Aug 26 2009
Many first-time comic book writers mistakenly think that it’s okay to give their character bland costumes and let other factors make up for it. While other aspects contribute to the overall success of a superhero, the costume is critical because it’s the first thing a reader sees. Don’t blow your only chance at a first impression by making your hero look like a bum. Here are some tips to design effective and stylish costumes.
1. Keep it functional. When a costume doesn’t feel practical, it will probably make the character seem less realistic and/or competent. For example, if your hero wears a large cape, it’d be hard to believe that he never gets caught on anything. And if it doesn’t, the character may come off as a Mary Sue.
2. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to let your creativity flow when designing a costume. If you have a idea for something that could be interesting try to work it into the costume without compromising functionality. Personally, I prefer to start with an outrageous costume then take away until I find balance. Play with colors, patterns, styles, layers, and accessories until you find the perfect costume exhibiting style and functionality, but…
3. Keep in mind that an artist has to repeatedly draw the costume. It’s fun to go all out, but don’t overwork your artist. If the costume is too hard to repeat, the artist might try to make up for that extra time by putting less work into the rest of the page. Additionally, if he’s a freelancer, he will probably expect more money. Fortunately, there’s usually a middle ground where you can have what you want without overworking the artist. It usually helps if you keep the accessories to a minimum—focus on the ones that matter. Finally, make sure that you consult with your artist.
4. Make sure your colors and shades contribute to the feel of the costume. Each color has its own feel and different shades can accentuate that feel. Light colors make the hero feel more heroic and bold like Superman or Spiderman. Conversely, darker colors create a darker and edgier feel like Batman or The Punisher. Alternatively, rich colors like deep purples suggest sophistication or regality, while bright colors like fluorescent yellow or orange suggest youth and energy.
5. Make your accessories and extra clothing iconic. If you include accessories in an outfit, make them memorable. Even if you prefer minimalist costumes, the right accessory can take it from bland to stylish. For example, when Batman is portrayed in comics (particularly on covers), artists tend to focus on his cape. It flows and whips, which adds to the dark and creepy feel of the character and his stories. My character, Showtime, sports a vest and white gloves over a futuristic body suit to accent his individualism and showmanship.
Common accessories include capes, shades/goggles, belts/utility belts, gauntlets, sashes, etc. Some experimental accessories include scarves/bandanas, designer shades, jewelry, sections of armor, bracelets/armbands, headphones, things that are popular in fashion, etc. You can also use aspects of layering and asymmetry to set your costume off.
6. Designing superheroine costumes can be tricky. It’s hard to find a balance between puritanically boring and scandalously outrageous. It’s usually good to work realistically when thinking up the costume. Every girl is different and while some don’t like to show much skin, others are more comfortable showing their bodies. When designing female costumes I use influences from modern fashion. I see what’s hot and how it can be modified to look heroic.
7. A superhero’s costume should tell something important about the hero. When designing your costume, please remember that it’s the first statement about who the hero is. When readers look at it, they should feel something. If they don’t, the costume has probably failed. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to evoke a feeling with a costume– small elements can create an overall tone. For example, adding rips and tears can make a character feel savage and wild. Adding jewelry can make them feel haughty or vain. Make sure you give the costume an edge.