Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Robin Relics:
Desigining Tim Drake's Robin Costume...

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With Batman hitting the silver screen as a solo adventurer in 1989, it was only a matter of time before everyone started asking about his junior partner: Where's Robin? Would he be in the next film? Would it be Dick Grayson? Jason Todd? Someone new? And maybe most importantly to the filmmakers of this dark incarnation of the caped crusader- Would he still be wearing the green short-shorts and pixie boots?

Enter DC Comics. With a new Robin ready to leave the nest in the form of Tim Drake, the powers-that-be at DC decided this would be the perfect time to re-vamp the character's look in the comic. The goal? Rid themselves of the outdated "pixie" garb while updating Robin to a 90's look more fitting for possible inclusion in the blossoming film universe.

A team of artists was tasked with creating a new look for the Boy Wonder, with comics legend Neal Adams' design being the overall winner. Gone were the little green boots, bare legs, and bright yellow cape; In their place was a sleek new outfit more fitting of a partner to the Dark Knight Detective.

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...But how did this design win out? What was it about this look that caused it to resonate not just with the decision-makers at DC, but also with the film producers and the comic-buying public? Well, Neal Adams shared his side of the story years ago in this interview with the Comics Bulletin website:

Neal Adams- "I worry about people not solving problems that can be solved in a reasonable way. Like Robin. The problem with Robin came up when the movie company wanted to do Robin in the movies. So they said to DC, 'We have to redesign Robin.' They couldn’t use Robin the way he was. And DC was stuck with the problem of what to do. So they called me — a very smart thing to do in my humble opinion — and they said, 'Can you do some new designs for Robin' I said, 'Are you asking me to redesign Robin?' They said, 'Yeah, we are asking you to redesign Robin' I said fine and I started to work.

"Then I heard through the grapevine that they asked 12 or so other people to redesign Robin. So I had my daughter, Kris, call DC and say, 'This redesign thing is going to cost you some money if you want Neal to do it' They said, 'We want Neal to do it.' They ask how much money. She tells them. She said, 'What’s happening now is, you’re casually asking Neal to redesign Robin, you’re not telling Neal why. We have a feeling something is going on. You’re not telling Neal it is important or that you’re getting other people to do redesigns, and that he is in competition with other people.' They said, 'Oh, no, we don’t have to tell Neal that.' She said, 'No you don’t, but on the other hand since Neal is going to win the competition, Neal is not going to sit there with the other 12 guys and just do designs until the cows come home. We are going to charge you professionally, the way we would do it for an advertising agency, if you want Neal to work on it.' They said, 'Well, we want Neal to work on it.'

"They wanted me to work on it because the film company was saying they would change it. So I started to submit some designs. The most important thing that I did was realize the character had to remain Robin, but had to be a new Robin, and there were some things that were really wrong. Like his legs were bare, that didn’t make any sense. He wore these little elf boots, that didn’t make any sense. His colors were too bright — yellow and red — and he was going to be out at night, it doesn’t make any sense.

"So how do you solve all those problems and still not change Robin? Aren’t you talking about designing Batman Jr.? So I started to solve problems as much as I could. I didn’t care about what the others guys were doing. I have done this before on a professional basis. I have designed costumes for stage plays and other stuff. I was solving problems and applying them to a costume. They were just designing costumes. Which was fine, but that was not what the problem was. The problem was how do you make this Robin valid? Turn the boots into ninja boots, cover the legs, deepen the colors on the costume so they were more in [line] with the Batman, put packet things on the sleeves to carry weapons, redesign the mask, redesign various things. Anyway, after a few designs I came up with what I think is the key important design to the Robin costume, and that is that the cape is yellow on the inside and black on the outside.

"So he blends in at night with Batman. At the same time when he stands with his cape thrown back, it’s still yellow and he is still Robin; justifying the yellow cape. So he can actually be Robin, he can have the Red vest; he can have the yellow cape over his shoulders. So we have saved the Robin. That, of course, was the costume that the film company loved. They said, 'This is terrific. This solves all of our problems.' There were problems they didn’t explain to me, but they were problems I already know because I know this shit. I know this shit because I am supposed to be a professional. So, I had done it. Then they asked DC, 'Could you have your designer go one step further? Have him give Robin a darker costume, closer to Batman’s costume.' So, I did. I created another Robin costume. Then I had Kris get on the phone with DC Comics and she said to them exactly what I am going to say to you. 'Neal is going to send over a Robin costume. We recommend that you do not show it to the film company. You will sort of like it. It’s not Robin, it’s a dark costume. They will love it because they want a dark Robin. You have already shown them a successful Robin. If you show them this costume they will buy this costume and you will destroy your licensing for Robin forever. We are going to send it over, but we recommend that you do not show it to them. Make up whatever excuses you can to not show it to them. You can say, "You know, we have gone far enough. We have changed the Robin costume enough. We have cooperated enough. We are not going to go any further we are not going to do any more designs" We recommend you not show it because it looks too good. Do not show it.'

"I don’t think they did. I don’t think they showed it. I think they made the argument and they probably got it through, or they showed it and said, 'You are going to destroy our licensing if you do this.' Whatever it is they decided to go with the one before that, with the black on the outside and the yellow on the inside, and that became the Robin costume. And they paid the price for it. Of course they used something I would do. I don’t think it is any kind of arrogance to say that if I do this professionally for other things I should know what I am doing, and I am the right person to go to. It is not meant as a criticism or slight to any of the other guys, because they were really not given the full information. They weren’t explained the problem, they were just saying give us a new Robin costume. So they filled the book with those Robin costumes, and you can see them, but it was not problem solving."


But while Neal's take did end up being the winning design, elements from the other artists' submissions found their way into the finished product as well. Norm Breyfogle (who provided pencils for the regular monthly Bat-books at the time and actually penciled the first appearance of the suit in comics) also pitched designs, with a few of his elements being incorporated into the Neal Adams' version. Norm explained his part through the message board at his site, and even shared images from his pitch (which have been re-posted below).

Norm Breyfogle- "These Robin costume designs constitute the full and complete presentation given by me to DC Comics in 1990 when I was asked - along with a number of other artists - to re-design Robin's costume for the new Tim Drake Robin that Alan Grant and I and others introduced in Batman and Detective Comics. The winning costume was one designed by Neal Adams, but the new Robin's "R" symbol was influenced by the "R" symbol I designed in this presentation, and the fact that the new Robin carried a staff was also my idea, as evidenced by these pages."

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The design tweaks didn't end there though... Tom Lyle, artist behind the original Robin mini-series (as well as its 2 sequels), also put his own stamp on Robin's appearance. Tom explained this, as well as a little more on what part the movies played in the character's design back in Comics Interview Magazine Issue #93:

Tom Lyle- "There was actually, at one point, going to be a costume design contest in which people would vote on their favorite costume. There were 12 to 15 costume designs laid out, which the one out now is one of. Before they did the costume contest they showed the designs to the director of the first Batman movie, Tim Burton, because Warner Brothers does have some say in the look of the new Robin. Because not only are they the parent company of DC, but they also did the first Batman movie, which made lots of bucks. Tim Burton wants to use the new Robin I the new movie. Robin should be in the second movie, but don't quote me on that. Tim Burton, after looking over the designs, said he didn't want a contest and decided on the costume he wanted. The new costume was designed by Neal Adams. The costume is exciting because while it is new, it uses the old elements at the same time. He now wears tights, and he doesn't have the pixie-type boots anymore- He has a ninja-type of boot these days."

On changing Robin's hair-

"I really had to fight to keep the spiked hair, not that helmet-head look. I wanted it to be really different. He's only 13. That's just my interpretation of how it should be."

Lyle's spiked hair design quickly overshadowed Adams' original "helmet hair" look, and became the norm for the character throughout his early appearances. And while it doesn't appear Lyle was involved in the initial pitch, he did get to put his pen towards some of those early, unused designs. The 1995 DC Comics Elseworlds special "Batman: Knight Gallery" featured the Robin concept designs from artists Neal Adams & Norm Breyfogle, as well as a selection of others from Stephen De Stefano, George Perez, & Jim Aparo– with Tom Lyle stepping in to deliver them in finished form for the book:-

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After almost 25 years, the initial Tim Drake Robin suit still stands as one of the most successful character re-designs in comics' history. With the high-stakes game of pleasing the film studio, a 50-year legacy to uphold, and the level of talent involved, it seems all the stars aligned to make this a truly momentous event- One the likes of which the Robin character had never experienced before, and likely won't experience on this level ever again...

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