Art for comics fans

Heroes and Villains, an exhibit featuring the art of Alex Ross, is currently at Pittsburgh`s Warhol Museum.   It  features over 130 works, including paintings, drawings, small sculptures, and even childhood material.  A few weeks ago, I visited the Warhol to check it out and was  awed by the skill and incredible range of Ross`s work.

I`d been impressed by the artist`s painted comics since reading graphic novel series The World`s Greatest Super-Heroes some years ago, especially the JLA: Secret Origins story.  This show has lots more  Justice League material, plus a generous helping of Marvel characters and miscellaneous drawings.

You can tell right away that this is the work of someone who has always loved comics. Like many artists and fans, he became interested at a young age, and one of his first drawings of Spiderman (done at age 4) can be seen here.   Although I`ve liked his stuff for years, I didn`t know  much about his personal growth as an artist-the exhibit filled me in on this with  a lot of biographical info.  By age 8, Ross was drawing his own books, and he evantually studied formally at the American Academy of Art in Chicago.

Many people are devotees of his work for Marvels(1994), a  re-telling (by Kurt Busiek) of the origins of Marvel Comics characters.   A group of sketches  and actual covers for  Marvels are in the show, including  a poignant painting of the X-Man Angel protectively holding a child in his arms while anti-mutant protestors rage below him.

Heroes and Villains is heavy on DC heroes: detailed portraits of nearly every JLA member are the first works one notices. There`s even a section on 1970`s TV show Super-Friends, an early influence on the young Ross.  Super-Friends episodes play on a small screen near sketches for Kingdom Come(1996).   And there are surprises  like a beautifully detailed painted copy of the classic Action Comics #1.

Ross emphasizes the positive qualities of comic book heroes. His universe is one of moral absolutes, with little room for ambiguity. Yet the triumph of good over evil he portrays feels fresh and optimistic rather than cliched.  In fact, I got a sense of this optimism just by observing the delighted reactions of viewers.  Whether devoted older fans or  young children, everyone was excited and chatting about the art.

It`s hard to not be enthused about this detailed retrospective.  The added bonus is that Heroes and Villains is done with such respect for comic book art.  This is truly an unusual show which is well worth the trip for any fan.




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