Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters

by on Jan 20, 2015

Have  you ever wondered what inspired comic book artists to create some of your favorite superheroes and villains? While some of them came directly from the minds of the creators (such as The Blob and Apocalypse) or from the Greek and Norse mythology (such as Hercules and Thor) there are still a few of them that aren’t so obvious to figure out.

Most of the greatest comic book superheroes and villains have been inspired by living, breathing people and even the Bible. Here are some of the real life inspirations behind comic book characters and quotes from the creators and artists involved with the creation of the character.

1. Doctor Doom – Death Personified

Doctor Doom was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and made his first appearance in July 1962. Kirby once said about using Death as his influence:

“It was the reason for the armor and the hood. Death is connected with armor and the inhuman-like steel. Death is something without mercy, and human flesh contains that mercy.”

Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters doom death

2. Galactus – God/The Bible

Galactus was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when the two were in need of a unique super villain, something the comic book universe had never seen. In Masters of the Comic Book Art Kirby said:

“My inspirations were the fact that I had to make sales. And I had to come up with characters that were no longer stereotypes. For some reason, I went to the Bible and I came up with Galactus … and of course the Silver Surfer is the fallen angel. They were above mythic figures, and of course, they were the first gods.”

Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters galactus

3. Constantine – Sting

John Constantine made his debut in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing in June 1984. In 1988 he received his own comic “Hellblazer” which became the longest-running and most successful title of DC’s Vertigo imprint. Constantine was created after artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, who were fans of the Police, expressed a desire to draw a character who looked like Sting.

“Having been given that challenge, how could I fit Sting into Swamp Thing? I have an idea that most of the mystics in comics are generally older people, very austere, very proper, very middle class in a lot of ways. It struck me that it might be interesting for once to do an almost blue-collar warlock. Somebody who was streetwise, working class, and from a different background than the standard run of comic book mystics. Constantine started to grow out of that.” – Alan Moore

Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters constantine sting

4. Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) – Malcom X

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Magneto they drew inspiration from civil rights leaders Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. Stan Lee said about Magneto:

“I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

 Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters magneto malcom x

5. Tony Stark (Ironman) – Howard Hughes

Stan Lee’s inspiration for Ironman’s alter ego was Howard Hughes and the similarities are striking: both inherited their fortune from their fathers, both were inventors and playboys. Stan Lee even used Tony’s father Howard.

“Hughes was one of the most colorful men of the time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a ladies’ man, and a nutcase.” – Stan Lee

“He is rich, handsome, known as a glamorous playboy, constantly in the company of beautiful, adoring women . . . Anthony Stark is both a sophisticate and a scientist! A millionaire bachelor, as much at home in the laboratory as in high society!” – Stan Lee about Tony Stark

Real Life Inspirations Behind Comic Book Characters tony stark howard hughes

6. The Joker – Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs

Can you believe that a homicidal psychopath like The Joker was inspired by a silent movie star? Most people credit Bob Kane and Bill Finger for creating Batman’s oldest and deadliest foe, The Joker but writer Jerry Robinson says he was also part of it.

“Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, by Victor Hugo. Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, ‘Here’s the Joker.’ Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it … he brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him.” – Bob Kane

“In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker. Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it…He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine.” – Jerry Robinson


7. Bane – Doc Savage/Count of Monte Cristo

Bane made his first appearance in 1993 when DC Comics decided they need some drastic changes for Batman but without killing him. And so Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan got together and created one of Batman’s deadliest and darkest foes, using Doc Savage and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo as a template.

“The name “Bane” popped out at me while looking through a thesaurus to compile a list of possible names.  That’s the name I kept coming back to when I thought of him and I eventually brought everyone else around to calling him that. The worry was that the name was too simple. I think that’s its charm; snappy and elegant and on-message. This guy is the bane of everyone he touches.” – Chuck Dixon

Bane doc savage

8. Lois Lane – Glenda Farrell

“Our heroine was, of course, a working girl whose priority was grabbing scoops. What inspired me was Glenda Farrell, the movie star who portrayed Torchy Blane, a gutsy, beautiful, headline-hunting reporter, in a series of exciting motion pictures.”– creator Jerry Siegel

And where did the name Lois Lane come from? Actress Lola Lane played Torchy Blane in 1938.

“Because the name Lola Lane appealed to me,” Siegel said, “I called my character Lois Lane.”

lois lane

9. Magog – The Bible/Cable (Marvel)

Magog made his first appearance in Kingdom Come #1 in May 1996 and was created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. When writer Mark Waid came up with the idea of introducing Magog in the comic Kingdom Come, he told artist Alex Ross to design him like so:

“Make him look like everything we hate in modern superhero design.” Magog’s a character that Mark Waid invented that was really just put to me like come up with the most God awful Rob Liefeld (Cable) sort of design that you can. What I was stealing from was – really only two key designs of Rob’s – the design of Cable. I hated it. I felt like it looked like they just threw up everything on the character – the scars, the thing going on with his eye, the arm, and what’s with all the guns? But the thing is, when I put those elements together with the helmet of Shatterstar – well, the ram horns and the gold, suddenly it held together as one of the designs that I felt happiest with in the entire series.”

magog cable

10. Catwoman – Ruth Steel/Actress Jean Harlow

Bob Kane revealed in his autobiography Batman and Me, that Catwoman was partially inspired by his cousin Ruth Steel and received her sex appeal from 1930s actress Jean Harlow. As for the inclusion of cats, Kane said:

“I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached, and unreliable. I felt much warmer with dogs around me – cats are as hard to understand as women are.”


If you had to create a superhero or super villain what would you use as inspiration?


Written by

I have a t-shirt addiction, a craving for new RTS video games and a dream to become Captain America. I also grow my own beard so I'm kind of a big deal! :P

Enjoyed this article? It means to me more than you think if you share it!