Triangulating Looks: Fashion, Beauty, & Style in Comics

Snotgirl, Leslie Hung & Bryan Lee O'Malley

Editor’s note: Sequential Sartorial was a column about the use of personal style to express character and context in comic book narratives. It was one I felt strongly about, but wasn’t one I managed to keep up. It was too easy to go negative, and too time-intensive to find really great examples of really communicative comic book style. This is why I’m extra glad to introduce a new limited series — Triangulating Looks — by one established contributor, driving the conversation, and one new one, providing the expertise. You’re in good hands with Véronique and Effy, so please lend them your attention. Maybe they’ll spark some new thought or understanding for you, or maybe you’ll just enjoy seeing personal style in comics discussed on WWAC again! Either way (hopefully both), here they are…

Véronique Emma Houxbois: So I guess the best place to start is just, like, who is she? Who is Effy and why should we listen to her about beauty and fashion?

Alejandra “Effy” Gutierrez: Well, my credentials are as follows; I moisturize every day and I NEVER wear polyester. Also I stumbled upon being a makeup artist a couple of years ago and I am kind of amazing at it.

Houxbois: You’re clearly loving it. What is it about fashion and makeup that got you into it and sustains that passion? Obviously it’s a part of your job, but you’ve known how to beat a face for a while.

Gutierrez: Like most things I’m passionate about I kind of just fell into it and it became part of my identity. I think art had a lot to do with it, I love all kinds of creative self-expression, beauty and fashion seem like a natural extension of that.

Houxbois: Your schooling is in graphic design, is that kind of the thing that pulls it all together? In terms of like what you find pleasing and how you look at the way a look is put together or a comic page is laid out?

Gutierrez: Yes and no. My education definitely informed a lot of the way I approach things, mostly in a process basis, but not necessarily aesthetics. I learned a lot in school, but I can’t give it all the credit.

Houxbois: So it’s definitely not Maybelline. She’s born with it.

Gutierrez: FULLY.

Snotgirl by Leslie Hung

Houxbois: We can talk about all kinds of wild aesthetics and like, theorizing what products might go into a given look, but on a basic level what’s the point of being intentional about beauty and fashion in comics? What can it add to the medium?

Gutierrez: So much! From a character design standpoint it’s definitely a great way to build your character and their personality, looks don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re informed by who we are and what surrounds us. From a narrative perspective, you’re telling a story by adding those elements, sort of a “show don’t tell” kind of approach. AND it looks cool as hell.

Houxbois: Envy Adams in Scott Pilgrim jumps out as an obvious example of how styling informs a character and how much just doesn’t need to be said because of what her outfit is communicating.

Gutierrez: Exactly! And we’ll touch on O’Malley when we get there, and what type of category he falls in when it comes to this topic (in my head at least), but his work’s a great example of conveying personality and story through style and aesthetics.

Houxbois: That actually reminds me of a distinction you brought up that I hadn’t really thought about in this context; the difference between fashion and styling and how that informs the style of artists that lean more towards one than the other.

Gutierrez: Yeah, so the way I see it is almost like a triangle, with Beauty, Fashion and Style as the points. Beauty is pretty straightforward, it’s make up/hair. Fashion and Style can get mixed up, but the simplest way to put it is fashion comes from a design starting point, style is all about building with what’s already available to you. Think Donatella Versace vs. Anna Wintour, for example. (Which by the way, would be an amazing Celebrity Deathmatch episode)

“Triangle, bitch.”

Houxbois: I feel like that’s even a distinction that in casual conversation about film and TV, and like, your basic awards shows that doesn’t get fully appreciated. Like you have best costuming categories or just like, listicles, or whatever, and they’re putting ground up design work like Star Trek or something up against a period or contemporary piece that is essentially just styling. But at the same time like styling, especially in TV where you’re dressing actors so much more over a season than you are in a single film, goes down really deep rabbit holes. Like you listen to the commentary on a Breaking Bad episode and they’re going to tell you about how they plotted out the dominant color of shirts Walter wears every season to symbolize his character arc. Really minute stuff that I don’t think you see very much in comics despite the fact that as a medium, comics is so much easier to achieve that level of granular planning in.

Gutierrez: Totally, and in comics you don’t have to worry about technical execution of sewing and creating a garment like in a lot of TV and film. Not to be That Bitch, but a lot of it, I feel like, is just laziness from artists and creators. Not to mention creeping misogyny of equating beauty and fashion with girly things, therefore not worthy of these people’s times and effort.

Houxbois: Sometimes though, the demands of sequential art versus a spot illustration or a cover can end up restricting more ambitious styling, especially now that double shipping is back in vogue. You can go back to Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman run and look at some of the incredible pieces she picked out for David Messina to draw on Selina like the McQueen cape, and that’s not something you’re going to want to be drawing one hell of a lot on a deadline.

Catwoman #43 (David Messina and Lee Loughridge)

I don’t think it would be controversial to say that we’re in a golden age for fashion and styling in comics right now. We had so many names to toss around of creators we wanted to cover for this already on the tip of our tongues. But you didn’t just start reading comics yesterday, you’ve been into them for a while. When you were reading older stuff like Young Justice, did that interfere with your reading of those comics, or was that just not part of the reading experience for you until the emergence of creators like Brian Lee O’Malley, Babs Tarr, and the like?

Gutierrez: Not to the extent that it does now when I read comics, but it definitely was a part of my reading experience. I mean you’ve been watching movies with me for a few years now, I’m always thrown off by bad (and good) make up/costuming. (I’m specially looking at you, wig department of Game of Thrones, barf)

Houxbois: I did and still do have kind of a blindspot for that, to be honest, but even I can look at those promotional pictures for The Inhumans and be like, they couldn’t even spring for a lacefront for Medusa, the character whose hair is her entire deal. It reminds me of when you were doing a Captain Marvel commission and you asked me whether or not Carol Danvers has an undercut because the art was so inconsistent and not really, I guess, cognizant of how hair and hairstyling actually works.

Uncanny Inhumans #15 (Karl Kerschl)

Gutierrez: It’s always been funny to me how clueless artists can be about that stuff! It’s such a natural progression from art, I’ve always said it’s so sad when I see an artist who can’t do their own make up well. It all stems from the same place. I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but it’s not like you’re starting from scratch.

Houxbois: Did you, or did you not come for me today?

Gutierrez: Girl, if I was gonna come for you, I’d come to your room at night and cut your fucking wigs up.

Houxbois: Hair when it’s done right in comics is just revelatory, though, maybe even moreso given the alternative. I love seeing Colleen Doran talk about how she got criticized for supposedly drawing hair unrealistically on Black Canary or Mary Jane Watson when she was literally drawing her own hair. She’s posted the pictures and I’m just awestruck that she had the patience to put that much time into those curls both on and off the page. The Harley Quinn team, especially Chad Hardin and John Timms really pay attention to that, like they style Harley’s hair according to her cut at the time. The first few issues after Rebirth are the real highlight because they were drawing her hair incrementally coming in from the undercut she had and I’d never seen anything like that before.

Harley Quinn #7 (Chad Hardin, Hi-Fi)

Gutierrez: Or Lottie from Snotgirl, Leslie Hung really pays attention to her hair and how she presents it depending on her mood or what she’s doing, which is impressive artistically given the way the character’s hair is drawn. I mean even just the fact that it’s green! It adds to the character in ways that are more effective than whatever’s in a speech bubble.

Houxbois: Can you outline what our approach is going to be from here, give the readers a sense of what to expect from the rest of the series and what we’re going to talk about?

Gutierrez: Well, we talked about the triangle of categories, each point an element that we’re gonna focus on and highlight creators who excel in each one (maybe in more than one at a time even). In fashion we’ll cover originality, innovation and taste, design choices and how they help build a character. Beauty will focus a bit more on thought processes, and finishes, why? What? How? And style will share a bit of the elements of the prior two, but cracking down more on narrative choices and aesthetics.

Houxbois: We’re also 100% open to corporate sponsorship for this series. I mean, your job might limit us a bit in that way, because I’m sure some of it would constitute a conflict of interest, but Wigs by Vanity, girl, make the call.

Gutierrez: I won’t say no to a 24 inch beach blonde bombshell lacefront.

Houxbois: Anything with blunt or Bettie Page bangs, honestly.


Until next time, remember to moisturize every day and to never whip a nipple out at the beauty counter even if it is a great way to find the perfect lipstick shade for you. If you really want to go the extra mile, practice your runway walk because our next installment will be FASHION.

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Véronique Emma Houxbois

Véronique Emma Houxbois

Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman cartoonist and writer last spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She regularly pens Transmyscira for Comicosity and Crown on the Ground for London Graphic Novel Network.