The cover of Bob's Feb. 06 debuting children's book
Comic book fans that know who Bob McLeod remember him as the co-creator of Marvel’s New Mutants comic series that began in the early 80’s and ran until later that decade. Bob, however, has had a long and varied career that expands beyond the New Mutants. He inked John Buscema’s art on Conan the Barbarian for a while – even lettering several issues. He also inked Dave Cockrum’s pencils in the seminal X-Men #94, the first issue of the series featuring the “All New, All Different” X-Men such as Wolverine and Storm. He also inked Mike Zeck’s pencils on the six-part “Fearful Symmetry” storyline that ran through all three of the Spider-Man regular series for two-issues each around 1983-84.
I began this interview early in 2004, and since then, the Silver Bullet Comic Books website has also run an extensive interview with Bob. Here’s part one of mine:
Would you mind giving us a little background or biographical info about yourself?
BOB: I was born in Tampa, Fl in 1951. Art classes weren't offered in my school, but I became the "school artist," doing drawings for classroom walls and doors for Halloween, etc. I finally had one art class in 12th grade, but my teacher said there was nothing she could teach me because I was already a better artist than she was, so she just let me sit in the corner and draw whatever I pleased. This was immensely frustrating for me because I had wanted an art class since first grade, and now when I finally got one, the teacher didn't teach me anything. Pat Broderick, who later worked for many years in comic books, was also in my art class, but we didn't speak or meet each other until 4 years later.
Portrait by a young artist
I studied visual design at Auburn University for one year; then at 19, I wrote and drew 36 humor strips about a private eye to submit as a newspaper comic strip, but it was rejected by several syndicates. I then studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale for a year. One of my teachers there again said I was too good to be in school and should be working in NYC. So, in 1973, I went to NYC with the intention of working in advertising or comic books, and after having no success getting advertising work, I got a room at the YMCA, drawing a sample comic book page every day or two.
I went to DC and Marvel several times trying to get work, with no success. I finally met Pat Broderick at a comic book convention, and I recognized him from my art class in high school, and we became roommates. He had been accepted into the apprenticeship program DC Comics had at that time, and through that he met and introduced me to Neal Adams. I was down to my last $10 and ready to give up and go back home to Tampa when I showed a sample page to Neal. Neal called Marvel and got me a job in the production dept. doing corrections on lettering and art, and several months later I began to get steady work as an inker, as well as pencilling and inking many jobs for Marvel's CRAZY [their answer to mad, ed.] magazine.
When were you first exposed to comic books? What titles and characters?
BOB: I read some DC comics, mostly SUPERMAN, Tarzan and Archie, the Disney comics, and all the Harvey comics: RICHIE RICH, WENDY THE GOOD WITCH, CASPER THE GHOST, etc. in elementary school. One of my favorites was the Fox and the Crow. In junior high, I discovered MAD magazine, and pretty much abandoned comics. After college, I became friends with a guy who was a comic book fan, and he introduced me to the Warren magazines: CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA. I became a big [Frank] Frazetta fan and started collecting all of his paperback book covers. I also collected Jeff Jones covers.
When did you first entertain the notions of drawing comics? As a kid, did you draw your own homemade comics?
BOB: My first drawing was a copy of “Buffalo Bee” from a cereal box called Wheat Puffs, when I was 5 years old. I soon started copying all the newspaper strips. In junior high or high school, I started writing and drawing little humorous one-page comic strips just for my own amusement, and I drew some cartoons for my high school and college newspapers. It was Mad magazine that inspired me to want to draw movie satires like Mort Drucker, but I knew from age 5 that I wanted to be a cartoonist, perhaps as a Disney animator. It wasn't until after college that I thought seriously about drawing comic books.
Do you recall what you did in Marvel's production department after Neal got you on?
BOB: It was what used to be known as "paste up and mechanicals". I started out doing lettering corrections, being tutored on comic lettering by Danny Crespi and Morrie Kuramoto, the head production letterers. I also pasted page numbers on, and cleaned up reprint Photostats, going over the inks to make them print better. Then later I also did some minor art corrections under [John, Sr.] Romita's direction.
I don't expect you to remember the first Marvel book you pencilled, but do you remember if your first pencilling job meant drawing the story from those "Marvel method" plots? I think that's when the penciller would get a plot that was a page or so long and he'd have to turn it into a comic? If so, did someone at Marvel provide breakdowns or walk you through the process?
BOB: Of course, I remember my first jobs. My very first pencilling job was a satire of the movie WESTWORLD for Marvel's Crazy magazine, from a full script by Marv Wolfman. My first comic book pencilling job was [MARVEL] TEAM-UP #86, from what was probably a plot by Chris Claremont, but his plots are very detailed, and not at all like the kind of plot you describe. As far as I know, only a few top early artists ever worked from that type of plot. No one ever helped me draw any comic job, though I would have gladly accepted some help. You supposedly only got a pencilling job if you didn't need help. By the time I finally got a plot to draw, I had drawn many, many sample pages.
How did you learn to be a cartoonist or storyteller - to basically take all those words and turn it into a 20 or so page comic? Did you examine certain cartoonists and comic book artists and see how they told a story - pacing, page breakdown, design, layouts, etc? In the past, you've mentioned admiring (the greatest) Wally Wood.
BOB: I basically learned by trial and error, and by absorbing as much as I could from all the art I saw at Marvel while I was in production. I also studied many comic artists for many years while I was starting out, learning as I worked. It's always been a battle to make visual sense out of comic book plots, because they often are badly paced and static. My first plots were by Claremont, and he gives you much more than you need. The artist has to edit his plots down to a manageable length, often not drawing everything he describes because the pages would all have 10-12 panels. I was shooting for 5-6 panels per page.
Before I keep prattling on, I must ask if you remember what month and year you started in production? Who was Marvel’s editor-in-chief at that time?
BOB: I started in August of 1973. I believe Roy Thomas was still editor-in-chief, but I was hired by John Verpoorten, who was head of production. I sat at a drawing table next to Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia, who did their inking right there in the office.
Did you network, hang around with other comic book artists? Do you remember any other young guns who were starting at the same time you were?
BOB: I networked a lot, because I had a drawing table at Neal's studio, Continuity Associates, as well as being in the Marvel office every day. Dick Giordano, Russ Heath, Jack Abel, Larry Hama and Ralph Reese were all up at Continuity then. George Perez, Keith Giffen, Mike Zeck, Pat Broderick, and Greg Theakston all started around that same time. Barry [Windsor-] Smith started about a year before then. Boris Vallejo did his first CONAN cover in '73. Joe Rubinstein started a few months after I did. Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, and Bob Layton started a year or two later, I think. Carl Potts, Marshall Rodgers, Steve Leialoha a year or two after that, and Frank Miller and Mike Golden. I believe I was the first to ink George Perez and Frank Miller at Marvel.
What was it like working with John Romita, Sr.? Were you intimidated by his talent and enormous contribution to comics?
BOB: I never had that much interaction with John Romita. He always gave the impression of being very stressed out, under a lot of pressure, but he was nice. Remember, I hadn't been a Marvel fan before I started work there, so I wasn't really aware of his contribution to comics. I hadn't really even seen much of his Spider-Man work. He was intimidating because of his authority as art director, but not as an artist. I had already been critiqued by Neal Adams, and HE was intimidating. Romita encouraged my early efforts, and suggested I try to decide on inking primarily in either brush or pen, not both equally, to give my style more cohesion and authority.
Starting at Marvel was there anything that struck you as odd or peculiar, something that wasn't what you imagined it would be?
BOB: Well, I had never worked in any kind of office before, so I didn't know what to expect. I looked at it as a magical, wonderful place to work. I was a bit surprised that so many people didn't seem to know exactly how to do their job, and often were just winging it, doing the best they could. As a kid, I'd always assumed that grownups knew what they were doing all the time. I was also dismayed at how so many people's egos were so huge, and at all of the office politics.
Having started in 1973, Bob witnessed quite a bit in the closing years of the so-called Bronze Age:
1. You'd have come in about the time the X-Men were being "reimagined." Were you privy to any of that or what was going on? How did Marvel react to the popularity of the new team?
BOB: I inked X-MEN #94, basically the 1st appearance of the New X-Men. I really don't remember much about Marvel's reaction. I was never that much of a fan of superheroes, I'm sorry to say, and was just focusing on learning my craft. To me, the X-Men were just another bunch of weird characters. Dave Cockrum didn't care for my inking on that issue, and I was just as happy to move on to another project.
Bob inks Bryan Hitch pencils in Uncanny X-Men '95 #1, page 40
Do you remember what Cockrum didn't like about your inking over his pencils? There's not a whole lot of difference between your inks and Sam Grainger's inks on the issues following #94, unless a bigger difference shows on the originals.
BOB: I see a lot of difference. I was still learning to ink, and Grainger was an old pro. Tho’ maybe not as interesting, his inking was very consistent and solid. Cockrum thought I changed his pencils too much, and I agree, I don't like my inking on X-Men #94 either. But I later inked him on an X-Men job with Kazar and changed him just as much and he loved it. The difference was, I had improved and learned how to ink better.
Didn't DC implode in the mid-70's when they cancelled a bunch of titles? I also understand that by that time, a lot of comics people thought that comics publishing wouldn't see the 80's? Did you see it that way? What was your take on the atmosphere then?
BOB: There was a general feeling that comics were dying and wouldn't be around much longer. I had never intended to stay in comics anyway, and figured I'd move on to MAD magazine or advertising if necessary. But I had a hard time believing comics would totally die. In 1976, the book I had been inking, BLACK PANTHER, was cancelled, and I was unable to get any other work. I reluctantly moved back to my hometown (Tampa) and worked in advertising for a year. I then did some new comics samples and moved back to New York [1977, ed.]. Comics had been reborn during that year, and I was soon busy on various projects. I guess Pacific Comics and direct sales started around that time.
In the mid- 70’s, Neal Adams was really making a public issue out of the plight of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were both impoverished as their creation Superman was about to become a big budget movie. What did your fellow creators think of Adams' crusade? How did comics management feel about it, if you were privy to what they were saying?
BOB: Neal had also tried to form a comic artists guild, which I supported. Everyone I knew was totally behind Neal's efforts, and thought DC definitely owed Siegel and Shuster a big piece of Superman royalties. Management was extremely reluctant, of course, because it meant giving up a lot of money they legally probably didn't have to, as well as setting a precedent for other creators. They ended up just giving really a token royalty to Siegel and Schuster to allay bad publicity.
Had you ever paid attention to Underground Comix – Crumb, Spain, Shelton, etc.? Were you following other companies' comics all that much once you began to work for Marvel?
BOB: I paid little attention to undergrounds. I liked Crumb's work, and Shelton, but I wasn't interested in undergrounds. I did look at all the other companies. I often went back and forth from Marvel to DC, and did some work for Pacific Comics and Dark Horse. I had trouble getting paid from the smaller publishers, though, so I stayed at Marvel and DC. Marvel usually paid a little better than DC, so I did as much for them as possible. But Marvel showed me no loyalty, and I felt no loyalty to them in return.
As a young inker, did you run into that often complaints about your work over the pencillers? Or were complaining pencillers part of the norm?
BOB: I rarely heard anything negative about my inking. My early jobs were mostly over pencillers who didn't draw that well, and I think I always improved the art, even tho’ my inking was still developing. Today's pencillers seem to complain much more about inking than pencillers in the 70's and 80's did. I get pencillers who grew up admiring my inking who want me to ink them, but their pencils are so tight there's nothing for me to do to add the things in my style they like. They don't understand that the things they liked about my inking are things I brought to the art, not what the penciller did. They don't realize how much was left up to the inker in the 70's.
When you returned to New York, what were your regular assignments, and what books did you work on? What was the work that led to your most well known assignments, New Mutants, which we'll talk about soon? Was your "star" starting to rise?
BOB: When I first returned, everything had changed. Terry Austin, formerly [Dick] Giordano's background inker, was now the darling of the fans, inking John Byrne on X-Men. I got work doing backgrounds for Bob Layton on SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER VILLAINS, then ghosting entire pages for Layton, and he showed the editor what I was doing and then I started getting my own jobs again. First at DC, taking over for Layton on SSOSV, then various other DC stuff: NEW GODS (Rich Buckler), THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (John Calnan), KARATE KID (Juan Ortiz), AQUAMAN (Don Newton), and FIRESTORM (Al Milgrom). I finally got back in at Marvel with an issue of MS. MARVEL ([Carmine] Infantino). That led to various Spider-Man fill-ins, many, many covers, and eventually, in the summer of 1979, to my first pencilling job, [Marvel] Team-Up #86. Then after a couple years, I started inking John Buscema on CONAN every month, and my inking and pencilling improved dramatically. I was then asked to help finish an issue of the X-Men (#151) that Jim Sherman had missed the deadline on. I finished drawing the pages he'd only partially laid out, pencilled a couple entire pages, and inked some pages. Louise Jones [now Louise Simonson, wife of Walt Simonson] and Claremont liked what I did a lot and asked me to draw the next issue. That was a success, and they offered to have me either continue as regular penciller on the X-Men, or pencil and co-create a new spin-off series called the NEW MUTANTS. My pencilling dynamics and storytelling had finally reached a more professional level, and I was suddenly a hot property.
You've mentioned that you prefer to ink? Has it always been that way and why? Was there a point where Marvel asked you to pencil more, or was that something you requested?
BOB: I've always pencilled, but my early work lacked dynamics and my storytelling was weak, because I had never read or studied many comic books. Most pencillers grow up reading comics, but I was into Mad magazine instead. So while other artists were absorbing Jack Kirby's dynamic poses, I was studying Mort Drucker's figure subtleties. Then, working in production at Marvel, I was sitting next to Mike Esposito, an inker, and he said I should learn how to ink because it was easier than pencilling. Also at Continuity, I started working on Crusty Bunker inking jobs, where everyone in the studio just inked a little piece of a panel here and there, and I started to be able to get ink jobs and make a lot of money, relative to what I had been earning working in production. Eventually, after inking Conan and studying John Buscema, my pencilling caught up with my inking, and I was able to get pencilling work as well.
Pencillers are much more highly respected than inkers, and I also always wanted to do everything, the total art, anyway. I just got caught up in inking because I have an aptitude for it. There are two types of artists. The type who loves doing layouts and storytelling, and the type who loves drawing more as illustration, with a polished finish. I'm the latter type. I love to draw, but I don't care about storytelling, so the inking is as important to me as the layout.
I quit drawing the New Mutants and SUPERMAN because I was unhappy with the inking. Very few pencillers would ever do that. I'm not saying it was smart; it was stupid, probably, but inking is important to me, and I felt the inking was really hurting my drawing. Most pencillers just suffer through bad inkers until a better inker comes along, but I just couldn't stand to see my pencils lose all the subtle qualities I worked hard to put into them. Frank Giacoia told me he quit pencilling for the same reason.
Before we get into the Mutants, the Direct Market was chugging along, and publishers were starting to produce work that would not see the light of news distribution. Were you paying attention to what was then a burgeoning market for comics publishing?
BOB: Not at all. Finally getting steady work, I moved back to Tampa in 1979 to buy a house instead of wasting money renting a small apartment in Queens. I met my wife, got married, and took up tennis. I was making good money on the New Mutants, and my focus was on having a normal life and family, not on the comics business. I just took whatever comics jobs were offered to me, and paid little attention to the changes happening in the industry, much to my later regret.
So your growing rep as a good artist got you an offer to work on New Mutants. Before we get into that, why didn't you take the offer to become the new regular X-Men artist?
A New Mutants-themed commission for John Byrne superfan Wayne Osborne
BOB: It was offered as a choice between that and co-creator credit on the New Mutants. I think I made the very smart choice. I earned creator royalties from the New Mutants for years after I left the book. Quitting the New Mutants was the dumb choice.
How much interplay was there between you and Chris Claremont in the development of the New Mutants concept? Were you able to make some conceptual suggestions? Did you have a lot of say in the design of the characters?
BOB: I probably could have had a lot more input, because Chris was very open to suggestions, but at the time, I just wasn't that interested in creating characters. I just wanted to draw. Chris already had the characters basically imagined when I came on board. Chris, Louise and I decided to make the thrust of the book all about the school, so the New Mutants wouldn't just be another super-group like all the others. I pushed to have more females than males in the group, and helped to decide on what costumes they'd wear (we decided to go with a school uniform), and I created the physical look of the characters. In other words, I think Rahne was basically just described by Chris as a redhead. I decided to make her short and full-figured, with bristly wolf-hair, and I came up with her transitional half-wolf look. I made Dani tall and slender and flat chested (at the time, probably the only female in comics with less than a c-cup!). It was my idea to give Sam big ears, etc. We originally envisioned Sunspot as growing huge like the Hulk when he powered up.
Was the idea always to introduce the group in the Marvel Graphic Novel series? Did that affect how you approached illustrating the book? Did you have an inker.
BOB: This was the big problem that led to me leaving the series. It was originally just supposed to be a regular comic. Then, after I had begun pencilling a few pages, they decided to make it a graphic novel, but the novels were on a different production schedule, and they needed 50 pages right away, ASAP. I wanted to pencil and ink the novel, but there was really no time. This was one of my first pencilling jobs. I had very little experience and really needed more time to think and work on the layouts, but they needed to meet the printing schedule so I had to draw it as fast as I possibly could. I was also getting married right then, and had already planned a honeymoon when they said a certain other inker was going to ink it. I knew he wouldn't give it the look I wanted, and I had seen him do inking I didn't like on some other projects. So I decided it was too important and I had to ink it myself. I worked through my honeymoon, inking as quickly as I could move the pen. The result was a 2nd rate job, unfortunately.
You and I talked about this some time ago, but before I start telling tales, would you explain the circumstances behind you leaving the book early in it's run? I believe you only pencilled the first six issues.
BOB: After the graphic novel, I then immediately had to pencil the first issue of the series. I gave them a list of 10 inkers I'd prefer to work with, adding Mike Gustovich just to round out the list to 10. He was a very weak inker back then, though I think he's improved tremendously since then. After 3 issues of very rushed pencils and very weak inking, I had had enough, and asked to be switched to inker, because I figured I could better control the look of the book by inking breakdowns over another artist. Then we started having to do stupid things like put Team America in the book, and while Sal Buscema is a very talented artist, he was probably pencilling 2 or 3 books a month, using mostly straight-on medium shots, and I decided I wanted to do more with my career than just be Sal's inker. I very reluctantly left the New Mutants after inking issue #8.