Harry Interviews Comic Book God ALEX ROSSPART ONE: SPIDER-MAN (And An Exclusive Peek At His Designs!)
Published at: Aug. 31, 2000, 1:08 p.m. CST by staff
BY POPULAR DEMAND, NOW PRESENTED IN FOUR PARTS
FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE!!!
Also, be on the look-out for more EXCLUSIVE Alex Ross artwork coming soon to AICN, and be sure to visit AlexRossArt.com and catch Alex on QVC Sat., Sep. 9 (check local listings)
Hey folks, Harry here with my ALEX ROSS interview. Before we get into
this you should know... this is every word spoken over a two-hour
conversation. This has not been sliced and diced... Alex wanted to have the
complete conversation so that what he was saying could be heard as its
complete thought... not formatted to fit some pre-existing three-page
layout. As a result... this is probably going to be the most complete
interview with Alex that you'll ever see. Now... sit back, grab some
popcorn, descend the page and find yourself as a fly on the wall of our
ALEX ROSS: Hello.
HARRY KNOWLES: HEY, ALEX.
AR: Harry, how are ya!?
HK: DOIN' FINE. LISTEN... YOU WANNA DO THE INTERVIEW?
AR: I'm ready to go.
HK: OK, HANG ON, LET ME MAKE SURE EVERYTHING’S... (crash)... AH! LET
ME MAKE SURE EVERYTHING’S RECORDING REAL, OK?
HK: SAY "HEY, ALEX ROSS HERE," OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
AR: Hey, Alex Ross here.
HK: OK. HOW YOU DOIN’ TODAY? DOIN’ OK?
AR: Yeah, yeah.
HK: SO, BASICALLY, LET’S START OFF BY FINDING OUT WHAT EXACTLY
HAPPENED ON YOUR SIDE CONCERNING HOW YOU WERE APPROACHED TO DO SOME WORK ON
SPIDER-MAN, HOW THAT ALL CAME ABOUT INITIALLY.
AR: Well, the truth is I was never really approached on
Spider-Man, I was approached on Fantastic Four. They called me, asking if I
was available to do designs for the movie, as it was supposed to be in
production, for FF, and my quote to them at that time was, "What? Am I not
good enough for Spider-Man?" So that turned into us talking about
AR: Actually, at first I was dealing with strictly from the Toy
Biz, Marvel offices in LA, a guy I’ve dealt with a couple of times before on
some other failed things like he had been - I’m not going to actually name
him - but he had been the one to call me and tell me about how they were
going to do these Earth X toys and how we were all going to be involved in
them. Low and behold, nothing ever became of that. Yet again, another
experience where nothing comes of something.
AR: In any case, he had mentioned to me at that time that they
didn’t have a design yet, that nothing was firmed up, that it was still very
early in the development of that property. He asked me, sort of meekly, why
do I want to be involved. I told him at that point that I had a design, and
I was speaking again of my friend’s design, that I’d be ready to pass onto
them. That turned into him... I guess he passed on to me a number of
somebody who was a producer for Spider-Man, but he was going to do some
legwork first himself. By the following week, I was taking this conference
call out of the blue, where Avi Arad wanted to talk to me. Avi seemed to
have a little less focus as to what it is I was actually contacted for doing
because he was asking things like, "Are you going to be relocating out here
to LA and do storyboards for the film?" I had to clarify, "No, I’m just
going to be used as a costume designer. That’s the only thing I offer forth
at this time and, frankly, that’s the only thing you should be bothering me
about. You don’t need me for storyboards."
AR: So, he sounded actually more than a little confused about
where I measured into it as far as what I could offer him, but he was very
clear on knowing who I was. In fact, that’s why I had that conference call
because he told me at great length at first as to how he had already been
using my stuff for the last however long... he had already been using copies
of Marvels to show people in Hollywood what the Marvel properties should be
able to look like on-screen. I thought, "Oh, that’s a pretty good vote of
confidence that they really want me to be a part of all this." He was asking
the questions of "Would I be willing to fly out there to meet with Sam
Raimi?" Of course, that was something I was interested in.
AR: That kind of talk led me to believe that I had the inside
track, that I was going to be a favored person. If I got in something before
they even had any more time to think about it, I could beat them to the
punch and hand over a design that would really...
HK: OK, SO AFTER THE CONVERSATION WITH AVI, THE NEXT STEP WAS YOU
STARTED WORKING WITH A FRIEND OF YOURS WHO DID SOME INITIAL DESIGN WORK ON
IT, IS THAT CORRECT? WHAT’S HIS NAME AND THAT WHOLE STORY?
AR: David Williams. Actually, the story really dates back mostly
to when David had shown me that design and that’s over a year ago in May. In
May of 99, I visit his office at Warner Consumer Products and he had one of
these things just pegged up on the wall. I reacted very strongly to it.
Curious. Like, "What the hell is that? Damn! That is a great simple redesign
of the costume. He told me he it was something he was just farting around
with to show what he could potentially do with the movie treatment. Where he
was able to take it further. I was so impressed that I told him at that
time, "If I ever get called about this movie, I’m going to try and push your
particular design." I just thought there was none better.
HK: HAVE YOU EVER WORKED WITH HIM ON ANYTHING BEFORE INVOLVING ANY OF YOUR
BOOKS OR ANYTHING?
AR: Yeah, actually, he contributed some designs on Kingdom Come.
He helped me out on some of the Batman stuff, trying to design the armor for
Batman. I’m trying to think... did he have anything to do with Marvels...
maybe... I don’t know. Actually, I even threw a character into the
background in Kingdom Come that was based on him. He’s somebody I’ve been
friends with for a very long time. He’s one of the most talented artists
I’ve ever known. He just came into play where... he can design some very
nice, very simple... just getting to the heart of a certain costume design.
In fact, I’m going to be collaborating with him on future designs of my own
for creating our own characters because he has a strong sensibility that’s
very much like mine.
HK: SO, YOU SAW HIS EARLY PRE-DESIGN WORK, YOU HAVE THE CONVERSATION
WITH AVI, THEN YOU BEGAN WORK ON SOME PAINTINGS OR DESIGN WORK THAT YOU DO?
AR: Yeah. Basically, I took what he had drawn, the exact same shots,
and basically painted them up in very simple 11x17 shots, one of which was
like a phony movie poster where you see Spider-Man sort of straddling the
edges of a sort of rectangle composition where you’re just getting the
torso, but it points out to you the high impact of the character. You see
the mask as it classically appears, you see the chest area mostly the same
way, very large, graphic spider image on the chest. You see no belt because
the abdominal shape of the red points down into the abdomen, just ending
there without creating a belt going around the body. That was the thing that
impressed me the most.
AR: The second thing I was most impressed with was the fact that
the eyes were in fact black. They were completely without a white/black
separation, but in fact were just curved, black lenses that gave off white
highlights, therefore creating an illusion that seemed to be highly
reminiscent of the classic costume, but at the same time going into a more
future, a more movie-like presentation of the character and even more
appropriate to the whole bug aspect to the character.
HK: THAT SORT OF BRINGS UP THE WHOLE... WHY IS THERE EVER A NEED TO
REDESIGN, SAY, CLASSIC CHARACTER COSTUMES?
AR: I think, if you think about it in terms of real cinema, people
have no reason to understand why a person who suddenly reaches a certain
fantastic science-fiction ability is going to turn around and want to garb
themselves in some kind of colorful, attractive disguise.
AR: In the case of Superman, it seems to be something that’s so
ingrained in his history that it leads up to this costume. Superman is the
mold from which all else comes from. But without establishing a superhero
universe for which there has been decades of previous costume wearers,
there’s no understanding for the average person to why somebody just, in one
single movie, where there’s no other superheroes acknowledged, they just
suddenly decide, "You know what I need? Spandex!" That’s why most superhero
movie properties on their own are going to have to be redesigned because the
costumes don’t work outside of the established universe that they’re a part
AR: Furthermore, also, there’s the fact that there’s no reason that a
person would genuinely have to be driven towards having a costume in every
case. I think X-Men is proof of that. You didn’t need the costumes to define
the characters. In the case of characters like Superman, Batman and
Spider-Man, those costumes are completely intrinsic to the mythology. You
can’t have the character without a costume of some type. Now, does it have
to be that exact costume? Not necessarily. With Superman, I think it’s like
the American flag. You can’t fuck with it. Batman, you can and they did and
it worked well enough that nobody questioned... in fact, they made it seem
all the more tangible when it was a leathery hide. So, it put it in a
different spot where it wasn’t just Adam West out of shape wearing a spandex
outfit. It moved it in a new direction.
AR: In the case of Spider-Man, there’s a whole thing to bring up in
terms of what is the texture of the material he’s wearing? And again, why is
he wearing it?
HK: I ALWAYS ASSUMED THAT IT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS INITIALLY WANTING TO
BE LIKE A PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER, THAT’S WHERE HE KINDA STARTED OFF.
AR: Right. And if you really go back to that origin, which I wish they
would in this film, and play up the fact that really at the time when they
created him, in 1963, they intended him to show up on the Ed Sullivan show.
Imagine this guy, entirely driven for the sake of entertainment. That’s why
he would have such a colorfully absurd costume. That just stuck as far as
the super hero aspect of the character, when he decided to become a crime
HK: YOU DID SOME INITIAL SPIDER-MAN DESIGNS AND THEN I’VE SEEN IN THE
MATERIAL YOU GAVE ME YOU DID A GREEN GOBLIN EARLY DRAWING. WHAT WAS BEHIND
THE GOBLIN DESIGNS?
AR: The Goblin was the one where they actually told me, "We have no idea
what we want to do with the character. We want to completely do it as
something that gets away from what the comics have shown us, with the purple
and green suit and everything." They were thinking they wanted to go into
something more, like a physical transformation, like that actually is his
skin when he becomes the Green Goblin. I started thinking of stuff much more
Tolkien-esque where you have a character that kinda looks like a distorted
gnome or something. I mean, nobody really knows what the hell a goblin is
supposed to have to be. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve long ears, a
long pointed nose or anything. It’s not distinct enough, so you can actually
mess with it about where it can become any kind of disturbing looking
AR: So, I mostly wanted to go for something that was like a wrinkled
skin, that seemed to be not naturally wrinkled of age, but more like a
leathery texture, like a snake or a... oh, I don’t know... just like a
distorted prune face of a sort. I thought this actually would be a very
simple makeup effect via Hollywood’s normal standards. Giving him extra
weaponry, which they already told me they really don’t wanna have him with
the pumpkin bombs. Well, you know, maybe moving into a little bit more into
that Hawkman territory where he’s using more classical weapons of old, like
a mace or a sword or a spear. Something where he seems somewhat archaic.
Again, more like a monster figure.
HK: VERY COOL. SO, YOU DID A REDESIGN ON THE GOBLIN AND SPIDER-MAN
AND YOU ALSO DID SOME WORK ON THE GOBLIN GLIDER, IS THAT CORRECT?
AR: Yep. That one where they didn’t tell me much of anything and I just
figured, "OK, well that’s another thing they gotta have figured in here."
One physical limitation I thought about is, "How the hell does a guy stay
upright on this thing?" To the best of my understanding, it could be more
like a jet ski, where there’s a handle bar to hold onto, just dressing that
up in a more fantastic way where it looks still fairly creepy and imposing.
HK: SO, IN ALL, HOW MUCH WORK DID YOU DO ON THIS LITTLE PROJECT?
AR: Oh, I don’t know. In truth I probably spent a total of six or seven
hours with all the differently colored pieces... probably more actually.
Maybe ten to twenty hours. I knocked through these fairly quickly. I mean,
there was maybe three pages of Spider-Man stuff and the one spread of Green
Goblin that I did. I did multiple shots of Spider-Man from different angles,
trying to make him look very photographic, then a full body shot in color of
him standing in front of a logo I did up. Of course, I didn’t know they had
a logo done up already for this film, which we can’t say for certain that’s
gonna be the one that makes it all the way to the end next year, but at
least it gives them something to work with right now. I was trying to think
of something more elegant, that I thought wouldn’t necessarily have to
scream spiders and webs and that kind of stuff. As far as to what kind of
approach the film will finally take, I have no idea if it’s going to be an
elegant or inelegant Spider-Man.
HK: ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS I NOTICED WAS YOU ALSO WROTE LITTLE NOTES
WITH THE DESIGNS TO GIVE BASIC RULES TO THE ADAPTATION OF THE CHARACTER.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT.
AR: Well, I had pointed out to them most harshly the thing I’m most
concerned with, what’s going to be recognizable of the character. There are
certain things you don’t wanna mess with and in Spider-Man I think the
greatest thing is the exact arrangement of the webs on the guy’s mask. You
can start to interpret it in such a crazy wild way that the stuff is like
some of these designs that we saw leaked out where it’s almost bump mapped
where the skin looks like a lizard like texture because they decided those
web lines were impressions in a kind of spongy costume substance.
AR: There was painted version of the character that the Hildebrandt
Brothers did on a number of different trading cards where they showed the
web line as being like a raised relief on the costume, which potentially
could work because it still works with the idea of it being the webs are the
thing, not necessarily the red is the thing. I think it works all too simply
to just have the simple black line over the costume. You’ve also got to
think also at some point this is a costume that a teenager made. I think the
design I did, for whatever high tech thing it might appear to be, it is
fairly simple and somebody could come up with it on a modest budget.
AR: Really, what I wanted more than anything else was the character to
come off on film looking like the way John Romita had handled the character.
HK: YOU ALSO SORT OF POINTED OUT HOW FOR A POSTER THEY SHOULDN’T BE
FOCUSING ON THE CHEST, BUT THE EYE. TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THAT.
AR: Yeah, well, that’s the thing. If you think about icons, the symbols
of characters like Batman and Superman are definitely extremely recognizable
things, but then when you get to a character like Spider-Man, nobody is
going to pick out a spider out of a line-up and go, "Oh yeah! That’s gotta
be for Spider-Man." For one thing, the spider has always changed based upon
the artist drawing the book, so it’s never been a wholly consistent item.
AR: His face is the most recognizable thing of him. Even though, like
I said, I’m doing this thing here where the eyes have been made into
something they normally are not, they still wind up being highly
recognizable by classic terms. So, I thought the idea of actually doing a
poster closing in on the face alone, just the eye, one single eye would be
enough to really click it in and keep it a little bit more mysterious. In
fact, if they had really worked with that design, which they may still, they
could have shown reflections in this black lens of God knows what. I mean,
it could be the city reflection, it could be the Green Goblin. Obviously, it
invokes the Marvels #4 cover that I did, but I think it has legs to go to
HK: OKAY, SO YOU GET THE WORK DONE, WHERE DOES IT GO FROM THERE?
AR: I’ve never sent them originals, I sent them a zillion different
copies of the same material, so they had multiples to hand out to
HK: AND WHO DID YOU SEND THOSE TO?
AR: I sent them to Marvel. Marvel in LA, the only ones I had been
talking to at that point and this is all still proceeding before the
Fantastic Four people had called me up and talked to me about that
production. Again, I had this logo done up in a way that was meant to look
very elegant as well, so it was a nice little package. I figured I didn’t
need to write anything more than the notes that were already on there.
AR: I did not get a call back from my friend at Marvel to let me know
he had gotten them. I had to chase him down on that. Maybe another couple
weeks went by or maybe a month went by before I contacted him again to find
out, "Okay, anything happening yet?" I was basically just getting a stone
wall of like, "Well, haven’t heard anything. Let me check. I know everybody
got the stuff at Sony." That’s what I was told, that Sony had received the
package of what I had done. At that point, I’m still not told anything
officially that there have been other people involved in doing designs. I
could only assume that there had been other things going on.
AR: Again, I was still under this delusion that I had gotten in on the
ground floor, before too much had been developed. Realistically, by the time
I’m actually pursuing them on this issue, it’s a good two months later and I
haven’t heard anything concrete. Then I start talking to some people where
they’re hearing different things and rumors, scuttlebutt. My friend David
Williams is checking online for different stuff, hearing things from
different places. It’s literally getting us very worried that we didn’t
accomplish a damn thing.
AR: So, when I’m chasing down the guy at Marvel, he doesn’t have a
damn thing to tell me and he’s getting stonewalled in terms of hearing back
from producers of the film. Then I’m starting to hear too much about
different artists having been contacted to do designs of characters and what
not all. So, I eventually am kinda putting the demands to the guy, like,
"You have better tell me something soon." I did not receive money for this
work, nor was I told concretely "You should get started and do something." I
was encouraged, but I was not told, "We are commissioning this from you. Do
this thing." Marvel is completely, legally in the clear. Ethically, I think
that they’re fucked up, but legally in the clear.
HK: IT’S SORT OF LIKE NIXON’S DIRTY TRICKS SQUADS. THEY DIDN’T IN SO
MANY WORDS SAY "BUG THIS PLACE OR BUG THAT PLACE," THEY JUST SAID, "IT’D BE
NICE IF WE UNDERSTOOD WHAT WAS GOING ON OVER THERE."
AR: Right. The way I feel about it is I don’t need to try to squeeze
some kind of dollars out of them, to get paid for what time I had spent,
which is possible if I had gotten in there to try to negotiate that point,
but it would have been a lot of work over very little. Ultimately, I was
coming to find within the last several weeks that basically what I had done
was completely ignorable in the larger scheme of things. They had hired this
big name costume designer, which I have no familiarity, that to the best of
my understanding... Well, I wasn’t getting this from Marvel, I was getting
this from you, that they just didn’t know who the hell I was or that I had
done anything at all. Nothing was pointed out to them by the wonderful Avi
Arad, so I don’t know what happened with the stuff when I put it out there,
I can only be certain that not a damn thing could really come from it.
HK: SO, THIS IS SORTA THE SAD TALE OF WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON WITH YOU
(mumbles) stories (mumble) or.
HK: DO WHAT?
AR: There are similar stories from things before. Like I have a whole
Batman & Robin story of the same type of thing...