Although I don’t make anywhere near as many comics as I did last year (and I got about 22 pages into my most recent one before I ended up abandoning it), I was thinking about the subject of clothing designs in comics recently and I thought that I could offer a few useful tips. Four to be precise.
Although I’ll mostly be focusing on fashion designs in comics in this article, pretty much everything here can also be applied to ordinary art too.
So, let’s get started:
1) Keep it simple:
If you’re making a comic, then you will probably be drawing the same characters over and over again. As such, it’s usually a good idea to try to make your fashion designs as simple as you can to both save you time and to ensure that your character’s clothes look fairly consistent throughout the comic (since, for example, it’s easier to draw two simple tops that look identical than it is to draw two virtually identical complex, asymmetrical tops with lots of appliqué , patterns etc… on them ).
Yes, this will limit you very slightly – but not as much as you might think. After all, most forms of clothing have relatively simple outlines and shapes. Not only that, most complex patterns can be replaced by similar (but simpler) ones.
Remember – it’s better to have a character wear simpler, but more consistent, clothes in every panel on a page of your comic than it is for your character to wear complicated, but slightly different clothes in every panel.
2) Avoid real logos, brand names etc…:
Although the copyright status of actual fashion designs themselves is slightly complicated (and varies from country to country – so do your research. Disclaimer – I am not a lawyer), the situation seems to be slightly more clear with logos and brand names.
Virtually all brand names and logos are trademarked – whilst this means that you can still theoretically use them in your art and comics, you have to be very careful to make sure that you aren’t misrepresenting the brand in any way or passing your work off as something that is endorsed by the brand in question. Again, I’m not a lawyer, so do your own research here.
But, to save yourself a lot of research and trademark-related paranoia, it’s usually best to stick to fictional logos, brand names etc… in your art and comics.
Likewise, with T-shirt designs (eg: band T-shirts etc..) – the T-shirt itself might not be copyrighted or trademarked, but the art printed on it will probably be covered by copyright and/or trademarks. So, if you’re including pictures on your character’s T-shirts, then design them yourself.
Yes, your fictional designs and logos can be similar to real logos, T-shirt designs and brands(since you’re drawing or painting a picture, not making a piece of clothing – so counterfeiting rules probably don’t apply) and they can even be parodies of real brands, but they should be different.
3) Do your research:
If you’re already interested in fashion, then you’ve probably done this already. In fact, you may be lucky enough not to have to look further than your own wardrobe for research material. But, if you’re totally clueless about all the wonderful fashion styles out there, then do your research and collect reference material.
Look in magazines (if you don’t feel like buying a glossy magazine, then most newspapers – at least in the UK – usually come with a style supplement on weekends and a daily fashion page of some kind or another), look on Google Images, watch TV and look at what everyone is wearing etc….
The fact that almost everyone wears clothes most of the time means that the media and the internet is absolutely crammed with research material which will help you to see what does and doesn’t work when it comes to fashion designs.
4) Good artists borrow… …and great artists steal, or so goes the famous quote. Obviously, it isn’t a good idea to just directly copy an outfit you’ve seen in a magazine or on TV, but don’t be afraid to take inspiration from any great outfits that you see.
Just make sure that you change enough elements of the design and add enough new things and enough of your own imagination to it in order to make it into something new and distinctive.
Yes, you can probably allude to the original outfit quite heavily – but be sure to use your imagination too. Not only is this good practice, it also gives you an opportunity to make whatever improvements you feel should have been made to the original design in order to make it look even cooler.
To give you an example of what I mean, here’s a piece of copyright-free clipart from this site:
Now, here’s an outfit design I came up with, which was heavily inspired by the outfit in the clipart picture. I’ve changed the colour scheme of the outfit, shrunk the hat slightly (and added a hatband) and I’ve also added a pattern, lapels and a pocket to the jacket:
Although the outfit in the clipart picture was the starting point for this outfit and I’ve only made a few changes, it’s been turned into something slightly different from (and I would argue better) just a simple copy of the original design.
Likewise, it’s also good practice to combine elements from several outfits that inspire you, rather than just being inspired by one outfit. Basically, the more things you take inspiration from and the more changes you make, the more likely it will be that you’ll come up with something interesting and distinctive.
So, remember – it’s ok to be inspired by current fashion designs. Just be sure to use your own imagination too.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂