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How to Turn Yourself Into a Superhero

There's a hero inside of us all, and you can let your own out if you're willing to pick up a pen.

That's right, becoming a superhero doesn’t require emigration from a dying planet or a bite from a suspicious spider. All you need is your imagination and a few super-effective drawing tips.

Derek Charm, a comic artist/illustrator from Gotham (a.k.a. NYC), shares how to go from human to hero in seven easy steps—no tights required. (Unless you want them, of course.)


Step 1: Decide what your superpower will be.

Want lightning speed? Wish you could fly? If you can dream it, you can become it through art. Because your superpower will influence your costume and overall look, it’s the best place to start. For this example, I chose a lava-based power. I began the mega makeover by replacing skin with a clear containment suit filled with molten rock. Sort of like a living lava lamp. Be creative! Have fun! This is your fictional character, so create whatever you imagine.


Step 2: Sketch it out.

Create a quick, loose sketch on paper or using your favorite digital drawing program. (Either way it’s ending up on your computer.) I generally use MangaStudio to ink and Adobe Photoshop for coloring. While you’re sketching, think about superhero accessories. Does your hero have a shield? A helmet? Special funky glasses? This hero is accessorized by a cool volcanic symbol.


Step 3: Create line art

Lower the opacity on the sketch and begin tracing the image using the pen tool. Since I’m creating a lava lamp-like suit, I drew all of the body lines in red. Any color other than black works, and it can always be adjusted down the line. The fire and secondary elements are treated the same way.


Step 4: Export line art.

Got the line art how you want it? Now remove the initial sketch layer and export the line art as a .psd file for coloring.


Step 5: Flatten it out.

In Photoshop, new layers are opened below the line art. Begin coloring in the separate segments with flat colors. Flat colors are solid colors. In comics, this is called “flatting,” and I generally do it if I know I’m going to be adding a lot of contrasting textures. This allows for a quick, clean selection of the individual segments. Make sure to use the right color. Color choice is crucial in creating a superhero. Reds are used for fire (or lava!), blues and whites for flying, and greens and browns for camouflage.


Step 6: Render the textures.

Begin filling in the textures.  Since “undoing” is easy when working digitally, you’ve got license to try new things at this stage. Anything that isn’t working can always be undone. (If only everything in life were so easy!) A quick shine on its own layer suggests the two separate planes of a clear, filled object. Here I used a rougher brush for the armor portions to provide contrast. It’s really beginning to take shape now.


Step 7: And…render some more.

Once you’ve added texture to your superhero, you need to do the same for the rest of the image—such as the fire and background elements. For the final image, add a rough background and put the whole thing over black.

And shazam! We have a lava-scorching superguy. Now all we need is a name. Lava Lad? Magma Dude? Super Volcanoid? You'll have to give it some thought.

What hero will you create—or become— next? 

Follow Derek on Twitter: @derek_charm.