Stewart, McKelvie & More Talk Costume Design in Modern Comics

"We're joined by a panel of experts in the field of ruining costumes and taking the sex appeal out of costumes," moderator Andrew Wheeler, announced at Emerald City Comicon's "Redesigning Heroes for the Modern World" panel. Wheeler, Editor-in-Chief of ComicsAlliance, was joined by "Spider-Woman" artist Kris Anka, "Young Avengers" and "The Wicked + The Divine" artist Jamie McKelvie, "Batgirl" writer Cameron Stewart, "Batgirl" artist Babs Tarr, and "Spider-Gwen" artist Robbi Rodriguez. "It's nice that there are grumpy old men in comics that have thrown us some conversation topics."

McKelvie said he feels, "The costume comes from the character and the costume should reflect the character." In response to complaints about practical costumes, he said, "'Practical's' not the right word."

Stewart agreed, saying, "'Practical' seems to be used as a thing to mean 'not overly sexualized.' Which is definitely what we do." In designing Babs' new costume, Stewart said, "It was really important for us to do something that was appealing to an audience of younger girls." McKelvie agreed, stating, "What works for Emma Frost doesn't work for everyone."

"The audience is responding so strongly to it, it's clearly something that's appropriate and desired," said Stewart.

Rodriguez called spandex superhero costumes "dated." When developing the look for Spider-Gwen, he said that writer Jason Latour wanted to pursue a traditional Spider-Man inspired look. Rodriguez, however, wanted the character to "look like she just stepped out of a Kanye West video."

Anka said that when designing, he works best in a collaborative environment. "I just keep going until there's something that everyone's happy with," he said. "I don't think I've ever designed for myself; it's always for someone else's book."

McKelvie explained that the process for redesigning Captain Marvel's costume was a simple one, saying, "Really, the first draft was pretty much the final project." His inspiration came from the character's personality and backstory. "You've got the Air Force touches, and then you've got the Captain Marvel legacy."

For the new Ms. Marvel, Muslim-American teenager Kamala Khan, McKelvie said that editor Sana Amanat requested a costume that "reflected the Captain Marvel legacy, and also her story and her background." "Because there's such a strong character there, it was very easy to say, 'This is what I want to do with it.'"

Tarr made it clear that even for supporting and background characters, fashion is an important look into their personality. "I have a Pinterest board for every character [in Batgirl] that matches their particular style," she said. "We dress all of the characters; they're all in 'costumes' because we're creating these worlds."

Wheeler asked the creators about the experience of seeing cosplayers wearing the costumes they had designed, something they all agreed they enjoyed. "It's the best," said Stewart, "They're like walking ambassadors for the characters. McKelvie added, "It means there's so many different people connecting with the character."

All of the panelists agreed that costumes for superheroes and even background civilians should reflect contemporary fashions. "If you try to make them look timeless," McKelvie advised, "then you'll just end up with something boring."

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