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The Five Artists (Plus One) We’d Most Like to See in Charge of Superhero Redesigns

By | August 26th, 2014
Posted in Columns | 9 Comments

In the wake of the Manara/Spider-Woman controversy, there has been a good amount of conversation about one aspect that may have contributed to the generally “sexy” (well, ish) nature of the cover: Spider-Woman’s costume. After nearly 40 years of existence, Jessica Drew is due for a redesign in many minds, but so are many other characters out there. After all, what worked in the 90’s, 80’s, 70’s or god forbid the 60’s doesn’t necessarily work today, nor should it. The art of the redesign is a tricky one, however, as comic fans tend to be sticklers (to put it lightly) about a character’s heritage and origins, and many tend to react negatively before they do so positively.

It’s tricky, but some still excel at it. Many artists these days have done a hell of a job of doing what they can to find tasteful ways to redefine the look of comic characters, as Kris Anka’s prominently provided his take on character designs to much applause and Dean Trippe and Chris Arrant have generated a lot of esteem with their Project Rooftop site that features artists reimagining varying character costumes. But who would be the best? Who should a Marvel or a DC hire if they wanted to develop dynamic, iconic and beloved new looks to their classic characters? That’s a question Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler posited yesterday:

It’s a great question. In fact, we loved the question so much, we couldn’t resist tackling it ourselves in this week’s Countdown. So who would we hire if we ran Marvel or DC to update some of their superhero looks for more modern sensibilites? Check out our list below, which features our top five with one bonus in there for someone who is a bit newer to comics, but we think would do a hell of a job. Share your thoughts in the comments, though. We’d love to hear your suggestions.

McKelvie's Captain Marvel redesign

1. Jamie McKelvie

This is the guy.

He has to be, really. Having developed the beloved Captain Marvel redesign, the look for Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, and the latest look for Loki, McKelvie’s become something of a design master at Marvel. But it goes well beyond that, as when you look at his work in his creator-owned book with Kieron Gillen at Image, “The Wicked + The Divine”, you find characters designed to match their personality, rather than fitting simply into classic archetypes (although those are clearly considered). The clothes make the characters because the clothes are part of them, part of the very fabric of their identity.

That eye helps a lot when it comes to his redesigns. Khan’s Ms. Marvel, for one, feels like a distillation of what’s made her who she is, from her heritage to her heroes, and it becomes something that is both iconic and respectful. Even quick redesigns he’s done – like this not for anything in particular Iron Man one – are sleek, beautiful and simple, highlighting iconic elements of the character by keeping things more on the side of minimalism. Too often, costumes try to do too much and be too much. With McKelvie, he boils the character down to who they are and asks, “what would they really wear?” Isn’t that what we want for our heroes?

Stewart and Tarr's Batgirl redesign

2. Cameron Stewart/Babs Tarr

Let’s face it, the Rolls Royce of all character redesigns in recent memory is Stewart and Tarr’s Batgirl redesign. It’s the costume that spawned thousands of pieces of fan art and the fantasies of cosplayers everywhere, and managed to – I can’t believe I’m even going to say this – almost exclusively generate positivity from an industry and a fandom that loves its outrage. The response was well deserved, though, as they created something that was attractive yet tasteful, effective yet not armor. It was something you’d think a young, crafty hero would come up with, and it looked damn good to boot. It seemed a lot more realistic than spandex, that’s for damn sure, and the fans loved Stewart and Tarr for it.

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The tricky part was where to rank the two of them here, as their work was pretty inseparable in terms of creating the magic of the Batgirl costume. They walked everyone through their line of thinking and how it came together on the Batgirl of Burnside Tumblr, and really, this isn’t a case where one did more than the other. This was a collaboration of two artists with different but overlapping sensibilities that created something magical in the process. Both would offer a lot to any redesign individually, but in this case, we’re including them as the co-#2, together and equal.

Anka's Psylocke redesign

3. Kris Anka

Anka might be the most prolific name in the redesign game today, having developed new looks for Wolverine, Dazzler, Psylocke and more over the last several years, and he’s earned a hell of a reputation for delivering costumes that continue visual themes of their characters while feeling fresh and modern. He’s so damn prolific at redesigns that he co-runs a Tumblr with fellow artist Zac Roane called “Agents of Redesign Incorporated“. That’s how you know he means business.

But volume doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the skills to back it up, as I could sit here and come up with my own takes on superheroes all day long and…well, none of us would be happy with that experience. Thankfully, Anka delivers on the regular, and he’s got a keen visual eye for what it takes to refresh a character without losing who they are in the process. It’s a rare gift, and it’s something he’s proven time and time again, much of the time actually at Marvel.

Page from Saga #16

4. Fiona Staples

This is one artist that I can’t really share any significant redesigns from (save for this “Burn the Orphanage” related one), but Staples’ abilities as a character designer is one of the secret weapons of the success of “Saga”. When you look at the book, you can tell that the look of each character is something she deeply considers, as each and every one of them has their own identity entirely their own. I spoke with her about that in an interview, and while she did share that these things sometimes come from Brian K. Vaughan in the script, she did share some important insight into how she thinks when it comes to design:

“A character’s clothing is usually one of the first things I’ll design, since most of them don’t change their outfits very often. I get very nervous about getting it right because I don’t know how long they’ll be stuck in the same clothes. So for the main characters, the clothes have to be versatile and work in all kinds of situations, from sitting around in the ship to battling monsters. I like to do layered outfits so that they can take pieces off for visual variety, or to show that they’re feeling comfortable. I also don’t put the main characters in anything too crazy or sci-fi because I think their simple outfits make them more relatable.”

In short, designs aren’t something she takes lightly, and she tries to consider all aspects of the character into the mix when she’s working on them. Combine that with her obvious gift for art and eye for design, and you have an artist who you may not think of immediately for re-imagining a hero or heroine, but for that reason may be one of the absolute bests at it.

Kevin Wada's Psylocke Redesign

5. Kevin Wada

Wada’s become one of the foremost fashion gurus in comics over the past few years, and with good reason: very few combine the world of high fashion with high danger as well as he does, and are as willing to take risks as he is. Redesigns are something that you see from him on the regular, and he’s made a concentrated effort to not just design for fashion, but to pay homage to a character’s history (as he says in this redesign he put together for Magik in a commission).

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You can see that completely in this Psylocke redesign he crafted this year, a beautiful piece that’s much more tasteful than her Jim Lee era design but still fits into her history as a natural progression of a lot of the elements we’ve seen in her costumes. Hell, it even inverts the leg rings from the classic design and incorporates them in.

He’s a thoughtful designer that melds fashion and function into one glorious place, and he’s the right type of artist to deliver the next wave of superhero costumes in my book.

Page from Shutter #2

Bonus: Leila del Duca

This is an artist that many of you may not be fully aware of, as by far the biggest credit to her name is “Shutter”, her Image title with Joe Keatinge, Owen Gieni and Ed Brisson. That book has been one of my great loves of 2014 in comics, and del Duca’s work has been a massive reason why. For all intents and purposes, the world of “Shutter” looks like ours, but it’s filled with all kinds of wild ideas and creatures, and it’s one of the biggest blasts of pure imagination you can find in comics. While it’s hard to separate what comes from del Duca and what comes from Keatinge, one way or another, del Duca does an absolutely phenomenal job of realizing these characters in beautiful fashion.

And characters like Alain, Kate’s transgender best friend, is the one of the fashion heroes in current comics, from her spellbinding hair to her keen sense for a nice outfit. Del Duca excels at bringing her and the rest of the world of “Shutter” to life, and while I’ve seen exactly zero superhero work from her, I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t excel at revitalizing some of the more staid superhero outfits at Marvel and DC. Compared to a gang of lion gangsters, what difficulty could Stilt Man provide?


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David Harper

David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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