A brilliant artist from cover to cover: an interview with Brian Bolland, part2.
Part2 of our exclusive interview, and Brian Bolland talks about the comics masterpiece The Killing Joke, how it was to work with Alan Moore on this groundbreaking graphic novel, and also “grim & gritty” comics and editorial censorship.
Wellington Srbek: The original idea for a Batman and Joker special story was yours, and it was also you who suggested the name of Alan Moore as the writer for what came to be The Killing Joke. So, how it was to work with Mr. Moore on this groundbreaking graphic novel?
Brian Bolland: The first half of your question is correct. After Camelot I was in a position to do whatever I wanted for DC. Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Dave Gibbons, Mick McMahon, etc. were all friends from the 2000 AD days. Alan and I had a couple of projects that we nearly worked on together, one of which was a Batman / Judge Dredd book. So I'd already seen parts of a script by him containing Batman. Alan and Dave had just had a big hit with Watchmen. I was fascinated by the Joker. I'd seen the 1920s film The Man Who Laughs from which, they say, Jerry Robinson got the idea. Alan asked me what sort of thing I wanted to draw.
Back in those days (and still today for me, actually) the business of writing comics and drawing comics were completely separate. The writer sat at home writing. The script was sent to the artist who would draw it - and neither would interfere with the other's process. That's the way it was with The Killing Joke. So if you ask "how was it to work with Alan?" my answer is: I asked Alan to write it. He wrote it. I drew it.
WS: The Killing Joke was a Batman comic like no other before. It was the Joker origin story told for the first time. It was realistically violent and insane, and it was in part responsible for the “grim & gritty” trend that dominated super-hero comics in the late 80s early 90s. But despite all the violence and terrible scenes, The Killing Joke has the most beautiful and detailed Batman artwork. What are your feelings about this amazing book?
BB: When the script came it did contain things that I wouldn't have had in it if I'd written it. I personally would never have told a Joker origin for instance. But looking at it later I can now see that the bits I wouldn't have included look pretty iconic today. I sometimes think that us artists from Britain who'd been in 2000 AD brought the "Grim & Gritty" with us when we went to work for DC.
WS: The first Brazilian edition of Camelot 3000 had a Tristan and Isolde scene censored by the editors here. And it seems that the DC editors did something like that to one of The Killing Joke pages, replacing (or asking you to replace) the naked breasts of Barbara Gordon by a close-up of her face. Have you ever had any problems with editorial censorship?
BB: I've never had PROBLEMS with editorial censorship. Somebody at DC must have mentioned that Barbara Gordon scene. I changed the one panel and I thought it improved it. I'm aware of all kinds of things you can't put on a cover. Nudity is out. I once drew a Robin cover that had some Greek statues in the background that I copied from photos. Between them the statues had five visible nipples. All were whited out! I once drew a Batman cover that had Batman smoking a cigar. Well, it was Hugo Strange with beard, dressed as Batman smoking a cigar. I couldn't do it. Maybe they rejected it in favor of another idea but I assume there are various unwritten rules that you can't cross and Batman cannot be seen smoking. And there are legal issues. I once drew a Batman cover that had what appeared to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan sitting on a horse. We had to add a logo on his chest to show that he belonged to some other white supremacist organization because the Ku Klux Klan have lawyers who might sue!
In August 2009 I'm off to a convention in Singapore. For the occasion we're printing a book containing some of my penciled prelim roughs. It turns out, unfortunately, that quite a few of the drawings, including my favorite Tank Girl roughs, can't be included because of the very conservative stance of the authorities in that country. I assume my books Bolland Strips! and The Art of Brian Bolland won't be on sale there for the same reason.
WS: After giving us the definitive Joker in The Killing Joke, we haven’t seen many stories drawn by you. What are the reasons for this?
BB: Well, after The Killing Joke, I had a lot of work offered to me. I had to turn much of it down but people would say "Could you just do the cover." Doing covers meant that, just that one time, I could draw a whole lot of characters that I wouldn't otherwise draw. In summer 1988 I went off on what I thought would be a long trip round the Far East so I wasn't able to commit to long term work. Also, Having worked with the best writer and having been given as much time as I wanted to pencil and ink myself I didn't want to take a backward step. Since Alan I haven't drawn a significant story by any other writer. Except for ME. I did write and draw "An Innocent guy" in Batman Black & White, "The Kapas" in Strange Adventures and "The Princess & the Frog" in (was it called?) True Romance. Also Mr. Mamoulian and The Actress & the Bishop. But more on that later.
Next: Animal Man, The Invisibles, beautiful covers, funny strips, gorgeous women, and a lot more!