Painting the Joker: A Look at the Varying Stylistic Approaches to the Joker

The Joker has always been a villain of high intrigue as part of the Batman’s crime-fighting history; since Heath Leger’s memorable dark portrayal – all the more so.  He is always portrayed as a criminal master-mind, but the details of who the Joker is and what exactly his aim is, varies from comic to comic, film to film.  Two things has remained constant throughout the course of the Joker’s portrayed history: his striking visage and bold colour depiction, but why?

When you think of the Joker, of whom do you picture?

Is it Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and/or Jerry Robinson?


Original Joker Concept Drawing

Cesar Romero? Mark Hamil? Heath Ledger?

The JokerCostume:

Aside from his original tourist garb (Hawaiian shirt, shorts and camera), in comic or film portrayal, the Joker has always been associated with his trademark purple 3-piece suit, often seen sported with a green vest. To expand on McCloud’s point about superheroes’ “costume colors remain[ing] exactly the same, panel after panel, they came to symbolize the characters in the mind of the reader,” (Heer, and Worcester 80) it would be fair to assume that infamous foes would have similar associations. Derek Punsalan discusses colour theory in comics in his blog on Awesome-Engine and states an interesting point: that primary colours typical costume colouring for heroes, while complimentary colours were reserved for villains, as he states: “a lot of purple and green was used for villains.” Although his primary focus is on Spiderman and other Marvel characters, one can extrapolate the information presented and apply colour theory to the heroes and villains of the DC world.

Other well-known green and purple heroes/villains:

  • The Hulk – although moreso a “hero,” Bruce Banner’s alter-ego struggles with morals and dances on the good/evil line, especially concerning his short list of selfless, pro-social missions of a generic superhero.
  • Green Goblin
  • The Riddler

“Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?”

Another iconic association with Joker, is his disturbing facial features that give him his namesake.  The widely accepted story of his stark-faced, grinning origin, in short, is that he fell into an acid bath while breaking into a card-factory/factory of sorts. The burns petrified his body leaving his skin chalk-white, his hair green, and an unsightly perma-smile smeared across his face. Tim Burton upholds this Redhood origin story in his film portrayal, where Nolan contributes to a darker Joker who maniacally makes up countless stories behind his scar and ‘war paint.’  The Joker’s message, despite occasional inaccuracies in film portrayals, consistently stays true to comic origins: that he is no different than any man in Gotham – “all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy” (Bolland and Moore).  I found it interesting to note that after reading ‘The Killing Joke’ and watching ‘The Dark Knight’ again, the Joker’s target victim changed from Gordon to Dent and met with disturbing success.

The Joker has undoubtedly evolved throughout the years, from maniacal killer to contemplative sociopath.  However, the iconography of who he is will ring clear for continued generations because of the key details that have come to represent him: his costume, menacing smile, and message.

Further Questions:

Do you suppose the complimentary colours are attributed to villains and questionable moral characters because they are muddied colours, unlike monochromatic/primary coloured superheroes?

Is there anything creators and/or actors have dropped or added to the character of Joker that has significantly altered the way in which pop. culture perceives him? Has this, in turn, effected the modern comic portrayal?


Punsalan , Derek. “Superhero Colour Theory.” Awesome Engine. Dynamite in the Brain, 15 Jan 2008. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <>.

McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics (Northampton: Tundra, 1993).

Heer, Jeet, and Kent Worcester. A Comics Studies Reader. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009. 80. Print.

Bolland, Brian, and Alan Moore. The Killing Joke. DC Comics, 1988. Print.

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The Legacy of Batman

First off this started out as a response to who would win in a battle, Superman or Batman, but while writing my comment I realized I had a little bit more than I thought I had to say about Batman. So here it goes.

Alright, I will admit I don’t know too much about Superman so the following argument is going to definitely one sided. While Superman does have the qualities to beat Batman in a hypothetical fistfight I feel like I should bring up some of the outstanding qualities that Batman has. Starting with the fact that no matter what Superman would do to beat Batman, Bruce Wayne will have already figured a way out of it. While his physical capabilities may be slightly (exaggeration) below Supermans, I believe that he makes up for it in intelligence. He did after all think up, ahead of time no less, the possibility where he would be brainwashed while he was going through a simulation of death to be an almost anti-sleeper agent. After hearing a key phrase Bruce Wayne would no longer BE Batman. Yet after this happened he became an alternate version of Batman, still fighting crime. The pure limitlessness of his intelligence matched with his wealth and his character (no little crises’ of whether or not to save the world here) brings me to believe that no matter the situation Batman is placed in, he will come out the winner. For goodness sakes the man pretty much travelled through time. Reiterating, he is just a man.

That’s the amazing thing about him, while Bruce Wayne is just an (although above average) man, Batman is so much more. He is a symbol. So while perhaps in some hypothetical fight Superman could knock his teeth out, the Batman would still survive. And this has happened, friends of Batman’s have stepped up and donned the cowl when Bruce Wayne was presumed dead. The idea of Batman is much more powerful than any one man, one incredible man that is, who make this lasting and symbolic legacy.

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“After Just Now”

Postmodernism seems to be a theory that many people are weary of. …And I am not quite sure why.

Let me begin with stating that the word modernism comes from the Latin word “modo,” which literally means “just now.” Therefore, postmodernism literally refers to “after just now.” The importance of this comes from the idea that historically, modernism has always been at odds with what came immediately before it.

Tying in with class discussions on the differences between modernism and postmodernism, I would argue that really, its just a matter of sequence. Because of this, it is possible that what is now considered postmodernist, will ultimately become apart of the societal and historical milieu.

Now seeing that this is a class on comics, the relevance of this post comes from the idea that postmodernism is a rejection of Meta narratives and the search of a “Capital T” Truth. So while, paintings and literature came before, and spoke of the times, it is time for comics to be given the chance to play with the cultural climate in its own way. If we are to take comics as one of the many icons of the postmodernist age, then we imbue in it certain qualities (That as a theory nut, I think are worth exploring). The postmodernist move from singularity to the understanding that meaning is never fixed is something that at one point, really rocked the boat. Moreover, all of the greatest ages of intellectual growth came from a stern rejection of past ways of thinking (think the enlightenment).  I think that because of  the way that comics borrow from multiple genres, and sample other stories, it is possible for ideas that were once thought to be contradictory can come to a head. Heck, my first trip to a real comic store left me flabbergasted at all the types of stories that can be told in this format.

So why don’t we all embrace postmodernism and all that comes with it?


Appignanesi, R., C. Garratt, Z. Sardar, and P. Curry. Introducing postmodernism. Totem Books, 2004. Print.


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The Hierarchy of Art Strikes Again!

We’ve all experienced the comic book to film conversion. It makes sense that cinema and comics go hand in hand when you consider their base components of images and words (or in film’s case sound). The action of Avengers comics, or the extravagant images of the Watchmen, seem as if they’ve been created specifically for the big screen. But what about the other way around? Over the past few years, more and more stories, whether they are novels or television originally, are getting converted into comic books. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Game of Thrones, and even CW’s Supernatural have gone through this screen to page conversion. For some reason, the immediate reaction to the comic-fying is that it is somehow a diminishment of the original work, while comics making it to film is a huge accomplishment. Ta da, we now come to the ever present hierarchy of art. Am I wrong in making the assumption that these comics are not successful? No, really, I’m actually wondering. Do any of you read these comic versions of other works? And do you feel the same about them? Is it really necessary?

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Evolving Comic Books

To expand on what we discussed about it class the other day about different forms of comics in art, I am going to look into where it seems comic books are heading these days. First thing to do would be to take a peek into the idea of incorporating music and comics together. Rolling Stone published an article a couple of months ago on a new interactive comic, that Marvel is now in the testing stages of, that has specific music that plays as readers flip the page. The link to the website is posted below. “Project Gamma” as it has been currently named, will give the reader an entirely different experience reading a story. Depending on how long the reader lingers on the page and how long it takes them to read the page are factors that determine the music they are hearing for each scene or panel. This gives even more of a unique experience for every single reader and I believe even changes the entire dynamic and definition of comics. This is almost edging towards a medium between film and literature. And yes, even though comic books and graphic novels are in a category of their own and can’t really be classified as literature, there is still text in them.

As much as I am actually interested in this idea and can appreciate it’s creativity I can’t help but think of those big hard paged picture books that I had when I was a kid. With buttons that you pressed on the side whenever there was a cue on the page you were reading and the appropriate sound would be made for the scene in front of you. Maybe a little bit juvenile? Although this is clearly more sophisticated than a snow white picture book that makes magic wand sounds, these two concepts are somewhat related. Not to sound too negative, this was a great concept for kids so why couldn’t it work when used in a more mature setting with classical music to set the scene for the latest Spiderman adventure?

All together it’s a great and innovative idea and these kinds of ideas are what keeps industries relavent and moving forward.



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Art in Comics

For me personally, it has to be a good story for me to keep reading, and if it has not grabbed my attention and interest by about the 10th page, I have to stop. I am the same way with novels as well, and I know that if you are patient, the story may all of a sudden become fantastic. But that is not the way I am. However, on the art side, if the art is not good, or even okay I will not give it a chance, as I look at the art before reading.

But what makes the art good from bad? What is the line that marks readable from unreadable? For myself I like smoother lines compared to rough, and surprisingly, I prefer black and white to coloured. Don’t get me wrong as I like colour every now and then, but when its from older comics, like those that we have read (X-men for example), I find the color very distracting, to the point of causing headaches, and it was very hard to read. The art also needs to have detail, to some degree, and too much becomes a distraction from the story as well.

The balance in the middle is what art needs. There is also the font choice, which even though it sounds small, its also important for me personally. If I have to squint or re-read a sentence, because of the chance that I read it wrong because of the font, then there is a problem. The illustrations themselves don’t need to be bad, to make it bad art, as it’s the whole package of the layout that make the art a make or break for me. If the layout is nice, words are legible, and you can easily make out the illustrations, then it has hit the ‘okay’ line (for myself, as others my have a different standard). If the art goes beyond this, then it hits good, or great artwork.

-Kristyn Pattemore

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Not A Convert

Many of the people who have taken this class are (understandably) already comic book fans. Before this class, I had never read a comic strip/book in my life, so I tried to come into this class with an open mind.


Reading this blog, I have found a lot of defensiveness of the fans. To an extent, I understand why – if society was making insulting assumptions about something I loved, I’d be defensive too. I just can’t help but feel – even after reading and studying all these comics – that the offenders have a point.


The idea of comics is a good one, obviously proven by its popularity. However, I feel it is a bit silly to compare comics with either literature as art, since they can’t ever truly compare with either. The complexity of making one work of art (painting or writing) is hard enough on its own. Because comics need both, there needs to be a balance – the image-text relations need to complement each other, and if there is too much of one, then it is criticized. If a comic has too much text, it threatens to become a novel, and if there are not enough text, it becomes a series of images without enough story.


By doing this, both the writing and the drawing become simplified – you must “read” the pictures and “look” at the text all at once to get the desired effect. Since it is necessary for the art form of comics to simplify, I don’t think, even the most sophisticated comic book, could ever compare to a classic novel or painting. There just isn’t enough opportunity to expand the depth of either the writing or the drawing, because they need to be entertaining.


As with any newer media form, I believe comics is still trying to find its legs, and I do believe it’s possible for comics to come up with classic pieces (as we have studied, they are well on their way with comics such as Maus and Krazy Kat), but I think it is still in the making. Comics is something all its own – it isn’t prose, and it isn’t art in the classical sense either. To compare them, in my opinion, is setting up comics to fail.


–          Diana Harrison


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The Superhero’s Back Story

Of the late, I’ve come across several superhero movies that have all centered around the protagonist coming into his powers, rather than thrusting the audience into the mythos in the middle. Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming Man of Steel all come to mind. This can otherwise be known as the origin story. I just started to wonder: why are people so fascinated by this? Aren’t people sick of the creation story?


In my opinion, I think the fascination has much to do with the hero being relatable. In the article “The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories”, the author notes, “In my surveys of the genre, I’ve found that superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to,” and these, summarized: Trauma (ex. Batman witnessing the murder of his parents), destiny (ex. Superman) and/or sheer chance (ex. Spider-Man). The author suggests that these stories “provide models of coping with adversity” (Rosenberg).


I find it incredible that stories like Superman have survived for so long – I believe it has just passed its 75th year mark. In the olden comic days, superheroes like Superman and Batman didn’t have elaborate back stories, but they are becoming more and more complex. This keeps them alive, as people are wanting their heroes to become more human. They want to live through those characters. When Spider-Man first came out, it was a hit in part because of Peter, who was a geeky, socially awkward teenage boy, probably like a lot of its readership. It combines real life with fantasy, giving the readers just enough realism to connect with the protagonist and live vicariously through him/her.


I think of my childhood and my utter disconnect with Superman for instance, even though he’s one of the most famous superheroes of all time. It wasn’t when I was a preteen and started watching Smallville that I became interested in Superman’s story, and that wasn’t because of the “Man of Steel” – it was because of the self-conscious, relatable Clark Kent, who was dealing with normal teen stuff, while also being an alien with superpowers.


–          Diana Harrison




–          Rosenberg:

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Cosplay and Fandom

Throughout this course, I have come across the term “cosplay” several times, which I have found out, basically just means “costume play.” But this is a step up from kids dressing up on Halloween. If it done right, that is.


Cosplay began in Japan, and was originally used for anime characters. However, it eventually spread its wings in the 1990s, and is now used for a variety of popular franchises. It is not, “merely costuming, but a very unique form of performance art. It is most widely associated with comic books, anime, video games, and most things that are geeky in nature” (McIsaac). It for this reason, I suspect, that people go to such great lengths to create authentic costumes and enjoy doing it so much. As part of a subculture that may not be mainstream, dressing up and going to conventions with likeminded people is one of the rare opportunities to not only be accepted but appreciated for their work and creativity on something interesting and a little bizarre such as this.


There is a lot of negativity from outside the fandoms on cosplay, but also inside the fandoms and seeking out those who are not “true fans” by the way they are dressed (often in a misogynistic manner, they mean girls who are in provocative costumes to get attention).


However, that does not mean that there aren’t still many fans who use cosplay in a respectful and enthusiastic manner to pay homage to a series they adore. Cosplay, when done right, can be an enjoyable, creative experience that can bring fans in a community closer together. It gives fans an opportunity to participate in their favourite fictional world to take a break from reality and to have fun.


–          Diana Harrison




–         McIsaac:

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What is the Appeal of Manga/Anime?

As someone who always thought cartoons were for children, the enormous manga/anime fandom has baffled me for quite some time. When I think of anime, I think of her:




As a teenager, I always admitted that I loved certain Disney films, but I didn’t follow them the way my manga-fan friends followed their anime, highly invested in it the way I was invested in adult television shows. I thought maybe was a fad, but if it is, it’s still going incredibly strong.


To be honest, I know very little of manga/anime, and what I have been exposed to freaks me out. The majority of what I’ve seen is squid, horned monsters and fetishized twelve-year-old girls in school uniforms.


After browsing several forums, I discovered that manga is a lot more dynamic than I gave it credit for. In Japan, “cartoon” is not synonymous with “children.” This would explain why so many people my age and older adore it, and why there is so much dark, violent and sexualized content. Apparently, “more than half of all movies and television programs produced in Japan are animation … But these are not the cartoons of your youth – they are often sophisticated, sometimes violent and frequently have adult themes … You’ll see complex stories including love, growing up and female empowerment” (Napier). This same article notes that the most common reason lovers of anime love anime was because it was different, unlike our American comics which, “wouldn’t have Archie and Jughead dealing with the apocalypse” (Napier).


Anime is not a genre – it covers many genres including comedy, action, fantasy, thrillers and even erotica, with a similar drawing style and this vibrant and unique. I’m glad that anime is breaking the traditional idea that cartoons are for children in our Western world where we embrace anime so strongly.


–          Diana Harrison




–          Napier:



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