THE ALEX ROSS INTERVIEW, PART FOUR: Final Thoughts
Published at: Sept. 1, 2000, 12:37 a.m. CST by staff
Here's the conclusion of Harry's epic conversation with comic book god ALEX ROSS, picking up from where we left off in PART THREE. Look for more exclusive Alex Ross artwork soon, and be sure to visit AlexRossArt.com, and catch Alex on QVC Sat., Sep. 9 (check local listings).
Now, back to the interview...
HK: I’M VERY MUCH IN A POSITION
WHERE WHEN I LOOK AT FILM, I HAVE A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE THAN A LOT OF
PEOPLE SIMPLY BECAUSE AS SOON AS YOU BEGIN TO LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN AND SEE THINGS THAT OTHER PEOPLE CAN’T REALLY SEE... WELL, IN MY WORLD, I
ATTACK GEORGE LUCAS AND HARRISON FORD BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT DOING WHAT THEY
SHOULD. AT LEAST NOT WHAT THEY HAD ONCE PROMISED. IT’S NOT THAT I FEEL THAT I SHOULD BE ABLE TO TELL THEM WHAT
TO DO, I JUST FEEL LIKE REMINDING THEM OF WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD DO.
HK: BUT BECAUSE I PUT MYSELF IN THAT POSITION SOMETIMES, PEOPLE
LOOK AT ME AND SAY, "WELL, WHERE’S YOUR MOVIE?" AND THAT SORT OF STUFF. I
UNDERSTAND, BUT THE MAIN THING IS YOU CAN’T APPEASE EVERYONE AND THE ONLY
THING I SAY IS WHEN YOU HAVE THE DREAM OF MAKING IT, THE THING YOU HOLD ON
TO, I FEEL IS THAT YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE THING THAT YOU LOVE.
TALKING WITH YOU, ONE OF THE THINGS I GET VERY CLEARLY IS THAT IT’S NOT SO
MUCH ABOUT "LET ME MAKE MY OWN CHARACTER SO I CAN SELL IT TO DREAMWORKS TO
MAKE A QUICK MOVIE." THIS IS AN INDUSTRY THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT
BEING OUT OF IN 5-10 YEARS, YOU WANNA BE DOING THIS AD INFINITUM.
HK: I HAD A REALLY INTERESTING CONVERSATION WITH JEFF SMITH UP AT
SAN DIEGO CON. HE’S GOING TO BE DOING THAT ANIMATED BONE THING AND I ASKED
HIM WHAT HE THOUGHT ABOUT THAT, HOW THAT WAS GOING. HE SAYS, "WELL, I TURNED
IT IN." I SAID, "ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DOING THE MOVIE?" HE SAID,
"HONESTLY, I CAN’T SAY. IF I MAKE THE MOVIE, THAT MEANS TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE
ARE GOING TO TAKEN AWAY TO WORK ON THIS MOVIE. IF I DON’T DO THE MOVIE, I
GET TO CONTINUE DOING WHAT I’M DOING IN MY LITTLE COMIC BOOK WORLD AND YOU
KNOW WHAT? THAT WAS THE DREAM I HAD WHEN I WAS A KID."
HK: I THINK THE MODIFICATION OF DREAMS... UMM, "WELL I
ACCOMPLISHED THIS ONE, NOW I HAVE TO LIKE... WOW, YOU KNOW? I COULD ACTUALLY
REALLY MAKE IT BIG!" YOU KNOW, NEVER BEING SATISFIED AT WHERE YOU ARE.
AR: Well, I want to devote my efforts to making this business more
profitable for myself and everybody else so you don’t have to even have to
think about going somewhere else. I’ve never seen the kind of money the
Image guys ran into so early and easily in their careers, but I’ve done well
enough that I can be a little bit more choosy about what I do with certain
aspects of my future or my present. I guess, luckily the fact that I work
constantly, keeping me afloat of everything... but I would rather make sure
that this is the medium where you could stand to make millions if you do
AR: Just like when comic strips were really the big thing back in
the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, that was an industry that made a lot of guys very rich
men, like Charles Shultz. I don’t necessarily want to invent one franchise
that becomes my staple, that’s not what I’m ever going to be about. I want
to tell limited stories that convey something on a powerful level and I may
have a chance to invent some characters a long the way that have some legs
to go further, but I’m perfectly happy also to just play with the toys that
I want to play with as a kid. I’ll invent some toys, I’ll put some spins on
it, but I’ll still go play with those toys.
AR: I’m never going to want to make a statement to you or anybody
else that, "Goddamn it! I’m mad at DC and I’m never going to work with them
again!" I would be lying! Some day the person that I don’t want to deal with
that might be a road block for me goes away. Well, there I am, right back
HK: IF YOU TALK TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN IN THE FILM BUSINESS FOR A
LONG TIME, THEY’LL SAY THINGS LIKE, "WELL, UNIVERSAL ISN’T A VERY GOOD PLACE
TO WORK RIGHT NOW, BUT GIVE IT THREE YEARS."
AR: True! Absolutely.
HK: THAT’S THE WAY THE BUSINESS WORKS.
AR: In some cases, it’s not entirely all based upon whoever’s
there that you don’t like, it might just be the mood of the moment.
Somebody’s ego might be out of whack, it might potentially be straightened
out, might be humbled a little bit in a few years. Who knows? Somebody might
have shifted into position to the point where they don’t actually bug you
anymore. All kinds of things like that can happen.
HK: NOW THAT YOU SEE SOMETHING LIKE PAUL DINI JUST GOT THE JOB
WRITING THE BATMAN BEYOND FILM WITH ALAN BURNETT, NEIL STEPHENSON AND STUFF
I’M REALLY HOPING WHAT WE CAN SEE OUT OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM IS SOMETHING
THAT SORTA POINTS BACK TO THE "GOSH, GEE WHIZ" THAT WAS IN COMICS. MY
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE FIRST SUPERMAN FILM IS IT BEGINS WITH A KID READING
A COMIC. IT JUST TAKES YOU BACK. YOU AND I HAVE TALKED BEFORE ABOUT HOW WHEN
YOU’RE A KID YOU DREAM IN THIS FOUR COLOR WORLD. WHEN I READ YOUR BOOKS AS
AN ADULT, IT WAS SORT OF LIKE, "WOW, THIS IS WHERE THOSE FANTASY
CHARACTERS... THIS IS THE SPACE THEY OCCUPY FOR ME TODAY." WHAT SORT OF
STORIES ARE YOU... WHAT WOULD BE THE PRIMARY IDEA FOR THE STORIES YOU TRY TO
TELL IN COMICS?
AR: I think the primary idea is to try to reinforce that as a
worthwhile mythology, not necessarily a specific mythology, but a worthwhile
satisfaction we get from seeing and feeling these things. I mean, we need to
have ourselves be impressed all the more with this kind of stuff.
HK: SO, WHEN YOU’RE WORKING ON THESE COMICS, WHO’S THE AUDIENCE
YOU’RE ADDRESSING? ARE YOU WORKING FOR THE OLDER AUDIENCE OR ARE YOU TRYING
TO CAPTURE THE KIDS THAT DREAM ABOUT THE STUFF OR ARE YOU JUST DOING THEM
AR: Uh... boy... I would like to think I’m actually appealing to a
certain... it’s like in a way, I know that girls are not going to be picking
up my comics, but are my comics offensive to girls? Well, no, uh-uh. Then
that’s a good step in the right direction. At least that if there’s a
chance, if there’s ever an influx of women that check out whatever I do
based upon... let’s say I do that perfect work in the future that’s the
Eleanor Roosevelt Story and a bunch of women are suddenly looking at my
comics. Well, there’s nothing that they’re going to come across that’s going
to completely throw them, so I have material that can possibly go on to
AR: In the case of the comics I’m doing now, they have a reading
level that can appeal to an older age group, while at the same time, they’re
completely readable to a young age group. I’ve been arguing for years that
basically that’s something that comics generally does not have a lot of is
that most of the superhero material is for a much older, a more jaded
mindset. We don’t have enough stuff that even plays to both... well, you
have a philosophy now that both markets can’t be reached by the same work.
HK: WELL, IN THE OLD DAYS YOU HAD SOMETHING LIKE SUPERMAN’S
GIRLFRIEND LOIS LANE, WHICH ACTUALLY SOLD WELL TO WOMEN, TO GIRLS BACK IN
THAT TIME PERIOD... YOU CERTAINLY DON’T SEE THAT SORT OF THING TODAY... IS
THERE A CHANCE THAT WE’LL SEE SOMETHING LIKE A WONDER WOMAN OR A ZATANNA
TYPE STORY OUT OF YOU OR PAUL AT ANY TIME?
AR: Well, out of Paul, definitely. I think he’s done one with Jill
Thompson. For me, Paul and I are going to take on Wonder Woman and I think
that’s about it. I’ve not really seen enough change with the nature of...
Well, it’s like I’ve invested so much of myself in making this particular
format click and also hoping I can reach a broader audience with these
stories. I don’t see that happening enough yet, but a nice thing is given
that these things are out in book stores and are kept in print continuously,
I’ve created something that may well last beyond myself. But to some degree,
I need to get away from the limitations of what the publishers are not
willing to do for their own product. In this year, I couldn’t get DC to help
to promote the fact, through all their different people working in
advertising, promotions, I couldn’t get them behind the stuff I was doing
AR: I had picked a charity for the Batman stuff to go to based
upon what Jenette Kahn wanted, or what she was pointed me towards. It was
something that was a Warner-related charity. Certainly we raised a lot of
money and the charity was very gracious, as opposed to UNICEF last year
which had to be beaten to a pulp just to write me a letter that they even
got my checks. The result is still the same. Did it get me a single bit of
ink anywhere? Well, Wizard, sure. I kept trying to convince them and I went
directly to her on this saying that this is something the company can get
behind and use it as a way to help promote the characters more. Not just the
comics I’m making, but the comics you’re making for all your characters.
AR: If I do a big Batman book where the proceeds of the artwork
are going to charity, that’s not just my thing. You guys can embrace that as
your thing as well and they couldn’t wrap their brains around that. They
couldn’t wrap their brains around the idea that it had anything to do with
them. It was just my weird thing, me donating all this money to charity. For
what end? Definitely, it winds up being for very altruistic motives because
I didn’t get any kind of promotion off it in the end. It was something that
wasn’t entirely altruistic motives, it was for promotional motives. It was
for something to help benefit Superman, Batman and eventually Captain Marvel
here. It was something that would benefit the characters, it would benefit
me and could have potentially benefited the company, but again nobody was
ever really put into... I mean, they advertised it well enough. They did
their standard job that they always do, but they didn’t get behind the
charity aspect of it.
AR: I got many thank you's from Jenette herself, but still this is
the kind of thing that should be worthy enough of getting a creator onto,
say, a talk show, but here’s the difference: they don’t want guys like me on
talk shows. One because I’m a loudmouth bastard and God knows what would
come out of my mouth, but also because they don’t want the art talent or the
creative talent, I mean I don’t necessarily care for it to be me, it could
be Paul. He’s welcome to it. It’s just a matter of getting it out there
where that many more millions of people are exposed to it.
AR: In fact, last year I can say that the Superman charity aspect
was completely killed promotion-wise by Warner Bros. because a woman higher
up had a problem with that organization and decided no press. Warner Bros.
Studio Stores was not allowed to promote to any larger news organizations.
So, we had zero press for the event of my doing a store appearance in a
store last year, my and Paul’s store appearance last year. We had no ink on
the charity aspect of the book and all that stuff because there was
something related to UNICEF that had bugged them. Incredibly shortsighted,
HK: WHEN I’VE BEEN COVERING THE FILM INDUSTRY, YOU’LL SEE PEOPLE
THAT FOR JUST WHATEVER REASON... LIKE ON IRON GIANT THE WHOLE REASON THE
MOVIE WASN’T PROMOTED AS HEAVILY AS THEY WANTED WAS APPARENTLY ONE OF THE
EXECUTIVES IN CHARGE WAS TIRED OF PRODUCING ANIMATED FILMS AT WARNER BROS.
AND JUST WANTED IT TO BE OVER WITH, SO THEY JUST DIDN’T GET BEHIND THE FILM.
NEVERMIND THE FACT THAT THEY COST STOCKHOLDERS... I MEAN, THAT MOVIE COULD
HAVE MADE $300 MILLION DOMESTIC HAD THEY MARKETED IT.
HK: BUT THIS EXECUTIVE, THIS PERSON WHO’S NOT A PART OF THE
CREATIVE PART OF THE INDUSTRY, HE’S NOT SOMEBODY WHO’S EVER TOLD A STORY IN
HIS LIFE, HE SAT THERE AND GOT IT IN HIS HEAD THAT THIS WAS A BANKRUPT
MEDIUM. THAT’S NOT HIS JOB. HIS JOB IS TO SERVE THE ARTIST AND SERVE THE
FILMMAKERS - AND THE SHAREHOLDERS. I MEAN, THE FILMMAKER MAKES THE MOVIE,
THEY SELL IT. THAT’S THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK AND THEY FAILED IN THAT
ASPECT. I FELT THAT THE PERSON SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED AND INSTEAD HE’S STILL
IN CHARGE AND IT DRIVES ME NUTS, BUT HE WON’T BE THERE FOREVER.
AR: These are the kinds of things that eventually drive you away
from those structures. Take a guy like me who’s perfectly happy to be
drawing characters that I didn’t invent and make me go, "Maybe you should do
your own thing." People have been saying that to me for years, but the thing
is, it’s like, "Hey! I don’t need to recreate Superman somewhere else if
they’re going to let me tell a Superman story that I want to tell with
Superman. I’ve never ran into any amount of... maybe the stories I want to
tell are not as explosive as what some other people want to do, but I’ve
never had any censorship happen against me.
AR: So, I’ve been satisfied by working in the system, but it’s the
fact that they’re letting the business die that I just can’t handle. It’s
not that I need to be promoted out there for the sake of my own ego, I need
to make sure I have a future in ten years, you know?
HK: YOU WANNA BE SURE THAT YOU’RE NOT AN ARTIST IN A DYING FORM.
AR: Yeah. Exactly. I’m insulted by that. I’m doing my damnedest to
keep this medium alive and they’re doing their damnedest to destroy it, just
by their pure apathy.
HK: I WAS TALKING WITH SOME PEOPLE AT MARVEL ABOUT A YEAR AGO AND
THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT, AND THIS WAS SOMEWHERE IN THE WHOLE X-MEN
HIERARCHY, THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT HOW CORPORATE MARVEL DIDN’T EVEN CARE
ABOUT COMICS ANYMORE. ALL THEY WERE CONCERNED ABOUT WAS THIS MOVIE. IF THIS
MOVIE’S A SUCCESS, THEN WE CAN CONTINUE TO POP OUT THESE LITTLE PAPER
THINGS. TO ME, THAT REALLY MADE ME SICK. EVERYONE LIKES TO TALK ABOUT HOW
THE INTERNET’S GOING TO DESTROY THE ACTUAL NEED TO BUY SOMETHING ON PAPER
AND FILM IS A MORE PROFITABLE INDUSTRY, ALTHOUGH I DON’T REALLY THINK SO.
HK: MY THING IS, I KNOW IN FILM RIGHT NOW, EVERYONE’S SITTING
THERE SAYING, 600 MILLION IS THE TOP SORT OF GROSS THAT YOU’RE GOING TO SEE
BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT TITANIC HIT. THEY DON’T TAKE A LOOK BACK AT STAR WARS
AND SEE THAT THE NUMBER OF TICKETS IT ORIGINALLY SOLD WOULD MEAN A BILLION
DOLLAR DOMESTIC GROSS TODAY, THAT TITANIC WAS ACTUALLY HALF THE AUDIENCE...
AND HOW STAR WARS WAS ACTUALLY ABOUT A THIRD OF THE AUDIENCE THAT KING KONG
HAD BACK IN THE ‘30S, ETC. THE AUDIENCE IS ACTUALLY SHRINKING. YOU REALLY
CAN’T TALK TO THESE PEOPLE IN THOSE TERMS BECAUSE THEY DON’T REALLY STUDY
HISTORY. THEY DON’T TAKE A LOOK AT HOW POPULAR SOMETHING ONCE WAS. THEY JUST
EXIST WITH WHATEVER THE STATUS QUO IS AT THE MOMENT.
AR: Uh-huh. In a lot of ways, the internet might actually be a
saving grace for a lot of mediums...
HK: YEAH, AS A RETAIL OUTLET, THE INTERNET IS AMAZING. WHAT ARE
YOU DOING ON THE RETAIL END ONLINE?
AR: At this point, we’re not selling much more than posters and
original art work on my site. We’re just looking to develop it towards a
point where, for one thing, we can run our own auction, which we’re going to
be doing in a few months for some of the recent Warner Bros. works I’ve
done. We’ll probably do the Shazam! auction online. In the end, some of
these didn’t even want to do any more comics stuff because it wasn’t enough
money for them. They weren’t making a big enough profit off of them. I mean,
it wasn’t several billion dollars or whatever they need to feel satisfied
with. They’re too big for comics, again.
AR: So, I’m looking at it as an experimentation ground now that I
want to develop for the future and I’m thinking that... Yeah! Computers
which again, I don’t want one, but I certainly want the money from the
people who have them.
HK: IT’S REALLY FUNNY TO ME, BEING SOMEONE WHO BASICALLY MADE A
NAME FOR MYSELF WITH THE COMPUTER, I ACTUALLY FEEL LIKE I HAVE SO LITTLE TO
DO WITH COMPUTERS BECAUSE TO ME IT’S JUST PAPER AND A TYPEWRITER. I’M FILING
STORIES AND IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE ON THIS GLOWY BOX THING.
AR: It’s really just another form of communication is all it is.
HK: YEAH. WELL, I GUESS LET’S JUST GO AHEAD AND WRAP THIS UP. ANY
LAST THOUGHTS YOU WANT TO GET OUT THERE TO PEOPLE?
AR: Oh boy! Umm... AlexRossArt.com! (laughs)
HK: ALEXROSSART.COM! AND WE’RE GOING TO BE SEEING MORE STUFF POP
UP THERE, RIGHT?
AR: Oh, yeah, yeah. For whenever you’ve got your thing up, we’ll
probably have to provide some sort of link, I’m sure to make sure that
people know to go check it out.
AR: Let me just flashback to the earlier point where you were
talking about the SPIDER-MAN costume stuff. If I was really involved closely
with it, I would have actually crafted a real costume to show them
photographs of if they had given me some kind of green light on the designs
they had already seen. I would have had my seamstress who normally makes my
DC costumes for all the different costumes I’ve done, make up this exact
costume. It wouldn’t have been hard at all. In fact, I could have done it
loosely with a lot of the leftover costume bits I had from MARVELS and other
stuff. I could have thrown together a very rough version of the same thing.
AR: David Williams, the artist who designed it actually, did up a
photograph which he doctored to make it look like the exact costume he had
designed just by doing some PhotoShop stuff on it. It would have been a
really cool thing to have actually gone out there and actually sat with the
people who really would have been making this stuff out of final materials
and directed them exactly in how the webs would lay across the face. Exact
to the point where each web lays across nose, mouth, how wide they are, all
that stuff, just because each one of those designs is important to me, each
one says something.
HK: TO ME THE THING I REALLY WANTED TO SEE OUT OF A RELATIONSHIP
WITH YOU AND RAIMI ON SOMETHING LIKE THE SPIDER-MAN FILM IS IN A LOT OF WAYS
SORT OF THE CINEMATIC PERSPECTIVE THAT YOU HAVE BROUGHT INTO COMICS, THE
PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW.
ANYWAY, I THINK WE OUGHT TO CLOSE THIS UP. THANKS A LOT, ALEX!
(Special thanks to Quint for transcribing this interview.)