Alex Ross interview
Published on 9 August, 2010
Authored by Titan Books
What was it like to revisit your sketches in Rough Justice?
Through Chip Kidd's discerning eye, there's a great way to see something from a brand new perspective, sometimes cropped in or focused on in such a way that it appears like a brand new piece. Chip's sense of design is one not easily replicated. His work in handling me makes me feel that much better about my work overall.
Your character designs are unique but is your work consciously influenced by other artists?
All the time. But more subconscious then conscious. Every major influence of mine, from Norman Rockwell to Neal Adams, is always present in my thought process, whether I'm intending it or not. My very layout sense is born of the artistic path that's been charted before me.
When beginning a new character sketch, do you tend to have a specific
starting point? Or does this vary for each character?
When it involves new character design, I am usually revisiting some earlier influence. When I was redesigning Nightwing, for example, I had been thinking of the original Superman costume in Kandor. All ideas I have in design can usually be traced to some manner of influence.
How did the American Academy of Art in Chicago shape you as the artist?
As an artist, I really honed my skills with a dramatic advancement and opening of my eyes when I attended the school. Having the experience to draw from life regularly made me realize how much I needed and desired that as a constant function of my art.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using real-life models as a
basis for your character designs? And when you're not drawing characters,
what other props do you use for reference points?
There are a lot of drawbacks to using live models, since it can both augment and detract from the believable immersion in the storytelling. When something appears too real or like a real person, it can both attract and repel the reader, depending upon how well it's executed. Realism is always something I strive for, but sometimes that goal itself can be flawed. I try and make sure if I'm drawing any subject that I'm at least looking at something real related to that subject. I don't have a perfect library of images to pull from in my brain and always need to cross-
reference the real world. In some cases, I'll go to the trouble of using full-size props or even smaller dolls and action figures to base my work upon. Everything is ultimately interpreted through my eyes and hands. Nothing goes down without that filter. The sketchbook that makes up Rough Justice is almost 100% without any reference and is a good way to see where a mind like mine begins before seeking out other resources.
Your character designs have a sense of realism to them as opposed to being fantastical larger-than-life creations. What are the origins of this style and why did you decide to adopt it?
The approach of making comic characters seem more realistic is in the history of where the medium comes from, illustrative approaches like Howard Pyle's depicting Robin Hood to Alex Raymond's creating Flash Gordon, the precursor of all superheroes. Realism is not a thing removed from the worlds of the fantastic, and as it is now, a predominant number of comic art styles in the U.S. are realistic.
When you came into the comics scene with your photorealistic style, were you actively trying to be different from other artists?
I was actively trying to provide the painted approach I saw other artists do put toward the more commercial mainstream subject of comics superheroes. Most of the trailblazing painters in comics were building a more independent landscape of expression, devoid of the commercial properties, whereas I wanted to embrace that subject matter that was most popular with readers like myself.
Do you feel your style has changed since you began as a comic artist?
Not the intent, but certainly my execution must have grown. There is also an aspect of trying to find new ground I haven't yet covered in my years thus far.
What do you prefer: Creating your own characters from scratch, or working on existing ones such as Superman and Batman?
There's something to be gained by using preexisting legends because their relatability to the audience is already long since established. If you get to use those character archetypes, you're already borrowing from the work that's been done before you to establish them in the reader and viewers' eye. New characters are a thing I enjoy creating, but I've yet to fully invest myself in the journey of any new characters as a sole pursuit of my storytelling.
Do you see digital comic art as a good or bad thing, and what has influenced your decision to paint traditionally?
I love modern digital work for looking just like what it looks like. You should never prejudge a thing based on how it got done but just on what it appears to be. There is still a great amount of physical effort that goes into digital work and no less artistic merit. I prefer a tactile approach for myself, since that's what I've built up for so many years. Also, I enjoy creating physical originals that can be appreciated in person more than just an object that's printed out. Ultimately, I don't think that one form of craftsmanship will completely replace the other. It just may be that modern techniques will dominate.
ABOUT ROUGH JUSTICE
From Alex Ross, the sensational, award-winning artist of the bestselling Mythology comes his never-before-seen DC Comics sketchbook.
An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the stunning black-and-white drawings of the DC characters you loved from Mythology: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, and many more. All of Alex Ross’s extraordinary, hyper-realistic paintings start as pencil on paper, and some of them never get beyond that stage. None of these hundreds of graphite sketches has ever been published before, and most of them will make their only published appearance in Rough Justice. Plus, in an interview with Chip Kidd, Ross reveals his process and how these drawings translate into the finished paintings.
In 2008 Ross became the first cover artist in DC history to work simultaneously on the monthly Superman and Batman titles. All of the designs he created for an entire year–even those that did not make the final cut–are included here.