Adam Hughes Looks Back on His Famous ‘Real Power of the DC Universe’ Poster [Interview]
It's inspired cosplayers and artists alike, and hangs in pride of place on many comic fans' walls, yet Adam Hughes' Real Power of the DC Universe poster was originally just a giveaway at San Diego Comic-Con back in 2008. Recreating a high glamour photo shoot with DC's biggest female heroes (and anti-heroes), including Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Power Girl, Supergirl, Batwoman, and Oracle, the poster is both a great piece of work and a wonderful tribute to these powerful characters.
The poster has become a truly iconic image over the past few years, so we reached out to Hughes to find out the story behind its creation, and to learn about the choices he made --- including why Catwoman is in a black dress!
ComicsAlliance: Who came up with the idea for the poster? Did the title come first, or the concept?
Adam Hughes: It was all DC’s idea; the poster was just meant to be a giveaway at cons promoting characters of upcoming DC projects. I’m not exactly sure who at DC thought up doing the DCU ladies like a Vanity Fair cover, but I was offered the job by DC art director and VP Mark Chiarello.
CA: Was there much conversation about which characters to include?
AH: Yes! DC told me which characters to include, and when Catwoman was not on the list… I initiated many, many conversations. I was ultimately told that Catwoman was in no way to be on the poster as her series at the time was coming to an end. Ultimately, I drew Catwoman on the very far left, for my own edification, figuring I’d Photoshop her out of the final art. In the 11th hour, when DC saw my progress, they liked how Selina looked, and told me to leave her in!
CA: How did you decide on the white color scheme, and the style for each outfit?
AH: DC requested the white outfits, which I initially resisted. I feared the final art would like a bridal magazine layout if they were all in white. In the end I gave each white outfit a slightly different color temperature, just to break it up. As for the styles… I let each lady’s character sort of “art direct” the style they were in. Wonder Woman is in a dress much like a Greek stola, for example.
CA: Catwoman is notably the only character not dressed all in white.
AH: I put Selina in black because DC asked me to keep her in less than 24 hours before the deadline, and at that stage she was only penciled. I knew there was no time for any back-and-forth, so I broke the editorial mandate and put her in black.
My reasoning was that Selina would be really pissed about being intentionally left out and then being included at the last minute, so she’d wear the blackest thing she could steal –-- a latex evening gown –-- just out of spite.
CA: I know several friends who have the poster up in their workplace or in their homes, and it's been the subject of multiple cosplay recreations and has inspired several homages. Has it surprised you that the poster has such enduring appeal?
AH: Kinda, yeah. DC just wanted something to give out at that summer’s conventions, which is good and proper. I wanted Catwoman on it because I saw it as something people would want to keep long after that year’s DC books had come out – I wanted it to have legs, pun intended. I didn’t expect it to be well-received and well-liked for so long, so yes, I’m surprised.
CA: Have you ever thought about revisiting the poster, perhaps to do a current version, or even a Marvel universe version? Are there changes you'd make to the poster today?
AH: Yes! People have asked for a version where all the characters are in their costumes, or in swimsuits, or lingerie, what have you. Marvel versions, male DCU version, you name it. I think I could’ve started a cottage industry of Vanity Fair superhero posters.
Changes... I think Power Girl and Black Canary could’ve been drawn better. I’d fix them if I’d had another day or so.
CA: Beyond this iconic poster, you're celebrated as one of comics' foremost cheesecake artists. Do you embrace that term? What do you think is the secret to good cheesecake art?
AH: I think the secret to being good at any aspect of art is to respect the material. Be it good girl art, beefcake, dinosaurs, zombies, whatever – if you love and respect the material you’ll tend imbue it with some kind of relative dignity. Even if it’s cheesecake! I love and respect women so I think it comes through in my work.
The other secret is to draw characters from the inside out. Catwoman works on the poster because I thought about who she is and how she feels while drawing, and that informed the final illustration. Selina Kyle isn’t just a stick plus boobs to me, she’s a real person. I’m just passing on whatever these real people are feeling when I draw them.
I don’t know if I embrace the term ‘cheesecake artist’. I don’t like hugging anything. Maybe I give the term a warm yet firm handshake? It’s great to be known for being good for something, and it not being altogether infamous.