Comic books have a distinctive art style, and have since the earliest stories. In the sixties a lot of series were set in an undistinguishable era, where predictions of future technology were mixed with fashions of the time. I will discuss in this essay how comic book art, particularly The Fantastic Four, has remained timeless and inspired The Incredibles.
‘Googie’ is a term used to describe the “Space Age Futurism”, which is a common theme in comic books. As the characters have fictional powers, writers would design worlds where technology and science existed to make their ideas plausible. That’s why many stories are an alternative reality of the time period. Furniture, vehicles, and decorating styles in The Incredibles follow this path. They used a Googie theme- “Future from the perspective of the 1960s”.
The volcano island Nomanisan in the movie was based on another form of Googie, as it is filled with Tiki architecture.
As futurism is common in comic books, it’s no surprise it’s used in hero movies today. The Incredibles references- and draws inspiration from- many comic book tropes and ideas. The most obvious similarity being the Fantastic Four comic books.
The Fantastic Four began in 1961 but was set in a world where the characters had gotten their powers through science that did not yet exist in reality, as they were ahead of their time (Googie). Though it wasn’t the intent to copy the characters’ designs there are similarities with the look and plot of the film and comic books. The heroes all wear Lycra suits (popular in older comic books) to match Fantastic Four’s, both with logos on the chest. Every suit is tailored to the character’s powers, in both cases, where the powers are almost mirrored. Since the characters’ powers were the same, the ideas for the costumes in Incredibles would come from Fantastic Four, as everyone would recognise the thought process. The early issues of Fantastic Four were the bigger artistic influence over later ones, as Pixar’s Elastigirl’s hair has the same style as the original Invisible Girl; proving the fashion of Incredibles was of the 60’s.
Incredibles and Fantastic Four have been compared a lot, even Marvel saw similarities and altered the 2005 Fantastic Four movie.
More Marvel comic books influenced Brad Bird (Incredibles director), as he claimed he was heavily influenced by Jim Sterento’s comic book Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The comic book was from 1973, and ‘Fury’ is all about futuristic tech. Marvel (creators of Fantastic Four in this same period) definitely swayed the look of the film. Other costumes from the movie were inspired by Marvel, proven when the fashion designer character Edna designed costumes for supers which looked like Captain America’s, Cyclops, and Crystal of the Inhumans’.
DC also inspired the movie. During the wedding scene, Helen says to Bob, “You are my greatest adventure”. This quote references the DC comic series My Greatest Adventure, where the Superhero story is focussed on the familiar family dynamic. They have a character named Elasti-Girl also- which is why in Pixar promotions they had to call Helen Mrs. Incredible! This proves there were more comic influences.
The city the movie is set in is called Metroville, a combination of Superman’s Metropolis and Smallville. But the Superman influences on artists goes deeper.
Bird directed Iron Giant for Warner Bros in 1999, before moving to Pixar for Incredibles. Bird brought the whole design team with him to Pixar. This meant the design ideas for The Incredibles came from those same people, with the same artistic motivations. At the end of Iron Giant he calls himself “Superman”, which is an obvious DC shout out. The Giant itself then appeared in the comic book Superman: Lois and Clark– and speaks to Superman. His design was unchanged, and fit perfectly into the comic book, proving the artistic muse from the comic books in the first place had come full-circle.
Joe Johnston who designed the Iron Giant character had beforehand directed Rocketeer and went on to produce Captain America: The First Avenger– he definitely has vision for how movies based on comic books should look. His comic style art will have influenced the team’s work.
Bird first designed the Incredibles in 1993, only to postpone the project to make Iron Giant, and was told once he moved to Pixar he could make whatever he wanted. He already had an outlook for The Incredibles, so it would make sense to assume he would have stuck to that same art style in both movies, saving the big ideas for The Incredibles. When things changed from 2D to 3D the team claimed they were “Merging the worlds of hand drawn and 3D”. They kept their ideal style, but used the 3D to their advantage. Rather than creating hyper-realistic characters, they went for a cartoon-like edge and used movement and exaggerations to make believable people.
Behind the scenes clips reveal storyboarded cut-scenes for the movie, where you could see how the movie would have looked in comic strips, because they showed super powers in stills. They brought these strips to life throughout the film. John Lassater said “I will never let something go into production unless it’s working fantastic in that version with still drawings”.
The movie could be inspired by many 60s/70s comics. They all share bold outlines, bright colours, well-lit scenes to convey light hearted atmospheres, and dramatically lit scenes to show drama or darkness. There’s never much blending in comics so the costumes were block-coloured, and their furniture was simplistic. In The Incredibles they kept the pattern-less furniture, and straight forward suits and designs.
Compared to other Pixar colour scripts, Incredibles’ is more colourful and complex. Ralph Eggleston was in charge of colour scripting for this picture. It is probable the comic book style of the sets and characters just brought out the colourful designs he did. They also did lighting concepts to demonstrate emotion and drama. Designers also made sculptures of characters to see them from every angle before modelling them digitally. It was important for them to create “Human emotion through the shape and colour of the sets.”
On the second disk of the DVD set for The Incredibles is a 60s superhero cartoon spoof called Mr. Incredible and Pals which is made to look authentic to the era (60’s/70’s). The 2D characters are barely animate because the technology is supposed to be limited, and the story imitates a Batman parody- that is speculation, but another DC inspiration for Incredibles was Batman. The spoof’s colour scheme still resembles the Fantastic Four’s 70’s TV show, which again proves those comic books in particular were Pixar’s leading inspiration; especially when Bob is wearing his blue costume, not red. This extra feature shows exactly how the characters of the show would have looked if they’d existed in the 60s and had their own books and shows, returning to comic book roots. The characters were authentic to the movie, and looked like the perfect fitting 60s heroes- bold outlines and exaggerated super-bodies, costumes to match the era, and a colour scheme to bring out how light hearted it is. This just proves that the characters in the movie most definitely look how their 2D counterparts would look with a third dimension added and with better technology.
After looking into the background of The Incredibles artists and discovering the many ways they were inspired by comic book art I can see why Fantastic Four was such an inspiration. The series has not only encouraged their own movies and cartoons, but also The Incredibles, the powers are so similar, it was only right to take notes from an existing popular art form based on a similar plot.