by Jordan Gibson

How to Design Superheroes with Street Style

Whether I'm designing a new hero or revamping an established one, generally I try to make the design as simple and streamlined as possible. One question that I often employ with designs is "Can a child recreate your design from memory with a small box of crayons?" Some of the most iconic and popular superhero costume designs pass this test. Simplicity equals iconography. Recognizable costumes can also keep up with the times with the right touches. In this walkthrough I'll examine current fashion trends in superhero comics to show you how to design a superhero with street style!

For this exercise, let's create the basis for a new character. Start with the basics: our character is a 21-year-old woman with superhuman agility, strength, and speed, as well as retractable claws and night vision. She goes by Black Jaguar and patrols the rooftops of New York City. From these characteristics, we can begin extrapolating design choices.

Step 1: Do your research! 

Based on the characteristics of Black Jaguar, we can narrow down some basic aspects of the character's design. Google is your friend! She's nimble and agile, so research Olympic gymnasts to see what kind of build and form we're working with. Research photos and information on black jaguar for inspiration for the aesthetic and design elements. Pull up photo reference for masks and weaponry that suit your character's look and combat style. One of my favorite sources of design inspiration comes from researching athletic gear and modern fashion for specific fabric, seams, and overall fit. These considerations inform a costume that instantly communicates what your character is all about.

If you're redesigning an already established character, it's important to look back at their older costumes to see the origins and evolution of their designs. History and research will help you see patterns that you may not have processed. 

Step 2: Start brainstorming

Now that we have some ideas for Black Jaguar, we can move onto the fun part -- doodling and roughing out some ideas. Whether you're sketching in a blank document in Adobe Photoshop (I tend to draw on a 5.5" x 8.5" document at 600 DPI in CMYK mode) or another digital drawing app, start drawing and sketching ideas using your research photos and information.

Since I like to base a lot of my superhero costumes on fashion design, a lot of my preliminary sketches are pulling from stylish outfits that I've seen on social media sites like Tumblr, fashion blogs, and television and film. Look for fashion and fashion blogs that depict modern styles that appeals to you and the type of character you're designing. A teenage character will dress differently than a child or a senior character, for example.

Part of what's great about fashion is that it's an outlet that everyone can utilize to express themselves. Play around with different silhouettes, patterns, fabrics and textures until you see the character expressed in their attire. 

Step 3: Draw some designs

Now that we've got some ideas of what we want for our costume design for Black Jaguar, we can start putting together a more finalized design of our character. I like the second mask I drew, since it's a more streamlined and stylized suggestion of a jaguar. It's a little less severe, while revealing more human features (nose, flowing hair, etc.) and a little sharper and more sleek (less spots, more angular shapes). I think displaying the hair and nose makes the design a little more accessible, practical and more aesthetically pleasing.

I suggest getting feedback on your designs from friends and family during this stage. They make for a great sounding board and they can call attention to something you may have missed on your own, especially if you're not necessarily a major follower of fashion.

Step 4: Finalize your design!


Now that we have something we're happy with, we can put it all together and draw out a final design. Once you've applied your research and experimentation to your initial idea by rendering a full character in their costume, you're all set. Don't just let the design sit on your hard drive, though. Feedback will help you on your next design. Pop it up on our Tumblr or whichever social media platform you enjoy to post on and get some eyes on your work.

Keep repeating the process and you can create comic stories or draw lookbooks filled with stylish superheroes from your own stylus.

For more of Jordan's work, you can visit his official website.

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