Clown Prince of Crime: The Joker’s Closet Plate No. 1

Joker_01_thumbI’m not going to apologize for loving the Joker. The fact that he celebrated his 75th birthday in 2015 means I’m not the only one. Batman’s arch-nemesis was originally killed off in his first appearance, but at the last second, the editors shoe-horned a panel at the end of the story indicating that he didn’t die after all. Since then, the Joker has had a career to rival Wile E. Coyote, getting hit by trains, falling off of cliffs, and even being electrocuted in the chair–but somehow always managing to come back.

One of the fascinating things about the character is his social history over such a long haul and how attitudes toward his behavior evolve with each new generation (from a vile disposable gangster to a mentally insane prankster to a sociopath anarchist). Throughout his comic book and film life, the Joker’s been approached and interpreted in dozens of different ways (from pure evil to actually being quite sympathetic).

Alan Moore wrote the definitive Joker in 1988’s The Killing Joke so far as I’m concerned. And even Moore’s version is ingeniously ambiguous (the book has polarized fans for almost thirty years).

What hasn’t changed about the Joker is his signature purple suit.

Oh sure. the style has changed, sometimes dramatically, and then reverted a lot. But he’s also had other colors and costumes throughout his lifetime (I ain’t drawing 75 years worth of purple suits, people!). Still, you can expect to see a lot of purple, while I trawl for the distinct stuff. I think a lot of people think of the Joker as that guy in the funny purple suit with the coattails. Interestingly, there was nothing out of the ordinary about his suit originally; it was a perfectly fashionable cutaway morning coat for 1940; perhaps a bit falutin’, but nothing you would blink at (and the coloring was due to limitations in the press). As the character evolved, the purpleness of the suit became a point of interest and even though all the other characters moved on in style as they went through the decades, the Joker remained stuck in 1940 (probably until the 1970s, though many artists still draw him in the long coattails today).

BatmanVol1No1_1939_1But enough of the history lesson for now. I’m working through the entire 75 years of Jokers but I’ll skip a lot (and around). I’m sure I’ll do movie costumes eventually, but the focus for now is on comics.

Note: don’t be surprised when you download the .pdf to see the figure’s head detached. As per the instructions, this is so clothes will fit under the chin and you can trade out heads when I draw additional ones. The face here is inspired and heavily influenced by Marshall Rogers and Brian Bolland.

Also note: purple is my kryptonite. It’s not a color I “see” well (my red/blue cones must be dented or something). I have a hard time matching or complementing it and often can’t identify it in the wild (i.e. while out shopping). Nevertheless, I’ll try to use a variety of purples throughout this series to keep it interesting.

[Click on this link or the primary image in this post to download a printable .pdf of the paper doll]

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  • Julie Matthews

    The face here is fantastic! I find it very interesting how much press limitations influenced the colors of so many comic book characters. I’d love to see an analysis of comics from an art historian’s point of view. Maybe if I have the time I’ll 1) enroll in grad school and 2) write that up 🙂 This is really great — I’m eager to see more!

    • thanks! the face was hard for some reason. i had to redraft it many times. i’ve been having trouble with likenesses lately.

      there are some really interesting analyses of the rise of comic books and the influence of comic book art out there by some great historians. i love that stuff too and we definitely need more of it: go get a degree and contribute!