Process Junkie: Superhero Costume Design With Lee Garbett
Welcome back to Process Junkie where we look at the behind the scenes making of comics from all different angles. Today we’re talking with the fantastic Lee Garbett about superhero costume design - and specifically the insanely popular “Dark Carol” Captain Marvel look!
I’m sure you guys are already well familiar with Lee Garbett, who’s had a really interesting and impressive career, but just in case you don’t — in addition to two runs of CAPTAIN MARVEL (The Last Avenger and The New World) he did the terrific creator-owned books SKYWARD and SHADECRAFT with Joe Henderson. He also built LOKI: AGENTS OF ASGARD with Al Ewing and he’s currently drawing the very cool DEATH OF DOCTOR STRANGE for Marvel.
KELLY: Hey Lee! Thanks so much for joining me on here!
LEE: Thank you for having me!
KELLY: Though there are lots of things I’d like to talk to you about, today we’re gonna talk some “Dark Carol” Captain Marvel costume design and I wanna jump right in, if you don’t mind?
LEE: Awesome! Let’s!
KELLY: So, we didn’t really know one another when you joined the project – I mean, I was a huge fan and we’d chatted a bit here and there, but we’d never worked together before and didn’t really know one another – so you came in — cold — to Captain Marvel to do this huge high profile re-design right off the bat, was that intimidating?
LEE: Not so much intimidating as just plain exciting. I’d been hoping to work with you for ages as I was a huge fan of your work and, without trying to embarrass you here, you’re also the writer I’d always heard other writers talking about as being the best out there, so I was super-stoked to join you on Captain Marvel. The added chance to create a new look for her was just more awesome icing on the cake.
My ‘other job’ is designing costumes and characters for TV, Movies, etc so it’s something I love to do and I always want to get my hands on iconic characters and have a go at them. The chance to offer my take on a legend like Carol Danvers was like my two favourite worlds colliding.
KELLY: That’s so kind of you to say. Thank you. And I didn’t know you did a lot of costumes and character design for Film and Television but that makes a ton of sense!
KELLY: So…looking at this first pass stuff - it’s so strong, right out of the gate; I can’t believe these are your first passes. Like, I would like to see her in ALL these looks. I mean, I honestly love that yellow and black look so freaking much – but I still feel now and think I said back then that it was too much like Darkstar’s costume (which I also love). Like, if she saw Carol in this look she’d be all “Carol, was it you I saw digging through my dirty laundry?” But that’s totally a great alt reality look for Carol that I’d love to do one day.
Do you like these when you look back? It’s funny to think where we started – so innocent! – compared to where we ended up?
LEE: Haha. Yeah, it can be a little awkward at first. You try and throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. A lot of it is just getting ideas down so they’re out of your head and out of the way. Also, it’s a case of finding just how far you can go with it. Do you push slightly out of the norm or go for extremes. A lot of these early images look like gentle feeling around to see what takes. They do seem very tame, compared to where we eventually landed.
LEE: There are elements that reflected the movie version a little more, elements that tried to keep it more classic Kree and the first version of Mar-Vell Captain Marvel. That was something I kept in my thoughts throughout.
KELLY: Smart. And I can see it. Once we’d honed in on the darker edgier helmet look I don’t think there was any going back. But we were still playing with color – and also whether the we were doing a traditional centered Hala star, or the asymmetrical. I was ALWAYS team asymmetrical…you?
LEE: Yeah. Asymmetry is always great. That little unbalance adds that extra element of interest to the design. Especially for characters that are meant to have a darker or monstrous edge. Just throw things off-kilter a little and it makes it more alien. Plus we had the centre-star of the helmet already.
KELLY: One of my favorite things about this costume is how simple it actually is – despite having a complicated helmet and a tattered sash…it’s just really clean – only two colors, nice simple lines. I feel like simple is really hard. When you’re designing something like this how do you even get started? What kind of references do you look at? Do you go back and read old comics? Is there any trick you’ve found to help trigger you?
LEE: That’s music to my ears as simple is the hardest thing but it’s what you strive for in the design. I try and work with a silhouette in mind. If you can identify a character from just the silhouette then you’re onto something.
With the stripes I figured let’s make them more like blood trails than uniform piping. It just adds to the rawness and dangerousness of the character and the sort of organic quality of the costume. Again, you’re looking for a bit of function to dictate the form too, so you try to tap into what the image is meant to represent and then work outwards from there.
I’ve been a life-long Marvel reader. I grew up in a house where they were always around and they’re pretty much the first things I remember seeing so I’ve got all that in my memory banks too.
KELLY: Do writers/editors/whoever frequently send you references if you’re designing something like this – or is more often a sort of free for all? I’d imagine references could be both a blessing and a curse.
LEE: Usually it’s a free for all, though some reference for the character, if they’ve existed beforehand – or their homeworld or cohorts etc - is always helpful. If there’s some history there you always want to echo those elements.
KELLY: Speaking of reference, I can’t remember if we sent you the Vox design – you hadn’t yet designed the Vox Supreme variation – but were you looking at Vox when you did the Carol design? I ask because, I don’t know if I realized it before, but looking back, the Dark Carol look actually FEELS like what Vox Supreme would design – and since he made the suit – that’s exactly as it should be. Was that on your mind?
LEE: That’s great! Yeah, I tried to work on the basis that the costume comes from Vox’s world so it would have to echo his aesthetic, to some degree. It’s all those little touchstones you throw into the mix and hope something comes out of it that resonates and feels connected but it’s own thing too.
KELLY: Do you feel like you make different choices when designing for a male character vs a female character?
LEE: I don’t think so. It’s more a focus on the intent of the character. Whatever their tone and vibe is, I try to echo that in the design. Carol is a soldier and this costume is for a dark warrior with a dash of sci-fi so that’s the bag of tricks I have to work with. Then you add in some comic-y stylings into the mix too. I do have an eye on designing with a mind that MCU and Game characters might develop from these too now, of course, so that’s also another element.
KELLY: A lot of people are very into more practical/realistic costume design and a lot of people really hate that idea – where do you fall?
LEE: Probably somewhere in the middle but leaning towards the more comic-based designs. Which is not always the case with my own work. I recently designed a bunch of costumes and characters for a Doctor Strange book (Ed Note: Death of Doctor Strange! Pick it up, kids!) and I was leaning towards realistic/movie design styles as I’d assumed that was what was now preferred. It was great when the feedback from the Editor was to push it back towards a more comic-y look.
That’s why we love comics. It’s not always meant to work, real world. It just needs to be awesome on the page. You can’t beat Kirby designs and that is pure comics.
KELLY: Totally agree. I remember one impractical thing on Captain Marvel’s “Dark Carol” design was the dark eyes/under eyes “make-up warpaint” – it makes literally no sense but sometimes you just wanna do something because it’s looks fucking cool. You, me, and our editor Sarah all loved it, despite ourselves, so we kept it. Do you find things like that happening a lot? Or are people typically more cautious?
LEE: God, yes. Haha. I love that look. And I thought you and Sarah would too. What’s not to love?
I actually have to stop myself adding it to characters as it’s just always cool but I figured we could get away with it on Dark Carol – especially as I wanted her to still have that badass vibe even when she’s not wearing the helmet.
KELLY: Does whoever’s asking you to do the design EVER pick your favorite?
LEE: Haha. Almost never. This was an exception.
KELLY: I’m so glad to hear we were an exception! So is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to say? Now’s your last chance! (Well, of course it’s not, but we should try to end this with SOME DRAMA!)
I do want to thank you and I did think of one last question - one of the many reasons I wanted to do this with you is because the new Captain Marvel “Last of the Marvels” storyline started up last month – which heavily features lots of characters in your “Dark Carol” suit – how does it feel to see others drawing it and sometimes even taking it on in a new direction?
LEE: It’s surreal – and awesome. When it’s you drawing your own design it feels like it’s limited to your project but when you start seeing that design cross over into other books or story arcs it feels like it’s really taken on a life of its own. It’s the highest hopes you could have for a design, really. I was thrilled when I heard the Last of the Marvels storyline was happening. Thank you for bringing it back!!! =)
KELLY: Thank you for making the first one so good that the fans wanted more and we were able to get another great story out of it!
LEE: Now if we can just arrange a Dark Captain Marvel action figure or Hot Toy, my life will be complete.
KELLY: You are reading my mind, Lee!
Huge thanks to Lee for coming on and talking costume design. I hope to have him on in the future to talk creating new characters and some other cool stuff. Shout out in the comments to show him your love & support and feel free to lob questions at us, I can’t promise Lee will answer, but I definitely will.
All right, I gotta get back to work, these comics won’t write themselves, much to my eternal chagrin. Be safe and kind when possible, kiddos. <3
Absolutely fab interview, I love Lee's work and will pick up anything he does - Skyward and Shadecraft are both amazing! - I also really love the fact that you were into Carol's dark eye make-up just because it looks freaking cool but serves absolutely no purpose, that's brilliant and such a comic thing! I also just want to say, without getting all mushy, that I really love everything you give us here - it's just brilliant, thank you 🔥🔥💯👌