Ever since he first burst onto the scene with his ground-breaking work in the mini-series MARVELS, Alex Ross has been one of the most notable talents in the comic-book industry. Since then, he’s gone on to win an Eisner Award - the comics equivalent of the Oscar or Emmy - and worked on most every iconic character there is in comics and pulp magazines.
On May 14th of this year, the American Academy of Art in Chicago recognized Alex Ross as their Distinguished Alum of 2012, adding that award to the many accolades he has received, and reaffirming his status as one of the top names in the industry.
Before accepting his Distinguished Alum award, Alex Ross spoke with me about the honor; his work with Marvel, DC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment; the new Avengers movie; redesigning classic characters for the modern age; and why you’ll never see him creating artwork on a computer:
Elliott Serrano: Congratulations on being named the American Academy of Art's Distinguished Alum of 2012! What does it mean to you to receive such an honor?
Alex Ross: It’s a very flattering acknowledgment from the school that I’ve benefited so greatly from. I still have a relationship with people there, and this is a wonderful gift they have given me.
ES: Have you had a chance to see the Avengers movie yet? What did you think?
AR: I saw it yesterday, and it’s very enjoyable. Lots of great humor and wonderful time spent with the characters. For the second time in a year, Loki steals a movie.
ES: Did you leave the theater craving shawarma like everyone else did?
AR: My wife had to inform me what it was. I had no idea. But she did want some.
ES: What do you think of the argument that Marvel Entertainment owes the estate of Jack Kirby for his contributions to creating these characters?
AR: Keep in mind that Kirby’s family does not receive anything for participation in all these countless characters of his creation or co-creation with Stan Lee making their way into films, merchandise, and other media. Whatever deal they worked out with Stan Lee, they never did with him. By right, with each one of these new projects that still hales back to the work and ideas of Jack’s, there should be some kind of honorable compensation for how much it’s benefiting the company today.
ES: You appear to have moved away from working for Marvel and DC, is this a misconception? If not, why aren't you doing more work for them?
AR: If you’re focusing on comic books alone, then this may be true, although the last Marvel job I did was only a couple of years ago. In terms of licensing art, I’ve still done print illustrations and other artwork for both DC and Marvel characters. Most everything that you’ve seen me work on for both companies were projects that I had pitched to them -- from Marvels, Kingdom Come, Earth X, my various one-shots for DC, and Justice, these were all things that I brought to their tables. Generally the only kind of work they have approached me with is involvement in pre-existing projects. My body of work is largely a thing I’ve had to be the driving force behind, and in some ways, I’ve just moved on to other projects that I’m interested in that didn’t involve them at this moment. I wouldn’t imagine that I’d be removed from producing comics works for them forever.
ES: Is there a difference in working with Dynamite Entertainment as opposed to Marvel/DC?
AR: Obviously you’re getting to deal directly with the company heads when you work for a smaller outfit like Dynamite. As (Publisher) Nick (Barucci) and I’ve been friends for nearly twenty years, there’s a greater chance to communicate more clearly. You get to better understand why various decisions are made, and, as I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, they’ve been very accepting of my input. It’s special in my circumstance to feel like I have a kinship with a company where they seem to value my contribution across the board on the entire publishing line.
ES: I'm trying to phrase this as delicately as I can, but, have you ever found yourself reading an editor's note that you thought was just downright dumb? If so, how did you handle it?
AR: I’m very argumentative with any issues I find or want to debate head-on. Hopefully, I’m reasonably polite, but I’m sure I’ve failed that at times. I especially like to work with people who are accepting of a real back-and-forth conversation about how to get things done the best and smartest way possible. Most of the editors I’ve had the pleasure to work with fall into that category, and (Dynamite Editor) Joe Rybandt is one of them.
ES: Your work consists primarily of paintings created with traditional mediums/methods (i.e., watercolors, brushes, etc.); have you ever considered using a digital painting app or program?
AR: I can’t even type. I don’t know how to turn on a computer. The learning curve for me to get anywhere into the world of computers and using their various tools is so daunting that it doesn’t really compel me. I don’t dismiss these tools in other artists’ hands; I just don’t have a particular interest in digital methods for my own output. Ultimately, I’m so wowed and heavily impressed by the modern painting and rendering tools that artists are using that I feel like I’m desperately trying to hold my own work up to still seem a valid choice in this ever-changing art form.
ES: What do you think would be the difference in your work using a painting program versus traditional paints and brushes?
AR: Honestly, I feel that the process I use of engaging photography as an initial reference step would be too much of a temptation to not just simply digitally alter those photographs and paint onto them. Artists who approach realism like I do are always accused of tracing anyway, so the unlimited realistic potential of rendering you could use in a computer would be something I’d want to take fullest advantage of. When I work with real paint on real paper, I don’t think about trying to make my work look like paintings. It just happens to be limited to the graphic tools I’m using, and the rendering goes as far as I seem to physically be able to take it. If I was using a computer, I feel like I’d be trying to create the images we see in film, where it’s as convincingly real and infinitely detailed as possible. I’ve seen other artists pursue this route, and I find it fascinating to observe, but I think I would lose whatever makes me me.
ES: Any writing projects in the works?
AR: Some of the projects I have in process with Dynamite came from concepts I pitched. Generally, they’ve always been open to hearing my thoughts for what they might do with some of the properties they’ve acquired. I am driven to want to write and draw an independent graphic novel, but I’m still weighing when that should happen. I would love to lose myself into only one project that I poured everything into.
ES: A lot of your current work involves working with the classic pulp characters like The Phantom, the Shadow, Flash Gordon and others; what challenges does working with these characters pose?
AR: Graphically for me, the challenge is only to match the art styles that were unique to those characters. Given that we are updating some of these in a fashion, a new design element is applied that tries to resuscitate the old as much as possible while giving some affectation that would seem compelling to today’s audience. It’s always a thrill for me to think that I can graphically re-present archetypes that were part of the early defining history of superhero fiction.
ES: What are some of your favorite character re-designs out there that you weren't involved with?
AR: I always talk a lot about how much I love Adi Granov’s work, and of course, his redesign of Iron Man. Much of everything we’ve seen in film and comics today is due to his vision being applied to this character.
ES: What do you think of the new costume design for the upcoming "Amazing Spider-Man" film? For the "Man of Steel" movie?
ES: Is there a character out there that you'd really like to tinker with, that you haven't had a chance to yet?
AR: I’ve gotten a chance to tinker with so many designs, as well as do characters in their classic form, and I must admit, I’m mostly exhausted with the reconsideration of how these characters look that happens constantly. There are certainly more properties I’d like to get the chance to illustrate, but when I think about how much it’s part of the comic book and movie mindset to redefine things, I wonder if that becomes an aspect of our modern sensibilities keeping an idea from being embraced in its purest state. When you go back to seeing Chris Reeve wearing that simple Superman suit, and you know that that worked, you have to question why we’re so revisionist about everything today.
ES: What can fans of your work look forward to seeing in the coming year?
AR: I’m weirdly at a crossroads of projects in development that I’m not supposed to talk about. Suffice it to say, I’ll be working on more material involving these older pulp and comic characters, and potential combinations thereof. Interior work is in development as well. I’m also working with some very popular film and comics properties that I’ve never touched before.
See more of Alex Ross' artwork on his OFFICIAL WEB SITE!Copyright © 2015, RedEye