Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Episode #110: Happy Birthday, Alex Ross!

Nelson Alexander (Alex) Ross was born on January 22, 1970, in Portland Oregon and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He was the youngest of four children. Alex's father was Clark Ross, a minister ordained in the United Church of Christ denomination. His mother was Lynette, who was a freelance fashion illustrator in Chicago and graduated from Chicago's American Academy of Art, where Alex would later attend. In the book Mythology, which contains Alex's art for DC Comics, some samples of his mother's work is also printed. It's easy to see where he got his talent from, even though she had long before abandoned her art career to raise a family. Alex knew what he wanted to be, a comic book illustrator, from a very early age. Before he began his comic book art career Alex worked for about 3 1/2 years at the Leo Burnett ad agency. There he did ad layouts, animatics and commercial storyboards.

Alex Ross's first published comic book artwork was the five issue mini-series Terminator: The Burning Earth, written by Ron Fortier for Now Comics, since defunt. Conflicts with the publisher made him insert the words "Now Comix Bloz" backwards, with spaces between some of the letters of the words, on the cover, mixed with some other coded text.

His first published superhero work was the cover for the novel Superman: Doomsday & Beyond. Alex's first Marvel story was the unpublished Deadline, planned for the fifth issue of the Marvel anthology title Open Space, edited by Kurt Busiek. Unfortunately the title was cancelled with issue #4, and was never printed until it appeared as a supplement to Wizard magazine's Alex Ross Special Publication. The story involved an employee of a corporation, who's first field assignment was to set up the site for a new colony on another planet. She ran into complications in finishing her job.

Alex and Kurt would later collaborate on Marvels, published in 1994, which looked at the history of the Marvel Comics characters, beginning with the original Human Torch and Namor in the 1940's through Gwen Stacy's death. The story is told through the eyes of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. In the back of the trade paperback of the four issue series is an article about how Alex collected the photo reference he used for the series.

Ross and Busiek would also collaborate on Astro City, begun in 1995. Kurt wrote it, Brent Anderson drew it and Alex supplied character designs and painted covers. Astro City explored what the real world would be like if super heroes and villains existed. Some of the storylines have been: the Samaritan can't enjoy the thrill of flying because he's too busy rushing all over the world to rescue people from various disasters, a date between two super heroes, a kid sidekick's initiation, a reformed supervillain's attempt to build a new life after prison and a hero is driven from Earth because of his love's attempt to discover his secret identity.

While he was working on Marvels, Alex began developing an apocalyptic story for the pantheon of DC characters. He typed up a synopsis and sent it to DC, where Dan Raspler brought Mark Waid on board and the project would become Kingdom Come. But Alex's first published DC story art was Sandman Mystery Theatre Annual #1, August 1994, about the golden age Sandman in his original suit, cloak and gas mask. The original proposal for Kingdom Come can be read in Wizard Magazine's Alex Ross: Millennium Edition. Kingdom Come was the apocalyptic end of the heroic age of the DC heroes, as seen through the eyes of a pastor suffering a crisis of faith, Norman McCay. He was modeled after Alex's own father, who he had wanted to use as a character in a story for a long time. The children and grandchildren of DC's heroes had become disconnected from their elders' moral code, and were hard to differentiate from the villains. One of the superhero progeny was Nightstar, a character Alex had originally created when he was eleven years old. In Kingdom Come she is the daughter of Dick Grayson and Starfire, former members of the Teen Titans.

Uncle Sam followed Kingdom Come. It took the national figure and comic book hero and examined the darker parts of American history, with the result that he was able to face and overcome his darker self.

From 1998 - 2003 Alex Ross collaborated with Paul Dini on a series of tabloid size editions celebrating the 60th anniversaries of DC's top super heroes. They also explored the basic symbolism each DC icon represents.

Superman: Peace On Earth, 1998. To Alex Superman represented Science as the ultimate science fiction superhero. The story explored Superman's attempt to combat world hunger, a battle he ultimately failed because he made humanity dependent on him. He's not powerful enough to solve the world's problems. Superman works best by inspiring humanity and leading by example. Ross's original art was auctioned by Southeby's for $81,000, with the proceeds going to both UNICEF and Harper House in Chicago.

Batman: War On Crime, 1999. Batman represents Mystery to Alex. The Dark Knight faced crime in a real world setting, through the double murder that orphaned a young boy. Batman is struck by the similarities between he and the boy, except for the boy's poverty. The story explores how their paths cross again. Southeby's auctioned the original art for $157,000 for the Reisenbach Charter School in Harlem.

Shazam: Power Of Hope, 2000. To Alex, Captain Marvel symbolizes Magic. Captain Marvel deals with troubled children and grants terminally ill children their fondest wish. The story also explores how, even though he is the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel is still a boy himself at heart.

Wonder Woman: Spirit Of Truth, 2001. Wonder Woman symbolizes Myth to Alex. The story is set in the Middle East and was published just after 9/11. It explores Wonder Woman's fight against injustice around the world, and how she is perceived by women around the world as she comes to their aid in a revealing costume that resembles an American flag.

For the Decmeber 8, 2001 edition of TV Guide, Alex provided the cover art, which was printed as variant covers featuring the lead actors of the TV show Smallville, Tom Welling (Clark Kent), Kristen Kreuk (Lana Lang), Michael Roesnbaum (Lex Luthor) and Superman. The covers together created a single picture.

In the early 2000's Alex teamed with writer Jim Krueger on the Marvel trilogy Earth X, Universe X and Paradise X. These mini-series combined many Marvel characters from various decades. In this story set in Marvel's future, Earth's inhabitants gain super powers. The story explores what happens to the old heroes when they are no longer special. The following titles further expand the story.

Alex's next projects were two Justice League books. JLA: Secret Origins, 2002. It retold the origin of the "Original 7", each in eight panel stories. In JLA: Liberty & Justice, 2003, the Justice League battled the world-wide threat of an alien virus.

Alex Ross also contributed art to the 9-11 benefit anthology, which raised money for victims of the attack. One cover he contributed was an homage to the cover of The Big All-American Comic Book, 1944, which showed a boy and his dog gazing in wonder at a billboard portraying the All-American line of superheroes. In Alex's version a billboard protrayed emergency workers: police, firemen, doctors and nurses. Krypto and Superman gaze at the billboard in admiration, and the Man of Steel says, "Wow!"

He also painted the promotional poster for the 2002 Academy Awards, which showed the Oscar on top of the First National Building.

For the 2004 movie Spider-Man 2 Alex created a series of paintings that were shown during the opening credits. The original art was auctioned on ebay to benefit the United Cancer Front.

In 2005, the book Mythology: The DC Comics Art Of Alex Ross was published. Chipp Kidd wrote it and also did the art direction and design. Geoff Spear was the photographer. While the book was a history of his DC Comics work, it also contained examples of Alex's art growing up, as well as his mother's advertising art. In the back is a section that shows the creative process behind the cover illustration, and an original story, from development to finished art.

From 2005 - 2006 Alex teamed with writer Jim Kreuger and penciller Doug Braithwaite on the twelve issue mini-series Justice. Ross painted over Doug's pencils. The series told the story of the DC supervillains uniting to undermine public support for the Justice League through their own humanitarian efforts while preparing the League's ultimate demise.

Alex contributed covers for DC's Justice Society Of America from issues 3 - 26 from 2007 - 2009, through the Thy Kingdom Come storyline.

Beginning in 2008 Alex Ross again teamed with writer Jim Krueger on Project Superpowers for Dynamite Entertainment. The series, and subsequent series resurrected public domain golden age superheroes. Alex developed character sketches and painted covers, and the interior art is done by various artists. Dynamite also published Avengers/Invaders in cooperation with Marvel Comics, pitting the Avengers against the golden age versions of Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch.

Alex Ross completes about ten pages a month. His usual routine is to draw all ten pages and then paint them. Each page takes about 3 - 4 days to complete. He has stated that among his artistic influences were: Norman Rockwell, cover painter for the Saturday Evening Post magazine for about fifty years; Andrew Loomis, illustrator and author of several books in drawing and illustration; and comic book artists John Romita, Sr., George Perez and Bernie Wrightson.

While Alex has many enthusiastic fans of his art, and I am certainly one of them, some comic book readers don't find his art appealing. They find his art too stiff and not showing enough motion. I won't say they're wrong, because everyone has different tastes. There are a few photorealistic comic book artists whose art seems too posed and stiff, but I can't say the same for Alex's art. His action scenes carry a great sense of motion and his figures have an almost 3-D effect. His characters carry weight and portray a sense of power. An Alex Ross comic book is usually a great comic book, at least with the art. I also respect his sense of craft with his art and his love of comic book history.

Next month Alex Ross will appear at MegaCon in Orlando, Florida from March 12 - 14, 2010 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Check their website for details. I haven't been to MegaCon since 2006, and I had hoped to attend this year. But finances probably will mean I'll have to wait another year. My wife even said she would go with me, at least once, just to see what the insanity I'm involved with is about.

For more information about Alex Ross's comic book work go to or, or visit his website, (If you're curious about what Alex Ross's art studio looks like, click on this link on his website:

Several online interviews with Alex Ross:, from Jack Kirby Collector #27 (1999), available at the same website if you would like to read it in magazine form.

Alex Ross has also been interviewed on a number of comic book podcasts. Check your favorite podcasts to see if he has appeared on them.

Next episode: Who's Who In Action Comics #1!

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