Batman: The Killing Joke shoes

Reading time: 8 mins

I spend a lot of time around screens, with my hands often either on a keyboard, a touch-screen, or a game pad. My digital hobbies are long-standing, and have even started to consume some more traditional habits – I’m more likely to be found reading a comic on my tablet nowadays, as I find it easier to keep up with the ever-growing list of titles that I follow. With this in mind, I’ve recently been looking for opportunities to spend more time away from the digital world, and to balance it by doing more things in my spare time that have links to the physical.

A while ago a friend of mine sent me a link to these, knowing that I’m a lover of both Batman and of shoes, with this example combining the two pretty spectacularly.

TheRealHellOnHeels on Etsy

I teetered on the edge of a purchase, however the fact that they’re so high, that I didn’t know how comfy they’d be, and that they cost rather a lot to buy and get shipped over all were all nagging at me.  Instead, I started looking into how people make them, and found that there are a lot of people doing comic book footwear of all kinds – from trainers to heels.

The basic approach is simple – get a comic book, get some shoes, cut it up and stick it on. I however had to make it somewhat more complicated, so I thought that I’d document my findings – more for my own future reference than anything else.

The shoes

Finding the right footwear was important, because if they didn’t fit well or weren’t comfy then I knew that I’d never wear the end result. I ended up going for some ‘nicer’ Carvela shoes after keeping a keen eye out for the right thing to come up in a sale. I have some similar ones that have lasted years and are incredibly comfy, so chose that above the most cheap option. That said, getting an extremely cheap pair is probably not a bad idea to test out ideas and to get comfortable with the paper and glue, but I was too excited to dive straight in.

Any shoes you get should ideally be leather (matte or patent) or PVC – whilst I’ve seen people get canvas to work, it will likely be much more of a pain, and I wouldn’t recommend suede or softer textures. Think about the base colour, and whether you want that to be part of your design, and how it will work with the comic you’re after.

The artwork

This was by far the hardest step of the process for me. I have a lot of comics and graphic novels, and I found it very hard to know where to start. Most of the tutorial videos online will reference “walking into your local comic book store and picking up something cheap”, but I knew that this wouldn’t work – I firstly wanted a story that I knew I liked, and that meant something, and secondly I wanted to make sure that the visual elements were right.

I started by at least confining myself to Batman, as that was the original inspiration, but am already thinking about other areas that I’d like to think about making something for. I’m a big fan of  Tim Sale’s artwork in general, with work like The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, or even When In Rome coming off my bookshelf for a quick flick through, however the same things that visually appeal to me in his work (big panels, bold colour blocks) just didn’t feel like they’d work on shoes. I started focusing on my favourite other characters, and whether there were some nice crossovers, and looked back through some of the recent(ish) storylines that I’d enjoyed and which I felt were strong visually, such as the Court of Owls threads.

In the end, I came down to Year One and The Killing Joke, both pretty iconic pieces of work and visually impressive in their own rights. I decided on The Killing Joke, primarily because having flicked through, there were more standout, distinct pieces of imagery that I was going to use as highlight pieces. That didn’t end up being the case in the end, but I’m still pleased with my choice.

Comic options

Batman: Year One and The Killing Joke

The process

Having decided on what to use as the subject matter, the next decision was what to do about the print itself. As mentioned above, everyone else who does this seems happy to grab any old comic and to merrily butcher it. As my choice of source material was more considered, this left me in the position of either buying a new version (I wasn’t using my existing copy) and killing a hardback, or replicating the artwork. I couldn’t kill a book, and went for the naughty choice of using a digital version and printing select pages.

This came with it’s own set of problems (crime doesn’t pay, kids). I first deliberately tried very low quality paper, but the colour replication was extremely poor as the paper was too porous. I then tried a selection of other weights and qualities. Photo paper came out very vividly and had a great sheen, and despite some initial misgivings about how pliable it would be, I made the call to go with it. This was a bit of a mistake, and is where I should have been patient and prototyped. The paper was extremely hard to manipulate in fine detail, and whilst it looked great initially, you’re going to be covering it with layers of glue, so you’ll naturally lose some of the finish. If I did this again, as much as it would pain me, I would use an actual comic. I’m happy with the way that they came out in the end, but there were definite frustrations, additional time, and a different finish based on the paper selection.

The process itself is fairly straightforward. The glue that everyone uses is Mod Podge, an American product that’s very similar to PVA and which comes in variants including Matte, Gloss, Outdoor, Dishwasher Safe, and even Glitter. You can find it on Amazon and many other craft store sites, and I ended up going for the Dishwasher Safe one because of the combination of the waterproofness and the gloss. Having done it once, I’d perhaps consider something more matte in the future, as the gloss ends up being very shiny.

All you have to do is to choose your pieces, cut them into shape (triangles work well and flex better than rectangles – keep in mind the contours of the shoes), brush on some glue and stick them on. Simple, right? Well, you’ll need to consider the right combination of pieces (I have a couple that I regret), any imperfections in sticking or overlap, and trying to keep your edges reasonably neat. I can also recommend a good set of weights if your paper is rather more resistant to sticking, as mine was.

Work in progress shoes

Having a heavy stone dolphin to hand is optional but extremely useful

Once you’re done, you’ll want to do numerous coats of Mod Podge over the top to seal it and to get an even finish, however this is an area that I could have improved on. Certain sites recommend sanding down the layers in between each coat, which is meant to help to give a more smooth finish. I did several coats before attempting this as I didn’t want to damage the paper, but by that point I’d apparently sealed in brush strokes underneath. Using something more smooth for application (I tried some cotton wool pads eventually) may help, as whilst this isn’t something that will be at all visible from a distance, it’s something to be aware of.

Finally, I mentioned previously that one of the reasons that I chose The Killing Joke was the standout pieces. Many tutorials will recommend that you cover your shoes in more general, background material, and to cut out some key focal points to layer over the top. This, in theory has the benefit not only of making the shoes have some great focal points, but also can cover over any areas that don’t flow well. This was always my intention, and I collected together some lovely details including a beautiful owl (a nod to my consideration of the Court of Owls), but in the end it just didn’t work for me. The shoes ended up looking far too cluttered and I decided to go without. I suspect that this will be entirely down to the artwork that you choose – again some prototyping may be beneficial here.

The finished shoes

I’m really happy with how they’ve turned out, especially for a first attempt at anything like this, and it was definitely very satisfying to be making something physical as opposed to just looking at screens. I now have much more confidence to give this kind of project a go myself instead of lusting after things that other people have made.

Batman The Killing Joke shoes