Trenchoats. Pouches. Straps. Leg belts. Kneepads. Leather Jackets. Seams. Piping and shoulderpads. Lots of shoulderpads. That’s what most comic artists today think make up a great look for a superhero. Unfortunately, they wind up producing some of the UGLIEST costumes in the history of the medium.
I’m gonna go on record as saying I HATE most of today’s new superhero costumes. From a design perspective most of today’s Superhero costumes are just too busy. They give a viewer an eyeache looking at them. With all their seams, piping, shoulderpads kneepads and other bells and whistles most are visually distracting.
Then there are those artists who just give up and put a hero in civilian clothes and call it a day. We can thank James Robinson for starting this trend with Jack Knight’s Starman.
Thanks to the excesses of the 1990’s a generation of artists grew up not learning about how to design costumes that catch a reader’s eye. Many just went with what they tought was cool not understanding a costume is how many will remember a character. So it has to leave a strong first impression on them. Unfortunately, thanks to all the excessive piping, seams shoulderpads and other widgets and doohickeys that artists THINK look cool it’s hard for readers to get that defining image of a character memorized in their minds.
These days it’s hard to recognize a character just by looking at them. You just can’t look at a picture of a character and say “Hey, that’s Superman!” Or “Hey, that’s Spider-man!” With every reboot comes a new costume. And most of them are so gaudy and overdesigned these days that most people can’t recognize their favorite characters.
A good Superhero costume design is simple. It tells the reader a story in a single image. And in that story that’s told in that image is who the character is and what they do.
The second thing a good costume design does is draw the attention up to a characters’ face. A good design takes the reader up from the feet to the trunks to the chest emblem and eventually the face. The face is the most important part of a costume design because a characters’ face is where the story will be told in panels.
And a characters’ face is what readers will remember from panel to panel. It’s a character’s face that becomes an iconic image in reader’s heads. In the most iconic designs over the last 75 years less has always been more.
Unfortunately, in most of today’s new modern designs it’s hard to see the story a character is telling in their appearance. Thanks to all the piping, seams and other effects the reader winds up getting distracted. And instead of readers being drawn up to the characters’ face, they’re forced to look at some seam or piping or shoulderpads or other doohickey on the outfit. So the reader never sees the story the character tells. And thanks to all those busy designs readers can’t recognize anyone to tell their friends how great a character is.
When it comes to costume design comic artists and writers just need to follow the KISS method Keep It Simple Stupid. The simpler the lines in a character’s design, the easier it is for a reader to remember who their favorite character is and what they look like. And the easier it is for people to remember a character’s image the easier it is to sell comics to the reader.