Catching Up With Bob McLeod
by Rik Offenberger
Back in the day, it was hard to find a hotter artist than Bob McLeod. As co-creator of The New Mutants, the artist had a buzz that followed him to his different projects, and for years, made raise their eyebrows when they saw his name on a prject. Recently, McLeod has announced that he has an upcoming children's book Superhero ABC, and he agreed to talk to Newsarama about children's books and his correspondence art course.
Newsarama: What got you interested in doing a children's book?
Bob McLeod: I've been wanting to do one for many years, and my wife came up with the idea of a superhero alphabet book, which seems very obvious but hadn't been done. I didn't want to use established characters because it would get too messy getting Marvel and DC involved, so I created all new heroes, most of which are much sillier than Marvel and DC's. I've always preferred doing humor to dramatic comics.
NRAMA: With a title like Superhero ABC I assume it is for beginning readers?
Bob McLeod: Yes, it's an alphabet book. I used a lot of alliterative phrases to add humor and I tried hard to write it on a couple levels so comic fans and adults could enjoy it as much as the kids. But it's intended mainly for ages 4-7. Young children love comics and super heroes, and I think it's a wonderful way to get them started toward a lifetime of reading.
NRAMA: Was this a one book deal or are you working on a series of children's book?
Bob McLeod: I have some more ideas and hope to do another one this year, but it was just a one book deal. I don't want to stick with just superheroes, tho. I want to do more standard subjects as well.
NRAMA: Are you planning a book tour where you fans can buy the book and get it autographed?
Bob McLeod: Yes, I'm going to try to get around to as many places as I can, but the publisher can't afford to send me places, and I can't afford it either, so I'll probably stay mostly around PA, New Jersey, and New York City. I might go to some comic book conventions elsewhere to promote it.
NRAMA: How does working on children's books compare to working in comics?
Bob McLeod: Almost anything is better than the coal mines of mainstream comic books. In comics, I almost always had to split the art duties with other artists because of the short deadlines. So I could only do either the pencilling or the inking, but very rarely both. I almost never did any coloring and I've never written a comic. On the book, I conceived the format, wrote it all, drew it all, inked it all, and colored it all. It was great fun. My book editor, Margaret Anastas, who's also an author herself, is a real pleasure to work with. Unlike comics, where the editor is often more of a traffic manager, she did some real editing and was invaluable in helping me stay focused on our target audience of young children, whenever I started to stray. I also got a lot of help from a wonderful designer, Meredith Pratt (wife of comic artist/painter George Pratt), and the art director, Martha Rago. There was much more back and forth between me and everyone at HarperCollins, so even though I was allowed to do the book basically the way I wanted to do it and I felt all decisions were ultimately up to me, I really felt it was a team effort to produce a good book. In comics, you usually just get an assignment, do it, turn it in, and wait for the check, hoping none of the other people on the assembly line process of editor, writer, penciller, letterer, inker, and colorist mess up what you've done. Quality often seems to take a back seat to scheduling in comic books.
NRAMA: Any chance we will see you return to Marvel or DC any time soon?
Bob McLeod: I'm available if they have a project they want me for, but I haven't sought work from them in several years because I really prefer doing the complete art myself, and I'm more interested in illustration than storytelling now. I have been pencilling and inking some Phantom stories semi-regularly for the Swedish publisher Egmont, but they're not distributed in the U.S. I'm working on one of those right now.
NRAMA: You have been doing a variety of commissions and cover recreations available from you website, how busy does that keep you?
Bob McLeod: Very busy! I usually have a waiting list of about 15-20 people. I really enjoy just doing nothing but commissions. There's a lot of variety to it, no real deadlines, and I'm giving my fans exactly what they want. But I would like to do some more children's books. I'd also like to paint some covers for novels.
NRAMA: You have also started a correspondence art course at www.bobmcleod.com. What is covered in the course?
Bob McLeod: I offer lessons on whatever people want to learn, from composition, to figure drawing, perspective, drawing panel pages, inking, etc. Rather than make up a generic lesson, I tailor each lesson to each student's specific needs.
NRAMA: You help artist "get to the next level", what exactly is included in getting artists to that next level?
Bob McLeod: Most of the time, artists starting out lack some of the basic fundamentals. Just pointing out those deficiencies in a clear way, with examples of where they're going wrong and why, and how to do it right gives them a jump up to a new level of competency. Many artists don't take the time to learn the fundamentals of perspective, composition and anatomy. They think they can skip that stuff and get right to drawing the "fun stuff". I pull them back and show them the reason they're struggling so much is simply because they don't know this or that basic thing.
NRAMA: How much time do you devote to each students lesson?
Bob McLeod: Wayyyy too much. I enjoy doing the lessons, so I always spend over a full day's time on them, although I spread it out over several days. I try to cram as much information as I possibly can into each lesson. I even made an inking video for one student.
NRAMA: What do you do with submissions that lack even the most basic abilities?
Bob McLeod: I believe everyone can learn to draw up to a certain level. Most people don't pay for an art lesson unless they have some aptitude for drawing. I've only had one student who I felt really had no aptitude for drawing. I showed him some ways to improve his drawing, and taught him a lot about proper drawing so at least he now knows "intellectually" how to draw. Improving his hand to eye coordination is a matter of practice and determination. If I feel someone is wasting their time hoping to get into mainstream comics, though, I'll tell them. I don't lead people on. I just want to help people learn to draw better.
NRAMA: Have any of your students been able to get professional assignments?
Bob McLeod: Well, my first "student" was John Beatty, who inked backgrounds for me when he was starting out. He went on to a good career as an inker in comics for many years, but I think he would have succeeded with or without my help. I like to think I speeded up his development and helped show him the right way to go. I also gave several lessons to June Brigman and Roy Richardson. They've both had successful careers at Marvel for many years. They currently draw the Brenda Starr comic strip. I also tutored Anthony Geist, who's now supporting himself doing t-shirt designs, CD covers, and various other art. My correspondent students have been people who aren't necessarily seeking a career in comics, but just want to learn to draw better. I think once they see how much work is involved in becoming a professional, they appreciate their day jobs.