The origin of painter Alex Ross and editor/designer Chip Kidd's new "Rough Justice" coffee table book – in stores this week from Pantheon – came from a very simple idea: Ross was sitting on a wealth of unseen DC Comics sketch material that he didn't want to get in trouble for sharing with fans. "There was an editor at DC who I was talking to about doing a formal sketchbook as opposed to all the illegal ones we see done every year at San Diego. I said, 'Can we do this for real as opposed to you guys potentially suing me?'" the painter laughed while telling CBR News about "Rough Justice."
"We set up a deal with Pantheon who were interested in picking it up. And Chip, who I obviously had a great relationship with before from the 'Mythology' book, turned this into a project for them. So this is filled with much of what was stuff behind the scenes from the last five years of my work with DC in terms of stuff that was developed but didn't reach fruition – a lot of designs for covers, characters and what not that happened over the last few years that for whichever reasons couldn't find a proper outlet. This is now that outlet."
As Wednesday-dedicated comic book fans know, Ross and DC have shared a strong collaborative relationship in the latter half of the previous decade – one that saw Ross painting covers for marquee titles like Grant Morrison's "Batman" and the New Krypton arc of the Superman titles, co-plotting and drawing issues of the "Justice Society of America" series and designing new looks for characters ranging from Batwoman to Nightwing and Flamebird. The artist explained that all of these projects come to bear in the new book, along with many more projects readers may not be aware of. "The very cover for 'Rough Justice' is one of those covers I never got commissioned to do for 'Superman.' It's sort of a grab bag of bit, but there was a lot of enthusiasm there for things I was hoping to contribute to DC's line of comics and characters as well as examples of things we saw redesigned and reconfigured in the last few years where I was part of the conversation at one point, trying to throw my best hand into it. Now you can see what didn't get used."
"Rough Justice" marks the second collaboration between Ross and Kidd after the 2005 "Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross." However, unlike that look back at Ross' entire history with the denizens of the DCU, the new book puts more focus on the current creative process for the painter, often based on his own ideas for what fans might be interested in. "From the things I was foisting on [Kidd] to include in the book, he was pulling things out to assemble what he thought would make a good book," Ross said. "I pushed him on including a few other things that were left out. Then I wrote up some notes that occupy the predominant part of the book's text. So you get to hear my thought process to a limited degree – which is probably a good thing from me as I tend to get needlessly verbose if allowed to be. That's why it's a good thing I'm not online, because I would be one of those annoying people that can't stop talking and would love to hear the sound of his own meanderings."
One worry the artist didn't have was not being able to pull together enough material for "Rough Justice" as "usually the stuff from the last five years or so I have a pretty good grasp of and good organization of. It gets hard when there's things from deeper in the past that we have to dig up and see what came before that may never have been seen. I've got – I don't know how many years of history with DC Comics. I've got close to 18 years, I guess, of work with them, and there's quite a lot you can peel back through. We have a bit of a token section towards Kingdom Come where we go, 'You know it's my big thing, so here are some sketches you haven't seen before...now let's get to the new stuff!'" Ross joked.
In all seriousness, the artist's landmark comic looking into a dark future for the DCU was perhaps more relevant to his work in recent years than it had been since completing "Kingdom Come" in 1996. "I think that it'll feel like it's right between all those things because I did spend the last several years with DC working on an homage to/reinterpretation of 'Kingdom Come' via 'Justice Society of America' with Geoff Johns. It all comes together in this book where you see a bit of the past and how that connects to my planning for the present."
Though aside from the familiar territory covered in the new volume, Ross promised that there were more than a few "ones that got away" in terms of all new ideas and projects that never made it through to a final comic book form. "One word: Batboy," teased the painter. "Some artwork was created specifically to be put into this volume for things that were little mental pebbles of mine that I toyed with and maybe mentioned in a proposal but didn't make a full effort at. This is now the vehicle to get those thoughts out there."
In fact, what struck Ross most about putting the book together was that unlike other art projects which have drawn from sketches and roughs that very closely resembled his final painted pages, the items in "Rough Justice" were wildly different than what were seen as finished pieces. "Because I was getting involved with the mainstream DCU, there was more of a chance to get rejected and more things that would get thrown into a pile and ultimately never get revisited as a character concept or design. So I'm not used to having this many things left over. It wound up being an oddity of the last five years having so many things thrown to the writers I worked with from cover compositions never used on 'Superman' or 'Batman' to character designs for the company as a whole. Then you have a few that did make it like when I designed Batwoman – you get to see the process for how that happened and what that came from. That was designed for something totally different and then got drafted in the pursuit of creating a new character."
"Rough Justice" – written and drawn by Ross and edited and designed by Chip Kidd – hits book and comic stores this week from Pantheon.