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

Composite featuring images by Paul Smith, Jaime Hernandez, Wendy Pini, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Howard Chaykin, and John K. Snyder III.
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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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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