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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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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).


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.


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


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


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.


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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]