Archive for Alex Ross

Green Beans

Yeah, I’ve been remarkably lazy with blogging this month. I mean, I’ve had lots of interesting things to keep me occupied, like work, and eating and sleeping, and um, video games and… umm, well, I’ve basically been very lazy. And I will probably continue to be lazy. Huzzah for sleep!

Anyway, here’s something I noticed the other day I thought was interesting…

The other day, artist Alex Ross released the latest cover he’d made for the “Immortal Hulk” series (and holy cow, do I ever need to review that series, right?), depicting the Hulk and the Thing sitting down in a diner for some chow.

Hopefully, their waitress is about to inform them that they’re going to have to pay for the booth they’re wrecking — and to remind them about the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign they apparently ignored when they came in.

But the other great thing about the cover is the little detail of what the Hulk is eating. ‘Cause the thing a lot of people forget is that, ever since the ’70s, the Hulk has really, really loved eating beans.

And he’s loved making other superheroes eat beans, too.

So be like the Hulk and go eat a nice, big bowl of beans. Hey, it’s the weekend, and you don’t have to worry about stinking up your office, right? Plus you don’t have a gamma-powered digestive system, so whatever you do in the bathroom, you’re probably not going to completely destroy the toilet…

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Lubbock’s Comics Connections: Alex Ross

Time to get back on board this semi-regular series I’m working on about Lubbockites who have worked in comics, cartooning, and animation. Today, we’re going with a guy who we talk about a lot here, because he’s one of the most prominent artists in the comics biz: Alex Ross.

Alex Ross was born in 1970 in Portland, Oregon, but he was raised in Lubbock, where he was drawing pictures from out of TV commercials while he was still just a toddler. While he received art tips from his mother, a commercial artist, he picked up his beliefs on morality from his father, a minister who ran a children’s shelter, among other charitable works.

Ross’s artistic inspirations included comic artists like Berni Wrightson and George Perez, as well as “Saturday Evening Post” illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose photorealistic painting and attention to detail appealed to Ross’ artistic sensibilites.

He attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he began toying with the idea of painting comics. After graduating, Ross worked at an advertising agency and did a little work in comics on the side. His work caught the eye of writer Kurt Busiek, who suggested a collaboration.

The result was 1993’s “Marvels”, which looked at the Golden and Silver Ages of Marvel Comics through the eyes of a photojournalist named Phil Sheldon. Ross’ artwork helped make the miniseries wildly popular — he knew how to draw the human body realistically, with fat and wrinkles and non-cartoonish muscles and facial expressions; he knew light and shadow, and how different light sources would affect the appearance of something you saw; he knew how to draw clothing that wasn’t just painted-on spandex, clothing that actually wrinkled like real clothing. His characters — superheroes and normal folks alike — looked like real people. They looked like they’d stepped out of a photograph or out of a movie. His artwork helped make “Marvels” a powerful piece of storytelling, and readers bought every copy of “Marvels” they could get their hands on. It was a massive, star-making accomplishment.

Ross followed up “Marvels” with the equally-impressive “Kingdom Come” at DC, set 20 years into the future of the DC Universe. The story is told mainly through the eyes of Norman McCay, an elderly minister who is chosen by the Spectre to observe the coming disasters. McCay was also the spitting image of Ross’ father, making “Kingdom Come” a more much personal book than “Marvels” had been. And again, “Kingdom Come” was a triumph for Ross — copies of the series quickly vanished from comics stores as readers clamored both for Ross’ artwork and for visions of what the future held for DC’s characters.

Ross began working on smaller-scale projects, though he still had time to work on comics like “Uncle Sam,” “Earth X,” “Justice,” and the 60th anniversary portfolios of Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman. Ross took care of character designs for Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City” and covers for a huge number of comics. He also painted a series of covers for “TV Guide” and created promotional artwork for the 2002 Academy Awards. He painted album covers for a couple of CDs by heavy metal band Anthrax. And he produced a number of illustrations which were used during the opening credits of the “Spider-Man 2” movie. He’s become one of the best-known and most popular artists in the comics industry.

His artwork is simply spectacularly beautiful, no matter whether you’re a comic fan or not. A lot of people — myself included — think he should be included on the West Texas Walk of Fame. Will he make it there? Only time will tell, though there are probably a few politicians out there who could grease the wheels…

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Does Alex Ross belong on Lubbock’s Walk of Fame?

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I’d been trying to decide for quite a while whether I really wanted to jump out on this particular limb, but I finally decided, what the heck, ya only live once. So I dropped an e-mail to the folks in charge of the West Texas Walk of Fame and suggested they add Alex Ross to their nomination list.

At this point, I guess I should explain a couple things both to local Lubbockites who read this blog and to non-Lubbockites.

For non-Lubbockites, the West Texas Walk of Fame started out in the ’70s as a tribute to Lubbock’s rock-and-roll roots, with Buddy Holly as the first inductee, followed by Waylon Jennings, Mac Davis, and a bunch of other musicians. Over the years, some actors and artists have been added to the list, but Lubbock has produced a lot of musicians over the years, so the vast majority of the inductees have been from the field of music.

Okay, for Lubbockites, especially Lubbockites who aren’t so familiar with comics, Alex Ross is a comic book illustrator and painter. He was born in Oregon, but he grew up here in Lubbock. He’s one of the most sought-after illustrators in comics, because his painting style is amazingly photorealistic, with a strong sense of everything that makes comics into modern mythology. He’s done comics for Marvel, like “Marvels” and “Earth X.” He’s done comics for DC, including “Kingdom Come” and “Justice.” He’s done covers for “Justice Society of America,” “Astro City,” “Project Superpowers,” “Batman,” “Superman,” and many others. He’s even done artwork for album covers, for movies, even for the 2002 Oscars.

Here are a few examples of his artwork.

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alexrossspidey

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Nice, am I right?

I’m not going to argue that Ross is a perfect artist — he has some trouble drawing action, a lot of his work looks like it was meticulously posed, and he’s way, way, way too devoted to the Silver Age of comics in the 1950s to ’60s. But I just love looking at his artwork — his characters look like real people, with realistic muscles, fat, wrinkles. His clothing looks like actual clothing, not painted-on spandex. He’s absolutely fantastic when it comes to the use of light.

Obviously, Alex Ross is no Buddy Holly. I doubt he or any other comic artist will ever achieve Buddy’s level of global fame. But he’s done really, really well for himself. He’s probably got the most recognizable artistic style in comics, he’s probably the most famous comic creator to the mainstream public outside of Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, thousands and thousands of comic fans have his books in their bookshelves, and every comics publisher looks forward to getting to publish his artwork, because they know that his work sells.

Alex Ross learned how to draw here in Lubbock. He discovered comics here in Lubbock. I think he’d be a great addition to the West Texas Walk of Fame.

What do you think?

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No Superman is an Island

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Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1

Oy, DC, what’s with those mile-long titles?!

Anyway, this comic marks a first for former Lubbock resident Alex Ross, who gets credited with illustrating and writing this. The plot focuses on the Kingdom Come Superman, who’s gotten trapped on Earth-1. He’s still haunted by memories of his time on his old Earth. He’s nervous because he thinks he sees the tragedy of his own world being recreated on the new one, what with the birth of Magog. He thinks he’s discovered the disaster that killed off the Daily Planet on his world, but luckily, it’s just a garden-variety trap (and an uncommonly unsuccessful one, too). He has a chat with our world’s version of Norman McCay. And he also has a chat with our version of Lois Lane about how his wife back home really died. And he worries that he’s cursed — Krypton was destroyed and his version of Earth was apparently destroyed, so is this Earth doomed as well, just from his presence?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story is fine — not pure genius, but a good, solid story. The artwork is interesting for all the right reasons. We get some of Ross’s legendarily awesome paintings, but we also get treated to his somewhat more traditional pencils. He even inks his own work. And painted or pencilled, Ross still draws the best dadgummed Superman ever.

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Secret Six #3

The Secret Six (well, right now, they’re the Secret Five, plus Tarantula, who’s more of a hostage) are on the run, trying to locate the mysterious card Tarantula stole. And they’re being stalked by supervillains, including Bolt and Cheetah, who want to steal the card and kill them all as messily as possible. And the insanely creepy Junior is still lurking out there.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Junior is really, really insanely creepy. Nicola Scott’s artwork is gorgeous and fun. And the secret of the card is pretty sweet — no wonder everyone’s so desperate to get it…

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Rest in Peace?

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Batman #676

First, niiiice cover. Ladies and gentleman, former Lubbock resident Alex Ross! Everybody give it up for Alex! Wooo!

Okay, this is the first issue of the new “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline. We get to meet the Black Hand for the first time — it’s basically the opposite version of the Batmen of All Nations from one of Grant Morrison’s previous storylines. We get to see the new version of the Batmobile — it apparently has a great stereo! We get to see Batman give a homeless guy a couple hundred bucks. We see Bruce Wayne hanging out with Jezebel Jet and receiving an ominous invitation from… the Black Glove! Uh-oh! And even worse — we see the Joker, and he’s got very, very nasty plans in store.

Verdict: Thumbs up, with a lot of the thumbs-upping going to that super-scary Joker interlude at the back of the book.

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Booster Gold #9

In the new timeline where Maxwell Lord rules the world, Booster and Blue Beetle are re-assembling the old Justice League International, including Mister Miracle, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, and the Martian Manhunter. But Guy’s power ring is almost out of power, and Superman is still in Max’s thrall. Is there any way for the good guys to win?

Thumbs up, but I’d really like this particular storyline wrapped up soon.

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Gemini #1

An interesting character concept. Gemini is an acrobatic superhero who has no idea he’s a superhero. He’s funded and controlled by a government agency that lets him live as a normal schlub most of the time, activating his superhero persona whenever he’s needed. We get to see him take on some supervillains, vegetate through his boring job, and finally lose his head during a domestic disturbance call. We also get acquainted with the government technicians who help keep him functioning from day to day.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Interesting debut here, let’s see how it all turns out.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Ross-apalooza

We’re running short of shopping time before Christmas, so this’ll be our last look at the gift bag for the season. If you’ve got a comics fan on your shopping list, there’s a pretty good chance they already own these next two comics… but if they don’t have ’em yet, it’s a fairly sure bet that they want them.

Alex Ross, a comic-book painter who actually grew up here in Lubbock, has produced a lot of great comics, but these are some of his best.

 

Marvels

Ross exploded onto the comics scene in 1994 with “Marvels,” which focused on a newspaper photographer named Phil Sheldon and his views of Marvel’s superheroes. The comic, written by Kurt Busiek, let Sheldon take a front row seat at battles between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, at the Fantastic Four’s epic battle against Galactus, and at the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

Sheldon is a bit of a hero-worshipper — he’s constantly frustrated by the cynical view most citizens have of superheroes. In the Marvel Universe, superheroes are celebrities, and they get a lot of celebrity media coverage. One week, everyone loves the Fantastic Four and loves the fairy-tale wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm — the next week, everyone hates ’em and thinks they made up the battle against Galactus to boost their Q-ratings. Sheldon sees the heroes, a bit unrealistically, as the greatest, most noble people in the world, and public reaction to heroes drives him up the wall. But he’s also dead terrified of mutants, and in the best chapter of the book, he has to confront his own prejudices about mutants when his daughters meet and befriend a mutant on the run.

The artwork Ross produced was certainly a revelation for folks used to normal comic book art. There’s no painted-on spandex here — the clothing is realistically rendered, with wrinkles, folds, and everything. Faces are just gorgeous, expressive and realistic. And the lighting — Ross understands light sources, and some of his most beautiful paintings — the Silver Surfer reflecting blasts of fire, mutant-hunting Sentinels hovering over a city at night, Dr. Octopus sitting in a dim jail cell — are so striking solely because he uses lighting effectively and dramatically.

“Marvels” is available in softcover — you should be able to pick it up at your friendly neighborhood comic shop or at your average chain bookstore for about twenty bucks.

 

Kingdom Come

After “Marvels,” DC really wanted to get Ross on board for a miniseries of their own. So they got him to collaborate with Mark Wait to produce 1996’s “Kingdom Come.” Where “Marvels” was rooted in Marvel’s early comics, “Kingdom Come” focused on a possible apocalyptic future for DC’s heroes. About 20 years in the future, Superman and other superheroes retire as more violent heroes start to take over. The Spectre, foreseeing the end of the world coming soon, takes Norman McCay, a minister (based on Ross’s own father), as his human anchor to help him view the final days and render his judgment.

Just about everyone in the DCU gets some major changes — Batman has to wear an exoskeleton to move, the Flash is a constantly moving blur, Hawkman is a bird-human hybrid, Captain Marvel has been brainwashed by Lex Luthor, etc., etc. The forces are divided between multiple different factions, including Superman’s Justice League, the new violent superheroes, Lex Luthor’s Mankind Liberation Front, and a few others. Every step, no matter how well intentioned, moves everyone closer to the metahuman war prophesied to destroy the world.

“Marvels” is the book with the stronger emotional impact, but “Kingdom Come” is all about epic, world-shattering action. I always find myself comparing it to epic, big-budget, widescreen action movies.

“Kingdom Come” is also available in softcover. It’ll set you back about 15 bones.

And if you’d like something a bit more traditionally Christmasy, you might try to track this next one down.

 

Superman: Peace on Earth

This is an oversized coffee-table book about Superman trying, with only limited success, to feed all the hungry people in the world. It’s basically a great big, lushly painted Christmas card. Unfortunately, it’s out of print right now, so there’s not much of a chance of you being able to buy this one before the holidays are over.

If you can find ’em, go pick ’em up.

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Politics in Comics: Uncle Sam

This is part of an occasional series I’m working on covering comic books with strong political content. In honor of Independence Day, I’d like us to take a look at the comic book versions of our national personification, Uncle Sam.

Of course, Uncle Sam, the bearded, top-hatted guy who wants YOU for U.S. Army, had his origins long before comic books (though his appearance was often refined in editorial cartoons in the 1800s). But during World War II, Quality Comics made him a superhero for a few years.

Uncle Sam’s first comic book appearance in 1940

The comic book version of Sam had various mystical powers and helped fight the Nazis ’til his comics were cancelled in 1944. DC Comics bought the rights to the character and revived him a few years later as the leader of a team called the Freedom Fighters. Later, they wrote a new origin for him in which he became the literal Spirit of America, reborn every few years in the body of a dying patriot.

My personal favorite incarnation of Uncle Sam in a comic book is from 1997’s “Uncle Sam,” written by Steve Darnell with art by super-painter and former Lubbockite Alex Ross. It was published by Vertigo Comics, a division within DC for more mature stories. It’s a much darker and less optimistic vision of Uncle Sam and America, but it’s also much more compelling. This is an Uncle Sam for grownups and realists.

The ’97 version of “Uncle Sam”

This one isn’t a superhero, and the story itself isn’t told in a superhero universe. In this comic, Uncle Sam is a deranged homeless man who just thinks he’s the immortal Spirit of America. Either that, or he really is the immortal Spirit of America who’s become paralyzed by guilt and shame over the state of the nation. It’s hard to tell, since he keeps having flashbacks of himself as a Revolutionary War soldier, and he gets into conversations with the national personifications of Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

Of course, these may just be hallucinations. It doesn’t seem likely that he’s able to talk to cigar-store Indians and lawn jockeys, or step into paintings, or live through fire, or grow to giant size. But we’re never entirely sure, because Sam’s never entirely sure either.

You should be nicer to your Uncle.

This is, at its heart, a broad examination of America’s history — specifically, the parts of our history (and our present!) that we feel less than proud of. Racism and slavery, the Indian wars, Shay’s Rebellion, Andersonville, Kent State, and far too many massacres and assassinations — the times when Americans have killed, hurt, or oppressed each other because of hate, greed, ideology, or stubbornness.

This is not a comic for the blind, knee-jerk nationalists out there. This is not a book for the “Love it or leave it” crowd. This is not a comic for people who think it’s treasonous to say we aren’t perfect. This is a book that takes a long, hard look at our history, forces us to look at the worst times, and tells us in no uncertain terms that we did wrong, that we failed, that we didn’t live up to the idealistic standards that we should have. Heck, Sam even meets up with a new incarnation of himself who claims to represent “the New America” — a country of media buzzwords, conspicuous wealth (but only for a few), consumerism, hypocrisy, and contempt. And Sam has to confront the question of whether America has changed from the land of freedom, justice, and equality to a nation of far shallower and less noble urges.

If all you want is a book full of marching bands, presidential portraits, and sanitized, whitewashed history… Well, you’re gonna hate this one. You’re gonna think it’s unpatriotic and anti-American. But it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, a big part of being a patriot is knowing the nation’s history, knowing and accepting the times when we’ve failed to do what’s right, and — most importantly — resolving to do better in the present and the future. A patriot wants his nation to be the best ever, and you can’t move the country forward while keeping your eyes closed.

Will work for liberty

You’ll probably hear a lot of people say that this is a liberal comic book, and in a way, it is. But it was written in 1997, when Bill Clinton was president, and Darnell and Ross have said that they wrote it as a commentary on American history and current events. They’ve also said that if they re-wrote it today, they wouldn’t have to change very much of it…

The final message of the story: America isn’t perfect. Heck, it may never have been perfect, not the way we imagined it in elementary school. We’ve made mistakes, sometimes really, really big mistakes over the past 231 years. But we’re better as a nation when we’re trying to live up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Powers That Be will snicker and sneer and tell us that freedom and equality are outdated antiques in the modern world, that civil liberties will have to wait ’til we’re not in a crisis, that money is the only real American value. But they’re lying to you, because they’re afraid of the power you hold over them. “Liberty and Justice for All” has always been something worth fighting for. Every version of Uncle Sam would agree.

(Previously: Politics in Comics: Watchmen)

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The Lubbock Comics Connection

No one will ever be able to claim that Lubbock is a major comics/cartooning center. Sure, we’ve got a good comics shop, our local library stocks comics, and we’ve even got the Lubbock Sketch Club, which works to nurture local artists and cartoonists. But we certainly don’t have a reputation as a comics hub.

However, you’d be surprised how many connections to the comics and cartooning world that we do have here. Let’s take a quick look at our hometown heroes…

1. Dirk West: Probably the artist that Lubbockites are most familiar with, West was born in Littlefield but grew up in Lubbock. After graduating from Tech, he spent a few years working as Uncle Dirk, the host of a local children’s TV show, and opened up his own advertising agency.

In the early ’60s, West started contributing single-panel sports cartoons to the A-J that featured the mascots of the teams in the Southwest Conference standing around and talking about SWC football. He created Raider Red and Nebraska’s Herbie Husker, and his weekly cartoons were must-read events here in Lubbock. They got lots of attention throughout the SWC — usually because some team (Ahem: the Aggies) would get mad about how they were portrayed.

West served a term as Lubbock mayor in 1978 and died in 1996.

You can see a gallery of some of West’s cartoons right here, and I’m posting a couple of my personal favorites below.

 

2. Alex Ross: One of the best known comics pros anywhere, Ross was born in Portland, Oregon, but spent much of his childhood here in Lubbock. His specialty is not traditional comics art, but painting — specifically beautiful, photorealistic painting of superheroes. His characters don’t look like steroid freaks wearing painted-on costumes — Ross knows how to draw realistic muscles (and realistic fat!), as well as clothing that actually wrinkles like clothing. He knows how to use light and shadow, how to make super-people look like people — and his artwork is still incredibly exciting and cinematic.

Some of his best known works include “Marvels” and “Earth X” for Marvel, “Kingdom Come” and “Uncle Sam” for DC, and covers for “Astro City,” “Justice Society,” and more.

I’m plugging in a few examples below.

 

Above: Giant-Man from “Marvels”

 

3. Jack Tippit: A gag cartoonist, Tippit attended Texas Tech but tranferred to Syracuse. He was a pilot in both World War II and the Korean War. His best-known work was a gag strip called “Amy,” who was basically a female Dennis the Menace. He also drew a strip called “Dr. Bill” and published cartoons in the New Yorker, Look, the Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines. For a while, he drew the “Henry” comic strip.

Here are a couple of his cartoons.

 

 

4. Scott Williams: I know almost nothing about him, to be honest. Yes, my Google-Fu is weak. But Robert Mora, who runs Star Books and Comics here in town, says that he’s a Lubbockite.

Williams is an inker — in fact, he inks almost all of Jim Lee’s work. If you don’t know Jim Lee, he’s one of the big artists, pencilling everything from the X-Men to Superman and Batman, and he was one of the founders of Image Comics in the 1990s.

“Aww, who cares? Williams just traces Lee’s stuff!” Ohh, that’s what you think, kid. You can’t be an inker without displaying a heck of a lot of artistic skill. Don’t believe me? Okay, here’s a sample of some of Lee’s uninked pencils:

 

And here’s the same piece after Williams inked it:

 

(Both of the pictures above come from Inkers.org, a blog produced by professional comics inkers. Check them out if you’d like more info on inking as a career.)

Pencillers are always very picky about their inkers — a good inker can make good artwork even better, and a bad one can doom the best pencils in the world. There’s a reason why Lee has stuck with Williams for all these years.

5. The Blob: No, not the evil glob of protoplasm from the 1958 horror flick — this is Fred J. Dukes, a mutant supervillain who was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1964 for “X-Men #3.” He’s not a particularly handsome super-guy.

 

His primary powers involve superstrength, toughness, and gravity control — basically, he can increase the pull of gravity on himself to make it almost impossible to move him.

Yeah, the Blob’s mutant powers involve him being really fat. Nobody ever said Marvel Comics was a very politically correct place back in the ’60s.

So what’s he doing on this list? Well, according to his official Marvel Comics biography, Fred was actually born here in Lubbock.

Gee, since he’s a native son, maybe we should name the Walk of Fame after him?

So how ’bout it, folks? Do you know of any other comics professionals who are from the Lubbock area? How about comics characters? Drop me a line and let me know, and I’ll add ’em to the list…

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