Friday, December 02, 2005

The Original Alex Ross

Good Housekeeping Dec 53
19 more Ross images here.
The first time I told the group I was going to feature Alex Ross I know a few people thought I was talking about Alex Ross the comic book artist. Well before that Alex Ross there was this Alex Ross, and although he wasn't a comic book artist he did have a close association with a most famous comic strip artist: Alex Raymond.

Professor Armando Mendez, in his wonderfully comprehensive website examination of the photo-realistic newspaper comic strip, The Rules of Attraction, writes:

"One of the few real people to be mentioned by name in the strip was Raymond's friend and Cooper Studio artist Alex Ross. Tom Roberts, Raymond's biographer, told me Raymond envied Ross and his glamorous lifestyle, Ross being a nationally known illustrator who earned his considerable living concentrating on two staples of American magazines, glamour illustration and angelic children for Good Housekeeping and other magazines."

And speaking of Ross's "angelic children for Good Housekeeping", its still boggles my mind to think that Ross did over 130 covers for Good Housekeeping during a twelve year stretch in the 40's and 50's - surely some sort of record, and an enviable one ( or perhaps not ) to anyone in the illustration community.

Its ironic, isn't it? I've read plenty of interviews with comic artists from the fifties who talk about how they hid the fact that they were drawing comics because of the low opinion most folks had about that career during those times. Meanwhile mainstream magazine illustrators were known and admired by the general public and their peers.

Fifty years later the original Alex Ross is all but forgotten, magazine illustrators are unknown by the public and another Alex Ross is one of the most successful, well known and best paid commercial artists in the world - drawing comics.


  1. I knew this Alex Ross's work long before the new kid came along. Both of them are very impressive artists.

    I so appreciate your efforts here, Leif.

  2. Thanks, David! It might be worthwhile to note that the new very successful Alex Ross came to comics via the ad biz and still employs a very traditional commercial illustration style - so there is an interesting connection there, imo.

  3. Anonymous7:10 PM

    "best paid"? How did you come to this conclusion given the fact that the comics industry is notoriously tight lipped regarding pay?

  4. I think anyone can safely draw that conclusion, anonymous. Unlike most comic artists, who are just so grateful to be drawing the characters of their nostalgia-tinged childhood and would happily work for free, Ross comes from the hardest core of illustrators - the ad agency layout man. If you know anyone in that field you'll already know its the most lucrative and mercenary of all illustration fields. Ross exploded onto the comics scene with Marvels and has cherry-picked his projects ever since.

    Any interview I've read with Ross demonstrates that he is opinionated, strong-willed and savvy. Ad artists generally are. They give nothing away for free to clients who will make millions from their efforts.

    Ross doesn't strike me as a fool.

    And if I may pontificate for a moment the biggest millstone around the necks of comics artists is their unwillingness to speak frankly about what they earn - their employers have used this advatage against them for decades.

    My humble opinion.

  5. Anonymous9:01 PM

    I appreciate, and agree with, your frankness.
    I also know that there ain't a heck of a lot of work in the ad layout field, at least if you want to make a name for yourself.
    I think we would all be shocked by how much Alex really makes.

  6. This discussion about the pay scale for comic artists and ad artists, and the unwillingness of ad artists to "give anything away for free" makes me think of comic book artist Steve Ditko, who sat hunched over a drawing board late at night in a crummy apartment and spawned Spiderman and a host of other comic characters that became the folklore of a generation. While Ditko was paid subsistence level wages, his designs and creations (along with those of other equally underpaid artists) formed the foundation for a multi-billion dollar publishing and media empire, which in turn gave birth to panoramic blockbuster movies like Spiderman 1 and Spiderman 2. This in turn gave rise to the bitter squabbles between rapacious venture capitalists and greedy arbitrageurs like Carl Icahn. Each additional link in the chain made vastly more money than the previous link, but in the end a bunch of fabulously wealthy people who never read or appreciated a comic book in their lives left Marvel in tatters and ended up enriching only the lawyers in an endless chain of litigation. Watching all of these unhappy, angry billionaires squabbling over what he created, Ditko seemed oddly placid and unresentful. And it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Erica Jong: "In a society in which everything is for sale, in which deals and auctions make the biggest news, doing it for love is the only remaining liberty. Do it for love and you cannot be censored. Do it for love and you cannot be stopped. Do it for love and the rich will envy no one more than you. In a world of tuxedos the naked man is king. In a world of bookkeepers with spreadsheets, the one who gives it away without counting the cost is God."

  7. That's a great post, David, and a beautiful sentiment and i sincerely thank you for it. Unfortunately all the love in the world won't put a roof over the heads of my children or food on the table. And despite Ditko's seeming placidity I bet he would have liked to spend a couple of weeks at Carl Ihcahn's summer place in the Hamptons.

    I bet he would have liked to own it!

    All sarcasm aside though, I have no problem with anyone doing anything for the sheer love of doing it. Nothing could be more noble.

    In defense of comic artists: I think they are some of the most talented and underappreciated illustrators ever.

    In defense of ad artists: the best love to draw all things and everything and do it spectacularly well under stressful conditions without parallel.

    In general: commercial art is the realm of talented craftspeople who enjoy the privilege of being paid to draw - and what could be better than that?

    But to clarify my point earlier:
    "knowledge is power" is one of the simplest and truest statements ever made and as anonymous stated way back at the beginning of this discussion, the comics industry is "notoriously tight lipped regarding pay" and thus the power remains with the billionaires and Ditko remains in a crummy apartment and that's wrong, dumb and, in my opinion, criminal.

  8. True enough, Leif. I personally haven't been able to attain Ditko's level of detachment (and of course, Ditko does get worked about political philosophy and other nutty subjects). But just as Erica Jong says, you do have to stop and take notice when a comic artist (or any artist)shrugs his shoulders and says "I do what I do for my own reasons and I'm not controlled by the usual set of carrots and sticks." Robert Fawcett was another illustrator who used to turn down lucrative assignments because he didn't think they were right, or because he didn't like the interference of an art director. As he said, "it's not easy to do."

    I don't claim to be in the same category as the saints, but at least I salute them from a safe distance. Of course, it doesn't help to have all that moral freedom if you don't also have the talent to make the most of it.

  9. Mark Harris10:22 AM

    Speaking as one of the 'ad artists', I'd speculate that one of the reasons 'we' keep prices on the downlow is that although we toil in relative anonimity it does come in handy to fly below the radar. I would think that AD's, art buyers etc. that use us all have a pretty good idea where our prices fall and I would think that for the most part we're all in the same snack bracket.
    I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets when I say that we all know each other to varying degrees and communicate on a fairly regular basis about our industry. We charge more for our time, but we also have very tight deadlines and although we have to turn things around on a dime often have to wait at least 90 days to get paid.
    Try that with your plumber...

  10. Anonymous8:09 PM

    Anyone of you ever heard of Gunvar Dahlberg.. she was one of the most talented Sweedish-American cuture/fashion illustrators of the 40's.. (she is in her 90's now... perhaps in Forida)
    ...there is no info anywhere of her art...
    the handful of originals are in the hand of a Home Decor company/has the reprint rights... and very secretive... (her superior talent will fade away... you'll understand if you see her work... elegance, confidence, sophistication..)

    ANYONE???? PLEASE HELP....!!!!

  11. Sorry Eva; I can't say I've ever heard that name. Have you tried googling her? perhaps the Flodida telephone directory would turn her up. I've had good luck when searching for uncommon names like this.

    If you have any examples of her work that you could send me I would be happy to post them here... perhaps someone reading this blog will recognize her work and know how to locate her.

    Its happened before.

    Good luck - L ;-)

  12. Anonymous8:34 AM

    How much do you know about the "old" Alex Ross' work? He was my grandfather and I was talking about him last night and thought I'd google him which took me to your site?

    1. Hi I am part of the Hume family in Ohio .and related to Alex .by my grandmother the late Helen Mitchell Hume.and I have some of art that has passed down through family. Great to see your post.I was doing the same searching his name and found you .I got to meat him years ago in alliance,Ohio. Thanks

  13. Dear anonymous;

    I am VERY anxious to hear more from you about your grandfather! he is one of my favourite 50's illustrators and I've written about him here on my blog several times. I have one short article from a 1940's issue of American artist, which I had planned to reference when I once more devote a week to your grandfather's work - and it does provide a few biographical details - but I would greatly appreciate hearing MUCH more about the original Alex Ross, especially from a family member.

    You can contact me directly at this email address (replace symbols with the words in brackets):


    Thanks for writing and I sincerely hope you'll return and read this reply :^)

  14. I have two very large pieces by the original Alex Ross, could anyone tell about having them appraised for my insurance. Where to go. One of the pairin a front of a nude woman, and the other is the the back of her. Both signed in different colors. Don't know where to turn.

    1. Kathy any luck with your art work from Alex Ross.I was related to him on grandmothers side.I have some art also let me know if you found any info on his art thanks s Hume 330 614 2326 ohio

    2. Kathy any luck with your art work from Alex Ross.I was related to him on grandmothers side.I have some art also let me know if you found any info on his art thanks s Hume 330 614 2326 ohio

  15. Anonymous10:11 PM

    Hi did anyone fond out about the art for Kathy, I would be interested as I have the same prints.