Life In Four Colors: Bob McLeod Interview
by Bill Gladman
One of the comic industry's most talented but perhaps at the same time one of the most under-rated creators, Bob McLeod, will be one of the great guests appearing at Gem City Comic Con this coming Sunday April 3rd in Dayton Ohio.
The show, now in its sixth year, is one of my favorite conventions. I have not missed a year since this show has started and it remains one of only two shows that I still attend. This year show organizer and promoter, Jesse Noble, pulled out all the stops to bring in some high caliber talent for the guest list.
One such creator is Bob McLeod...and if you don't know this man by name, shame on you. But never fear...thanks to Jesse's efforts involving the Gem City show this year you can get the chance to meet the man in question.
I have met Bob once before at one of the last Mid-Ohio Con's I attended...we spoke briefly, he was happy to sign a few books for me and let me take a photo. I used the photo in my Comic Related/Life In Four Colors coverage of the show but regretted the fact I didn't get a chance to talk to Bob more.
Well, a few years later I get just the opportunity to talk with Bob...in great detail...about some of the questions I wanted to ask back then. And hopefully those one or two of you reading this, who do not already know who this man is may learn a thing or two about one of the best creators to put pen, pencil, or brush to paper.
Without further delay...Bob McLeod:
Bill Gladman: Bob, first off I want to thank you very much for your time. I've been a fan of yours for years and it's a great pleasure to get the opportunity to ask you a few questions.
Bob McLeod: Not a problem. My pleasure.
BG: Most people know you as an inker and it is true that inking is what you seem to do most. But you of course also pencil. Did you intend to start your career as a penciler and inking opportunities were just more readily available...or did you decide to try to pencil after inking first?
BMcL: I intended to pencil & ink for Mad magazine doing humor. My style was very close to Mort Drucker, but I didn't want to just be a Drucker imitator, so I decided to try to work in comics until my style developed. Marvel & DC both rejected me, and I decided I was going to prove to them I could indeed draw comic books! With the help of Neal Adams, I got a job in the production dept. at Marvel, doing lettering corrections, and later, art corrections. I intensely studied all the artwork that came in that we did lettering and art corrections on. Mike Esposito had a desk next to me, inking comics, and he suggested I could learn how to ink more quickly than I could learn to pencil. He gave me work inking backgrounds and I soon started getting my own freelance jobs inking for Marvel's kung fu magazines.
At the same time, I started penciling and inking humor jobs for Marvel's Crazy magazine, which I greatly enjoyed, but I realized there wasn't enough humor work to keep me busy full-time, and to my chagrin, no one really respected the humor artists. To me, few comic artists could hold a candle to Jack Davis or Mort Drucker, but no one I knew cared a whit about them. Superheroes and little except superheroes were where comics were clearly headed. So I studied the two artists I considered the best superhero artists, Neal Adams and John Buscema, and brought my penciling skills up to a level where I began to get penciling work as well as inking. I preferred to pencil and ink my own art, but deadlines usually made it necessary for me to choose one over the other, and I was much faster at inking and people liked my inking more, and I could make more money inking, so I ended up doing more inking. But I never gave up penciling. I've penciled comics all through my career.
BG: I think the very first time I remember seeing your pencil work was on Marvel Team Up #86 which featured Spider-Man and some of my all time favorite characters...the Guardians of the Galaxy. Was this your first pencil work for Marvel?
BMcL: Yes, other than all the jobs I had done for Crazy. That was my first superhero penciling for Marvel. I had also previously penciled a couple jobs for Gold Key, and I may have penciled some covers for the English Star Wars reprints before that.
BG: Was Marvel Team Up # 86 the first time you worked with Chris Claremont?
BG: I think you already know where the next question is headed. Not long after you did Marvel Team Up #86 you and Chris would go on to create The New Mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4. How much of a hand did you have in creating those characters? Did Claremont have them fleshed out or did you have some ideas you shot his way?
BMcL: They brought me on board after Chris had already created the characters, but I created the look of them and had some input such as suggesting we have more females than males on the team, which hadn't been done up to then to my knowledge, and I voted for them having school uniforms rather than individual costumes. I voted against the name "The New Mutants". I thought it was a terrible name, and still do.
BG: Did you have a favorite New Mutant and if so which character was it?
BMcL: Sam Guthrie was always my favorite and still is. I tried hard to make each character an individual, with a distinct body type and distinct faces, rather than just making them tall or short with a different hair color, as many artists did. Sam should be tall and slim, with a broken nose and big ears. Roberto should be short and fit with curly hair, not frizzy hair. He has a wide nose and thick lips and dark eyes, since he's racially mixed. Dani should be tall and very slim figured, not busty at all. She has a long, straight nose and dark eyes with thick eyebrows, and prominent cheekbones and thin lips.
Rahne is short and very full-figured, with green eyes and a button nose and full lips. Her hairline is low on her forehead.
BG: You would go on to pencil the first four issues of the New Mutants on-going series and to this day when I think of the New Mutants I see your vision of the team. What was it that brought about the end of your penciling on that book?
BMcL: I had already begun penciling the first issue when it was decided to make it into a graphic novel. We immediately went from being months ahead of schedule to being behind schedule. It was my first penciling series, and I just wasn't ready to pencil pages that quickly. I needed time to think about layout options and camera angles and figure poses, etc. because I'd never really thought that much about it all. I just liked to draw figures. So right after the graphic novel, which I had to ink on my honeymoon, I had to dive into the series, and each month I got further behind. I wasn't happy with the inking, because Mike Gustovich was also very new and still learning to ink. I didn't like where Chris was taking the stories, either. I thought it was going to be a book about them learning to be superheroes, and instead they suddenly seemed to become just another team of X-Men. But mainly, I just hated the way the book looked. I didn't have enough time to do my best work and thought maybe I could control the look of the book better if I took over as inker rather than penciler.
BG: If memory serves correctly you did ink one or two issues after you stopped penciling. Is that right?
BMcL: Yes, I inked three issues over Sal Buscema's breakdowns, but he was penciling 1 or 2 or more other books a month at the same time, and it became very generic looking, with no personality. I was dramatically changing his layouts, which he probably hated, and again, I just didn't like the way the book looked. I think having Team America shoved into the book was kind of the last straw for me. I wanted to do something I could be proud to see my name on, and The New Mutants just wasn't it.
BG: I know you would later do some pencil work for D.C, but was your run on the New Mutants your last pencil work for Marvel?
No no, after I left the New Mutants I almost immediately started penciling breakdowns on several issues of Star Wars, inked by my inking idol, Tom Palmer. I also penciled and inked some Spider-Man fill-ins, a New Mutants annual, A Power Pack fill-in, a Moon Knight fill-in...
... and I later penciled and inked a Spider-Man/Punisher miniseries, and a Venom miniseries.
BG: Besides the New Mutants the project most people know you from is the Kraven's Last Hunt story that ran in several of the Spider-Man titles and has been recoginized as one of the best trade paperback collections in print. How did you get involved with that project?
BMcL: Mike Zeck is a friend of mine, and he always liked my inking. I've inked dozens of covers over him. His usual inker was John Beatty, and I'm not sure why John didn't ink that series. I think he may have been busy on something else, or maybe Mike thought John's style was too clean for Kraven. He knew I could get grittier than John.
BG: Mike Zeck is one of my favorite artists. Ever. And when I think Zeck I think of you and Gene Day...what was it like working with Zeck's pencils?
BMcL: Mike's always been one of my favorites to ink. I love inking Mike's pencils because he uses a lot of high-contrast blacks, having studied Wally Wood. And his pencils were usually loose enough to allow the inker to add some of their own style to it. But he started that series doing the tightest pencils he'd ever done, and I really didn't enjoy it much because he didn't leave me any room to play. It was very time-consuming to ink all that rain and mud and I wasn't making much money. But as he got further along, the deadlines got tight, and he knew I could keep up the look we were doing without him penciling so tight, so he switched to breakdowns, and I enjoyed it a lot more.
BG: At any point when you were working with J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck on the Spider-Man story or Chris Claremont on Marvel Graphic Novel #4 did you ever have the feeling that you were creating comic book history?
BMcL: Gosh, no! If I had, I'd have toughed it out and stayed on the New Mutants for 100 issues. You rarely knew the impact or importance of any job back then. The fan press wasn't as developed as it is now, and I was in the middle of starting a family, raising three kids, and most of the time I was just trying to earn a living. I wasn't doing what I loved, which was humor, so although I enjoy superheroes up to a point, my heart was rarely in it 100%. The NM graphic novel was a nightmare experience for me because of the deadline, and I felt Kraven was Mike's baby, not mine. The Superhero ABC picture book I wrote and illustrated that was published by HarperCollins was much more down my alley.
BG: Is there a writer or artist you always wanted to work with but never got an opportunity to do so? If so who would that be?
BMcL: I would have loved to ink Neal Adams, Russ Heath, or Joe Kubert. Garcia Lopez...
BG: Any character that you have always wanted to work with but still have not gotten the chance?
I like drawing figures. I learned such an appreciation for figures from studying Mort Drucker. He has such subtlety to his figures, unlike most comic artists. And humor is really what I like to do best. I did really enjoy drawing Superman, and was a bit miffed that Denny O'Neil would never let me draw Batman, but it's no big deal. I thought I could have been good on the Hulk. I enjoyed inking Keown, and only left that series when I got the offer to pencil Superman.
BG: Any current or future projects you wanted to mention?
BMcL: I'm not currently seeking comic book projects, really, though I usually accept them when they're offered, such as the New Mutants miniseries I inked last year. It's a lot of work for the pay, which is the same as it was 10 years ago, when the number of hours it required was a lot less. Editors expect such tight pencils now, and it's taken all the fun out of inking. It's a nutty business. I teach part-time, and do private commissions, which I enjoy more than working in comics. I'd like to pencil a mini-series if I could ink it myself, but I don't really want to pencil a monthly series.
BG: I would love to see you do a limited series with you doing both pencils and inks...that would be great. Thank you again for your time and look forward to seeing you at Gem City Comic Con in Dayton Ohio...April 3rd 2011!
BMcL: Thank you, Bill. See you then.
Bill Gladman - Bill is a writer and illustrator and currently working on several different projects including the first issue of an ongoing comic book series (Prodigy), an illustrated fantasy novel (The Book of Noheim), and the first of four illustrated science fiction/fantasy novels (Jack the Rabbit, Living Legend of the Purple Plains) as well as a light-hearted on going mini-comic (Three Wise Men). Bill also pens a column for Comic Related and will be doing a mix of regional convention coverage.
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