When studios cast a movie, they always go for the most attractive or well-known stars. If you want a movie to succeed, Hollywood executives believe that it requires the muscle-y good looks of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence. So, when comic creators are deciding what their characters look like, why not borrow from already famous people? If you want your magical character to resemble a British rock star, why not just use a British rock star’s face? Perhaps, you’re thinking your over-the-top villain might need a more Presidential face? Or, maybe you just want all your female characters to look like they’re in ecstasy, so you go…“online”… for inspiration.
Basing a character’s looks off of a celebrity isn’t just a more recent trend, either. While there are plenty of examples from the last couple decades, comic book artists have been using celebrity faces as far back as the ‘40s. In fact, some of the most famous comic characters in history started as shameless rip-offs of celebrities. Many of the entries on this list will probably surprise you! Let’s take a look at 16 comic book characters whose looks are BLATANT celebrity rip-offs.
There’s a famous scene in Marvel’s The Ultimates when the character of Nick Fury and the rest of the Ultimate Universe’s version of The Avengers are sitting around discussing who will play them in a potential movie. This pre-dates the Marvel Cinematic Universe by almost six years. In the scene, you have various Avengers name-dropping huge A-list stars, and when it comes to Nick Fury, he says, “Why, Mister Samuel L. Jackson, of course. That’s not even open to debate…”
The humor in the scene is because artist Bryan Hitch had clearly based his look of Ultimate Nick Fury on Sam Jackson. Hitch took Sam Jackson, added a goatee and an eye patch, and put him in one of Marvel’s most high-profile books. The inspiration was so obvious, and worked out so great, that when Marvel Studios went to cast Nick Fury, they looked no further than Mr. Samuel L Jackson, himself.
Have you heard of the actor named Conrad Veidt? Odds are, depending on your age, the answer is no. However, once you see a picture of the actor, it’ll all make sense as to why he was clearly the inspiration for Batman’s greatest villain, the Joker. Back in 1940, when Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson were sitting around discussing the design of their upcoming character, the Joker, Bill Finger presented a picture of Conrad Veidt.
Let’s be honest, when you see a picture of Veidt from the 1928 silent film, The Man Who Laughs, it’s clear this is where they got the idea for the Joker. Conrad’s creepy, always-grinning carnival “freak show” is spot-on as the Joker. It makes you wish that Jared Leto had used Veidt’s look for inspiration in Suicide Squad instead of whatever god-forsaken trash bin influenced his eventual look in that film.
The second Mark Millar-penned comic series to make it on this list is Wanted by Millar and artist J.G. Jones. While many fans now think of Wanted and imagine the big budget action film starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, people tend to forget the comic series that inspired it. Nowadays, it’s funny to look back and read Wanted and see the Jolie’s character of Fox and McAvoy’s Wesley and realize they were actually drawn to resemble Halle Berry and the rapper Eminem.
In a 2008 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mark Millar actually admitted that Eminem was the inspiration for Wesley. So much so, in fact, that Universal Studios thought they would approach him for the role in the film. Millar said, “[Artist J.G. Jones] drew the character to look like him. So somebody at Universal said, ‘We should approach Eminem.’” Fox’s appearance is just as obvious, with Halle’s signature pixie haircut.
The Boys is a series showing what might happen if real-life superheroes existed and were actually gigantic, irresponsible jerks. One of the main characters in the series is none other than Wee Hughie, an outsider who gets drawn into the superhero world when a Flash-like character accidentally kills his girlfriend. Artist Darick Robertson clearly decided to base the character on British actor Simon Pegg.
Just a couple years prior to the release of The Boys, Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead was released and went on to become a hit among horror fans. So, when it came to drawing a character that shares a couple of similar personality traits with Shaun, Robertson decided to just use Pegg as visual inspiration. Pegg even acknowledges this during an interview with MTV News, “My fear is that I’m too old to play Wee Hughie, now. But you know, obviously, the character was drawn, at least, around my face.”
Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is described in many different ways. Billionaire, playboy, inventor, adventurer, and ladies-man are just several of the adjectives fans of Tony Stark might use to describe the hero. What many comic fans might not know is that before Iron Man, the world basically already had a Tony Stark. His name was Howard Hughes.
So when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the rest at Marvel were creating their version of a Howard Hughes-type character, they decided in no uncertain terms to model Tony Stark after Hughes himself. As Stan Lee once described Tony Stark, “Without being crazy, he was Howard Hughes.” When you see a picture of Hughes, and put it next to Stark, it’s clear. So, for this entry on the list, it’s not just the dark hair and thin mustache that influenced the creators, but the actual man himself.
For many of the entries on this list, the character comes before the celebrity. Creators are looking for inspiration for their character and thus model it after a celebrity. For John Constantine, that’s the reverse. The creators were looking to draw a character that looked like Sting, and the world was given John Constantine.
In an interview with Wizard Magazine, Alan Moore said he met up with The Saga of the Swamp Thing artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben to ask what they would like to see in Swamp Thing. The result? Sting! “One of those early notes was they both wanted to do a character that looked like Sting,” said Moore. So, Constantine was made as a blonde-haired British badass that was created because the creators involved thought it would be cool to have the golden-throated tantric sex magician in Swamp Thing.
Nope, you didn’t read that wrong. We’re not talking about M.O.D.O.K., we’re talking about the alternate-reality version of the character, M.O.D.A.A.K., who appeared in Spider-Gwen Annual #1. Instead of being the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, M.O.D.A.A.K. is the Mental Organism Designed As America’s King. And where did artist Chris Visions and writer Jason Latour come up with inspiration for M.O.D.A.A.K.? Why, none other than 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Outside of the oversized head and small metal legs and arms, the resemblance is uncanny. Special shout-out must go to colorist Jim Campbell, who really brings the look all together. Making M.O.D.A.A.K.’s skin tone orange, with the bags under his eyes a shade lighter, really drives home the Trump-ness when the character exclaims to brown people, “Back on your feet, foreign filth!”
When people talk about the inspirations for Professor X, they always go back to the Martin Luther King, Jr. angle. Professor X is Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto is Malcolm X. Sure, that’s one version, but most people don’t realize that Professor X had another, lesser-known influence. Actor Yul Brynner was the visual inspiration for Charles Xavier.
Yul Brynner was the actor best known for his role in The King and I, among other huge films like The Magnificent Seven and The Ten Commandments. He was an accomplished actor that just so happened to be bald. So, when Lee and Kirby were coming up with character designs for X-Men, Lee floated the idea of Brynner as Professor X. Now, for decades, there have been story reasons why Professor X was bald, but the short answer is: because Yul Brynner was bald.
David Bowie was a bit of a chameleon throughout his life and career. However, Bowie’s style has always been influential. Therefore, its not so surprising to know that he was the influence behind at least one character in the world of comic books. When Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth were creating the look of Lucifer Morningstar for an issue of Sandman, they looked no further than David Bowie.
When WB and DC decided to bring the Lucifer character to TV, they decided to reference Bowie’s influence. As Lucifer, actor Tom Ellis explains in a press conference, “David Bowie was what the original character was based on, the sketches and stuff that was in the graphic novel. What we did do is take some of Bowie’s music and infused it into the [show]. Lucifer is a massive David Bowie fan.” It’s a fitting homage to the larger than life inspiration for the character.
When creating Monica Rambeau for Marvel Comics, artist John Romita, Jr. was tasked with creating the look of what would be a powerful black woman. Where else does someone turn in 1982 when they want to draw a powerful black woman in pop culture, but accomplished actor, Pam Grier. “I just took some reference on Pam Grier, because I always loved her…,” said Romita, Jr.
Pam Grier was best known at that time for her roles in many films as badass woman, particularly in Foxy Brown. She was so influential during that time, Quentin Tarantino wrote a whole movie around Pam Grier in 1997 called Jackie Brown. Over the years, as with many characters, Monica Rambeau’s look has changed considerably, but Pam Grier will always be part of her DNA.
In 1939, artist C.C. Beck was asked by writer Bill Parker to design a character named Captain Thunder, who would later be renamed Captain Marvel. Previously, Beck had been working on a magazine about Hollywood stars, so when the idea of designing a superhero came about, he looked at his research for inspiration. “Captain Marvel himself was based on the actor Fred MacMurray, who was known as a pretty down-to-earth guy,” said Beck in an interview.
When you look at Captain Marvel, now known at DC as Shazam, and see Fred MacMurray, it all makes sense. The dark, wavy hair and facial features are obviously his. The artist even took inspiration from MacMurray’s cleft chin when designing Marvel’s look. Captain Marvel has always had that old-school Hollywood presence and now you know why!
When you look at Harley Quinn in comic books today, she barely resembles what she looked like when she was first introduced. Today, Harley has a much more punk rock style, which strays from the more classical jester/clown look she had in the beginning. So, when you look at the visual inspiration that creator Paul Dini had for Harley, you may be confused.
Actor Arleen Sorkin used to appear in a daytime soap opera named Days of Our Lives. In a “fantasy” scene, she appears in a jester costume making silly, sometimes lewd jokes. Paul Dini, who was friends with Sorkin, thought of her scene when he created Harley Quinn. However, given that she first appeared in a cartoon, the likeness is more vague, but the blonde hair and jester outfit are there on display. Dini repaid Sorkin for her inspiration by allowing her to voice Harley Quinn for many years.
When Chris Claremont and John Byrne needed some new villains for the X-Men to face, they saw inspiration on TV. During an episode of The Avengers (no, not those Avengers), Emma Peel is kidnapped by a bunch of villains and turned into the “Queen of Sin.” So, the creators decided to make the Hellfire Club, and what did they do for their first evil mission? Kidnap Jean Grey and make her bad.
The first major influence visually was with Emma Frost. She was modeled after actress Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel. Notice the Emma connection? Next they decided to model the rest of the Hellfire Club after Hollywood actors. Sebastian Shaw was modeled after Robert Shaw. Jason Wyngarde is Peter Wyngarde, and Donald Sutherland was Donald Pierce. See what they did there?
Most of the entries on this list come from creators being influenced by one look for the character. Normally, just the character’s face looks like the celebrity they’re influenced by. In the comic series The Crow, the character of Eric Draven definitely doesn’t look like Brandon Lee (RIP), from the movie version. Instead James O’Barr draws his inspiration from not one, but two musicians.
How does James O’Barr make Eric Draven look like two people at once? Well, he borrowed the face of Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy and the body of musician Iggy Pop (who, incidentally, appeared in The Crow‘s much-maligned sequel, City of Angels). Once you hear that, it makes total sense that Eric Draven is a lean, muscular character with the prototypical “goth” facial features. Peter Murphy’s face has also influenced another character from comics – Dream from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Not bad for a singer of a criminally underrated band, that most people haven’t heard of.
Of all the supporting characters in the Marvel Universe, J. Jonah Jameson might have the most iconic look. Throughout the years, JJJ has always had his signature mustache, dark hair with white sides, and chomping a cigar. He’s so over-the-top, readers just can’t imagine that there’s any way he’s based on a real person. Well, readers would be wrong.
In fact, J. Jonah Jameson creator Stan Lee (along with Steve Ditko) has stated multiple times that when he was thinking of a grumpy editor, he thought it would be funny to base it on himself. Well, a version of himself. Stan Lee says that all the grumpiness and stupidity that J. Jonah exhibits in Spider-Man is not actually who he is, but a version of Lee that co-workers view him as. Stan and Jonah also share the mustache and hair color that makes the character(s) so famous.
When we talk about visual inspiration, we talk about how an artist looks at a famous person and decides to draw someone that “resembles” that famous person. They borrow famous physical features, but creating a whole different character. Well, artist Greg Land has the dubious entry on this list, because he didn’t just base his characters on a famous person, he based them ALL on famous people. Particularly, from one “special” corner of culture.
You see, Greg Land doesn’t hide his artistic method. He fully embraces the idea that he practically traces celebrity faces and puts them in his art. Name a famous beautiful actress and Greg Land has put her in a comic. What makes his art so controversial is when he decides to take actresses from a more “adult” part of the industry and use them for models in his work. What you’re left with are female characters like Sue Storm exhibiting facial expressions that make it seem like they’re not fighting bad guys, but are instead in the middle of something more “passionate.” Let’s just say that if you ever want to see a superhero’s “O face,” then just read anything drawn by Greg Land.
What are some other examples where comic book characters copied the faces of celebrity? Let us know in the comments!