After reading the graphic novel Marvels I felt that the artwork deserved its own post. Usually I just have a brief paragraph in my reviews that talks about the artwork and how I think it looks and how it fares with the overall story, as well as the quality. Well this is no ordinary graphic novel and neither is the artwork so I figured that it deserved a little special treatment.
Alex Ross is, in my opinion, the best comic artist out there. His work is unparalleled, no matter how you want to slice it. It is some of the most truly unique and extremely recognizable work that you will see in any form. You could put some of his covers in a museum and I think they would fit right in, he should have a spot reserved at the Louver for him. While I am kidding, just a little, his work is absolutely amazing. So enough gushing over it lets talk more about how he does it.
Ross is famous for painting, which is very very uncommon in the comics industry and as far as I know he might be just about the only one that does it. I read that because it takes him so long to do a single page he mostly works on covers, which again are some of the most recognizable out there. I don’t blame him, but regardless what he works on the finished product is absolutely amazing. He is most famous for Astro City, where he mainly worked on the covers for each issue, you can check out my review and you will see that his work is instantly recognizable. Kingdom Come is another of his famous books that propelled his talent to the next level. Lastly Marvels is yet another title that has put him on the map and in my opinion propelled him to legendary status. Surprisingly, all three of these titles are great reads and three that any comic fan must read. They are all great stories that are accompanied by some of the greatest artwork in the business, other than Astro City which is more of a traditional artwork as Ross did only did the covers, which when combined makes for some of the best books out there.
When I first read Kingdom Come I was enthralled with the style and wondered how Ross was able to create such real looking characters in the book, however It was not until I read Marvels that I finally figures out his technique. At the end of the book there are about twenty pages or so that detail how Ross was able to create such real images for the story. I was amazed at the amount of time and detail that Ross went through just to get a certain picture to work with. He used models, mostly his friends, in different poses to capture many of the iconic shots in the story. At first I was like why waste your time doing that, but when working with paint there is a whole other level of detail that can be obtained. I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, so the subtle nuances are lost on me during the process, but the final product is what catches my eye.
By using models Ross was able to get every little detail right, how the clothes bunch up, the facial expressions, and most importantly how the light bounces of each character at that particular angle giving very realistic shadows. The end of the book explaining the process is truly cool, and I am blown away at the time this must have taken. What I think is most amazing is how he captures the light in his photos, then how he translates them to the actual drawn page. As you know I always like seeing how the pros do it whether its rough page layouts, storyboards, or a script, but this is a whole new level of detail that I have not seen before.
As I mentioned he did use some real life models for his shots, but he also used action figures of pretty much anything he could to get the shot he needed, then translate that to his finished page. What I would really like to know is if Ross does this for all his work or did he go all out for this book. Either way you cannot argue with the results.
I know I am sounding like I am over analyzing his work, but when you see the photos he takes of his models and how the finished product looks you will understand why he did what he did. I cannot get over how intricately he used the photos to show how the light and shadows look in any particular scene. This alone adds so much more detail to the finished artwork, and in doing so it brings to life a more realistic dimension to the story. It is already a real, believable story, but when Ross does his thing this book is taken to another level.
I cannot even imagine how many hours a single page must have taken, much less the entire book, but the finished product is unparalleled in the story and the artwork. The other thing that is amazing in this book is that there are so many iconic shots of superheroes. By that I mean that they look like something out of a movie or something that a professional photographer would take of them in real life. They are very cool and totally make the story something deeper, bigger, and better.
This book is probably my new favorite graphic novel, and I certainly do not give out that title lightly. Recently I was wondering if I would ever find something that was truly great, a small part of me thought that perhaps I had read all the famous and legendary books that were out there. Goodness was I wrong! I can only hope there are more out there like this one, because this is one of the books that keeps my faith in superhero graphic novels. Truly one of the best I have ever read for so many reasons.