SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- Comic book great Alex Ross, often-called "the Norman Rockwell of the comics world," will have his works exhibited in the Stockbridge museum that bears the late artist’s name.
Ross, who attended an opening event at the Norman Rockwell Museum earlier this month, said that Norman Rockwell influenced his unique, photorealistic renderings of superheroes such as Batman, Superman and The Avengers.
"We both hone in on trying to represent the grit of life in some detail," said Ross, in a recent telephone interview. "What made Rockwell is what shaped me."
"Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross" will be on view at the Rockwell museum from Saturday through Feb. 24, 2013.
This is the first museum exhibition celebrating Ross’ work. Organized by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the exhibition features more than 130 works including paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures from Ross’ personal collection.
The exhibition features rarely-seen works -- from his crayon drawing of Spider-Man, created when he was 4 years old, to his work for such publications as "Marvels," ‘’Justice" and "Kingdom Come."
Ross, now based in the Chicago area, has worked on the best-selling "Kingdom Come" for DC Comics and on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, which is collected in "World’s Greatest Super Heroes and Uncle Sam" for Vertigo comics.
Ross said he would like comics to be read by more people, but that doesn’t mean simply producing more comics because already "more are being put out by the major companies than there is an audience for."
Many of the current works are aimed at men in his age category, the 42-year-old artist said; the younger audience has moved on to video games and other media.
"There are legions of fans that want to see stuff evolve and grow" while comics in general is a "breeding ground for potential movie properties" and merchandising, Ross said.
But with an older audience, there is increasing sex and violence in comics. "Younger readers are used to a liberal amount of violence and edginess in the video games they play," Ross said, noting that there are mature content warnings on comic books.
What he illustrates is "largely veering away from violence because it doesn’t work for me as an entertainment tool," he said. Like anything else, "it can be run into the ground. If we develop a homogeny of excess, it loses its power."
"Heroes & Villains" pays homage to Ross’ inspirations, including original work by his mother Lynette Ross, also a successful illustrator, Frank Bez, Andrew Loomis and Rockwell. Also featured in the exhibition are works by Andy Warhol, a comic book fan, including his "Myths" series, which mirrors many of the subjects depicted in Ross’ work.
"Norman Rockwell has been one of the greatest influences on my art, and it is an enormous honor to be featured in the museum dedicated to his work," Ross has said. "I have always looked upon Rockwell’s style as the peak of what one could hope to achieve artistically. The artist’s realistic execution and eye for composition are things I aspire to, knowing that he performed a quality of work that isn’t easily achieved. It is a major career achievement for me to have my work in company with his."
Asked what is on the horizon for him, Ross replied, "I’m yearning to stretch my legs into the area of an original graphic novel."
Ross was born in Portland, Ore., in 1970 and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He was drawing TV commercials from memory at age three, and at four he began drawing images of his favorite superheroes -- Superman, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man.
By 13, he was drawing and scripting comic books, and at 17, he studied painting at the American Academy of Art in Chicago where he was influenced by Salvador Dali’s hyperrealism and by such classic American illustrators as Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.
He began his professional career as a storybook artist for an advertising agency. When he was 19 he received his first comic assignment from Marvel Comics, a comic titled "Terminator: The Burning Earth." Five years later, he created the illustrations and cover art for "Marvels," a full-feature comic book co-written by Kurt Busiek.
Ross won the Comic Buyer’s Guide Award for Favorite Painter seven times in a row, resulting in the retirement of the category.
Jeremy R. Clowe, manager of media services at Norman Rockwell Museum, first learned about Alex Ross with the publication of his four-issue limited series, "Marvels," in 1994.
"I had grown up collecting and drawing comic books but had mostly lost interest in the early 1990s as comic art began to look very samey, and the storylines a little too grim," Clowe said. "Ross’ fully painted series of books were a true wonder, and the storyline of ‘Marvels,’ told from the perspective of everyday citizens interacting with superheroes, once again light up my imagination."
A members’ opening event for the exhibition will take place on Saturday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a rare appearance by Ross, who will conduct a book signing during the evening event.
To learn more about the Norman Rockwell Museum, the exhibit and upcoming exhibit-related programs and events, visit www.nrm.org