The clothing we choose to wear make a statement. Even if you thinking you’re only picking an outfit for functionality–maybe to regulate temperature or to provide flexibility for exercise–you’re still saying something with your choices. That’s true for fictional characters too, and this topic was explored in the Fashion in Comics panel with Babs Tarr (Batgirl) at WonderCon. Besides Tarr, the panel included moderator Brenden Fletcher (Batgirl), Jake Wyatt (Edge of Spider-Verse), Kevin Wada (She-Hulk), and Kris Anka (Uncanny X-Force). The idea of fashion isn’t anything new, but some recent costume redesigns for characters such as Batgirl, and new costumes like the one worn by Spider-Gwen, have brought the topic front and center.
Both practicality and personal style affect what characters wear in different stories. Tarr said they have to consider how clothes and costumes translate to the page. Not everything we wear in real life make sense in the context of a flat page, and not everyone needs to be trendy. Wyatt pointed out that Logan, for example, doesn’t have a personal style that’s going to fluctuate much. “No couture flannel for Wolverine.” He also made an on point statement about style. “Fashion is the ocean of trends, and each individual has their own polar star to navigate that ocean.” That polar star is each person’s style.
Fletcher pointed out that comic book artists are all essentially dressing a cast of characters. Tarr said she uses Pinterest boards for each character to keep tabs on articles that will fit that character’s preferences. An outfit that doesn’t match a character’s personality really takes her out of a comic, so she’s careful when developing a look for everyone. She used an example of a party at Batgirl’s apartment where she gave each Burnside resident his or her own flair. “I try to make it really rich and fun.”
Anka discussed designing outfits before seeing a script. If it’s a character with an existing history–like Spider-Woman, for example–he says it’s about trying to represent the past and future. He takes the goal of the writer and editor and looks at the history of the character and past costumes. Then he tries to make a new costume that fits the new direction, but also reflects everything the character has done. He said it’s then a matter of going back and forth until everyone’s happy.
Other topics discussed included the struggle between style versus function (different heroes fight different enemies and should therefore have different costumes) and whether they keep cosplayers in mind when coming up with new designs (not really because cosplayers are so creative that they’ll figure anything out). Listening to the discussion was enough to make me take a closer look at all the outfits in the stack of comics on my desk when I got home. And now, I want to start Pinterest boards for my favorite comic book characters because I don’t have enough to do. Suddenly I understand the appeal of being someone’s personal shopper–I wonder if Dazzler is hiring.