Monday, July 04, 2016

Costume Design 101

Costume design will always be one of those perennial debates. Which colors to use, should there be a team logo, should the costumes even look the same makes for some interesting choices. All of these decisions and more need to be decided before pen hits paper or you will waste a lot of time, paper, and effort on costumes you know you won't use. So let's work through the design process a bit.

The biggie is whether or not uniforms will be in play. If you're working on a super-hero team, a military group, or even a religious organization then the use of uniforms is assumed, and you just need to decide on what the uniform will look like. If you are doing a school comic, uniforms not only allow you to play with authority issues but can also make drawing a lot easier. If you are dealing with a group where some uniformity is required, then uniforms are usually the best way to go.

However, even if you want everyone to be independent thinkers, you may want to debate the concept of uniforms: When everyone wears the same thing it not only shows that they are alike in thought, but it is also easier to differentiate between groups. Even if the uniform is a general sense of dress rather than identical clothes it will help to unify a given group of characters. If you have a large group of characters and you have them divided into a group of factions, giving them an identical or similar appearance gives you access to a visual shorthand that helps readers identify who belongs to which group easily and can even help identify which group a character is in just by their dress.

The group styles can be defined as loosely or as exactly as you need. If one group does T-shirts and jeans, another can do hoodies and slacks. You can even point out that certain groups wear a specific kind of T-shirt or jeans, be they their own groups or a sub-division of another group. Keep in mind that groups have defined the difference between itself and another by as little as what animal they wore on their shirts, so you have a lot of room to play with. Just remember that when you define a group's clothing you need to stick with it; a change in clothing should be allowed only for a significant change in the group.

[Quick Aside: This can also be a great way to strengthen your story and create debate among readers. If a character switches factions then obviously his mode of dress will switch as well. Characters belong to multiple factions will combine styles, just as characters belonging to one faction while being sympathetic to another will include some of that style in their dress. This can also create some discussion if a character known to be one in faction wears the clothing of another; a lot of questions will be raised regarding that character's true loyalties. Clothing can be a scary tool in the right hands.]

Even if you do go with uniforms, keep in mind that there are a lot of areas for personal options. Even if you decide to use military uniforms, you have a lot of play beyond branch and rank insignia. The condition of clothes, jewelry worn, even something as simple as sleeve length (even a matter of inches, such as a sleeve worn just above the wrist versus one worn just below) can make a huge difference between two characters. Even if there is a base uniform, a character can modify it to their liking and those modifications can tell a lot about the character. When they first started out in the New Mutants, Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie wore the default uniform even if it was a bit loose and wrinkly on him while Danielle "Mirage" Moonstar added all sorts of Cherokee flourishes to her tight uniform. Doug "Cypher" Ramsey wore his uniform tight (when he wore it; for a shy character he seemed to lose parts of his uniform frequently) and it seemed brighter than average while Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclaire wore hers tight but the colors were more muted than other uniforms. That variety within just four outfits can be expanded as needed. It's just a matter of realizing that a uniform can be an expression of the character and his faction and then running with it.

In short, if you want to show unity among your team, uniforms are the way to go. And they do not all need to be identical, allowing you to have some fun with the concept.

No comments: