“Lessons Learned from Pigeons,” or, “How Geist Came to Look Like Cobra Commander”


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Someone asked about this on Whitechapel, so I’m stealing from myself for today’s Prose Wednesday entry.

Designing Geist, we thought pretty hard about what would be an exciting design for someone whose entire outfit had to be low-key. The source of his powers is his ring, which can tweak his appearance and generate an outfit, so we weren’t worried about quick change or hiding his clothes as he infiltrates a place. Our basic rule was going to be the ring can alter you only as much as you could alter yourself. So he can’t sport a new face, but he can look older, younger, thinner, fatter, any change you might have over time, and it would cobble up pretty much any outfit needed. I guess that’s The Venom Rule.

He has ghostly powers, so we first thought of robes and cloaks to lose him in, something ethereal. The problem is, Geist can only stay ghostly for a couple of minutes, tops, and if there’s one thing you don’t want to wear on a burglary, it’s a loose, flowing garment. So we decided he’d be in something pretty well locked down. Not form-fitting spandex, because he’s not there to show off his physique, but something unobtrusive. Very tight gloves so he won’t leave fingerprints, but can still pick up things with dexterity.

We still wanted a ghostly element, and Geist can’t leave anything exposed in a world where superheroes will be scanning for even a scrap of DNA, so he got a full hood. Here the loose fabric helps us, making it far more difficult to map Geist’s face, not that he ever lets anyone see him.

So with all that in mind, here was one of my sketches to Andres:

Geist of Heist

He did what he does with my straw, and spun it into gold:

Geist of Heist

Geist of Heist

That visor didn’t really work for me, so we nixed it. He’s our main character, so we did need a little connection to him, as opposed to Blackbird in Invisible, Inc., who’s supposed to be completely remote. We decided to go ahead and show his eyes.

Blackbird, Vera Bell, Invisible Inc.

No mouth makes Blackbird scary.

Geist of Heist

Still not really there, so we figured we’d just draw eyelets and indicate with the coloring that there was some kind of translucent sheath. Even that eventually fell by the wayside. Call it a conceit. But by this point we had pretty much the look down.

Geist of Heist

Time for colors! As we avoided spandex, we also deliberately ran screaming from bright costumes. Or even dark costumes. Grey or dusty brown make the best camouflage, and our entire concept for Geist was a supervillain so damned good at his job the heroes had no idea he was out there. But grey is really, really visually boring. A guy slinking around in grey is extremely generic. It undoes all the great design work Andres put in there. You saw above Andres used some muted blues, which was a good idea, so we stole from that and used two shades of grey to keep things dynamic.

Almost there. Almost…there just needs to be some kind of element of color. But why? And how? What’s the reasoning?

That’s what was tumbling in my head as I walked to the subway and noticed the pigeons…

Grey all over, but with wandering iridescence. A little splash of purple and green, a bit of oily attraction for our anti-hero. Yeah. Yeah…pigeons, right under foot, but you don’t even notice them. Pigeons, going anywhere in the city, seen as just wandering idiots by us, while we think we control the world. A perfect idea for Geist, who passes as just one of the citizenry looked down upon by the jingoistic Patriot.

What if certain sections of his costume, say, the dark, tight bit under the lighter grey, was green while he was using his powers, turning more and more purple as things became critical and he needed to return to solid state, or else risk falling into that phantom zone hazard we’d imposed on his powers? Seems silly, designing your character after an extremely dumb and harmless creature, but it’s so silly it was perfect for our needs. The look was right, at any rate.

By this point, we’d acquired Rocio Zucchi as colorist. She’s the greatest. She nailed it instantaneously, and that was it! We had our man.

Geist of Heist

Geist of Heist

That’s when everyone mentioned he looks like Cobra Commander even though he’s a prowler, not a paramilitary dictator (Although…wow. I swear I had issue #3 plotted before that was ever pointed out to me).