It’s no secret that the wedding of Storm and the Black Panther is quite unusual for Marvel Comics. Fans have debated the merits of the relationship, with some feeling each character has “better” suitors, but there’s no doubt that this union is a the very least something with many storytelling possibilities. The union occurs in July’s “Black Panther” #18, but Marvel and TV Guide recently unveiled the wedding dress to be worn by the famous member of the X-Men (and portrayed by Halle Berry in the films), designed by Emmy Award Winning Shawn Dudley. Dudley’s work on CBS’ “Guiding Light” has earned him many accolades, so along with Alyson Hui his associate designer, he was happy to tackle this iconic comic book character. CBR News recently spoke with Dudley via phone at his New York offices, in between his search for the perfect outfit to compliment the popular Tom Pelphry, who plays Jonathan Randall, on “Guiding Light.”
Shawn, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. So how did you get involved with the wedding of Black Panther & Storm?
The initiative started at Marvel, since they wanted to do a promotional with an outside source, to design the basic look for this wedding dress, whether it was from a top notch wedding designer like Vera Wang or whomever. Marvel eventually narrowed it down to where it was more a costume idea – they didn’t want traditional a Western style wedding dress design. They had contacts at ABC and CBS, and asked costume designers to come up with initial design ideas. We seemed to have taken the design concept to where Marvel wanted it and did some in-depth research, came up with the concept, explored the traditions of this kind of wedding and voila, we got the job.
So then what inspired the look of the dress?
We had to do a lot of research because, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, I only knew Storm from the big splashy Hollywood movie, so I needed to get in there and find out who Storm was in her comic world. We approached design the same way we approach any design, namely to get inside the character because they have a life, and the dress needs to reflect that. We were not going to design just any dress for Storm: it has to be appropriate for her. We really had to go back and explore the different periods in her story. There’s some periods with her hair pulled back, another where she came back from Japan looking very edgy and street. She tends to reflect the journey she’s on. Also, this is set as a royal wedding and we wanted the dress to seem appropriately regal. We also went in and did research on different tribal aspects and symbolism, because the writer really wanted to play up the fact that it is going to be set in Africa. Black Panther has his history with Africa and Storm has her history with Africa. We needed to mix all of that in, along with our additional research. We also turned to various fashion designers from Thierry Mugler, Vivenne Westwood, and vintage Gianni Versace. These were fashion designers who used exaggerated lines and proportions or that unique quality that embodied what we were going for with Storm’s dress. We also looked at vintage designs from Erte and the Hollywood costume designer, Adrian. We also designed a beautiful ceremonial cape that she will wear for entrance that hasn’t been seen yet. The cape has a gold handpainted and beaded design using African kente cloth and mud cloth design. She makes her grand entrance and the cape is removed to show the wedding gown underneath.
In the press release, you mentioned that the comic book version of the dress differed from your actual design.
Could you explain the differences?
We designed something that was more in keeping with our classic design technique. We paint our renderings in watercolors and it just creates a very different feeling for the dress, as opposed to the artists rendering for the comic book. Our lines are softer, body features aren’t quite as exaggerated, and it’s just much more in that theatrical style rendering that we’re used to. That was the hard part, wrapping our heads around the fact that this wasn’t a garment to be produced into a real garment, so it wouldn’t be a fully realized project, and we tried to keep in mind how the artists in the comic book world create movement and fabrics. We wanted to make sure that we gave them enough elements to get those looks. We knew she would walk, and possibly fly, and we wanted to make sure those elements were in the costume. We also tried to work in her mother’s ruby, and mentioned it to the Marvel guys, but she had lost it somewhere down the road, but they were able to make it so that the ruby comes back to her. When I saw the final version, by Frank Cho, I was a little surprised [laughs] to see it and compare the two. She’s much sexier and has a little more bust action going on in the comic book, and I understand it, but I can’t go that far with it, because it’s not my nature as a designer. It was hard to let our baby go to someone else, but I’m happy with what he did with it.
So is it safe to assume you were a fan of comics as a kid? You seem to understand the storytelling language.
Oh yeah. I was really more into those weird, kind of scary horror comics from the sixties and seventies. Those were my favorites and I had so many hand me downs from my uncle. They creeped me out…but I loved it. I also had some of the classic Disney comics, and kept track of Spider-Man. In New Mexico, where I used to live, the Albuquerque Journal used to run Spider-Man everyday and my grandmother would dutifully cut it out everyday and once a month I’d get a packet of comics she’d cut out for me.
Did you try to work on the film?
No, that’s L.A, a whole different world, but my dream job was “Lord of The Rings.” I almost did go for it, but I found out that they were in production in New Zealand and I would have dropped everything in my life to go work there. I’m one of those Lord Of The Rings fantatics. I still have my original copies that I first read when I was 13.
Uh oh [laughs]
I even designed those costumes in college, when I studied design.
Did they look like the film’s costumes?
They were close. There’s an iconic look to many of the characters, so it’s hard not to be similar.
Now we know that soap fans and comic fans are equally intense — and equally vocal. But both mediums, for lack of a better term, are in a certain amount of decline from their glory days. Looking at both industries, how do you think they can increase viewership?
I think they can do it, but there needs to be a real understanding of the contemporary audience. The attention span is much shorter and I think that affects soaps and comics: if you’ve got a long running storyline, then the audience needs faster resolution and something new all the time. I don’t think they’re willing to invest that kind of time into the storyline. You see these younger people – I don’t want to say kids, but they sort of are – are always looking forward to the next thing, from the iPod to the X-Box, it’s the new generation that gets them excited. They get excited about a brand and we have to address that brand issue. I don’t know as much about comics as I do about soaps, but we shy away from contemporary storytelling and we seem to sanitize certain things because we think the audience wants that…but the audience is leaving us. There’s so much violence, peer pressure, status objects…all so much more apparent now. I’m generation X and I think there’s a bigger generation gap than ever before, which we need to address, since people in their twenties are so much savvier than we expect. We underestimate them.
Well, we don’t underestimate you – so will you be doing more comic book work?
If they ask me, I’d love to. It allows me to be creative in ways that I can’t be on the show.
Thanks for your time Shawn. We’ll be sure to check out your work on “Guiding Light.”