10 Comic Book Characters Inspired By Real People

Sometimes real life bleeds into comic books, it happens all the time. Creators will often have a certain person, place, thing, or event from which to draw inspiration from when creating their comics. Some characters are more blatant than others though. So here is a list of comic book characters who look a little too similar to their real life counter parts, or are outright based on actual celebrities.

Gwynplaine (Played by Conrad Veidt) and The Joker

The Joker was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson in 1940 and has now grown to become one of DC comics most iconic villains. His origins date back to the late 1920s when the silent film, The Man Who Laughs featuring Conrad Veidt, was released. It was based on a book by Victor Hugo about a man named Gwynplaine who is disfigured as a child and constantly looks as though he is laughing. In 1940 when the Joker was published on the cover of Detective Comics, readers were quick to identify the Joker as Gwynplaine.

“Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. . .Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, ‘Here’s the Joker.'”

Bob Kane

Yul Brynner and Professor X

The comic book attitudes of Professor X and Magneto were supposed to mirror that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s views on social injustice. It really shows the parallel between the individual plights that the fiction characters and their real life counterparts faced. The look and manner of Professor X however is inspired by the actor Yul Brynner. Stan Lee said that he thought of Professor X as a Yul Brynner type, with a stoic attitude and a powerful mind. Indeed it was this King and I actor who would give us the classic look of the illustrious Xavier that Patrick Stewart would be able to look to for inspiration.

Sting and John Constantine

John Constantine is every comic book fans favorite grim and gritty British magician. When artists for Alan Moore wanted to draw a character that looked like Sting, they approached the author himself and he created a character that the artists could draw to look like Sting. Moore’s reasoning was that most wizards were wise old men, but he wanted to make a wizard who was young, brash, and impulsive; yet still showed impressive magical prowess. So to the artists delight, they went ahead and created the look for John Constantine modeled after Sting.

Paul D’Amato and Wolverine

Wolverine was originally created as a one-off character designed to fight the Hulk. From the very beginning Wolverine was designed with the iconic look featuring the pointy hair, and the yellow and blue/black costume. However it was not until much later, when John Byrne came on as artist that Logan was given the signature facial features such as the side-burns, gruff jaw-line and stubble. This look was inspired by Paul D’Amato’s character Dr. Hook from the movie Slapshot.

Arleen Sorkin and Harleen Quinzel

Batman: The Animated Series affected DC’s comic book world more than any other animated feature. Besides fleshing out the backstories of numerous villains and heroes, the character of Harleen Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn was created. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm wrote the character in as a partner/love interest for the Joker, but it was Paul Dini who came up with the look. Paul was watching an episode of Days of Our Lives on TV featuring his longtime friend, actress Arleen Sorkin who was playing a clown in a dream sequence on the show. It was at that moment that Harley Quinn’s inspiration came to Paul. He offered Sorkin the role of Harley Quinn in the series and she accepted saying she was “born to play her.”

Stan Lee and J. Jonah Jameson

J. Jonah Jameson, the cigar chomping newspaper editor for the Daily Bugle was created by the legend himself, Stan Lee. Stan Lee said while creating the character: “I thought if I were a grumpy, irritable man, which I am sometimes, how would I act? And that was it.” He put himself into the comic. Later he would tell Kevin Smith: “I always wanted to play him in the movie. I was so sorry that by the time [Spider-Man] was made, I was too old to play the role. Well, I don’t think I’m too old, but obviously they did.” Luckily we got J.K. Simmons as a close second.

David Bowie and Lucifer Morningstar

Lucifer Morningstar is a character from the DC comic of the same name. It chronicles the adventures of the fallen angel detailed in the Bible. The characterization of Lucifer was heavily influenced by the book Paradise Lost. The look of the character was suggest by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman, while writing the character’s debut in Sandman, told artist Kelley Jones that he wanted Lucifer to look like David Bowie. He went so far as to say “. . .if it isn’t David Bowie, you’re going to have to redo it until it is David Bowie.” So I guess David Bowie was the devilishly handsome Lucifer that the DC Universe needed.

Howard Hughes and Tony Stark

During Howard Hughes’ lifetime, he was known as one of the most financially successful businessmen on the planet. He was an inventor, investor, pilot, philanthropist, director, and engineer. He’s a real life business magnate, and comparable to Tony Stark in a number of ways. You could almost describe Tony Stark using the same characteristics of Howard Hughes. Stan Lee himself even said that he “had Howard Hughes in mind when he was creating Tony Stark.” It’s an uncanny reflection of real life and fiction.

Fred Macmurray and Shazam!

Original formula Shazam, a.k.a. Captain Marvel was mostly a blatant rip-off of Superman at the time. He was fleshed out with some more backstory rooted in ancient mythology and had the personality of a child. When C.C. Beck and Bill Parker created the character for Whiz Comics back in 1940, they based the look of Shazam on well known actor Fred MacMurray. They modeled the jet black hair, facial structure and demeanor on MacMurray and then Captain Marvel flew off the pages and into the hearts of the readers (and MacMurray fans alike).

Samuel L. Jackson and Nick Fury

2002’s Ultimate Marvel Universe was Marvel’s alternate universe where everyone had different origins and a more modern revamp. Out of this universe we got classic characters like Miles Morales’ Spider-Man.  Some characters different from their counterparts more than others. One in particular was Nick Fury. Fury in the original continuity was a Caucasian man with a little grey at his temples and an eyepatch. Ultimate Nick Fury was an African American man with an eyepatch and based solely on Samuel L. Jackson. Later they would integrate him into the actual Marvel canon as the son of the original Caucasian Nick Fury. Famed author Mark Millar created the character and even said: “Samuel L. Jackson will play Nick Fury in a movie”. Samuel L. Jackson thought it funny, but it happened to help him get the role of Nick Fury when 2008’s Iron Man film was casting. It all went full circle.

What characters did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!


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