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Composite featuring images by Paul Smith, Jaime Hernandez, Wendy Pini, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Howard Chaykin, and John K. Snyder III.

12 Comic Book Fashion Icons of the 1980s

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Composite featuring images by Paul Smith, Jaime Hernandez, Wendy Pini, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Howard Chaykin, and John K. Snyder III.

Back in the 1980s, most comic books (and the artists who drew them) were not usually up on the latest fashion trends. Still, there were a handful that stand out now as being very much keyed into the styles of their times. One of these was a little known comic called Fashion in Action by John K. Snyder III (who would later draw runs on Matt Wagner’s Grendel and DC’s Suicide Squad). Fashion in Action is being reprinted for the first time thanks to a Kickstarter run by editor Hope Nicholson. Hope was kind enough to co-write this list of comic book fashion icons of the 1980s with me. Special thanks to fashion designer Dani Vulnavia who also provided some valuable insights.

1. STORM

Paul Smith // Marvel Comics

In 1983, the X-men’s Storm had one of the most unexpected and talked-about makeovers in comics history. In Uncanny X-men #173, the weather-controlling mutant, who had always worn a flowing cape that matched her long white tresses, suddenly showed up in a black leather vest, studded choker, and a mohawk. Her personality also underwent a shift that matched her new look. The serene young woman who was considered a goddess in her native Kenya was now more direct and aggressive and would soon grow into a strong, decisive leader—characteristics she would retain from that day forward.

Paul Smith // Marvel Comics

Storm’s famous mohawk appalled some of her fellow X-men, who seemed to equate her cutting her hair with irrevocable change (and this is coming from mutants who see their teammates die and come back to life on a regular basis). Artist Paul Smith had actually proposed the “Mr. T” look as a joke, not expecting Marvel editorial to actually go for it. Made popular by punk rockers and non-conformists in the early 1980s, a mohawk was usually visual shorthand in comics for someone who was trouble—not a hero—but this look is what now comes to mind for many readers when they think of Storm. The mohawk will make its big screen debut this year when actress Alexandra Shipp plays Storm in X-men: Apocalypse.

2. DAKOTA NORTH

Tony Salmons // Marvel Comics

Dakota North first appeared in a five-issue mini-series in 1986 that wasn't much of a hit, and afterwards she was relegated to sporadic guest appearances in other comics. Nonetheless, comics fans from that era can recall this striking ad above drawn by series artist and Dakota co-creator Tony Salmons. Dakota’s short, sharp bob and motorcycle jacket signaled that this series would be taking fashion very seriously. In fact, the stylish private eye’s first case involved protecting a famous fashion designer.

North’s heavy tapered power suits were similar to those made popular by real-life fashion designer Thierry Mugler.

Tony Salmons // Marvel Comics

3. MAGGIE CHASCARILLO AND HOPEY GLASS

Jaime Hernandez // Fantagraphics

Jaime Hernandez’s contributions to the long-running comics anthology series Love & Rockets centered mostly around Maggie Chascarillo and Hopey Glass, two young women who become friends—and occasionally lovers—amidst the post-punk music scene of 1980s Southern California. Feisty and hard-edged Hopey is the true punk whose style rubs off on the more sensitive, feminine Maggie. They both experiment with spikey hairstyles, torn leggings, black leather, and punk band t-shirts. Maggie and Hopey’s fashion sense made them icons for the post-punk, new wave era of the early ‘80s.

Jaime Hernandez // Fantagraphics

4. FRANCES KNIGHT

John K. Snyder III

Frances Knight was the leader of the stylish, expensive, and incredibly powerful all-girl protection agency called Fashion In Action. Her style was influenced by Annie Lennox and David Bowie, with some shades of "The Man in the Hathaway Shirt" ads thanks to her pressed suits and eye patch. She looked like she was right out of a Theirry Mugler-Helmut Newton collaboration. Her long, ragged coats that gave the appearance of a cape on top of neatly pressed suits reflected her powerful personality and her dark, tortured past.

John K. Snyder III

Fashion in Action ran as a series of eight-page backup stories in Eclipse Comics’ Scout beginning in 1986. Written and illustrated by John K. Snyder III, it was set in the year 2086 where 100-year-old clothing styles were still in vogue. This mostly forgotten series has never been reprinted—until now, thanks to a Kickstarter running this month.

5. DEWSHINE

Wendy Pini

Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest was a pioneer of the independent comic movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Set in a fantasy world similar to Earth but populated by elves, the style of clothing was influenced by late-era hippie fashions of the ‘70s with lots of fringe leather. However, in 1987, Elfquest returned after a two-year hiatus with a new series called Siege at Blue Mountain in which you could see a shift to reflect a more contemporary ‘80s culture. Suddenly, winsome heroine Dewshine traded in the luxurious curly locks inspired by Twiggy for the blown-out metal hair of David Lee Roth. Even her makeup became more ‘80s glam rock with sharper contours and heavier eye-shadow.

Wendy Pini

6. SHE-HULK

John Byrne // Marvel Comics

As a successful lawyer, She-Hulk was a Melanie Griffith-style working girl in the late 1980s, starring in her own self-titled series written and drawn by John Byrne. She often wore stylish power suits like those designed by Ralph Lauren and, in her downtime, could be seen wearing oversized comfy sweaters and brightly colored party dresses with an Espirit vibe.

John Byrne // Marvel Comics

7. GALATIA 9

Michael Wm. Kaluta

The heroines of the sci-fi series Starstruck—inspired by the off-Broadway stage play of the same name—had an aesthetic influenced by roller derbies and art-house fashion. Series artist Michael Wm. Kaluta was also the designer of the costumes for the show, along with Elaine Lee who wrote and starred in the play and wrote the comic. Kaluta cobbled together the costumes by dumpster-diving and finding discarded clothing on the streets. These days, superhero costumes are often designed with easy cosplaying in mind, but the costumes of Starstruck existed in reality before coming to the page, giving them a realistic, DIY feel.

Elaine Lee

Galatia 9, a captain and freedom fighter, wore an asymmetrical outfit that showed skin yet didn’t feel sexualized. One side of her body suit was all business with thick wrestler's boots and gold armor plating while the other side was mostly bare and featured a star-shaped breastplate where her right breast should be (she is of Amazonian origin, hence the lack of one breast).

8. RACHEL SUMMERS

John Romita, Jr. // Marvel Comics

When refugee mutant from the future Rachel Summers joined the X-men in their present world of 1984, she took her time before settling on a legitimate superhero name and costume. For a while, she would accompany the team while wearing jazzercise outfits, but she also rocked a lot of stylish gender-neutral attire like suspenders or a jacket and tie. She even offset her close-cropped red hair with a long, single braid.

Alan Davis // Marvel Comics

Eventually, Rachel would take on the name Phoenix and don a series of costumes in homage to her mother, Jean Grey, the original Phoenix. But by the end of the 1980s, she had moved to a punky, spiked battle suit and, in her down time, wore aggressive and sexy red leather outfits much in the style that designer Jean-Claude Jitrois had made popular at the time.

9. GINGER FOX

Mitch O’Connell

In the 1986 graphic novel The World of Ginger Fox by Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell, a single mother and businesswoman tries to resurrect a failing Hollywood film studio and gets caught up in the world of drugs, gangs, and martial arts. This is a mostly forgotten but wonderfully illustrated comic that you can now read in its entirety online. O’Connell drew Fox in big-shouldered corporate attire, but also featured tight party dresses, buttoned-down suit dresses, and high, teased hair. Her sexy, abstract style was very similar to the fashions of Claude Montana, who played a lot with volume, cuts, and color.

Mitch O’Connell

10. SINDI SHADE

Brett Ewins

Created by Peter Milligan and the late Brett Ewins in 1985, Sindi Shade was a back-up story in Johnny Nemo magazine. It featured a young girl trying to find the truth behind the mysterious Librarians in a dystopian future. Her look featured big purple hair with dark lightning streaks, clunky accessories, a ripped shirt, high-waisted tights, and fishnet pantyhose. Her cyber-punk look might have been influenced by Jean Paul Gaultier's constructivist lines mixed with elements of underground glam fetish.

Brett Ewins

11. CRYSTAL GALE MARAKOVA

Howard Chaykin

The mid-'80s sci-fi satire American Flagg! envisioned an America in the 2030s that was drowning in mall culture and rampant sexual promiscuity. The look of the series is perhaps best remembered for every female character's penchant for elaborate lingerie (a few years before Victoria’s Secret would begin to make that trend mainstream), but series creator Howard Chaykin was a bit of a fashion maven and incorporated a lot of early 20th century retro-style (with an ‘80s twist) to the design of his characters' wardrobes.

Crystal Gale Marakova personified a fusion of all the styles that Chaikin seemed infatuated with: officer attire, garters and stockings, a 1920s Louise Brooks hairstyle, and a Cold War blend of Soviet and American chic thanks to Crystal’s own cross-cultural heritage.

12. SUPERGIRL

Carmine Infantino // DC Comics

DC Comic super heroines in the 1980s were awash in headbands, from Black Canary to Fire, but the original headband wearer was Supergirl. The look was derived from the 1984 Supergirl movie starring Helen Slater, or, at least what DC thought was going to be the look in the film. When test footage of Slater wearing the headband was revealed in 1983, the studio encouraged DC to have the comic book character begin wearing the accessory to create a visual continuity with the film. She debuted it in Supergirl #17 in November 1983, but then a funny thing happened: The studio changed their mind about the headband and Slater never wore it in the film.

The headband look would die with Supergirl and the entire multiverse about a year later in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.

Warner Brothers
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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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