DANIEL BEST: Letís get straight into it. Where did you start?
BOB McLEOD: I went up to New York City from Florida. I was born in Tampa and wanted to become some kind of cartoonist or commercial artist, and I went to a comic book convention, where I met Pat Broderick, who had also come to New York from Florida. We actually went to the same high school but didnít know each other, and it was just a weird meeting by chance. I recognised his face from seeing him around school and we ended up being roommates. He was trying to get into comics books, so I thought Iíd try to do comic books for a while. Pat introduced me to Neal Adams, who got me a job in the production department at Marvel Comics just with a phone call. I went freelance about a year later. A more detailed account of all this is on my web site at www.bobmcleod.com/start.html
DB: It must have been exciting working for Neal Adams at such an early stage in your career.
BM: When I met Neal, he was kind of at the peak of the business. He was the most respected comic artist in the business at that time. Heís not a real easy person to get to know, so I never got real close to him, but it was wonderful working in his studio. I ended up renting a little space in his studio to do my artwork, and I watched him work. Russ Heath was there, and Jack Abel and Dick Giordano. I could just watch them work and I †learned a lot just by watching and seeing how they did everything. It was a great experience working in Nealís studio.
DB: Who were you early influences?
BM: My earliest influence was Mort Drucker. I originally wanted to work for Mad Magazine doing movie satires, like Mort Drucker did. My first published work was actually a satire of the movie WestWorld for Marvelís Crazy Magazine. And I also did some other satires for Crazy. †When I got to New York, pretty much the main thrust of the comic book business was super hero comics, though, so I had to regear my art style from satire to super heroes So I studied Neal, as I was in his studio. He was probably my biggest influence, along with John Buscema and just about everybody else that I came across that was good. I was influenced by Russ Heath in the studio also. I went back and studied all the major comic book artists and comic strip artists, so I have a lot of influences, but those are my first ones.
DB: One of the comics youíre best known for is the New Mutants. A lot of people donít realise that you were the inker on X-Men 94, which was the first mainstream issue of the relaunched X-Men. How did it come about that you went from there to co-creating and pencilling the New Mutants?
BM: The New Mutants came about as a result of a fill-in I did on the X-Men. I helped Jim Sherman finish the pencilling on issue 151 and they liked what I did on that, so they offered me a fill-in on the next issue, pencilling 152. Then they liked that job, so they offered me the book; but they said, ďYou can either do the X-Men or weíve got a new series weíre starting up called the New Mutants. Itís up to you, but this is going to be a new series and should be big, so it might be something youíd want to get into instead of the X-MenĒ, and even though the X-Men was kind of the hot book at the time, New Mutants was something that I could co-create and get in on the ground floor, so to speak, so I chose to do that.
DB: Youíre an inker predominantly, but youíre very underrated as a penciller. Do you have a preference for doing one over the other?
BM: Well I really started inking because even though my drawing was advanced, it wasnít super hero dynamically ready. They thought my story telling wasnít there yet and my poses were a little too tame. They werenít the John Buscema/Jack Kirby dynamics that they were looking for. So thatís why I started inking, but the whole time I was inking I was also working on making my pencils look more dynamic for super heroes. Eventually I started pencilling the super heroes as well. I basically started inking because my pencilling wasnít quite ready and then I really felt like I had an aptitude for inking, and they seemed to like my inking so I did a lot more of it.
DB: Youíre also a very good painter.
BM: Thank you, thatís my big thrust right now. Iím trying to learn how to paint and do some more painting. I was just so busy doing comics in black and white throughout my whole career that I never got much time for painting. Iíve only done a handful in my whole life, and Iíve never had any formal training in painting, so Iím basically just picking it up and trying to teach myself right now.
DB: Over the years youíve worked both at Marvel and DC, and I canít think of one major character that you havenít worked on. Has there ever been a favourite?
BM: Well when I was a kid I really didnít read super hero comics very much. I was more into Mad Magazine, but I did read Superman. So it was a lot of fun when I ended up getting to draw Superman for a couple of years. Thatís probably my favourite, just for old timesí sake. I really enjoyed doing it. And I also enjoyed drawing Spider-man quite a bit.
DB: Teen Hulk.
BM: Teen Hulk was the most fun I ever had in comics. It was more along my Mort Drucker satire style of artwork and I could really have fun with it instead of having toÖ When I started out doing super hero comics it was much more reserved and there was more of a guideline on how everything had to be than there is today. I think the pencillers have a lot more freedom to do the style and the look that they want than I did back then, so I felt much more freedom doing the Teen Hulk than the super hero stuff at that time. Itís a shame they donít have humor stuff like that in the mainstream anymore.
DB: As an inker, what do you look for in other inkers when youíre pencilling?
BM: Iíve never really found an inker that Iím happy with on my pencils and Iím not sure why that is. It could be that because I have that early Mort Drucker influence, the little subtle stuff is whatís important to me rather than the broad things that most inkers are trained to do in super hero comics. So Iíve had a tough time finding inkers that Iím happy with. Basically, what I want out of an inker is someone who draws well and wonít lose the subtleties in the figure drawing that I enjoy. I donít think my strength is my storytelling, itís more my figure drawing. So I want an inker who can maintain that.
DB: And as an inker, what do you look for in a penciller? You had to know that one was comingÖ
BM: <laughter> Well I either like a really loose penciller, like John Buscema used to do breakdowns that were just a joy to ink because he would give you the layout and the structure and you could just take it from there and do whatever you wanted with it. Thatís probably my preference just because thereís so much the inker can do there to have fun. Either that, or tight pencils that are well drawn as opposed to so many tight pencils that are not that well drawn, so you have to try to fix them and not change them at the same time, which is quite a chore, so well drawn tight pencils or breakdowns would be my preference.
DB: When you broke into Marvel, what was it like, back in the early 1970s?
BM: Gosh, it was so different than it is today. It was really a nice, fun place to work. Everybody was very informal. It was small, it was like not a family, but a group of friends. It was just a real feeling of community and it was just a pleasure to go into work every day. The year that I spent there working in production I learned an awful lot and enjoyed it a lot.
DB: Why do you think itís so different today?
BM: The money has gotten in the way of everything in the whole business really. Itís just become a big corporation thatís worried too much about the bottom line, trying to keep profits up for the stock holders and everything. Theyíre not as concerned about just doing comics that are fun anymore. Theyíre trying to do comics that they can sell a lot of copies of, and whatever works they try and do a lot of that and whatever doesnít, they donít want to risk it. Theyíre afraid to take risks on things that might not sell. Itís just a much more serious, money driven corporation than it was when I used to work there.
DB: In your eyes, what were the differences between Marvel and DC?
BM: Well theyíve changed over the years. They kind of bounced back and forth. Originally, I guess it was back in the sixties, DC was more of the more high quality art, more of the illustrative style of the comic strips and Marvel was more interesting for the stories, and more outrageous, for that time, with the dynamics. Then artists changed back and forth from companies. We used to bounce back and forth from Marvel to DC because every time we changed companies weíd get a five-dollar raise <laughter> so we kept jumping back and forth just to get more money. When artists changed companies it changed the look of those companies so DC and Marvel became kind of the same company but with different management. Today thereís various differences. I havenít kept up with the latest doings at Marvel and DC in the past few years, Iíve been doing other things.
DB: Did you ever keep up with New Mutants after you left the title?
BM: Not really. The reason I left New Mutants was because it was so far behind schedule. We got started off on the wrong foot. It was supposed to be a regular series and then as I was starting to draw the first issue the editor decided to make it a graphic novel. That was at the same time I was getting married and going on a honeymoon, and so I got behind and just never could catch up after that. After the first three issues of pencilling I just wasnít happy with the drawing I was doing because it was so rushed. I then decided to quit drawing it and start inking it instead, but then that just wasnít satisfying because I was inking the same penciller every month and Sal Buscema is a very good penciller for what he does, but at that time especially he was just doing a real standard pencilling job, nothing exciting. So I just wasnít into it. Just after a few issues of inking I just decided to try to find something else to do that was a bit more fun and I never kept up with it after that.
DB: So you never saw the Rob Liefeld issuesÖ
BM: <laughter> Thankfully, no. <laughter> I did take a look at the Bill Sienkiewicz stuff because it was bizarrely different from what I was doing. He was doing some exciting things with the book so that was interesting. The more Billís style grew, the more fun it was to see, so I did follow his work somewhat. †But after he left the book I didnít look at it.
DB: They relaunched it recently?
BM: Yes, and I wish theyíd given me a call. <laughter> Iíd have liked to work on it again.
DB: How do you view people such as Rob Liefeld becoming so huge on a book that you started?
BM: Well what bothers me the most was he changed the name of the book and so I quit getting creator royalties, because they pay you on the title that you created. I was getting royalties every month until he came onto the book, so that was a pain. <laughter> As far as his success with the book, I felt like it was a different book at that time and didnít really have much to do with what Chris (Claremont) and I had started, so I didnít really think about it much.
DB: How did you view the X-Men and Hulk movies?
BM: I love the X-Men movies. I thought they were really well done and really captured the flavour of the comic book, probably better than any other comic book adaptation that Iíve seen, and were well acted and well scripted. I really thought they did a good job on them. The Hulk movie, I thought he (Ang Lee) just took it way too seriously and except for the battle scenes of the Hulk bouncing around in the desert, I really didnít like it.
DB: You donít really do mainstream comics anymore.
BM: Well, in the last few years the business has gotten tougher and tougher. Itís kind of like show business. Thereís a kind of a bias against older artists, so itís really been tougher for me to find work. Iíd finish a job and theyíd say they loved it but then they didnít offer me the next issue and Iíd have to go around to other editors looking for work and it got to where after every job I was having to go to every editor at both companies looking for work and it was just too much of a hassle. So I started looking for work outside of comics, various things and I still do comics, but itís more when they come my way than me seeking it out. Iím trying to do more illustration work and get into the childrenís book market and various other things. Right now Iím working on a comic for a Swedish publisher, Egmont, doing the Phantom, pencilling and inking.
DB: How did that come about?
BM: I was looking for work and talking to Paul Ryan, and Paul works for them, and he suggested I send them some samples because they were interested in using some more American artists. I did some sample drawings for the Phantom and they liked them. Iím now on my second issue, just doing a couple of issues a year for them. Itís thirty pages, pencils and inks, so itís quite a lot of work.
DB: The Phantom is huge here in Australia.
BM: I hear that Australia is the only place where you get the reprints for what Iím doing in English.
DB: Yes. Weíve had the Phantom published here on a regular basis since the 1940s.
BM: Youíre not kidding? Heís another one that I read in the newspaper as a kid, so itís fun working on him.
DB: How do you find the difference between working on super hero stuff and the Phantom?
BM: To me itís still dramatic comics rather than satire or humour, which is what I really feel Iím better at, so itís still more like a job to me than something Iíd be doing for fun. But I enjoy it. I love the people at Egmont that Iíve been working with, so itís a much more pleasant experience working there than it was at my last few jobs at DC and Marvel.
DB: Does it encourage you more to look more for work from the smaller publishers?
BM: No. I tell you, since I wasnít working for Marvel and DC so much Iíve tried a couple of the smaller publishers and itís often very difficult getting paid from them. I worked for a company called Red Sky Entertainment that had a lot of big promises and ended up going out of business owing several people money. I was lucky to get 95% of the money they owed me but they owed me a few hundred dollars when they went out of business, and thatís the case with practically every publisher that Iíve heard of other than Marvel and DC. CrossGen comics, right now, still owes a lot of people a lot of money and they were one of the biggest ones.
DB: That one did surprise me due to the amount of hype when they started. Do you think this all started with Image?
BM: Well there used to be Pacific Comics, and First Comics, Eclipse ComicsÖ
BM: Atlas. All of those had the same story. They start out with big plans and for various reasons just donít make it. And the freelancer is always the one who gets stuck when that happens, so itís very risky working for anybody except Marvel and DC. Image, I thought, was great. Those guys hit the market at the right time with the right look and went off and started their own company. It was fantastic. I forget what I was working on at the time when they started, maybe SupermanÖ
DB: The Hulk?
BM: It might have been the Hulk. But I was inking Dale Keown on the Hulk and he quit and went over to Image. The reason I quit inking him was to draw Superman, so thatís why Iím thinking it was probably Superman. At any rate, I was busy doing something at Marvel or DC at the time or Iíd have tried getting in with them at Image. Later, when I did try to get in, they were kind of in the process of splitting up, so I havenít ended up doing anything for them.
DB: And they spelt your name wrong in X-Men 94.
BM: <laughter> Yep. Theyíve done that in a lot of books actually.
DB: And even in the reprints, theyíve got it wrong.
BM: <laughter> Probably the newer editors up there donít know who I am. Editors come and go so quickly at Marvel and DC, thereís only one or two editors left up there that were working when I was.
DB: So thereís no bitterness towards Marvel or DC lingering?
BM: Well, I have hard feelings towards individuals but not the companies themselves. Like I say, the editors come and go. Itís a business, like any other business, so if they called me up and offered me a job itíd depend on the specifics but I would certainly be willing to work for them again; if the right project came along, then sure. I would love to do the New Mutants again, but I donít think itís going to happen. Theyíve got my phone number. <laughter>