“The New 52 Is A Tough Thing To See” – Alex Ross Talks Tower Chronicles, Reboots And How To Animate Kingdom Come

Will Romine writes for Bleeding Cool. And he really really really likes Alex Ross. See if you can tell.

What you’re looking at is the cover to the second part of the first volume of The Tower Chronicles. This cover debuted this past Thursday at San Diego Comic Con. Just because you weren’t there, doesn’t mean that you’re square! We here at Bleeding Cool have it right here for your viewing pleasure

The cover is what I like to call a “Geek Screener.” Anyone claiming geek cred should be able to identify the artist of that cover. Even if you’ve never picked up a copy of The Tower Chronicles, there is only one man in the industry capable of gracing your sight-holes with such concentrated awesome.

If you know who I’m talking about, read on. If not, I don’t care to know you.

That man is Alex Ross.

Recently, I had a chance to interview Mr. Ross to learn more about his experience working with Legendary, his views on digital comics, and what he thinks about the Now! 52 movement happening at Marvel and DC.

Thanks for sitting down with me. I’ve had a chance to look at your alternate cover and I have to say, nice work sir! Can you tell me a bit about your experience working with (publisher) and creating this cover.

I was happy to work on it. I gave them some choices of character poses, they selected one, and I added a stained glass window in the background. For all the illustrations I’ve done, I haven’t done too many with a “creature of the night” hero posing against background buildings. It’s been less a part of my DNA. I’m more used to a guy flying in the air against a bright sky.

Well, anything by Alex Ross always makes my pull list. I’d just like you to know that I’m a huge fan and have probably bought Kingdom Come in at least 4 different formats.

Ha Ha, That’s what we do! We find new ways to force you to buy.

First it was the individual issues, then the hard cover, then a soft cover for a friend, and now I’m on the digital.

Oh, no kidding. I wonder if it holds up.

Actually, it translates well to digital because your whole style is very detail laden. I read comics on my iPad now, frame by frame and I’m always finding something new that’s lost in the paper format. A lot of artists fill the background with random squiggles that don’t hold up when enlarged. So yeah, Kingdom Come holds up well in digital.

Won’t it underserve a lot of people in the long run though? The standard way that artists have worked for decades evolved from cartooning and comic strips and this “simpler” graphic style is now under the gun for not looking “competitive” enough. The demands put upon it; when I see comics done by a lot of contemporary artists, they’re clearly working on the tablet where they blow up their panels to a much larger size to work, and then they shrink it down to where the ink work is incredibly infinitesimal. I’m sure that looks great on the tablet, but I’m thinking “hey, wait, that’s cheating!” The rest of us that are working on one sheet of paper are suddenly being told “Yeah, you have to work larger in order to ensure that your panels still have something going on in them” and it feels kind of unfair. Such is technology.

Switching gears here, in your seminal DC and Marvel works, you trend towards the iconic. In the nineties, we saw you avoid Kyle Rayner Green Lanterns and harpoon-handed Aquamen in favor of the Silver Age iterations of these characters. What do you think of the New-52 and Marvel Now! trend that’s going through comics where they’re trying to “modernize” the classic look of these decades old characters. If you were to do a project with Marvel or DC in the future, would you stick to the Silver Age fundamentals, or would you try to incorporate some of these new stylistic changes into your work?

I mean, clearly, I’m not working on any of those things right now, so I don’t have this challenge. Given the amount of time I’ve had to do these characters exactly as I saw them, I’ve been spoiled. It’s really hard for me to imagine going in there and doing [current character designs] if I don’t have to. If I didn’t need to do that for the sake of survival, I don’t know that I would. It’s not my instinct to throw out a design that has withstood the test of time for 70 years and say “no no, now it’s this.” Especially when you have your other versions of whatever character, whether it’s Superman, or Green Lantern and say “you can’t have the old version anymore.” Why can’t I have that? You’ve published that for 70 years and now you say it’s off the table? I think that has less to do with what artistic demands dictate and more to do with personalities of the people calling the shots and their egos. It’s a world that I probably don’t fit into, but let’s think for a second; what did I make my mark in? With Kingdom Come and The Marvels, I did versions of characters that were completely remote from what they were regularly publishing. Starting with the Marvels, it was doing the characters as they appeared 25-30 years before. With Kingdom Come, I took [the character designs] into the future where things had really changed. Characters aged, new characters replaced old, same with the Earth X series. Maybe it’s hypocritical for someone like me to say that there’s any problem with taking that step forward. But, when I did a lot of the other stuff, like DC’s JUSTICE, I did so with the purpose of saying “Here’s the classic version, the one I believe will stand the test of time. After all the fooling around that’s done with these characters, this is the one I truly believe in, the one I’ll commit to paper. Maybe there’s not a fit for me at [DC or Marvel], or maybe times turn around till where there’s a place for me again.

We all know there’s always room for Alex Ross

Well, thank you.

Speaking of Kingdom Come, it seems that up until Flashpoint, it seems that the DCU was shifting towards a Kingdom Come type future. With the new 52, would you design that same future for them to build towards, or would you “tweak” it to align with the New 52 aesthetics and values?

Good Lord! I have never had any thoughts towards that. I figured the New 52 wiped out any connection to the whole Kingdom Come approach. Kingdom Come was a seditious project. It had the intent of saying “oh, we’re in the future! Characters have changed and evolved.” The truth is, it was a complete and total retro project. All of the character designs I came up with were paying homage to ones from decades gone by. It wasn’t really the future so much as it was a tribute to the past. If you’ve eradicated the past, the future becomes removed from the graphic influences that gave birth to [Kingdom Come].

[The New 52] is a tough thing to see. All those comics that you grew up reading, none of them count. It’s not quite an all-service kind of menu of storytelling. Marvel did their Ultimates by saying “Hey, you can either jump on board, or you can read the regular stuff, it’s ok.” There’s no forced “This is it, and this is all it’s ever going to be.”

Kind of feels like burying an old friend.

The worst part of this is that these are all fictional worlds that can be as widely inclusive or as resurrecting of old concepts and character designs as it wants to be. So, why isn’t it malleable to all the readers interests? Why not make all of that available in your library? Doing Kingdom Come, I never expected my designs to become any type of instructions or wave of change within the company.

I asked Bruce Timm at last year’s Batman Year One panel whether he might take Kingdom Come on as a project. He told me that it wasn’t a story suited for animation. Do you think your style could be adapted to animation?

I’ve seen some of the Warner Brothers stuff, some of it is quite good, but they don’t have the budget for my style. They can’t even bring to life George Perez’s art style in traditional animation. When you’re talking about my style, you’re really talking about 3d graphics. What I try to do is bring this stuff to some kind of physical life that exceeds comic book illustrations. If you’re not trying to cast people to match my drawings, you’re talking about computer animation on a level we still haven’t seen done. Things that have tried for realism haven’t worked out perfectly well yet. The best on-screen example of that would be Final Fantasy. They did it very well, but there’s still a certain level of stiffness. Until that’s fully conquered, a style like mine just becomes reduced when you turn it into 2d animation. The next question is, “is the story line so important that we just need to get it told soon” I’ve always hoped that DC would never have to scrape the bottom of the barrel in doing that. I’d like to think that I’m no easily replaceable and that my style could not so easily be thrown out just to get the production on the schedule. And, as you can imagine, I have absolutely zero input in that process.

Say that you use the technology that they use for video games now. It’s not perfect, but if they tried something like that for Kingdom Come, then I might be interested.

 Like Arkham City?

Yeah, that’s physically possible to do—an animated feature that looks like that. Will it be everything I hope it would be? Not yet, but it’s heading in that direction.

Thanks for sitting down with me. I’ve read your stuff for years, and it’s been fun talking shop with one of the greats.

Ha Ha, that’s awesome. That’s very kind of you.

If you ever need faces to put in the background of a panel, I’d love to be the envy of all my friends.

[no response]