www.silverbullet.com 2004 interview
Bob McLeod & Uncle Tim
By Tim Hartnett
When I think of Bob McLeod, I think of great comic book art. And not only is it great comic art, it's "pure" comic art.
If someone came to me and said, "Tim, if all superhero comic books could look the same, whose style would be the best?"
Without a doubt, Bob McLeod. Realistic and detailed, yet so simple. Dynamic, but consistent. Bob McLeod's characters
have such high credibility that a reader has no problem making them move in their mind. Yet somehow, each character is
touched with a hint of detailed, unique realism. Don't ask me how that's possible, but this is how superhero comic book
art used to, and should still be. All superhero comic book art. Realistic. Detailed. Consistent. Credible. Dynamic. And
Bob McLeod is, without a doubt, the best.
Tim Hartnett: So Bob McLeod, what have you been up to these days?
Bob McLeod: Ive been pretty busy, most of the time. For the last couple years, I've been working in and out of comic books.
In addition to constantly doing all of the private commissions you can view on my web site, I worked briefly doing t-shirt
designs for a branch of ECKO, I did about 3 dozen brush & ink drawings of cartoon animals in business suits for a book on
business psychology, I've pencilled and inked a couple 30-page stories of The Phantom for a Swedish publisher (Egmont), and
for the last six months I've been working full-time writing and doing full-color art for a children's book I sold to
HarperCollins. Next week, I'll be starting another issue of the Phantom.
Hartnett: Do you pronounce your name "Mc-Cloud" or "Mc-Le-udd"? Do people often mispronounce your name?
McLeod: All the time. It's pronounced "mac-LOUD", as in a 'loud' noise.
Hartnett: How did you become interested in comics?
McLeod: Well, I'm not all that interested in the medium of comic books, really. I'm interested in figure drawing and cartooning,
and comic books have a lot of that. I read some Archie, Superman, and the Harvey comics when I was in elementary school, but in
7th grade I discovered Mad magazine, and my career goal when I started out was to either draw for them or work for Disney as an
animator. I moved to NYC in 1973 to work in advertising illustration, thinking that that would be the area of the art field most
likely to produce a steady income, and to try to get into Mad. Not having any idea how to proceed, I was unable to find any work
in advertising, however, and on the advice of a friend, I thought I'd try to work in comic books until something better came along.
I figured it'd be easy. I was as wrong as I could be. It's extremely difficult. Yes, I drew well, but I knew nothing about
storytelling or making up backgrounds from various camera angles, or how to draw dynamic superheroes, and my art school anatomy
class hadn't prepared me to make up figures from my imagination in all conceivable poses. I didn't even know what inking was,
really. The whole story of what I went through to get into comics in more detail is on my web site: http://www.bobmcleod.com
Hartnett: Why do you think there is such a negative consensus regarding comics published during the 70s?
McLeod: What, didn't anyone see my inking on Son of Satan?!? You must be joking. Is there really such a concensus among some fans?
I don't know which comics they're looking at, but I think many of the comics of the 70s were fantastic. Barry Smith's Conan?
Wrightson's Swamp Thing? Kaluta on the Shadow? Howard the Duck? Tomb of Dracula, my all-time favorite series? The Micronauts?
The "new" X-Men? Joe Kubert's Tarzan? Russ Heath's Sgt. Rock? All of Neal Adams' great work? Jim Aparo on Brave & Bold? Kirby
at DC doing Mr. Miracle, and all those other books? We had FRANK FRAZETTA still doing covers for Warren mags, as well as a couple
inside stories, for cryin' out loud! We had Warren, we had all the Marvel black&white mags, we had the National Lampoon, with
Jeff Jones' IDYL! It was actually probably the best time in comics history.
What have we got today? X-Men and Spidey and nothing but superheroes everywhere. Where are the westerns, the romance comics,
the sci-fi, the horror comics, the HUMOR comics??? They exist as small independents maybe, but in the 70s they were mainstream,
big time.And in the 70s, inkers had a major impact on the art, influencing most of today's pencillers. Inkers like Palmer,
Janson, Rubinstein and myself took rough, loose pencils and really put some embellishment on them. Today, the pencillers
usually do all the embellishment and inkers are forced to just follow the lines, in large part. There was none of that in
Hartnett: How has your "style" changed over the years? Do you find that you have to change your drawing style more frequently
in the modern market than in the past?
McLeod: My work's gotten more dramatic and refined. My storytelling and layout sense has improved. I've lost a lot of my Mort
Drucker and Neal Adams influence. I've always changed my style to suit the job I was given, as much as possible. I feel I'm
capable of working in many styles, but I do have techniques I prefer that some people consider "old-school". I'm more interested
in doing what I consider good work than in trying to stay popular with the small group of comic fans buying the latest X-Men
comic, or those who seem to think anime is some kind of superior art form. I like anime myself, but it's just another style.
Hartnett: If memory serves, you're working mostly in the European market now. How did this come about?
McLeod: I had been inking Paul Ryan on the "Left Behind" comics for Wildstorm/DC, and our book was cancelled because the writers,
whose novels of the same name were best sellers, didn't think comic book sales of 100,000 copies a month were good enough! So
Paul suggested I do some samples of the Phantom for Egmont. He had started working for them himself a few months earlier. They
liked my samples, and I liked inking my own pencils, which I rarely get to do in American comics.
Hartnett: Why aren't you pencilling a title regularly at the Big Two? It seems peculiar judging from your long history with both.
McLeod: It's evidently peculiar only to rational people outside the Marvel and DC offices. You'd have to ask the editors why
they no longer call me. I'd like to pencil a monthly, but I got tired of having to call around to every editor in the business
after I finished every job, even though the editors always said they liked my work. If they don't appreciate my efforts, there
are other places for me to go. HarperCollins loves my work. I stayed in comic books for 25 years because there was a lot of work.
But I've always preferred humor to super guys. My favorite work was the stuff I did for Crazy magazine.
Hartnett: Describe how your New Mutants experience was frustrating. Was the initial graphic novel a different experience than
McLeod: I've told this story so many times, I apologize if I make it sound boring. It's actually an interesting story. I got
the offer to do the New Mutants because I drew a fill-in issue of X-Men (#52) that they liked. They offered to let me continue
on X-Men, or draw a new spin-off tentatively called the New Mutants, where I would get co-creator credit with Chris. We were
supposed to get 3 issues in the drawer before it went to print, so we'd be on a good schedule. But no sooner had I drawn the
first few pages than they decided to make it graphic novel #4, and it was something like 50 pages instead of 22, and already
scheduled to be at the printer within 3 months.
Meanwhile, I had gotten engaged, and made wedding plans. I suddenly had the choice of either working through my honeymoon or
giving up the inking to someone else.I really felt it was important artistically as well as financially for me to do it all
myself, so I worked through my honeymoon, inking literally as fast as I could move the pen, over very rough pencils. I had
only drawn a few comics before that, and I just wasn't prepared to do quality work at such a rapid pace. Immediately after I
finished the graphic novel, I had to start on the monthly, and I got more and more rushed, to the point where I just felt I
was doing terrible work, and the inker I got made it even worse. I gave them a list of inkers I wanted to work with, adding
a tenth name to the list just to round it out. Naturally, I got the 10th name, Mike Gustovich. Mike's actually a very good
artist, but at the time, over my rushed pencils, he wasn't able to do work I was at all happy with, though I appreciate his
effort. It was not easy for him, either, I'm sure.
I finally gave up after the 3rd issue, and asked to ink the book instead of pencil it, feeling I could better control the look
of the art in that way. But, while I was just starting to hit my stride as a comic artist and wanted to make the New Mutants
exceptional, I think it was just another job to Sal Buscema, who was probably drawing 3-5 pages of layouts a day. There's
nothing wrong with that, because we get paid by the page, but you're not going to do anything exceptional at that rate. Also,
Sal is the opposite kind of comic artist from me. I'm interested in the subtleties of figure drawing, due to my Mort Drucker
influence, and Sal just does a very formulaic standardized figure, with more emphasis on storytelling than figure drawing.
There's no subtlety at all, which actually makes him better suited than I am to drawing superheroes, which are not about
subtlety. For example, I gave all the girls in the strip individual figures. Dani was thin and flat chested, Rahne was slightly
chubby and full-figured, etc. Sal just drew the same bodies with different faces, which is what many artists do. After a few
issues of Sal (although a very good artist--don't hate me, Sal!) knocking out page after page of medium shots, with nary a
close-up to be found, and after things like having to include Team America in the book, I decided there must be better ways
to spend my time, and very reluctantly bid the New Mutants farewell.
Hartnett: On your website, you offer lessons for aspiring artists. Have editors become more strict about artistic ability and
draftmanship than they have been in the past?
McLeod: I don't know about any of the current editors. I haven't sought work from Marvel or DC in several years. My experience
is that most editors want the book on schedule more than they want it good, and are very satisfied with mediocre work. Many
editors can't tell good work from mediocre work, anyway. Editors aren't hired for their art expertise, as a rule. They usually
just know what they like, or what they think the fans like, and want it in a hurry. The reason you have some excellent artists
doing comics now is because those artists grew up wanting to be comic book artists more than anything else. Once they realize
they can make more money with less effort and stress outside of comics, the best artists usually leave the business.
I offer lessons because I see, and I've inked, so many "professional" artists who can't draw a decent figure, or don't really
understand perspective, or have no idea how to spot blacks. I charge $200 per lesson, so only people serious about learning will
apply, but even at that I lose money giving lessons, because I spend so much time on them. I like to teach, though.
Hartnett: What do you think the American comics industry needs to do to rebound from the current slump?
McLeod: It's seems so obvious. Lower the price, restructure the distribution and retail system so that you don't need to go into
a dark store run by a social misfit to buy them (I know there are many great people running comic shops, but we all know there
are just as many comic shop owners who can creep out a "normal" customer, and some who practically drive away any but the most
hard-core fans), and market comics that appeal to normal people of both sexes, instead of catering to an ever-dwindling, aging
fan base of the same 100,000 male comic fans. I think that's why manga and non-superhero graphic novels are doing well lately.
There are MILLIONS of potential customers in this country who are being ignored, and they read the newspaper comics every
morning, and flock to the comic book movies, so you know they like comics.
Hartnett: Do you think that drawing paper size and separations have influenced the quality, presentation, and character/story
concepts in comics?
McLeod: Hmm. I think American comics are a victim of bad management on many levels, and some fantastic work manages to get
through by a few talented people, but it's mostly overshadowed by the mediocre work resulting from misguided editors trying to
sustain and recreate past successes and follow shallow trends rather than simply hiring competent talents to produce quality
work that appeals to a mass audience. But, due to the mismanagement, they're caught in the catch 22 of not being able to get a
broader audience of new customers to look at their comics, so they have little choice but to try to appeal to the ever-shrinking
hard core fan base.
Hartnett: What do you think is the best technical advancement that has influenced the comic book industry?
McLeod: Well, I'd love to have all of my comics re-colored on computer and printed on nice paper. Look at this:
But I'd throw the computer color and nice paper out if they could get the cover price back down so kids could afford to buy
lots of comics. That is, if there were lots of comics suitable for kids to buy, which I don't feel there are now.
Hartnett: Describe your experience at Future Comics.
McLeod: The fun just keeps coming. I did have some good experiences in comics, but your questions keep bringing up the bad
memories. Miserable would be a good word for my Future Comics experience. They wanted me to draw a comic with complex robots,
lots of detailed realistic weapons and vehicles and even different kinds of wheelchairs, and very unattractive characters, all
from a plot written with 15 pages of talking and 5-7 pages of multi-figure action jammed into tiny panels. Very time-consuming
photo-reference work for low pay on tight deadlines. I had some trouble getting paid, and Dick Giordano, one of the all-time
best inkers in comics, did not blend well with my pencils. Once again, all subtlety was lost. So I switched to inking, and
after doing what I feel is one of the best ink jobs of my career over Giordano's breakdowns, they gave me a penciller who drew
every head 3 times too small for the bodies. I had to redraw every head, and much of the figures, just to make them look human.
But boy, could he draw detailed machines! I'm a figure artist. Complex backgrounds bore me to tears. I got a job offer to work
full-time doing t-shirt designs for more money plus benefits, so I left Future Comics.
Hartnett: What do you think of the current landscape of the Big Two?
McLeod: I'm afraid I haven't kept up with them since about 1999. I hear some good things occasionally, and I see some great
artwork here and there. I'd like to see Marvel and DC and other publishers do well, and I'd be happy to do more work in comics
if they asked, but I've basically moved on.
Hartnett: Are you fan of any modern day comics, artists, or writers?
McLeod: I'm sure I would be if I saw them. I like many of the new artists I have seen, but I don't remember their names. I
like Kevin Walker, Chris Sprouse, a lot of people. I like artists who put personality in their figures. I don't read comics
anymore, because there's no local comic shop(thanks to the machinations of Marvel in the 90s, my local shop went out of
business) and my reading time is limited.
Hartnett: What's your favorite work from your career?
McLeod: My favorite work was what I did for Crazy magazine. The Teen Hulk and movie satires, the two Howard the Duck jobs I
inked over Golden. Those were fun jobs. My favorite superhero work was my two years on Action comics drawing Superman, and I
loved inking Conan over John Buscema. I always prefer the jobs I pencil and ink. Working with other artists is fun and
interesting, but not as satisfying artistically as doing it all yourself.
Hartnett: Who is/are the creator(s) who had the most influence on you?
McLeod: Originally, Mort Drucker had a huge influence on me. Then, when I was trying to learn how to draw superheroes, I
studied Neal Adams and John Buscema, and everyone else I could find. I was influenced by Stan Drake, Wally Wood, Frazetta,
Tom Palmer, and many others.
Hartnett: What's your least favorite comic experience from your career?
McLeod: We've already hit the highlights. Future Comics is right up there, along with the New Mutants graphic novel. My
worst experience was a run-in with Mike Golden when he was an art director at Marvel, and tried to get me blacklisted
because an editor (who was later fired) lied to him about me, and tried to blame me for missing a deadline that was totally
his fault. I'm a big fan of Golden's art, but for him to do that against a fellow freelancer with a 25 year history of
meeting deadlines was inexcusable. I made a trip into NYC to confront the editor and Golden, but the editor was too much of
a coward to face me. He did reluctantly admit I was right (I had evidence in black and white to prove it), but the damage
had been done.
Hartnett: Tell us the most interesting industry-related story you know that involves you.
McLeod: What, my honeymoon story didn't do it for you? Do you mean interesting to me or to you? :)
My time at Neal Adams' studio, Continuity Assoc. was my most interesting experience. But a story about me? I inked a job
for a guy I met up at Neal's studio named Frank Cirocco. It was a satire job about a women's lib superhero named SingleWoman
for a magazine called International Insanity. The writer, a cute girl named Judy Brown, needed an artist for the next issue,
and Frank couldn't do it for some reason. So I drew and inked it. Then Judy met the cartoon editor of Playboy at a party and
sold her on the strip, suddenly getting me a monthly job paying big bucks doing a full-color strip! Judy and I became
romantically involved, but after two months and two strips, we broke up and didn't want to continue working together after that.
Hartnett: I recently interviewed Jim Shooter. What are some of your memories of working with him? Do you think history has
judged him well?
McLeod: I always got along well with Jim. He always tried to get more money for the artists, and he never had anything but
compliments about my work. I think the power of the job got to Jim, and he became very dictatorial, and micro-managing. But
I feel, overall, he was a much better editor-in-chief than many others have been.
Hartnett: Do you think that having a "house style" helps or hurts a comic book company?
McLeod: It's probably a wash. There are drawbacks and benefits. Quality is what counts. It's easier to do quality if there
are fewer restrictions on style. I know several of the EC artists felt very restricted by the regimented format of those books.
Hartnett: Describe your work for Playboy.
McLeod: They were very professional and it was a joy to do pencils, inks, lettering and full color all myself. I didn't pursue
other work with them after that strip, because I decided that drawing sexy comics is just not how I wanted to use my talents.
Hartnett: If there's anything else you'd like to be asked, or would like to talk about, we have quite a bit of bandwidth at SBC ;)
McLeod: This is the first interview where I wasn't asked if I prefer inking or pencilling. I think of pencilling as more
difficult creatively, but it's very satisfying to create art the way you want it to look. Inking is more fun, but it can be
tedious. I feel inking is a very under-appreciated skill that few people really understand. Ideally, every artist would
develop his skills and ink his own art, but due to monthly deadlines, jobs are usually divided into pencils and inks. Also,
many pencillers don't have good inking skills, and many good inkers don't have good storytelling skills. I prefer the art
of the 70s in that the penciller considered it his job to mainly just do the layouts, and things like blacks, rendering
techniques, and exact refinement of the drawing was left up to the inker. Inkers were able to add their own style to the
art, creating art that was a unique blend of two artists. Two different inkers on the same penciller would have two very
different approaches. Consider all the discussions about who Kirby's best inker was, or who Neal Adams' best inker was.
Does anyone really discuss who any of today's pencillers' best inkers are? Many of today's pencillers go ballistic if the
inker deviates from their super-tight pencils, and who can blame them after putting in all that effort to make them so tight?
It would be like me re-inking a job Klaus Janson had already inked. How could I add anything of much value without totally
changing everything, and what would be the point? Many pencils today are so finished they can be printed without any inking.
Today, the pencillers do everything, and inkers are left with trying to trace exact feathering and hair strands, and can add
nothing much beyond a steady hand in many cases. I feel very fortunate to have been able to work in the 70s and 80s.
Hartnett: Thank you so much for your time, Bob. It really is a pleasure to finally meet you after looking at your stuff since
I was a kid!
McLeod: Thanks for your interest in my work and my opinions. I'm glad my work gave you some enjoyment.