INTERVIEW: With a feature film on the horizon, 'New Mutants' co-creator Bob McLeod still surprised by book's breakout success

"New Mutants" art by Bob McLeod.  (Courtesy Image)

"New Mutants" art by Bob McLeod. (Courtesy Image)

In 1982, Bob McLeod had already developed a healthy resume as an inker and penciler for the two titans of the comic book industry. 

So when he was approached to pencil an X-Men spinoff story centered around a new group of mutants, McLeod did not think too much of the gig. "New Mutants," the graphic novel, was released that January and introduced readers to Cannonball, Karma, Mirage and Wolfsbane. A year later, the first issue of the "New Mutants" ongoing series landed on spindle racks across the country. 

To McLeod's surprise, "New Mutants" became a hit with fans, who connected with the teenage angst of the book's characters. The series would run for 100 issues. (McLeod relinqhished penciling duties after the first two issues, though he remained on as inker and cover artist through issue 10.) 

Thirty-four years after their debut, a New Mutants feature film is the works from 20th Century Fox and director writer-director Josh Boone. 

"If I thought that, I would have negotiated my contact harder," McLeod joked when asked if he and writer Chris Claremont knew they had a game-changer on their hands. "It was just another job. It was special because I got to be a co-creator, but I had no idea it was going to be the fan-favorite it was, it is."

McLeod, of Emmaus, is among the guests scheduled to appear Saturday at Lehigh Valley Comic Con in North Whitehall Township. The event will be held at the Schnecksville Fire Hall. 

The Florida native said during a Nov. 23 phone interview that he enjoys meeting fans and helping out local conventions. The convention circuit provides unique interactions with attendees, McLeod said. "(Recently) a woman came running up to me, saying 'Oh my god' and gave me a hug and said she loved my work. When you get that kind of reaction from someone, it's something you don't forget," he said. "Most fans are so nice. Ninety-nine percent are so nice and such a pleasure. But you do get some strange people as well."

McLeod said the three characters he most often gets asked to draw during shows are Spider-Man, Wolverine and Cannonball. "Everybody wants a sketch of Deadpool now," he said. 

McLeod got his start in the 1973 working in Marvel Comic's production department -- a job he landed thanks to the recommendation of superstar artist Neal Adams. By the mid-1980s, McLeod's credits included "Avengers," "X-Men," "Black Panther," "Spider-Woman" and "Amazing Spider-Man." In 1987, he served as inker on the influential Spider-Man storyline "Kraven's Last Hunt," in which the titular hero is captured, seemingly killed and buried alive by the villain Kraven the Hunter. The latter then assumes Spider-Man's identity to prove he is the superior of the two men.

Later in the decade, McLeod made the move to DC. There, he worked on such titles as "Wonder Woman," "Superman" and "Action Comics." During that tenure, McLeod penciled the issue of "Action Comics" (No. 662) in which Superman reveals that he and Clark Kent are one and the same to Lois Lane. He also lent his talents to the "Superman: The Wedding Album" comic book. 

Having spent a number of years leaving his mark on the Man of Steel, McLeod said he does not care for the grim and grittier incarnations of Superman.

"My ideal Superman, I don't know if it's nostalgia, but I really enjoyed George Reeves from the '50s TV show. To me, that is the proper way to do Superman," he said. "I don't think darkness is appropriate for his character. If you look at Superman, he really is like a god, he really is all powerful. If you take him too literally, there is no way you can have him interact on a personal level."

McLeod also lamented how much the comic book industry has changed since he broke into the business, noting the impact of computer technology and digital lettering and inking. He said there was a looser, friendlier and less corporate atmosphere in those days.

"When direct marketing came in, that totally changed the business in a variety of ways. It just keeps changing over and over again to where today it's almost unrecognizable," he said. "Now, it's much more dependent on coloring for a lot of the stuff we used to try and do in the inks."

Looking back, he said his favorite professional work was Marvel's humor and satire magazine "Crazy." "I grew up as a humor artist. I'm much more inclined toward humor, so some of the early work I did on the 'Crazy' magazine was some of my favorite work," he said. "But nobody cares for that stuff."

Asked if there was a specific series or character he would do differently if given the opportunity, McLeod said he would revisit all of them. "I'm a perfectionist, so I know more about storytelling and figure drawing than I did early on. Whenever I draw something, I try to do it better than I did 30 years ago," he said. "I'd like to go back and redo almost all of it. Certainly the first five or six years of my career."

McLeod recently returned to his Marvel roots by creating variant covers for "Secret Wars," "Death of X" and "Captain America Steve Rogers." However, he said the assignments are occasionally pitched to him and not a guarantee from month to month. "They (Marvel) kind of surprised me, offering me these once in a while," he said. 

In the meantime, McLeod continues to do commissions and other comic book work. He would ultimately like to take a break from the medium, if time allows. "I was always so rushed on everything I did," he said. "I'd like to do some painting, still-life or landscape, and experiment with colors."

Lehigh Valley Comic Con is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Schnecksville Fire Hall, 4550 Old Packhorse Road, N. Whitehall Twp. Admission costs $5, $4 with college ID. Admission is free for children ages 12 and under.