Get Graphic: Alex Ross Talks ‘Fantastic Four Full Circle’
Art by Alex Ross
Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen with Marty Grosser
There’s no denying the power of a certain image and its ability to transport readers to another realm. Jack Kirby, along with Marvel front man / idea man Stan Lee, transported readers to worlds both alien and commonplace for over 100 issues of their “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine,” Fantastic Four. This July, Abrams ComicArts and Previews will present a PREVIEWS EXCLUSIVE graphic novel by the legendary Alex Ross, who has, in past endeavors, captured the heart, soul, and spirit of those who came before him in exciting new projects expanding upon and paying tribute to classic characters and scenarios… particularly those of the early Marvel Comics. Fantastic Four: Full Circle is a fully painted adventure set within the strange “Negative Zone,” home of the interdimensional warlord Annihilus and countless other threats to our reality. Ross has brought the Negative Zone to life as Kirby himself depicted it… replicating his famous collage style in page-after-Kirby Krackle-infused page. PreviewsWorlds’ own Troy-Jeffrey Allen spoke with Ross, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk about this exciting exclusive project…
Troy-Jeffrey Allen: When did you first discover the Fantastic Four?
Alex Ross: I most likely learned of the Fantastic Four when I was about four or five years old. My first comic of them was either the Power Records reprint of John Buscema’s origin retelling, or it was 1975’s Fantastic Four #163 with Rich Buckler art.
TJA: How did Full Circle come about as a project? Did you approach Marvel or Marvel approach you?
Ross: It was kind of a little bit of both. I had originally pitched the Fantastic Four editor a “new look” approach for the team, back before the book was announced to resume publishing. My proposal to be the one who guided the team in that return lost out then, but I was later approached to see if I wanted to create anything special for the 60th anniversary. It took a long period of negotiations about what that could be and an additional book publisher to be brought in to make the graphic novel I completed during the anniversary year.
TJA: The book revisits a classic Kirby-Lee story from the 1960s. What is that story and why did you want to revisit it?
Ross: The book actually recalls a couple of the most famous stories from the original ’60s run. The widely considered prime example of the Lee-Kirby magic was in Fantastic Four #51, with the introduction of the Negative Zone and the Thing’s form-stealing doppelgänger in his only appearance. The second famous issue I revisited is Fantastic Four Annual #6, with the team’s major foray into the Negative Zone, when Annihilus is introduced and Reed and Sue’s son, Franklin Richards, is born at the end of the issue. I wanted to reconnect with the question of what happened to that doppelgänger, who we assumed to have died in the Negative Zone, and to also explore in more depth some of the territory Jack Kirby laid out there.
TJA: What medium/tools did you use to make Full Circle?
Ross: The driving ambition I had to make a Fantastic Four comic was to put my skills to the test as a traditional comic book artist, with pure line work and flat coloring. I did my work mostly as I usually do, with gouache/watercolor paint used as black instead of ink and a dry brush detail shading approach instead of the halftone I would normally create in painting. Other than a use of pens for straight lines and background details, I rendered with a brush.
TJA: What was the challenge when putting together the book?
Ross: I was not sure how well my work in pure light and shadow would mesh with flat color, so I did a number of tests to be sure. I wouldn’t control the final color application like I usually would, but I did exact color guides for every page, with every color hold effect painted in so my graphic designer/collaborator, Josh Johnson, could implement those final colors digitally and create a subtle dot screen effect, which I could not paint.
TJA: What do you think is the lasting appeal of the Fantastic Four?
Ross: The Fantastic Four is the very reason Marvel changed (and possibly saved) comics as we know them. The book was Ground Zero for every creative innovation that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave to build the Marvel Universe and what is still the modern way of storytelling. The team itself was the unique balance of relatable and “real” personalities with distinctive behaviors and dramatic conflict.
TJA: What do you hope a new generation of Marvel fans will take away from Full Circle?
Ross: I want the contemporary readers as well as the moviemakers in Hollywood to see a representation of the original team with their intended design intact. I am trying my best to translate Jack Kirby’s art in a way that looks consistent to what was laid out sixty years ago, which guided most artists’ interpretations since and can be reconnected to even when you’re casting real human beings in those parts.