A brilliant artist from cover to cover: an interview with Brian Bolland, part3.
Last part of our exclusive interview, and Brian Bolland talks about drawing DC super-heroes, the fantastic Animal Man and The Invisibles covers, his personal projects, funny strips, gorgeous women and a lot more.
Wellington Srbek: Nobody draws DC characters better than you! Your detailed style with classic lines and bright colors gives them volume, weight, personality and life. It has something of the “Silver Age” and at the same time is completely modern. Do you have a conceptual approach to how super-heroes should look like?
Brian Bolland: Well, I grew up as a Silver Age fan and certain artists from that era were my idols. Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Alex Toth, Bruno Premiani. I never got into Jack Kirby I'm afraid. I was more a fan of the artists than of the characters and keener on the comics as collectable artifacts than of the stories. I seriously wanted to draw like Neal Adams but never managed it. I'm a stickler for art that's technically and anatomically well drawn but I realize there has to be much more than that. I don't think I'm particularly good at super-heroes. My work looks rather European in that I'm happier with characters that are still, poised or frozen in time rather than the kinetic action that's required from American super-hero comics. I do get asked occasionally to re-create a Silver-age cover and draw in the style of Premiani, Kane or Curt Swan. (They're more swipes really!) I do love the cleanness and the unclutteredness of the 60s covers.
WS: I simply love your Animal Man covers! They are powerful and meaningful images that add a lot to the stories. The #5 cover for instance is a masterpiece! How was the creative process on that series? Did you read the scripts and come up with the concepts for the covers?
BB: Thanks. I much prefer story-specific covers as opposed to the generic poster shot. I despair when and editor says "just do an action shot." I reply "Yes, but what exactly is it they're doing?!" I always thought 2000 AD had a mixture of action, horror and comedy that worked very well and I wasn't seeing quite that combination in American comics at the time. I'm happy with that combination and the Animal Man covers allowed me to do that. If I remember correctly I usually had a script to read for the covers. I went along and put stars on the pages of script where something was happening that I thought would make a cover. Quite often I was coming up with ideas that meant something to me that probably wouldn't have been noticed. Cover #39 for instance is my homage to the cover of House of Mystery #1 from 1951. #45 is a spoof or a re-cycling of the cover of the Eagle Judge Dredd #1. My absolute favorite is Animal Man #25.
WS: Your covers to The Invisibles series are aesthetically and technically different from your Animal Man covers. What were the main challenges working on that complex Grant Morrison’s series?
BB: The first challenge was the fact that the scripts weren't available. Soon I actually liked that and the covers took on a life of their own. They were a combination of what editor Shelly Roeberg wanted, what Grant wanted (when she could get him on the phone) and whatever idea popped into my mind. The last 12 were just me letting my mind run free. Especially the final trade paperback covers. I could analyse each cover and point out all the secrets hidden in them but it would take a whole book.
WS: Your artwork is well known for the detailed drawings, the beautiful black & white contrasts and textures, the intense facial expressions, the strong compositions and so on… What has changed on your creative process now that you don’t produce “real artwork” on paper anymore?
BB: The only thing that's changed is technical. The computer is just a means of achieving what I would have wanted anyway. I'm extremely happy to leave behind all the treacherous tools like brushes, pens, airbrushes and all the paints, inks and acrylics. All of which had to be washed. Now I can pencil and ink without any problems and I have some extra perks like tracing occasionally. Photo-collage when I want it.
WS: Besides amazing super-heroes, you also draw the most gorgeous women and some very funny strips. But this is a side of your work that is less known, so please tell your Brazilian fans something about The Actress & The Bishop and Mr. Marmoulian.
BB: Mr. Mamoulian came as a reaction to the time I was spending on my drawings and my obsession about drawing well. My slow speed was preventing ideas tumbling out at a quicker rate. So I decided I'd draw a page in two hours and the title character came from the first page I drew. But it took on a life of its own and now I spend longer drawing it. My only concession is that I only draw it when I feel like it. The Actress & the Bishop grew from a single plate I did in my portfolio for French publishers Editions Deesse. I wanted to write it and draw it as well as I could. It had a particular Englishness about it and to counter the fact that people might think from its title that it would be pornographic or something I thought I'd write it like a nursery rhyme. I was very keen on the films of Peter Greenaway. They had in them obsessions about numbers and counting and things like that. The rhyming in the Actress & the Bishop was a way of giving myself an obsessive structure.
WS: You are now producing covers to the new Animal Man 6-part mini-series. I just loved #1 cover! After this, what are your future projects?
BB: More traveling. I'm working on a book of photos of a week spent in Burma back in 1988. Did I already mention that? I'm doing a new Actress & the Bishop story. Continuing Jack of Fables covers as long as they'll have me! Other projects bubble away but who knows of I'll get round to doing them.
WS: Thanks very much for this interview, Mr. Bolland! And thanks for the brilliant and beautiful work!
BB: Thanks to you.