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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Alex Ross

Alex Ross' Justice League of America (JLA)
There are not many artists today who can do narrative least not many who can do it well. Narrative art is that which tells a story through one or more pictures. The earliest art we know of today, on the walls of prehistoric underground caverns, painted by those who dwelt within them, depicts wild animal hunts--narrative art. The Egyptians, and perhaps even earlier civilizations, evolved their written languages through narrative art. Before there was writing there were pictures. Writing became highly simplified pictures. In fact, for centuries, the primary purpose of the artist in societies, and more broadly, all civilization itself, was to tell stories and record history in a narrative fashion through their art. We take literacy for granted today, but throughout much of man's recorded history, few people knew how to read and write. Narrative art filled the gap between the upper and lower classes which illiteracy divided. Yet, as important a function as such visual narration entailed, it was also a burden on art.
Comic artist Alex Ross at work.
Alex Ross' Clark Kent
becomes super.
Inasmuch as artists were saddled with telling other people's stories, or recording history visually, they had little time to tell tales of their own. Creativity was stifled. In large part, the printing press and mandatory primary education relieved artists of the demands of narrative art imposed upon their time. Those artists who could, began to tell stories of their own through their drawn and painted images. First this came in the form of genre painting, usually etched prints or single works on canvas of an event having embedded within them sufficient detail to reveal activity before, and during the event, while suggesting the consequences. However, as time progressed, when the absolute need for narrative art began to wane, so did the technical and creative talents in producing it. By the latter half of the 19th-century, art became almost totally decorative, having, at best, only vague narrative qualities. Then, with the advent of Modern Art, narrative art all but disappeared except on the pages of books for children not yet old enough to read. From these seeds--from cave paintings to children's storybooks--grew the roots of our modern-day comic books. Today, forty-five-year-old American artist, Alex Ross (above), is the flowering of our present day version of narrative art.

Passing the Torch, Tom Welling and Christopher Reeve, as seen by Alex Ross.
Batman and Robin, Alex Ross
Alex Ross' heroes are Norman Rockwell and Superman, an odd combination, given their exact opposites in terms of our mental images. However Ross draws Superman as he imagines that Rockwell might have. Ross also admires such artists as John Romita, Sr., Neal Adams, George Pérez, Bernie Wrightson, Andrew Loomis. J. C. Leyendecker, and Salvador Dalí. His work shows flashes of brilliance from all these influence. His Justice League of America (JLA) banner (top) is like a one-piece portfolio of his work. Ross got his start in the narrative art of comic books working for an advertising agency as a storyboard artist (not far removed from the comic book format). On the side, he created the 1990 five-issue miniseries, Terminator: The Burning Earth, published by NOW Comics. Ross was something of a one-man-band, producing all the art from thumbnail sketches to camera-ready color proofs (usually such work is divided among a team of artists). Although Ross still does such labor-intensive work, most of his time now is spent creating covers and advertising for super-hero books, comics, games, TV and movie productions. However , on his own, he produces original works featuring heroes such as Batman and Robin (above, left), Superman in various incarnations (above), Spiderman (below, right), Wonder Woman (below), JLA (top), and several other favorites. These he sells as printed reproductions from his Web site, .

Wonder Woman, Alex Ross
Spider Man, Alex Ross
Most of Ross' comic book work had been for Marvel Comics, but he's also done work for DC Comics, Image Comics, Wildstorm Comics, and some others. Usually Ross' input comes early in a project, working with a writer to conceptualize, visualize, and flesh out a story, designing costumes, settings, and layout guidelines before turning over his work to production artists, allowing him time to work on covers and advertising. Creatively, Ross seems at his best when it comes to depicting comic book villains as well. I mean, where would a super-hero be without super-villains to combat? Perhaps the most famous of all these is Batman's nemesis, The Joker (below) here seen played by actor Jared Leto for a Warner Brothers production. The Green Goblin (below, left) is one of his most "horrible" efforts.

The Joker, as played by actor, Jared Leto, as seen by Alex Ross
The Green Goblin, Alex Ross.
Narrative art has come a long way since stick-like super-heroes slayed wild animals 20,000 years ago to their appearance today in movies burned onto shiny plastic DVDs. The main two driving forces in this evolution have been purpose and media. When narrative artist were no longer needed to propagandize the illiterate or record history as promulgated by the rich and famous, it took on a purpose of its own--to entertain the masses. That it did, from genre painting through children's storybooks, comic books, graphic novels, and today, TV, Movies, and even video games, which allow the player to vicariously become a super-hero. Alex Ross stands today at the top of his field, a major player in a publishing world filled with fantasy artists, striving to match or surpass his efforts. Few of them can or will. Narrative art is one of the most demanding creative efforts, both technically and creatively, that exists today. Few artists can do it was well as Alex Ross.

Alex Ross's Super Obama marks him as a fervid
Democrat, here with his portrait which later became a
T-shirt worn by the President. I'll spare you the T-shirt
he did featuring George W. Bush.

Click below to meet the artist:


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