Bob McLeod On Creating The New Mutants, His New Marvel Project & More [Interview]

There was a time, even long before the movies helped make superheroes truly mainstream, that the "X-Men" was one of the biggest titles in the world of comics. A great deal of that had to do with writer Chirs Claremont's downright legendary run with the book throughout the '70s and '80s. And what does any major franchise do when it gets extremely popular? That's right, a spin-off! The time for that spin-off finally arrived in 1982 and took the form of "The New Mutants," a book that Claremont co-created with a then relatively unknown artist by the name of Bob McLeod.

It's hard to emphasize just how big of a deal "The New Mutants" was at the time as the first spin-off within the mutant-centric franchise. At the time, McLeod was just getting his feet under him at Marvel and was offered a choice: draw the "X-Men" or take on this new spin-off. In the end, he chose to carve a new path and, in the process, etched himself into the history books.

I recently had the chance to speak with McLeod during Phoenix Fan Fusion in Arizona. Even though he is mostly retired from mainstream comics now, we discussed his reaction to 2020's "New Mutants" movie, the "Kraven the Hunter" project he's got going on, and much more.

'We also have this new book that we're considering, a spinoff of the X-Men'

First and foremost, we've had a pretty interesting few years. How do you feel actually being back at a show with fans and everything like this now?

I started doing shows several months ago. It's been great. You know? It's always wonderful meeting the fans. They're always so nice. This is kind of the only thing I'm doing comic-related right now. I'm not really working in the business so much anymore, even though I do occasional variant covers for Marvel and I'm working on a little job this summer for them. But I'm basically retired from comics. So it's nice to still have this connection to my career just once a month or so.

Obviously, "New Mutants" is your big calling card. So I think what a lot of people don't realize is that was the first "X-Men" spinoff, I believe.


And if I'm correct, at the time, you had the chance to go do "X-Men" and you opted to do that instead. Can you talk a little bit about that decision?

Yeah. It was very fortunate timing for me. I had only done a few fill-in penciling jobs before that. Then I did those two "X-Men" issues, #151 and #152. The "X-Men" artists left around that time and they needed somebody else, and everybody was so busy. There weren't a lot of people they could ask. So Chris [Claremont] liked my work, the editor liked my work, and it was just the perfect timing. So they offered me to be the "X-Men" penciller. And I said, "Great, I love The X-Men. That'll be fantastic."

Especially at that time too. Because I mean, that's like prime "X-Men."

Prime "X-Men." I was very excited to do it. I did those two issues and was having a great time. Then it's just kind of as an aside, they said, "We also have this new book that we're considering, a spinoff of the X-Men. It'd be a younger team of X-Men and we haven't got a title yet. It's being formed and you could be co-creator on that title." And so, oh geez. I kind of really wanted to draw the "X-Men." I didn't know seriously at that time if this other book was going to go anywhere. It might be canceled a year later. Who knows? It was just kind of a gamble. But then again, I'd probably never be asked to be co-creator again. So I kind of felt I better not pass up that opportunity. I really wanted to draw the "X-Men."

I think especially when you're playing in a gigantic sandbox like that, usually, you're like, "Okay, I might get to go play with these toys." But it's Marvel. And if that thing works, then you are in the history books forever.

Exactly. Then again, would I ever get another chance to draw the "X-Men?" You never know. This business can be so fickle. So it's always tough to decide what to work on. And I had the good fortune to have a lot of jobs offered to me at a certain period. I was in the band. This job can be incredible, and other times very stressful and difficult. But overall, I was very lucky.

'There's ageism in the business.'

You mentioned you do your variant covers and stuff here and there, but you're not so much in mainstream comics anymore. Was that a conscious decision on your part? Or what made you get out of it?

A little of both. There's ageism in the business. So the editors would rather work with younger artists. I guess maybe they're a little uncomfortable telling someone my age how to do their job. So they might be more comfortable with younger artists that they can say, "We want you to do it this way," and whatever. So there's some ageism involved. It got to a point where they weren't calling me up. I would have to call them up and say, "You got anything available?" It got to the point where I was calling editor after editor, looking for work. I figured after 40 years in the business, I shouldn't have to do that.


So I just started looking around for other things I could do. That's when I wrote my ABC book and I started working for a Swedish publisher, doing "The Phantom," I did that for a couple years. I started doing tee-shirt designs, just various other things instead of Marvel in DC. Then after a little while, the convention circuit kind of built up. There were more and more conventions all the time. That became more enjoyable and profitable than actually doing the comics. So I didn't miss doing the interior comics as much as I thought I would. I ended up being happy doing other things. Then it got to a point where I was just about ready to retire. You know? I got old to a certain age where I didn't really want to do that much work anymore.

Yeah. You get to that point.

I mean, right now, I spend most of my life doing black and white artwork for the comics. I want to do some painting, just either landscapes or still lifes or maybe some fantasy comic-related stuff, but I'd rather do some color for a change.

'Let's have more women on the team'

Totally. So circling back to "New Mutants." Another thing I find fascinating about that is, at the time, you had more women on the team than men. That was a very forward-thinking.

That was my decision.

What made you do that?

Chris was known for his women characters.


And from my memory, I don't know if Chris remembers it the same way, I remember thinking, "I like to draw girls, you like to write girls, let's have more women on the team." Because up until then there was like a token female in every group. So I said, "Why don't we have actually more women on the team than men?" And Chris thought it was a good idea too, so that's what we went with.

That's awesome. I know you weren't a huge fan of the movie. Not to dig into that too much, but having co-created the team and done these things, you might have had your expectation when they said they were going to make the movie. What would you have liked to have seen done? If they had asked you for some input, what would you have done with the film?

I mean, outside of the comic fans, the general public didn't know who "The New Mutants" were. So I really think they should have done an origin story. Like, the beginning of the graphic novel, I thought was great, the way Chris introduced each one of the characters. I think that could have been a good movie, starting the same way we did. But just some kind of more of an origin, introducing them to the public. I mean, the horror slant is interesting. Because maybe some horror fans would watch it that wouldn't normally otherwise, maybe bring some new fans in. That's fine. I wasn't totally against that. It's just, I didn't think it was the best way to go, but I was just happy that they were making a movie of something I had something to do with, and maybe I would see a little money.


But you can look. I don't see anything that I contributed to the book in the movie, except maybe more girls on the team. I mean, none of the characters look the way I designed them to look. Then again, Magik, who I had nothing to do with, looks spot on, like she does in the comics. You know? So that's basically what I had against the movie.

'This business from the beginning has not been fair to the creators'

There have been people speaking out. Ed Brubaker's been pretty vocal about Marvel being a little stingy. How do you feel about the notion of these movies are making millions and millions of dollars, and a lot of times the creators are not getting a cut? I don't know what your situation is with it, but do you have any thoughts on that at all?

This business from the beginning has not been fair to the creators. There are just countless stories, well-known stories, where we had to fight for everything. I had to go back to Marvel. Not me personally, but we got lawyer and had him do business with Marvel and went back four times renegotiating, trying to get more money out of them. Finally, I got money that I was happy with. It's pennies compared to the money they make off the movies. Now, this was a Fox movie, not a Marvel Disney movie.


So I don't know how much money it ended up making and it came out during COVID so nobody could go see it. It was a mess from start to finish basically. In general, these movies are making millions. Why can't they just throw a little more money to the creators? Because they don't have to basically.

Right. But to me, it just feels like, especially at the Disney level, do what's right. You know?

That's not their mindset.

It is not. You mentioned you're mostly out of mainstream comics right now. Is there anything where Marvel might come to you, could you imagine going back to do something? Or do you just feel comfortable not being in it anymore?

I mean, this summer, I mentioned I'm going to be doing a little eight-page job that I'm penciling and inking for Marvel. I didn't seek that out. They emailed me and asked me if I'd want to do it. I'm not going to turn Marvel down necessarily, because everybody in the world wants to work for Marvel Comics. I feel very privileged that they would ask me to work for them. So it's not what I'm looking to do. I'm not going to go looking for more work from any comic publisher. But like I say, I feel like I can't really turn them down. I'm happy being retired.

No pressure, but can you say anything about what you're doing this summer?

I haven't gotten a script yet. So there's not really much I can say about it. It features a character that I'm connected to. I don't know if they want me spreading it around. I mentioned it in the panel I was just in. So I guess I can tell you. It's Kraven the Hunter.

Oh, hell yeah.

So, different than you might expect. That's all I can say really right now.

That's awesome. Well, I know they're making the Kraven movie right now.

That's probably why. I don't know anything about the Kraven movie, but maybe that's why the timing is what it is.