On his living room wall in Emmaus, Bob McLeod has painted white, puffy clouds set against a blue sky. His wife Lucy continues to wonder why Superman hasn’t appeared from behind those clouds. “Not yet,” he jests.
Like Superman, a character that helped cinch his career, McLeod (pronounced Mac-Loud) is caught between two worlds: He’s a highly successful comic book illustrator by day, but a heroic pie-in-the sky dreamer, too. He’d like to transition to writing and illustrating children’s books, expand his art portfolio and even open an independent art school in Emmaus, where he maintains a home-studio.
With the children’s book market depressed, he admits he’s spoiled in the comic book world, and stalled in the children’s book world. “I have to build up enough energy for the harder route,” he says. “It’s a mid-life crisis. I just need to do something different. I want to do my art, not continue finishing others’.”
With his first book SuperHero ABC –which is still in print–McLeod created 30 superheroes. A sequel, a 123 version, and a book about a school for aliens that contrasts the first day of school for an earthling boy with that of an alien boy, are among three McLeod books awaiting a publisher.
The new work is balanced against consistent job offers from the likes of Marvel, which offered McLeod a recent mini-series, the industry standard. He spent 2010 working on New Mutants Forever, a continuation of his four earlier New Mutants characters: Sunspot, Cannonball, Mirage and Wolfsbane.
I’ve been buried in comics again,” he admits. “I’m not even that big a fan of fantasy. I like humor, but there’s always been a demand for action and superheroes.
The work for Marvel, DC Comics and others keeps him popular, as do comic book conventions however, “After 35 years, I’m ready to move on,” McLeod says, “but I still have difficulty saying I’m retired (from comics). “It’s conflicting because I’m well-established, but an artist needs to keep changing.”
McLeod, 60, wants to paint landscapes and use color. He wants to attract local commissions and shows, though he’s already popular locally. He patronizes venues like the Emmaus Public Library, which helped with researching and promoting ABC, and Dick Blick where he has an art supplies account. He’s also taught classes at the Banana Factory.
A Tampa, Fla., native, at age four, McLeod copied Buffalo Bill from the back of a Post cereal box, and won over his first fan, his mother. “It came easily to me,” McLeod says. “I could draw anything I saw, and drew better than anyone I knew.”
Talent didn’t prevent early rejection, but if rejection builds character, for McLeod, it eventually built superheroes. “Character or stubbornness – I wasn’t going to quit,” he says. “I knew I could do the work.”
He pursued a syndicated comic strip in 1970 (though it was rejected) and then thought he’d work for Disney, then located only in California. Later, on a scuba diving trip, a girl embarrassed and goaded him. He told her he wanted to be an artist. She said, “Well when are you going to start?”
He taught himself to pose figures dramatically, to vary camera angles and effectively crop compositions. He studied comic books like textbooks, years removed from some fine and commercial art school training.
McLeod moved to Emmaus in 1989 to get closer to publishers similar to the start his career in 1973. His Superman work resulted after he visited DC Comics in person. McLeod drew him for two years. Prior, he’d penciled Spider-Man fill-ins, and eventually returned to Marvel for a three-issue Spider-Man mini-series after Superman. He drew Star Wars in 1984 after he left the New Mutants, then inked Conan the Barbarian and the Incredible Hulk. In 1990, Superman work flew in.
McLeod prides himself in learning his entire craft – penciling, hand-lettering and inking. These days, througout a typical day, he might paint, draw or digitally color. He’s spent his career adapting his style and filling market-driven needs.
ABC features his forte – humor – like when he graduated from the backs of cereal boxes to modeling Mad magazine. He’s worked humor into private commissions picked up from his website (bobmcleod.com). One features a policeman at a bank robbery. The crook looks scared and the cop thinks it’s because of him. Really, it’s the sudden appearance of Superman behind him.
Now, about those clouds on the living room wall…