Written by Bryan Stroud
Bob McLeod (born August 9, 1951) is an American comic artist best known for co-creating the New Mutants team with writer Chris Claremont. He began his career at Marvel Comics and in his time there he inked several different artists and series - including inking Mike Zeck's Kraven's Last Hunt storyline. McLeod drew the graphic novel and the first three issues of the 1983 New Mutants series (and inked a number of subsequent issues). When he started working for DC Comics, Bob found himself inking on titles like Action Comics, Kamandi, and Detective Comics. McLeod was the keynote speaker for the 2012 Inkwell Awards ceremony at HeroesCon. In 2018, he was awarded the Inkwell's Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award for his many years of inking.
This time up, another gent who spent some time at Continuity back in the day, the talented and knowledgeable Bob McLeod. To my delight, Bob made an appearance in Colorado in the not too distant past and I got a chance to shake his hand and chat for a bit, which was a great treat, just like this interview.
This interview originally took place over the phone on October 15, 2015.
Bryan Stroud: I read your 3-page “Origin” story that you sent and am wondering what to ask. (Chuckle.) I guess I’ll start with the obvious: How did you end up at Continuity after your rather scary introduction to New York City?
Bob McLeod: It’s amazing how scared I was coming up from Florida. I bumped into Pat Broderick at the New York Comic Con. We were both in the same high school art class, but had never met each other. I just recognized his face. We became roommates to share expenses and he insisted that I should meet Neal Adams. He’d met Neal and was really impressed by him. I thought at the time I needed to go get into Marvel. To me, Neal was just another freelance artist. I didn’t see the point in meeting Neal. I knew nothing about networking or all the other reasons you’d want to mix with other artists. I was so intent on just learning my craft at that time. But he finally convinced me to go up and show Neal my stuff, so that’s what I did. At the time anybody could just walk in. You didn’t need to even make an appointment. I just went up with Pat when he was going up there one day and he introduced me to Neal.
Stroud: That had to be almost surreal.
McLeod: You know, I was too stupid to even appreciate that much just what Neal’s position in the business was at the time. I knew he was a top artist. Obviously I really respected his work, but I just didn’t know who I was meeting and the importance of that meeting. So I wasn’t that intimidated or anything, I was just like, “Okay, here I am. What have you got?” (Mutual laughter.)
Stroud: “I have arrived.”
McLeod: Yeah. “See how great I am? Give me something.”
Stroud: It’s amazing how we can be in our early 20’s.
McLeod: Yeah, we just can’t see ourselves.
Stroud: Did you immediately get assignments at Continuity?
McLeod: Oh, no. Neal didn’t offer me anything. I was just about to leave town. I had sold my car to get the money to finance my trip and I was down to my last 10 bucks or so and just as a last ditch effort thought I would see Neal. I didn’t really expect anything to come out of it. He asked me what I wanted and I said, “Anything that pays. A job.” So he just picked up the phone and got me a job in the production dept. at Marvel just on his say so because he was friends with John Verpoorten, the production manager. So that was pretty much that and I said, “Thank you very much,” and I left. I think I only showed him one or maybe two samples of my stuff and he wasn’t that impressed. He didn’t offer to have me work with him or anything, but I just went off on my way to Marvel.
I don’t remember when I decided to rent space at Continuity, but it wasn’t too long after that. It might have been right away or I might have waited a few months. I just can’t recall off the bat. Probably it was very soon after that. I just asked him if I could rent one of the desks in his studio and work there and get out of my apartment so I could be around the other artists and see what everybody else was doing.
Even then I was just renting studio space from Neal. I wasn’t working with Neal. I had my own stuff I was trying to do. I might have even waited until I had my own freelance work, like six months later maybe before I got the studio space. So I was working on my jobs and Neal would just come by and take a peek and just shake his head or something and he really didn’t have much to say about it. I was always waiting for him to make some comment. The only thing he really said was, “Slow down.” “Take a little more care.” I took note of that and tried to do that and then a Crusty Bunker job came along and everybody was chipping in on that and I said, “Well, can I do some of that?” Everybody said, “Yeah, anybody can do it. Jump in there.” I didn’t actually ask Neal, I just started inking. That’s how it all started.
Stroud: Do you happen to remember which job that was initially?
McLeod: That might have been over Bob Brown, probably. Son of Satan or that female... Satanna? It might have been a black and white magazine rather than a color comic. It’s hard to remember.
Stroud: Well, it has been awhile back after all. (Chuckle.)
McLeod: Yes, it has.
Stroud: Who else did you encounter up there, Bob?
McLeod: The whole crew. I got there before Carl Potts. I started in ’74 and Russ Heath was there and Jack Abel. Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Joe Rubinstein, who was kind of the studio gopher. He was just a young kid of 16 or so. Joe Brozowski was up there, too.
Stroud: As Greg Theakston described them, all the young bucks.
McLeod: I only saw Greg Theakston up there a couple of times. He would bring in an oil painting to show everybody. Mike Hinge was working in the back at some point. He was kind of an odd guy who pretty much kept to himself.
Stroud: It sounded like he was quite the eccentric.
McLeod: I was very surprised to see him doing art for some kind of game or toy. I think it was a toy. He was designing the box that the toy would be sold in. It had never occurred to me that someone had to do that.
Stroud: Yeah, isn’t that something? I know that when I interviewed Don Perlin he said he’d done a lot of advertising type illustration and it struck me at the time, “Oh, yeah. Somebody has to draw that stuff.” And I shouldn’t forget Murphy Anderson’s work on the old Captain Action toy boxes in the 60’s.
How long were you at Continuity?
McLeod: Well, I started in ’74 and I was there two years and the comic book I was working on, “The Black Panther” for Marvel got canceled and I couldn’t find enough steady work. Even being at Continuity there just wasn’t enough work at that time to support me. I couldn’t find another book and I’m sure if I had just stuck around something would have come up, but I was out of money. I just couldn’t pay the rent and I didn’t know what to do. So I just ended up leaving. I went home to Florida and worked in advertising for a year. I just got bored out of my mind doing that. I just could not imagine doing that year after year, so I decided I had to make another attempt at comics. That was in ’76, so in ’77 I went back to New York and started over - doing backgrounds for Bob Layton and Al Milgrom and whoever I chanced upon and my career took off again from there. I quickly got all the work I could handle. I don’t think I went back to Continuity, though. I think I was just working at home in my apartment at that point. I was probably only at Continuity from ’74 to ’76.
Stroud: Okay, so long enough to get a feel for the place. It doesn’t sound like you had to fill out an application to be a Crusty Bunker, but I’d say you were on the roster.
McLeod: You just had to walk in the door when the job was being done. (Chuckle.) You didn’t even have to be an inker really.
Stroud: That was the funny thing. I’d asked Bernie Wrightson in passing, “You were considered a Crusty Bunker, weren’t you?” “Oh, I don’t think so. Anybody that happened to be around could pitch in on a job, but I don’t think I was truly one of the Crusty Bunkers.”
McLeod: We didn’t really consider Bernie one of the Crusty Bunkers. He was above that. He was a star already by then. He might have done a tiny bit here or there, and I suppose officially anyone that worked on a Crusty Bunker job was a Crusty Bunker, but he really didn’t get involved in it all that much.
Stroud: He just deflected the idea. For the gifts the man has, he’s so remarkably humble about it. I only wish he had a more regular gig so I could enjoy those gifts.
Any particularly fond memories from your time at the studio?
McLeod: Jack Abel was a wonderful person. I guess not everyone would say that because he could be kind of a sourpuss, but he was just such an interesting guy and a nice guy. He was a pleasure to be around. Joe Rubinstein and I used to hang out around Jack Abel’s desk a lot and talk to him.
Bob Wiacek and Terry Austin were in a room together and they were big fans of the Bob and Ray radio show and they would listen to that all day and so we would hang around and listen to Bob and Ray.
Mike Nasser (aka Netzer) was up there and we were all enthralled with Neal’s artwork and Mike especially was trying to draw just like Neal and so Joe Rubinstein and I wanted to ink Mike because he was drawing just like Neal and so we became friends and hung out a lot together.
Joe Rubinstein and I were really intensely studying Stan Drake and Neal Adams and Tom Palmer and so he and I would critique each other’s work a lot and we spent a lot of time discussing comic book art and comic book inking.
Stroud: It must have been a great place to learn the chops. Particularly with people like Jack Abel and Dick Giordano around, although I don’t know. People have spoken of Dick with the greatest fondness, but not mentioned a lot about his contributions there. Maybe he was more involved with the business side of things than artistically.
McLeod: Dick was the one with the head for business more than Neal, I think. Neal was the artist and Dick was the businessman, is how I thought of them. Honestly, I hardly ever saw Dick. I don’t think he worked in the studio that much. Certainly not in the couple of years that I was there. I rarely saw him and had almost nothing to do with him. He inked one page that I penciled for a satire magazine. I never did backgrounds for him, so I studied his work a little bit, but I was much more into Tom Palmer and Neal.
Stroud: You couldn’t go wrong there, either. Tom is definitely one of the top inkers and he’s still very fully employed.
McLeod: He’s wonderful and he was always my favorite inker on Neal and Gene Colan.
Stroud: Magical pairings with both those talents.
McLeod: Tom Palmer had a quality to his line and we could just not figure out how he got such a brush type line, knowing he was a pen inker. Rubinstein and I would ask him what pen point he was using and he wouldn’t tell us. (Chuckle.) He said it was a trade secret and it was a point he’d bought a bunch of years ago and that it may not even be made any more and all this. We tried every pen tip being produced and were trying our best to get the same kind of line Tom Palmer got.
Stroud: (Laughter.) I’m reminded of the legends I heard about “The Gaspar Stone,” and I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and I called Gaspar [Saladino] up one day and asked, “Gaspar is it true that you had this special stone you used to hone down your nibs for your lettering work?” He laughed and laughed and said, “No, no, no. I used a little sandpaper sometimes, but that was it.” I’m sure the equipment is very important, but maybe it’s more the user.
McLeod: Exactly. It’s just the way that you press on it and what you do with it much more than the pen point, but at the time we thought there must be some magic in his pen point.
Stroud: I recall someone telling me about picking up one of Russ Heath’s brushes and saying, “This is it! The source!” (Mutual laughter.)
McLeod: Russ would use old brushes. A gigantic #4 Windsor-Newton brush. He and Neal would both ink with that one. Most people would ink with a 2 or a 3. You can get a tiny little line with a 4, but you have to be really careful not to press down hard. I watched him ink a tank, a Sherman or whatever for some Sgt. Rock job with a #4 brush. You’d think he’d use a pen for mechanical parts, but he’d just slap it out with a brush.
Stroud: I think it was in Bill Schelly’s biography of Joe Kubert where I read about Joe being in a bind and had to quickly ink something and all he could find was a letterer’s pen or something, I’m talking about things I don’t know a lot about, but I guess it was a tool completely unsuited to the job but somehow he made it work, which just attests to the idea that a professional can make it work one way or the other.
McLeod: Yeah. I’ve inked with a lettering pen before, too and you can do it, it’s just that you can’t get different things with it and you have to know how to be in control of it.
Stroud: You made an interesting comment, perhaps a little counter-intuitive, when you said Neal was cautioning you to slow down in your work. That would be the ideal, but when you’re faced with deadlines, how do you reconcile the two?
McLeod: He wasn’t even talking about slowing down overall. He was talking about each stroke. I was just whipping stuff out and he wanted me to lay down each stroke of the brush or pen with more care and deliberation. It was great advice. It’s so interesting that he came up with just that one comment that really affected my inking and made me a better inker. Because he didn’t give lessons. He wasn’t a teacher. He was handy with the criticisms, but not much good with the advice, generally.
Stroud: That sounds familiar, though nearly everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed a gratefulness for their time and exposure at Continuity. The comments have been sort of, “No, I can’t say I really learned a lot from a school sense.”
McLeod: Well, just being there and seeing Neal’s original art was amazing. Being in production at Marvel and just seeing all the art come through there was a fantastic education and really taught me a lot just seeing what everyone was doing and how they were doing it. I could puzzle out how they were doing it by seeing the original art.
Stroud: That does sound like a school in and of itself.
Stroud: Bob, were you one of the participants in the comic creator’s guild?
McLeod: I was in there. That was Neal’s baby and a lot of bigger name artists like John Buscema didn’t want to get involved because they were already making a lot of money and they didn’t want to rock the boat. There had been plenty of instances in the past where artists were just hung out to dry and couldn’t get any work if they weren’t careful. So everybody was very cautious, but me being so young and naïve, I didn’t realize I had anything to lose, so I said, “Sure, sign me up.” I was all for it.
Stroud: It obviously didn’t have a lot of legs, but can you tell me how it went forth?
McLeod: Unfortunately it didn’t go forth. It was just Neal mostly and other people at Continuity trying to talk people into joining. Like any union organizer trying to explain the benefits to them and why they should do it and why they were crazy not to do it. I didn’t take any active role in that. I just joined and told people I had joined and if it came up I would try to explain what I knew about it. It really just kind of didn’t go anywhere because they couldn’t get the big guns to join.
Stroud: As far as more influential creators?
McLeod: Well, just any number of creators. There was any number of artists at DC and Marvel that just wouldn’t join, and it couldn’t work if only young nobodies were members. They had to get the Joe Kubert’s and the John Buscema’s and the Murphy Anderson’s. Whoever was big at that time. They needed all those people and they couldn’t get them.
Stroud: The attitudes of the different generations of creators is sort of interesting. It seems like the old guard, if you will, treated it as just a job.
McLeod: Well, they all would much rather have been illustrators in newspaper comics like Milt Caniff or someone of that stature and they were doing comic books because they couldn’t get their own comic strip and they couldn’t get those big magazine illustration jobs, so they drifted into comics as third rate work.
Stroud: It’s an interesting contrast to those who followed and actively sought comic book work because they loved it.
McLeod: Well, you know, when I got into the business in ’74, everyone was seriously saying comics weren’t going to be around in another five years. They were just going out of business because there wasn’t any money. There were just all kinds of problems and they were seriously predicting the demise of the industry and so again, that’s why we couldn’t get the guild off the ground, because everybody was just glad they were getting work and were scared that they’d all of a sudden not be getting any work.
Stroud: Yeah, end up black-balled because of it. Was the goal to raise page rates or get benefits or royalties or what?
McLeod: Yeah. All that. It was just to be treated with respect and get a decent wage and get some kind of medical benefits and retirement. Everything every union wants for their workers.
Stroud: I’ve picked up smatterings here and there and when I talked to Mike Netzer, he was kind of lamenting the fact that things really haven’t changed that much and that he’s still signing a contract that is in essence work for hire. The publishers are making all this money from licensing and the artists are still getting a page rate.
McLeod: Exactly. Nothing has changed at all. In fact, for this job I’m working on right now they’re paying me the same page rate they paid me about 10 years ago, so with inflation they’re paying me much less than I earned 10 years ago.
Stroud: How does the royalty system work?
McLeod: Well, you know when they installed that royalty system they said only comic books that sold over 100,000 copies will earn royalties. At the time that they did that (chuckle) almost no comics were selling that many copies, so they figured, “We’ll appease them by telling them we’ll give them royalties, but we won’t actually have to pay any royalties.” But then they started doing fancy cover things and triple versions of the same comic and all those marketing things that came along and comic sales went through the roof, suddenly almost every mainstream comic that Marvel was publishing was selling over 100,000 copies. At least for a while. But now, it’s back down to where even the X-Men are only selling 15,000 copies or whatever. Maybe 40,000, but there’s almost nothing still that’s selling 100,000 copies and as far as I know it’s still 100,000 copies as the benchmark.
Stroud: Probably. I know Len Wein remarked that when he was doing fanzines he sold more than current comic sales volumes. Do you think there’s any credibility to the notion that the lack of ownership of a character is a contributing factor?
McLeod: I don’t think that’s the case because 30 or 40 years ago comic artists were such that nobody was a businessman and nobody knew anything about what their art was worth or whatever. Like Jack Kirby got royally screwed and since Neal Adams came along and started demanding that we get our original art back and started getting money for Siegel and Shuster and all that stuff, artists know better now. You can negotiate a contract now with a character and Marvel is very willing to negotiate with you if they want that character or whatever. So you can get a more advantageous contract if you’ve got something that they think might be big.
I think the main reason that comics are in the state that they’re in is because we used to have Marvel comics and DC comics and Archie comics and Charlton and you have to think about who was after that. There were just a handful of publishers. If you go to a comic shop now you see there are hundreds of publishers and yet we’ve still got the same small percentage of the population interested in buying comics. So where they used to have only a few comics to spend their money on, now they’ve got dozens and hundreds of choices and they’ve just watered down the profits for individual publishers. Along with DC and Marvel, there are just too many other comics, and often good comics, that the fans have an option of buying rather than X-Men.
Stroud: So, saturation.
McLeod: That’s what I think. I could be wrong, too.
Stroud: It just seems like there haven’t been much in the way of exciting new characters in quite a while, though I am a bit out of touch with the newer stuff. It may be my stage in life, too. I’m not exactly the demographic they’re shooting for.
McLeod: That’s probably got something to do with it. The new characters that have been introduced for the last 10 years are so are pretty lame, but they are being created. There might be 50 new X-Men alone. (Chuckle.)
Stroud: Just what we need.
McLeod: Just in summary, the Crusty Bunkers were a really great thing. They helped a lot of us young guys get experience and get a decent page rate, and screw up and have Neal fix us. It was just an amazing experience.
Stroud: It almost seems like it was hearkening back to the old studio days that didn’t exist anymore.
McLeod: Yeah. The Iger studio and that kind of stuff.
Stroud: Precisely. It’s unfortunate that the environment doesn’t exist any longer to provide that sort of apprenticeship.
McLeod: Exactly. I didn’t apprentice with anybody, but just being in the studio, even if I just stood around and watched everybody else, I was able to learn just by being there.
Stroud: I would think that simply by being in a creative environment like that the synergy that exists had to be helpful in and of itself.
McLeod: Yeah. I would watch Jack Abel ink and of course he inked totally differently than Russ Heath would ink, who inked totally differently than Neal Adams would ink and just watching them put strokes down just really taught me a lot.
Stroud: It makes me think of when Al Plastino shared with me about being in a studio with Jack Sparling. He said it wasn’t really a competition, but Jack could apparently crank things out so fast that Al would pick up his own pace and tried to do at least as well. Your experiences sound similar and as memorable.
McLeod: It was one of the highlights of my life. I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time as I do in retrospect, but it really was a wonderful time.