Friday, April 18, 2014

Interview with Ross MacDonald, illustrator of "Boys of Steel"

I consider myself lucky that Ross MacDonald illustrated Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

He was exceptional to work with and is now a friend.


But the book came out in 2008. Why interview him now?

Because I should have done it then. With respect to Bill Finger, I often say “Justice has no expiration date.” Same is true with good content.

Besides, the book is still a book... 

What attracted you to illustrating Boys of Steel? 

It’s a great story about the guys—boys, really—who [created] arguably the first, and certainly the most iconic, superhero.

I had grown up reading the Superman comics of the ‘60s. They were fun when I was young. The art in those was clean and accomplished, but a little bland. [But] the stories had devolved (degenerated?) into these convoluted yet simplistic plots involving time travel, Superman trying to keep Lois from finding out his secret identity, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and an ever-expanding rainbow of Kryptonites.

As an adult, I came to really appreciate the artwork and storylines of the early, dark comic books and Sunday comics of the ‘40s. Joe Shuster’s art and the dark gripping plots of the early Superman comics came as a huge revelation. 

You used brown for Jerry Siegel’s clothes and green for Joe Shuster’s. Did you incorporate any other recurring visual motifs? 

Jerry is kinda tubby and Joe was rail thin. But they almost looked like brothers in many ways. Both had similar glasses and hair, and like every single male American of the time, they wore suits. All the time. They even have the same initials, so keeping their names straight is difficult, too.

They looked similar enough that just making one heavy and one skinny wasn’t quite enough to tell them apart. So I gave them each their own color scheme. That was something you saw in the old comics—the characters often only had one suit (I guess that was probably true in real life at the time, too), and it helped make the comic panels a quicker read. Villains often had purple or orange suits, and Clark Kent’s was always true blue.

Another thing I tried to do was to make the illustrations that showed Joe and Jerry’s real life have a nice muted color scheme but the scenes they imagine are bright, pulpy, comic colors. 

What is your favorite piece of art from Boys of Steel? 

Much as I liked drawing Superman, my favorite piece is Joe sketching on the back of wallpaper scraps in the unheated kitchen of his mother’s apartment while she washes dishes in the background. 

What piece of Boys of Steel art was the most challenging to create? 

Another fave—Jerry sitting at his typewriter in front of his bedroom window while the neighborhood kids play outside. 

What was the most annoying request I made? 

All of them—just kidding. I don’t remember any requests, frankly. Maybe they were so annoying I blanked them out! 

Do you have any unused art you can share, especially cover sketches? 

Like most of the book, the cover was a one-sketch kinda deal. There are a couple of alternate versions of the title page, though. 

Any particularly memorable feedback you’ve gotten for your work on the book? 

Charlie Kochman, formerly an editor at DC Comics, now at Abrams Image, really loved the book. It felt good getting praise from someone who worked at the house that published Superman comics from the very beginning. 

Anything else about the experience you’d like to add? 

Great working with you on this, and it was fun helping to tell the interesting creation story of one of my childhood heroes.

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