In 1938, the first American comic books, Action Comics were published. The 10-cent comic featured a man in a red cape with superhuman strength. Superman was the first character that possessed abilities greater than any human could hope to achieve. This invincible man in tights set the stage for more amazing comic book characters such as Batman, Human Torch, Green Lantern, Spider Man and Wonder Woman with her magical, golden lasso to name a few. Superheroes were what kid’s dreams were made of, and something that Alex Ross aspired to create.
The Mona Bismark Center in Paris presents Superheroes: The Art of Alex Ross from March 5 to June 15, 2014. The exhibition highlights 75 works including Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, by the renowned comic-book illustrator, Alex Ross. The exhibition will follow Ross’s career from his start at Marvel to his current artworks. For his artwork, Ross retains the old school mediums of paint and pencils, and only uses an airbrush on occasion. The majority of the displayed works – paintings, drawings, and sculptures – come from his personal collection.
According to the Alex Ross Art website, when Ross discovered Spider-Man, his life was forever changed. He admired the comic book illustrators, Berni Wrightson, co-creator for Swamp Thing and George Perez, illustrator for the White Tiger and The Avengers. He also cites Norman Rockwell for his realism approach, and Salvador Dali for his hyperrealist works as influences. And, while he has been called, the “Norman Rockwell of comics,” Ross affirms that it is his realism technique that connects the two artists.
An example of his realism style can be seen in his 1999 lithograph, Tango with Evil. The work illustrates the Joker, Batman’s archenemy, dancing with Harley Quinn, a flashy super-villain and an adversary of the superhero. The work candidly references one of JC Leyendecker’s commercial illustrations of a dancing jazz couple, which imparts an element of humanity to the villains.
By age 19, Ross had received his first commission for Marvel Comics, Terminator: The Burning Earth. Four years later, he was collaborating on the 1993 graphic novel, Marvels. Since then, Ross has illustrated over 1,000 covers and pages of superheroes for the rivals, Marvel and DC comics. As one of today’s leading comic book artists, his perception and realistic delivery on mythical characters has been instrumental in redefining the heroes’ legends in comic books and graphic novels for a whole new generation of superhero devotees.
The comic illustrator had noticed a shift from when he began in the comic industry. Works about superheroes were initially geared for children, but now target the adult audience with more violence and distinctively more “sexually loaded.”
In one of his works of Wonder Woman, Ross depicted the superhero in a three-quarter portrait instead of including her full-frame. He stylized her competent and sexy. He states that her “Rosie the Riveter-style” is attractive yet respectable. What puzzles the comic-book artist the most is her choice of attire to make the world a better place. He asks, “How is that logistically viable?” The heroine runs around the planet in a bikini, combating villains with her “Lasso of Truth.”
According to The Andy Warhol Museum, the organizer for the exhibition, Ross has “strengthened the connection between illustration and fine art.” Superheroes: The Art of Alex Ross, reveals Ross’s exceptional ability through his realism approach to “anthropomorphize” superheroes, and redefine the manner in which readers view comic book heroes.
By: Dawn Levesque
Alex Ross Art
Mona Bismark American Center