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Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross
edited by Chip Kidd
Pantheon, 256 pages

Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross
Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and writer living in New York City and Stonington, Connecticut. His first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His first book, Batman Collected, was awarded the Design Distinction award from ID magazine. He is the co-author and designer of the two-time Eisner award-winning Batman Animated. He is the editor-at-large for Pantheon. He has also written about graphic design and popular culture for McSweeney's, Vogue, The New York Timesand others. His book jacket designs for Alfred A. Knopf (where he is associate art director) have helped spawn a revolution in the art of American book packaging.

Chip Kidd Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'My enthusiasm for illustrating Superman has been the driving force behind my many years at DC, as well as the focus to my entire career. There are very few things I am as inspired about as the physical, unspoken graphic symbology of this character.'
Rough Justice is primarily a sketchbook, providing a sumptuous overview of Alex Ross at work, including the mechanics of his technique, and insights detailing his creative thought processes. The artwork itself is mostly comprised of greyscale pencil and ink drawings, plus some colour works, the quality of which varies between basic and finely crafted concept pieces. As those familiar with his work will already suspect, the content is heavily dominated by images of Superman. The other major inclusions here are Batman, Kingdom Come and Justice. Detailed artists notes throughout reveal how various works evolved, and include a number of deleted scenes plus aborted projects. Some of the latter cover fascinating proposals for the reinvention and literal re-imaging of several characters, among them Shazam, and the imagined son of Batman.

Like a handful of comic book artists before him, the sheer quality of Ross's photo-realistic work has elevated him to legendary status. It was refreshing to find via the commentary element of this book that, unlike some of his predecessors, he has remained a humble man grateful for his talent and all it has brought. Ross also comes across as someone who is without rancour toward opportunity denied, or potentially fruitful avenues that remained closed. Rough Justice does more than present a selection of Ross's unpublished sketches, it maps out a pivotal time in the life and career of someone with a burning passion, who did not compromise when it came to quality. Of particular note are the drawings from 2008, when Ross became the first DC artist ever to provide simultaneous cover work for both Batman and Superman. The basis for those designs are included here, along with versions that were rejected either by editors or by himself. I was particularly taken with a full page pencil work depicting Captain Marvel, from Ross's JSA period. The brooding nobility and troubled thoughts evident in this depiction -- of a Superman alternate -- says more about the character than some writers can manage in an entire issue. Perhaps the most startling element, for those who already own comics depicting Ross's finished paintings, are the differences between that work and its preliminary sketches. Both exude realism and intensity, but the sketch work somehow feels closer to the bone, and because of that, closer to the artist himself.

Rough Justice reminded me that the world of comic books would be a poorer place without Alex Ross, and those whose work he has inspired or enhanced. I can recommend the book not only to established fans of his work, but also to any budding comic book artist who wants to see exactly how a master goes about his craft.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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