Every town seems to have a comic book store, and every citizen seems to have wondered, at one point or another, how it manages to stay in business, seemingly immune to economic hardship and digital migration. (Somewhat easily, as it turns out: comic book and graphic novel sales hit a staggering $935 million in 2014, a 20-year high for the industry.)
Many years later, he would indeed have a resume with 600 comic books on it, including the legendary issue of Superman where Clark Kent finally reveals his true identity to Lois Lane
If you were to wander into your local comic book store, then, you might come across a fan hypothesizing what’s next for his favorite superhero, trying to barter for a shrink-wrapped collector’s edition, or tucked away in an aisle, feverishly thumbing through page after page and issue after issue, binging on benevolent characters’ skirmishes with villains.
Comic books can be consuming for their fans, yes, but they are just as consuming for their creators. Twelve issues later, and this fan will have absorbed a year of work for someone like Bob McLeod, a renowned Superman, Spider-Man, and Star Wars comic book illustrator based in Emmaus.
“The average person probably doesn’t realize how much work is involved in creating a comic book,” McLeod says. “The lettering, the coloring, the drawing, the inking – everyone thinks it’s much easier than it is.”
With 22 pages per issue and each page demanding a full day of work, the comic book industry isn’t for the faint of heart. The rushed deadlines are McLeod’s biggest on-the-job nemesis, and perhaps the inspiration behind the superpower he wishes he could have: “Super-speed, or the ability to slow down time,” he says.
It’s okay, though, because this is his dream job.
When McLeod was five years old, he woke up one morning and casually handled decisions that some of us struggle with well into adulthood: What should I eat? (Cereal.) What should I do today? (Draw a picture of the cartoon on the cereal box. Hey, that actually looks pretty good.) What should I be when I grow up? (Well, probably a cartoonist.)
Despite never taking an art class until college – although his university discouraged cartooning and he ultimately ended up teaching himself – McLeod knew from the moment that he finished that kindergarten kitchen doodle that he was going to make a living drawing cartoons.
“I didn’t want it to be a hobby,” McLeod says. “I knew I could do it, so I was persistent and stubborn.”
Many years later, he would indeed have a resume with 600 comic books on it, including the legendary issue of Superman where Clark Kent finally reveals his true identity to Lois Lane, as well as his essential role in co-creating The New Mutants, an X-Men spinoff. Today, he creates comic book covers for Marvel and teaches the next generation of budding cartoonists at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, a private art college in Lancaster.
Of course, his path to success was paved with a series of setbacks and humbling moments.
In 1974, McLeod landed a gig at Marvel. His job was in the production department, he recalls, and it entailed the task of taping page numbers onto pages. With his foot in the door, he decided to submit his art to DC Comics, but the response wasn’t quite what the artist was expecting.
“The DC art director told me to go back to school and learn how to draw,” McLeod says.“I thought my early samples were great, but they were horrible.”
This is the point where a lot of people give up, but not McLeod. He realized that it wasn’t enough to be able to draw a character – he had to be able to draw the character leaping, crouching, sitting, and from every possible angle.
“You don’t have a model standing there posing for you, so you really have to learn figure drawing from your imagination,” McLeod says. “And then you not only have to know how to dress your figures, but also how to draw cars and boats and airplanes and guns.”
He took the art director’s advice and learned how to draw, eventually establishing himself as a freelance comic book artist for Marvel and DC Comics while he developed his signature style.
“The word ‘clean’ comes up when people are describing my style,” he says. “I have very controlled line work, as opposed to rough and sketchy. I try to draw individuals rather than stereotypical superhero males and females – I try to make my characters more like real people as far as their body types go.”
The unrealistic expectations of gender in comic books aren’t lost on the artist. “With females, certainly, their costumes are ridiculous – they’re not at all practical for someone who wants to do super-heroic action,” McLeod says. “There have been some efforts in recent times to make that better, but I think there needs to be more common sense with that kind of thing. The guys, too, are way too overdeveloped muscularly. People forget that your muscles aren’t flexed all the time.”
McLeod has been able to find balance between fantasy and reality while also exploring his love of humor in passion projects like “SuperHero ABC,” the children’s book he published in 2008. Next, he hopes to dabble in oil and acrylic still life and landscape paintings. When he isn’t cartooning or at comic book conventions, you can find him watching Better Call Saul on Netflix or playing tennis.
To see Bob McLeod’s work or to learn more about him, visit bobmcleod.com.