Monday, November 21, 2011

Alex Ross takes on the New Mutants!

Isn't that a nice cover?  I tend to hold Alex Ross somewhat responsible for the death of storytelling in modern comics, probably unfairly.  His rise to popularity seems to have coincided with an era of too much emphasis on photorealism, an over-reliance on photo reference or outright tracing, too many people getting hung up on cool individual images rather than thinking a page through as a sequence of panels arranged to express mood, movement and action.  I say "seems" because I might have the chronology completely wrong.

But even if I'm right, it's not really Ross's fault so many young artists start their careers telling themselves, "Hey, Ross does it and it looks amazing and sells even better than it looks, so why can't I?"  Blaming Ross is like blaming the Beatles for Strawberry Alarm Clock.  And yet I sort of do...  I just can't help it.

The static, awkward results probably also have a lot to do with artists using tools like Poser and various digital paint programs-- not that these things are in and of themselves negatives.  In the past, greats like Russ Heath, Al Williamson and Wally Wood used photo-reference-- Wood even advocated tracing.  According the Mark Schultz in his amazing and indispensable book Al Williamson's Flash Gordon:  A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic, Williamson relied on tracing at times during the middle stages of his career.  Photo reference, Poser, Photoshop, tracing.  These are useful tools, and artists shouldn't necessarily shy away from their use.   Mis-using might be a better term for what today's artists frequently do.

Williamson didn't just trace-- he would then adjust the drawing to match the heroic proportions of his original images and to fit the scene.  He achieved consistency in this way, something one frequently mocked comic book photorealist would do well to remember when he's so intent on making things "real" he forgets to make them believable.  Not that he gives a rip.

But I digress.  Whatever else you can say about the Alex Ross, he knows how to respect characters and put together an iconic image, then render the heck out of it.

Oh sure, Ross might have taken some photos to get a sense of the poses, to nail the anatomy and stage the lighting, but he manages here to sublimate the photo referencing and stay true to the classic look of the characters.  Dani Moonstar-- right up front, dominating the image where she belongs-- looks a lot like Bob McLeod's version, rather than a model in a bodysuit from a photoshoot in Ross's living room.  Unfortunately, the under-lit Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie looks disconcertingly middle aged.  Life must have been hard on him in the coal-mining regions of Kentucky before he met Charles Xavier.  This is the work of an artist moving away from duplicating photographs towards an artist justifiably confident in his ability to draw and paint anything he can imagine.  An artist who has finally put technique at the service of the artwork, rather than the other way around.

There's also the possibility Ross just made this all up out of his head.  I do believe he's just that good.

Well, however he achieved this cover, it's quite excellent.  A fitting tribute to my favorite of Marvel's super adventure teams.

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