Given the scope of commissioned artworks in my collection today, it’s almost unfathomable to think that as recently as 12 years ago this month, I’d never commissioned a single piece of art. In fact, there was a time exactly that recently when I wasn’t even aware that it was possible to commission an artwork directly from a professional comic book artist. Or perhaps more accurately, I was vaguely aware that such a thing was possible, but not at such a level that I myself might do it.
All of that changed with a single artwork.
I don’t remember at this late date exactly how I ended up at Bob McLeod‘s website in September 2004. What I do recall is that I had been reading interviews online with various Silver and Bronze Age comic artists, and a couple of them mentioned doing commissions. I presume one of those artists was Bob McLeod, because he was the first artist I approached. Bob had been the inker on a classic run of Black Panther stories in the early 1970s, so I asked him to draw the King of Wakanda for me. My experience with Bob — and my delight in the artwork he created — was such that I quickly commissioned more pieces from other artists.
And, as you know by now, friend reader, the rest is history.
You can understand why I was thrilled to learn that Bob would be a guest at the inaugural San Francisco Comic Con. Here came the opportunity to meet not only a favorite artist, but indeed, the artist whose work sparked my entire commission collection.
It also occurred to me that even though Bob has done a few other commissions for me over the years, I’d never asked him to contribute to my signature theme, Common Elements. To be honest, I don’t quite know how Common Elements grew to its present volume of more than 130 pieces without Bob drawing at least one. I think it’s most likely that I simply forgot that there wasn’t a McLeod in there somewhere. But SFCC presented the chance to rectify this long-standing omission, and Bob filled the gap with his customary aplomb.
As with my very first commission, I chose for Bob’s Common Elements assignment a character with whom he was previously associated. Sam Guthrie — code name Cannonball — was a founding member of the New Mutants, the third-generation X-Men squad that Bob co-created with writer Chris Claremont. The New Mutants marked the first of several attempts by Marvel — Generation X and Excalibur were others — to rekindle the fire unleashed by the original (Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, Beast, and Iceman) and second-generation (Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, et al.) X-Men.
Sam’s unique power set combined the ability to fly with missile-like propulsion and an impenetrable force field that protected him from anything he might run into while flying. Indeed, he might have been known as the Human Rocket if… well… Marvel didn’t already have a character like that. (See: Nova, the Human Rocket.) A kindhearted country boy from rural Kentucky, Cannonball gradually overcame his shy, aw-shucks persona to become the leader of the New Mutant team.
Paired with Cannonball here is the vintage Charlton Comics hero, Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt. No, seriously — that’s how his name appeared on the masthead of his eponymous comic book back in 1966. (Marvel may have been inspired by that title years later, when they debuted the second Spider-Man series: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.) Thunderbolt’s gimmick was that he had been trained by Tibetian monks in the exercise of mind over matter, basically a twist on the old trope about humans only using a small percentage of our potential brainpower. He didn’t, therefore, have true superpowers, but he could operate at the absolute maximum level of human ability (sort of like Captain America, without the super-soldier serum).
Like all of the former Charlton characters, Thunderbolt eventually got absorbed into the DC Comics universe. DC never did much with him, aside from a few scattered supporting appearances (most notably in Crisis on Infinite Earths) and a short-run solo series. However, Alan Moore famously used Thunderbolt and several other former Charlton heroes as inspirational jumping-off points for the main characters in Watchmen; the villain in that series, Ozymandias, was partially based on Peter Cannon. Like Thunderbolt, Adrian Veidt had no superhuman abilities, but had trained himself to exploit 100% of his mind and body’s natural capacity.
It was a genuine treat to meet Bob McLeod in person and pick up his latest creation from him directly. Almost as great: reuniting him with the very first piece he ever created for me, almost exactly a dozen years after it was originally commissioned.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.