Comic Book Artist Alex Ross exploded onto the scene in 1994 with his ultra-realistic painted figure style in Marvels, which he created along with writer Kurt Busiek.
Previous to this standout work, he debuted on The Terminator: The Burning Earth mini-series for Now Comics, four years earlier in 1990 and he did a few covers for Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which he continues to provide to this day.
Ross has gone on to paint such great comics as the Kingdom Come mini-series with writer Mark Waid, an Uncle Sam mini-series, with writer Steve Darnall, Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, and is currently hard at work on the Paradise X and Heralds mini-series for Marvel Comics.
CBR’s own Keith Giles had the chance to talk to with Alex about subjects ranging from his upcoming Wonder Woman title at DC, the impact WB’s Retail outlet closure will have on him personally, his involvement with the DVD of “Unbreakable” and much, much more.
Keith Giles: You’ve experienced an amazing amount of popularity in a very short amount of time. Do you ever feel like you’ve achieved a celebrity status?
Alex Ross: Celebrity? You mean like Richard Hatch? I don’t think of myself as a celebrity; I don’t think any sane person does. However popular I may be within this medium, I don’t have screaming fans chasing me down the street. I don’t get better tables in restaurants. I haven’t been asked to deliver a commencement address. That’s a real plus to comic books; unless you actively cultivate a look, the way Neil Gaiman did, you can walk around pretty much unnoticed.
KG: Do you ever feel like you’ve achieved everything you could hope for?
AR: Oh, there’s always more to accomplish. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to tell the stories I wanted to tell and work with characters I’ve always wanted to work with. What I’d like to do now is see if I can use whatever pull or power I possess to actually improve the comic book market. When the best-selling comic book in America can’t do better than 100,000 copies, it’s obvious we’re not reaching the audience we could–and should-reach.
KG: Do you ever get tired of all the attention?
AR: Not too much. It can get a little wearying when you’re trying to leave a convention or store signing and people stop you with fifty books they want signed, but once I leave a signing or a show, I’m just another guy on the street that nobody knows.
KG: What was it like recording a commentary track on the DVD of Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable”?
AR: It was pretty low-key. They asked me to talk about superheroes and what they stand for. We talked for about 30 minutes.
KG: What did you think of the film?
AR: I was really impressed by it. I thought it was a true depiction of superheroes as they might appear in the real world.
KG: It’s hard to buy exposure like you got with that DVD.
AR: Well, of course, it’s going to reach a huge number of people, probably more than any current comic book does. I would love to think that those people would see my commentary or Will Eisner’s commentary and be inspired to look for our comics, but like I said before, the market’s going to have to co-operate as well.
KG: How did this opportunity come about?
AR: He (Shyalaman) had originally contacted me about doing some art for the DVD. I normally don’t like to deal with Hollywood but the fact that he wasn’t asking me to design characters or create action figure prototypes was a refreshing change of pace from most calls I get from Hollywood.
KG: Recently, Warner Brothers closed their retail outlets nationwide. They were all carrying a lot of your artwork, prints, etc. What sort of an impact will this have on your career and what are you doing to compensate for that?
AR: I’ll probably go back to working part-time for Amway. What sort of effect will it have on my career? There may be some financial fallout and it does mean one less avenue to present myself and my work, but it won’t really affect what I do. I got into this business to tell stories. Creating prints and collector’s plates and the like was a bonus.
KG: The evolution of your career has taken some pretty aggressive steps, Alex. Where do you see yourself one year from now? Five years from now?
AR: I’ve actually been giving that some thought, and I hope to have a better answer once the Wonder Woman book is out. As I said before, I’d like to do something, both from a creative and business viewpoint, which will get comic books into the hands of everyone. I’m not ruling out any approach to selling or distributing comics and I’m eager to learn about all of them. As for the stories I want to tell, I have a few ideas rattling around but nothing I want to talk about.
AR: It’s a little different from the three other books Paul and I have done in that it shows the main character dealing with internal issues rather than external ones. Wonder Woman comes to our world to spread her message of peace and love and discovers she has to learn what it’s like to be one of us. After all, this is a woman in a skimpy costume, coming from a place where everything is perfect. Our world is anything but, and for her to understand why it’s difficult for some people to process her message, she has to learn what it’s like for those of us who don’t hail from Paradise Island. It’s also a way of explaining her identity as Diana Prince, which George Perez eliminated when he brought back the character in the 1980s. I never fully agreed with that, because I believe that the secret identities were very important in keeping these god-like characters grounded.
AR: Yeah, actually there is. We’re currently in talks with Sandy Frank’s people. I’ve been consulted about which publisher to approach, and we may be doing some other merchandise for them. The comic is central to all of that. I would probably be a designer/cover artist/etc. rather than the actual artist. Not because I don’t want to draw it, (but) just because I’ll probably be painting some other project. That will all be figured out if and when a deal is finalized.
(My love for “Battle Of The Planets”) comes from watching the show during summer vacations, when I’d visit relatives in Illinois. I thought it was the absolute coolest cartoon I’d ever seen. Now I have a chance to be involved with this and I’m gonna put my all into it. I’m not going to be the main artist but you can assume I’ll be drawing a lot of stuff and giving a lot of ideas to whoever the artist would be.
KG: What future projects do you have at Marvel?
KG: Tell me about the “HERALDS” mini-series? How does this fit in with “Paradise X”?
AR: It’s a prelude, explaining how Machine Man pulled together these different people. Basically, he fears that the alien meddling which led to so much chaos in “Earth X” would be the same across all these alternate earths which had the same circumstances. Armed with nothing more than knowledge, he’s getting this handful of people who are all from pretty shitty futures, to act as heralds across all these different worlds, to save the world like Earth X was saved.
KG: Can you give us a little background on Paradise X? How will Paradise X fit into the rest of the “X Universe” titles that have preceded it? What sort of things do you have in store?
AR: The Paradise X sketchbook comes out next month and that’ll have the characters and designs. If Universe X had a lot of 70s characters, Paradise X has a lot of 80s characters. Foremost among those is the Wolverine character from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “Days of Future Past.” There is an understanding of the parallel futures which co-exist with the Earth X timeline. The futures of characters like Killraven and Deathlok and Spider-Girl are concurrent with the future of Earth X and we tap into that symmetry and put together a group made up of characters from all these different worlds.
AR: That’s Captain America. The man Marvel takes seven of the heroes and grants within them the divinity of his angel warriors. So it makes sense that if Cap is dead, he’d be an angel in somebody’s heaven.
KG: Again, from this same teaser image, you showcase the Guardians Of The Galaxy characters. Yet again, you show an affinity for some of Marvel’s more intriguing, yet under-developed titles. Can you tell us why you chose to use these characters and what role they will play in the series?
AR: The Guardians are personal favorites. It’s a case of seeing potential that maybe hasn’t been seen before. They’ll function in our series the way Machine Man did in Earth X, as a sort of narrator.
AR: Not at the present. Steve Darnall’s a very good friend of mine and I’m enormously proud of what we did on “Uncle Sam.” It had a big influence on the stories I’ve told since, but that kind of book isn’t really in my system right now. Right now, I’m more interested in taking the lessons I learned from doing that book and applying it to these other characters.
KG: How do you approach your work as compared to other artists? Do you start with pencils and then ink and paint, or just straight to paint?
AR: I start with pencils and paint over those. My turnout is about ten pages of fully-painted art every month.
KG: Have you ever thought about collaborating with a computer artist to achieve a different look and feel to your work? Or do you prefer the more “natural” look of your work?
AR: It would depend on what I’m trying to achieve. I wouldn’t have wanted to use a computer for any of the books I’ve done so far because I knew I could create the look I wanted without using one. At the same time, I love what people like Dave McKean can do by mixing paintings with computers. I just don’t know if that’s something I’d ever want to do.
KG: Are there any other artists that really excite you?
AR: I’m dying to work with Stuart Immomen someday. Lee Bermejo, who’s working with Brian Azzarello on a Batman/Deathblow project right now, is fantastic.
KG: Are there any books or titles out now that you especially love?
AR: I love “Promethea” and “Top 10” if it ever comes out. I think that’s one of the greatest books being published. I’m paying attention to a lot of Marvel Universe books right and I’m even paying attention to the X-Men, now that Grant Morrison’s writing it. They’ve changed the way they were doing comics at Marvel and the results are quite palatable.
KG: You use a lot of friends as references for your work. Have you ever used professional models?
AR: No, Iman stopped returning my calls after she hooked up with that British guy. I haven’t had occasion to use “professional” models, mainly because I very often envision people I know in these roles. I couldn’t have found a better Captain Marvel than my friend Sal. I don’t see much need to hire a “ringer” to do that when I have friends who are willing to do it.
KG: Would you ever like to teach an art class in the future?
AR: No, my secrets go to the grave with me. Seriously, I have all the respect in the world for teachers, but I don’t think that’s the best use of my time. It certainly wouldn’t be the best use of a student’s time.
KG: A few big name creators do some sort of self-publishing. Do you ever see yourself branching into that side of the business?
AR: At this point in time I’m not ruling anything out. There’s an awful lot that goes into that decision. It would be an interesting challenge, that’s for sure. There’s part of me that wonders if I would enjoy the same following if I weren’t painting very familiar characters.
KG: What do you think is wrong with comics? What kind of changes would you like to see in the industry?
AR: I’ve spoken about this already, but the problem is that we can’t find a market! Comic books sell in the millions in Europe and over here they’re seen as some sort of cult literature. I’d like to see new and better methods of distribution, I’d like to see publishers be more aggressive about marketing their products–which means they’d have to make sure their product was the sort of story you couldn’t get anywhere else. I think it can be done, but as you know, when you have a giant ship like this one, you have to lean on the tiller very hard for many miles to change direction.