Sequential Sartorial! It’s gonna be a new thing! Talking about costume design in comics: GOOD costume design.
This week: Colleen Wing, 2006.
First things first: does anybody want my copy of Daughters of the Dragon, trade number one (“Samurai Bullets”)? Pay the postage and it’s yours. I don’t need it in my house; it’s a relic of a kind of Marvel comic I’m just not bothered with forgiving any more. Bored, bored, boring. The minute Marvel gives a character a breast size different to “comic book breasts,” someone has to mention it — it’s not about fairness, it’s about variety and spice at the girl buffet. And do all woman-fancying men just wanna hollow out our upside-down pelvises to use as dick vases? I’m getting that feeling.
Anyway, let’s talk about the parts of this fairly well spoken-of comic which advertise illustrative skill and reach out to me personally as a reader. The fashion. The fashion of Colleen Wing.
Louche. I like louche.
Louche is a 1930 socialite in ice-white crushed velvet, sinking jelly-spined onto and off her chaise, fur framing a face of resentment. Louche is Randy Orton’s pre-match turnbuckle pose, and also a cloudy absinthe. It can’t really be bothered with you, but is attending anyway — probably for reward. It’s a good word to describe Colleen in this story, and it’s an apt term for her mode of dress.
When description of character and description of wardrobe can both be done at once, perhaps you have created a good “character design.”
Things to notice about Colleen’s style:
- white and ice blue
- no bra
- elasticated trousers
- sport luxe
- high collars
She’s always visible, despite her cold palate, basic lines and lack of obvious eyecatch elements. She goes in for detail, but it’s not showy. Check out the pom-poms on the back of her heels here. A pom-pom is soft and circular — in itself completely non-aggressive, not a weapon, not something that forces you to notice it. It’s at her feet, and behind her; extremely unlikely to be noticed, and indeed barely seen in the comic. But it’s cute as heck and startling in its unlikeliness. It’s inexplicable, and practically a taunt. Why’ve you got those pom-poms there, Colleen? Because I like them, you dope… Don’t you think they’ve got a certain something? She tilts her chin.
And then the person asking feels silly and exposed. These pom-poms are clownish, enticing you into making a mistake. They draw attention to the bare patches on the backs of her ankles — we’re not so far past Victorian mores that there’s not some sexuality pause triggered there. Pom-poms pretend juvenility, absurdity and cold, provincial culture, as well as the nastily sexualised “coy cheerleader” concept, but this is a suit for action worn by a deadly fighter. Later in the trade Colleen gets the win in a sparring session by dazzling her opponent with the superb majesty of her naked titties; that’s a little on the nose, rather less inventive, and not enjoyable from male creators, but is essentially more along the same lines.
In superheropia, brights are eternal. Superman is in primary colours, the X-Men start their kids in royal blue & gold if they aren’t all jazzed up individually, and even Misty, Colleen’s professional partner & best pal, wears hot bright red. White has never been a showy colour (it’s uncolour, right?) but: it stands out. Batman’s that guy who wears all black, and his unusuality marks him. Emma Frost’s long known the power of sitting back, not even bothering with those vulgar colours. Wearing all white, or even just all pale, is an inverted statement; a silent protest. There’s a level of regality that comes with white in Marvel — said White Queen, Storm’s famous hair — and Colleen is untouchable, because she’s not got a speck on her.
I’m all in favour of people not wearing bras. They have their uses, yeah, but two problems follow: bras are easily diverted to the fast-flowing river of man’s evil, and bras are just basically a hassle. Especially for the pert: why cage a bird that wants to fly? Obviously it’s easy for a man to draw an unfettered tit to his own benefit, just as it’s simple for him to illustrate a bra bringing him its bristols. But, whilst breastless men relentlessly exist, so do everybody else. I (a woman, also a haver of breasts) am glad to see someone who is also these things, who chooses not to strap’em down, or up. In a comic! More importantly I am glad to see this represented by somebody who knows that a boob is not a sphere outside of time and gravity; Khari Evans isn’t someone I’d ask for, but (while he may not hit it every time) the man knows how to draw a nork.
Like, it does feel relaxing to see an uncomicky breast at rest under unzipped, unbothered leisurewear. The rest of the comic took this positive feeling right back, but I spent money on this book 100% only because I wanted to see with my own eyes an acknowledgement of a breasted woman being fucking chill, in Marvel Comics. Sometimes you need a dressing gown day; sometimes you need to see a girl who hates fuss reflecting that in her costume. Christ, I hate the big two.
Here’s a big thing: she’s not asking anything of her body in these outfits. No boost, no balance, not even a stiff trouser or a pressing waistband. She is allowing her body to be completely at peace. No: the artist is allowing her body to be at peace. The artist, upon creating these pictures, is not putting this imaginary woman out while he designs and draws her in ways that he knows will be found sexually appealing. I may not be joyful to see men creating and providing girl and woman babes for an intended audience of men, but I am relieved to see “yeah, AND?” hotness instead of… again… “no I’m not (but my artist knew I am)”. And I am relieved to see an unmolested body, because Marvel’s 616 reality was codified far more explicitly by men than ours — as such, it feels appallingly restrictive to see its women and girls in underwear formations you cannot see but know must be present because you have some understanding of traditional female garmentry, & bodies.
Colleen’s thin and toned and not outstandingly tall, but to some extent she takes up space.
Psychologically, seeing this character sans brassiere (and thank you Jesus, without thong straps), standing limber, pouting and leaning sub-obnoxiously: it’s an unbinding.