- The Artist
One of the giants of comic book artistry, Alex Ross rose to creative prominence in a genre many assumed was a thing of the past. His unmistakable trademark illustrations are instantly recognizable - photorealistic drawings with painted colors, iconic poses, and a vibrant creativity that fans instantly connect to and celebrate. Ross became one of the wealthiest and most storied artists in the business, while also introducing new fans to the medium. Known as a flawless draughtsman and craftsman with an innovative painting style, Ross' art has been said to exhibit "a Norman-Rockwell-meets-George-Perez vibe," for its realistic, human depictions of classic comic book characters and attention to detail, along with his pulsating, energetic colors. In the comic book universe, his artistic credentials are nonpareil, a perspective best illustrated by Comics Buyer's Guide decision to retire the Favorite Painter award from their CBG Fan Awards due to Ross' domination of that category (which he won seven years in a row). "Ross may simply be the field's Favorite Painter, period," explained senior editor Maggie Thompson. "That's despite the fact that many outstanding painters are at work in today's comic books."
In retrospect, it seems obvious that Ross would become one of the most sought-after and well-respected comic artists in the industry. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1970, and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Ross debuted his talents at the tender age of three when, his mother says, she noticed him drawing the contents of a television commercial he'd seen moments before. In fact, Ross came from an creative family. His mother was a commercial artist and enormous influence on him. His grandfather, Ros said, "built working wooden toys and loved drawing." However, It was when he saw Spider Man during an episode of The Electric Company as an adolescent that he found his calling—bringing these characters to life. "I just fell in love with the notion that there were colorful characters like this, performing good, sometimes fantastic deeds," Ross remembers. "I guess I knew this was what I wanted to do." While his mother offered creative inspiration, Ross recognizes his father, Clark, a minister, for laying the moral framework that helps him appreciate the altruistic deeds performed by superheroes. "My dad has given aid, physical aid, not just financial, to a number of charities and causes. He's helped at homeless shelters. He used to run a children's shelter in Lubbock. There was a positive effect to being around him, and his actions tied into what the superhero comics were teaching me. Superheroes aren't heroes because they're strong; they're heroes because they perform acts that look beyond themselves."
As he matured, Ross began developing his draftsmanship skills and closely reading comics, in particular those by Perez and illustrator Berni Wrightson. It was a study in contrasts. "They were at opposite ends of the spectrum," Ross said. Wrightson, co-creator of Swamp Thing, was known for his use of delicate lines to delineate shadow and tone and Perez, for his open style with contoured lines and very little shadowing. "When I was 12, I would imitate Perez's style when I drew superheroes and Wrightson's style when I was doing 'serious' work. I realized there was no one way to go." This philosophy became gospel when Ross discovered Andrew Loomis and the legendary Rockwell. "I idolized people like Rockwell, who drew in that photorealistic style," Ross says. "When I was 16 or so, I said to myself, 'I want to see that in a comic book.'"
At 17, Ross began attending Chicago's American Academy of Art, where his mother had also studied. It was there that he was introduced to other classic influences, such as surrealist Salvador Dali, while he reflected on and honed his creative discipline and artistic talents. "My time at the Academy was really valuable," he said. "I learned where I was as an artist and what kind of discipline I'd already learned. Here I was, drawing from a model for the first time and realizing I could represent the model. Not everyone in the class could do that. It was important to make that discovery." In fact, the Academy enabled Ross to explore fine art in greater depth and Dali became a major influence. "He had a vivid imagination and a hyper-realistic quality that wasn't so far removed from comic books. I began to study the classic American illustrators like Rockwell, J. C. Leyendecker... I've been called 'The Norman Rockwell of comics' more than a hundred times. I'm not going to suggest I'm on the same level as Rockwell, but attempting that sort of realism in my work has always been part of my approach." Of course, the skills he developed while attending the Academy hugely influenced his career later on. "There wasn't any moment where I saw the light and said, 'Painted comics. That's the way.'" he recalls. "It was a by-product of my studies. There wasn't any program that taught me to ink a comic book. There were programs that taught me to paint. I just naturally thought, 'Well, of course I'm going to apply that to comics.' There were also enough painted comics out there—not a lot, but a few—that made me think that talent could be applied."
After graduating from the Academy in 1993 and taking a position at an advertising agency, Ross joined the Marvel franchise at the behest of Marvel Comics editor Kurt Busiek, who had noticed Ross's art and suggested the two work together on a story. Those plans came to fruition in 1993 with their joint creative work, "Marvels," an all-painted graphic novel that explored Marvel superheroes from the perspective of an ordinary man. Published in 1994, Ross and Busiek's collaboration chronicled the life of a photojournalist as he inhabited a world of superheroes and villains. The book, a huge success with critics and fans alike, gave Ross his first real exposure as an artist, both within the industry and outside it. Fans especially connected to the work, noticing Ross's obvious appreciation, even affection, for the characters through his attention to detail and ability to make each character look so real. There was also, Ross said, a sense of accomplishment and wishful thinking involved. "Hopefully by painting the work, you gain a sense of life and believability that will draw the reader in a little more. You can use color and light and shadow and live models to give the work a certain realism. It might be easier to relate to a character if you look at it and say, 'Here's an actor portraying someone. Here's something that looks real.' I thought it would draw people in and maybe add to their enjoyment of the work. There's also a part of me that likes to speculate - 'What if they made a movie about this character.' I realize some of my favorite characters will never get the movie treatment, so it's up to me to present them in a lifelike fashion, to make the movie that would otherwise never get made."
After his debut, Ross was well on his way to artistic superstardom. His lengthy list of accomplishments is a testimony to how deeply fans connect to his work. He continued his collaboration with Busiek as the cover artist of "Astro City" as well as drawing and painting other mini-series, including "Kingdome Come" with writer Mark Waid, a fabled work that presents a possible future in which Superman and several other superheroes returning to tame a generation of savage anti-heroes. The work is highlighted by Ross' reimagined versions of many DC characters, as well as a new generation of characters, including Ross's co-creation of Magog. DC Comics writer and executive Paul Levitz said, "Ross' unique painted art style made a powerful statement about the reality of the world they built." Between 1998 and 2001, Ross drew four one-shot comics to celebrate the 60th anniversaries of certain well-known DC characters - "Superman - Peace on Earth," "Batman - War on Crime," "SHAZAM. - Power of Hope," and "Wonder Woman - Spirit of Truth," before combining creative forces with writer Jim Krueger to create the "X" trilogy. In the fall of 2001, Ross painted a series of four interlocking covers for TV Guide (featuring characters from the WB series Smallville) and designed and sculpted a series of busts based on characters he created for the Marvel series Earth X. "Designing the statues," Ross explains, "was a case where I said, 'Hey, I know I can do this, and before somebody else does it – maybe differently from the way I would like it done – I can sculpt some of the characters for which I'm well-known and make sure they look the way I want them to look.' My comics work notwithstanding, I prefer not having to rely on the labors or plans of others. For the fans' sake as well as for my own, I want to take full responsibility for the projects that bear my name."
Alex's formidable talents have also opened door to other projects outside the superhero comic book universe. In 2001, Ross won acclaim for his work on comic books benefiting the families of victims of the September 11 attacks, contributing his portraits of paramedics, police and firefighters. He also earned praise for the limited-edition promotional poster for the 2002 Academy Awards, which depicted Oscar perched atop the First National Building. His feature film work includes concept and narrative art for Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, and DVD packaging art for the M. Night Shyamalan film, Unbreakable, which featured an insert with Ross' original art, as well as his commentary on superheroes in the movie's special features. He has created TV Guide covers, posters and packaging for video games, as well as his renditions of superheroes, which have been merchandised as action figures. He has designed DC merchandise, including posters, dinner plates, and statues. Having thoroughly explored the superhero genre, Ross cast his gaze in a different direction, deciding to focus on a comic book project for the real world, Uncle Sam, a 96-page story that took a critical look at the dark side of American history. Like Marvels and Kingdom Come, the individual issues of Uncle Sam were collected into a single volume—first in hardcover, then in paperback—and remain in print today. While critics argue against comic art, reducing it to just a form of escapism, Ross says his art, like most popular art, is the opposite, functioning as a mirror, reflecting cultural mores, social norms, and personal values. "Superheroes are a mixture of every form of fiction," he said, "myth, science-fiction, mystery, and magic – all in one giant pot. The best characters embody virtues we may try to find in ourselves." The demand for Alex's work has grown steadily. Without a doubt, he is one of the most gifted talents in comic fine art today.
With great power comes great responsibility. Ross, clearly took that lesson to heart. His career provides another important message - Follow Your Heart. A apt message you might find in one of his stories. "I do the gigs I do because I care about the material," he says. "In some cases, it's because I like the character. In some cases, I have a vision in my head of something I must do. It all involves artistic expression. If I can't get into the work on some artistic level, I can't do it."
World Wide Art
World Wide Art is known for its wide selection of limited editions and originals by renowned artists, including the luminescent works of Alex Ross. Their expert staff also specializes in custom conservation framing. In business since 1996, World Wide Art is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a well-known art shop for both serious collectors and casual decorators. The staff at World Wide Art not only deals art, but are collectors and artists themselves who consider their work a labor of love and lifestyle of art appreciation.