Legendary Comic Book Artist Alex Ross: Q&A

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the incomparable comic book artist and writer Alex Ross! Ross was born in Portland, Oregon, but currently calls Chicago home. Through his unequivocally ultra-realistic take on superheroes, Alex has become a household name among lovers of capes, webs and claws everywhere.

Ross’ art work can most recently be seen in his and author Mark Waid’s highly anticipated book Kingdom Come: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Addition.

Do you enjoy doing the DC work more than Marvel?

I think I had a passion for it particularly as a reader in the 80’s. That’s something that really spun me around. I feel like I was more of a Marvel fan in the 70’s. When I was a kid I first attached myself to Spider-Man and then everybody else that came after that. In the 80’s, I felt a much stronger kinship to the creative directions of [DC].

When Wolfman and Perez built up from the Teen Titans to doing Crisis, I saw that as a very artful and intelligent project that really embraced what had been fandom. It was [purely] having the best artist and the most careful story to go over and address all these countless characters through the years. And they were interested in trying to engage me, a teenage reader, in trying to understand here’s all these characters that come before, get to know them, get to like them, care about their storylines. I found that fascinating.

DC kind of symbolized to me a slightly more intellectual way of looking at things and when the popularity train started to take off for X-Men and things felt a little more attitude-driven, more hip… Marvel was always miles and miles hipper than DC. [There’s] something in me that draws me to stuff where I love this stoic hero that’s been around for decades and decades who’s not trying so hard to win you over with how cool they are with either their posing or their aggression. Somebody like a Captain Marvel who just stands there and has all the power in the world and almost looks cheery about it.

I want to lend my efforts to try to make the next round of fans believe that that guy is cooler. I don’t need to lend my efforts to making a lot of the most popular characters seem cooler. They’re already popular. I want you to love the characters that have got this other quality that I feel respect for.

In the Marvel Universe, I spend more time trying to make you care about Captain America, because to me, he’s of the same type. He’s kind of like a DC character lost in the Marvel Universe. And Reed Richards, who’s respected as this noble guy behind the team, who ignored anything that had to do with what his super power is… What he does with his mind as an inventor, as a family man, as a guy balancing all the things of the world that adults generally have to do, he’s the responsible one. I actually found that engaging when I was younger, and I find it more so as I get older. So in a way, he’s my favorite Marvel character. 

You don’t do many signings, are they a pain to do or is it profitable making your signature rare to get?

No, no (laughs). It’s not like that. I’ve never been told “you need to help the collectibility of your stuff. You need to disappear.” If it’s an excuse that makes things easier I can certainly claim it. I guess in some ways you’re looking for experiences to be genuinely different and conventions can often times seem like a blur because [of] the overwhelming numbers of people and the speed dating that you experience within a signing. You’re signing only a few items for each person, you go through one human being after another. It’s rapid succession.

Then you’re bumping into other professionals, those interactions might be themselves a bit of a blur. It’s really overwhelming in a way that takes away from the joy that was there for me when I was coming up in the business in my 20’s. I learned to say, ‘Hey, you know what, I don’t need to do it all the time.’  I’ll probably always come back into it. I’d like to hopefully always enjoy this and not let it become an onerous thing.

It’s a double-edged sword. You want the way you’re received in a crowd to be successful enough that a lot of people came to see you, and then once you’ve achieved such a thing, then you actually think, ‘oh gosh, this is so many people, I’m not having sort of the human quality of it come through. It’s just a massive number of people as an assembly line.’ So there’s good and bad with that. You want that number of people, but you would also like the experience to have more of a permanent impact in your brain. As opposed to interchangeable with previous times that you did it.

Do you think comics have gotten too politically correct in changing who the characters are to fit certain demographics?

I definitely feel that as a reader either when I’m watching it in some of the shows or in the comics. It’s not that I would ever argue against the intention of that process because you do want to expand the base of how inclusive comics are and the characters are. The cruel reality that nobody ever really wants to talk about publicly is that the reason that you don’t just simply go and make up more characters that fit more types of people in the world, whether it’s involving other races or people of different backgrounds, is because the new characters don’t sort of make a big enough of an impact. They don’t get accepted as well.

So that’s why you’re seeing it happen with character names and histories that you already know and [are] saying ‘Okay, we’re switching this person over to be this now.’ Sometimes that can be expertly done, and other times it can feel like, ‘Oh God, you’re killing me with this. Can you just relax?’ Because as it was proven at least most of the time I was coming up in the business, that a majority of people from all different backgrounds, it wasn’t something that they wouldn’t read the characters as they were. But then again, it is something that we should break down how much of this is a bunch of caucasian male characters. I think there can be maybe a little bit more care. It didn’t have to all suddenly happen at once with every single character type you can think of being adjusted. I think that’s where you have some blowback from the readership of, ‘Oh, come on, relax already.’

As I do the Avengers book with Mark Waid, it’s been engaging and fun for me for the part that I contribute [to], but it’s also like I don’t really feel like I’m doing covers for an Avengers book because I don’t recognize these people for the most part. They’re not an unpleasant group of people, it’s just not like drawing the characters I grew up with because it isn’t those characters. As a reader I don’t think I’d be as satisfied as when you just have a few people, whereas everybody is steam-rolled over with a new look. 

What are the pros and cons of the relationship between comics and the big budget superhero movies?

The thing that we can’t take for granted, that I definitely do take for granted, is we’re now seeing so many odd pieces and eccentric parts of the comics we’ve grown up with making their way into films now. The minutia of background detail, personal detail is finally reflected in this other medium. When you see storylines adapted one after the other that you bought that when it came out, that’s a unique thing.

We’re very much taking it for granted because now you’re going to start to say, ‘Well you changed this, you changed that, you didn’t make it better, so why did you change those things?’ I almost feel like say Fox, which led the charge with much of this for Marvel, if they eventually work their way, which almost appears as they are, to having the characters in the film look exactly like the characters from the comics that they initially started with… What they bought the license to do looks completely different than the leather black outfits they put them in when they started this whole mess.

Now you got to the point where we’re comfortable letting characters look like superheroes. Having Deadpool look exactly like he is in a comic book is a huge positive step. Instead of worrying about what a bunch of very talented designers can do to rejigger a costume, or add superfluous detail, I’d really like to see these things get a chance to be seen as they were created. And that’s the thing I think fans still have an option or a shot of being seen be brought to life little bit by little bit.


*Scott King has been published by The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and other outlets. Follow @ScottKingMedia on Twitter.

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