At the dawn of 1982, there was only one ongoing ‘X-Men’ comic. Nigh unfathomable though it may be to a modern audience (just try to remember the last time there were less than five monthly X-titles), that was the way of the world. But all of that was about to change. ‘X-Men’ had been exploding in popularity ever since Chris Claremont took over the writing chores seven years earlier. Ever eager to strike while the iron is hot, Marvel set about assembling a spinoff. By year’s end, ‘The New Mutants’ would arrive in shops everywhere. Following a junior team of X-Men and returning to the notion that the Xavier Institute is, in fact, a school, ‘The New Mutants’ introduced readers to the next generation of mutantkind.
At the recent Wizard World Philadelphia convention, we had the great privilege of sitting down with Bob McCleod, the artist who co-created the New Mutants with Chris Claremont and who penciled and inked both the early issues of the series and the graphic novel that introduced the team. In the course of our conversation, we touched on the creation and development of the book’s cast and even some of Mr. McCleod’s hopes for the upcoming film adaptation.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Your first foot in the door as far as ‘X-Men’ is concerned was a pair of issues (‘Uncanny X-Men #151’ and ‘Uncanny X-Men #152’) that you guest-penciled. How did that come about? Was that more of a fill in or was there talk of you taking over the book full time?
Well, both. I did issue 151. Jim Sherman had started that issue and for whatever reason he couldn’t finish it. So they needed someone to take over. He had done some layouts for some pages, hadn’t started at all on other pages. Some were just half penciled. So they needed someone to finish up that issue and I was just in the right place at the right time. Might’ve actually been in the editor’s office and said “Yeah, I can do that.” So they gave me that issue and they liked the way that I finished up that issue, and gave me the next issue. And so I penciled the next issue, and they really liked that. And so they said “You can stay on and be the regular inker on the ‘X-Men’, but we also have this spinoff book we want to do of a younger team. Haven’t got a title for it yet, but you could be co-creator on that book.” And it was a really tough decision, because I wanted to draw the ‘X-Men’ and I didn’t know if this other book was going to go anywhere. But I said “Well, co-creator. How can I turn that down?” So I ended up taking ‘The New Mutants’.
And can you tell us a bit about the early development of the New Mutants? About fleshing out the concept and the cast?
Yeah, so Chris Claremont had some names for the characters that he was working on, he had some ideas for their powers. Nothing was really nailed down. He was still kind of trying to decide which characters he was going to use. He had some that we didn’t use. And he had no idea of course what they were going to look like, whether they’d have their own costumes or it’d be a school uniform, or how many would be on the team or anything like that. But they had the idea for the book and Chris had some ideas before they ever brought me on board. And I said, “Well, every other superhero team has more guys and like, a token female. Let’s have more girls than guys on the team.” And so that was my idea, and Chris liked that. We didn’t know if Sunspot, for example, was going to be a short guy and then grow like the Hulk when he used his powers. We didn’t do that because we figured there’s already the Hulk. And we didn’t know if Cannonball was going to be a big, muscular guy or the way I drew him, kind of tall and lanky. All these decisions… Chris had no idea what the characters where going to look like, so that was all up to me. Then the editor and Chris and I kind of jointly agreed that we liked the idea of school uniforms instead of individual costumes. And the name of the book, we were gonna call it ‘The Mutants’. Stan’s original title for ‘X-Men’ was ‘The Mutants’. But there were already mutants around, so… I don’t know who came up with ‘The New Mutants’. I never really liked that name. [laughs] But I couldn’t think of anything better, so we went with ‘The New Mutants’.
And speaking of the development of the cast and how they were sort of half realized when you came into the picture, were there any that you were especially involved with developing? I know you mentioned Cannonball and Sunspot.
Probably those two, the most. Dani Moonstar was just a Native American. So you know, I came up with how she looked and everything about her, but basic Native American. Rahne was a Scottish girl. She was originally going to be Iranian, and then Chris changed her name and made her Scottish. But nothing special about those two. But Cannonball and Sunspot I did more sketches about how they might look, making Sunspot grow big or not. The fact that he was going to be short was kind of my idea, a little short muscular guy. And then to make Cannonball this… My image of a coal miner was someone who was thing and tall and you know, kind of awkward, socially, maybe. So it’s kind of hard to nail down exactly what Chris did and what I did, but we talked together quite a bit.
And the original cast of the book, they all have very distinct designs. Both in terms of their general looks and the visual gimmicks that are associated with their powers. Were there any of those that you particularly enjoyed drawing?
I enjoyed drawing all of them. What I tried to do… My original influence was Mort Drucker, who did the movie satires and caricatures in ‘Mad Magazine’. And so I grew up really looking for what makes people individuals, instead of a stereotype, like Superman or Wonder Woman. So when I drew the New Mutants I wanted them to look like real people, young teenage kids that just happened to have these powers. So I didn’t want them to be, necessarily, good looking people. Just average people. And I got criticized for that after the book came out. They said “Well, these are the ugliest heroes we’ve seen in a while.” You can’t please everybody, but I just thought they should be people rather than a classic, good looking cast. You know, where everybody’s six feet tall and beautiful.
I know what you mean when you talk about the individuality. I’m a big fan of Steve Ditko, for example, but all of his women kind of look the same.
Yeah. That was kind of the way it was. John Byrne. I love John’s art, but all of his women would kind of look the same with different hair color. It’s actually easier for me to draw people looking different all the time than to draw the same face over and over. I like coming up with different shaped noses, different sized noses. You know, different proportions on the face. Some people might have a short chin or a long chin or whatever, and that’s what’s fun for me. Making up these proportions on a face. So many artists just do these classic, stereotypical-type faces that look the same with different hair color.
And after all these years of ‘X-Men’ movies, the New Mutants are finally coming to the big screen. Is there anything you’re particularly eager to see come to life? Whether it’s a visual element or more of an “Oh man, I can’t wait to see Rahne!”
Well, I am glad that they’re giving Rahne kind of spiky hair. Because the rest of them aren’t really following my look. Dani doesn’t have her braids in the little trailer I saw. Same Guthrie… Yeah, I like that actor, Charlie Heaton, but he’s not tall and Roberto’s not short. So they’re not using my designs very much, but at least they got Rahne with the little spikes. I would like it if Rahne was red haired.
For more from Bob McCleod, including prints and commissions, check out his website.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for the latest news on ‘The New Mutants’ and other upcoming ‘X-Men’ movies as it becomes available!