "I [realistic heart] SCIENCE" and the latter has "I [heart on fire] ARSON".