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Emmaus comics artist puts a super edge on the alphabet

By Gina Conti
Special to The Morning Call

A is for Astro-Man, who despite asthma, is ''Always Alert for Alien Attacks.''

B is for Bubble Man, who ''Blows Big Bubbles at Bullies.''

C is for Captain Cloud, a cool cat with a cape who ''Calmly Catches Crooks.''

It's a bird ... It's a plane ... It's ''SuperHero ABC'' (Harper Collins, $15.99, Feb. 2006),
a new alphabet book and the first children's book for comic-book artist Bob McLeod of Emmaus.
''Superheroes are all over the culture, and kids learn about them at an early age,'' says
McLeod, 54, co-creator of The New Mutants, who has been a comic book artist for Marvel and DC
Comics since the 1970s. ''This is a real innocent introduction to them.''

Each oversized page features a superhero or team of superheroes (32 in all) cleverly named
after a letter of the alphabet and decked out in defender duds.

There's Multiplying Mike, mighty-muscled and mask-wearing, who ''becomes Many More Men in
Moments. His Mom Makes them all Mind their Manners.'' And Laughing Lass, who ''Laughs at
Lawbreakers'' and whose ''Lips are Like, Large!''; Night-Man, who is ''Never Nervous about
Night Noises,'' and Odor Officer, who ''Obviously Objects to Offensive Odors.''


''I don't think the daddies will be bored when they read this. They'll be just as entertained
as their children,'' says Martha Vines, children's librarian at the Emmaus Public Library.
While ''SuperHero ABC'' is targeted to the 3- to 6-year-old set, Vines predicts the book will
appeal to a variety of ages, including adults, comic book fans, and boys of the ''Captain
Underpants'' ilk sure to delight in the grosser superheroes like Goo Girl, who ''shoots Great
Gobs of Goo at Gangsters,'' and The Volcano, who upchucks bright, green goo on villains,
prompting side characters to spew comments such as ''It's Vile'' and ''It's Very gross.''

McLeod peppers each colorful, comic panel-like page with an astonishing assortment of always
alliterative bubbles in which side characters are quick to quip theme-lettered facts about the
hero of the page. ''That was the fun part - coming up with the little remarks to put on the
side, the cutesy little things and the alliterative phrases,'' says McLeod.

McLeod says he tried to build in elements that comic- book fans could identify with. Throughout
''SuperHero ABC,'' comics connoisseurs will find bits and pieces of characters that may remind
them of real comic-book characters. For example, Marvel has a group of superheroes called The
Fantastic Four. McLeod's book features the Terrific Three. There are also Superman and Wonder
Woman-like characters.

But McLeod says he didn't want his superheroes to be too close to the originals. For instance,
he says his publisher felt that using ''Super'' this or that for the letter ''S'' would be too
close to Superman. Instead, McLeod came up with a little kid called Sky Boy, a 7-year-old who
soars through the sky wearing socks and a sticky bandage.

He struggled to find characters for some of the letters. ''X was tough. There aren't a lot of X
characters.'' He ended up creating the three-member Team from Planet X. The female member has
X-ray vision, though one of them is not an expert. All have X's on their uniforms. W, too, took
McLeod four versions to get right. He says the first was ''way too similar to Wonder Woman.''
He finally ended up with Water-Woman, who ''Winks and Waves at Whales.''

It was a challenge to come up with 32 new superheroes who didn't infringe on any already
copyrighted comic superheroes, says McLeod. ''I wasn't too concerned with powers. What I was
more concerned with was a name that was kind of silly and fun and matched the character, and
having a character that just looked fun. I just want the book to be fun for kids to read.
I'm not trying to create a new Spider-Man or Superman.''

Sometimes, McLeod found obscure characters already trademarked. For example, he wanted to do
''Silent Knight'' to show kids the difference between the silent and hard K. However, McLeod
soon found that Marvel already had a character by that name. Instead, he went with Quiet
Knight who ''Keeps Kindergarten Kids safe.'' Likewise, the name McLeod wanted to use for
M - Multiple Man - was already taken, so instead McLeod went with Multiplying Mike. Although
he'd worked at Marvel for 30 years, he never knew Multiple Man existed.

In his long career as a freelance comic-book artist, McLeod has drawn many of the big names
in superhero-dom - Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Star Wars. But he's best known
as co-creator, in about 1980, of Marvel's The New Mutants, a group of high school-aged X-Men
who are learning to use their superpowers in a school setting so that, when they graduate,
they can become full-fledged X-Men.

At the moment, McLeod is working on Phantom comic books for a Swedish publisher that does
not distribute in the United States. He also keeps busy with commercial work and private
commissions, and offers a correspondence art school to comic-book artists who want to
improve their drawing.

Although McLeod has wanted to do a children's book for years, he says it was his wife who
suggested an alphabet book of superhero characters. McLeod remembered when his own son was
four, he loved Robin and would dress as the character, yet McLeod couldn't read him the
comic because it was too violent. ''When [my children] were that age, they were so excited
about superheroes. But all the comics were too mature for them to read,'' McLeod says.

McLeod plans more children's book projects and said he is enjoying being able to do all
parts of the illustrating himself. In the comic-book world, each step - writing, penciling,
lettering, inking, coloring - is usually done by a different person. ''It's rare that you
get to do finished art in a comic strip. That's another reason I wanted to do children's

McLeod used a computer to color the book so it would have a look similar to comic-book art.
''I drew the book in a kind of comic-book style, only a little more cartoony than I would
do real superheroes,'' McLeod says. He says he colored the work on Photoshop, rather than
using watercolor or oil the way many children's books are illustrated.

McLeod said he has a lot of ideas and plans to branch out into more traditional children's
book subjects. We may also see the return of some of the ABC superheroes, possibly in a
number book or another early reader, he says.

As Astro-Man might say, ''Absolutely Awesome!''