Sunday, February 25, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #25: Brian Bolland Pt. 2

Brian Bolland was among 2000 AD's most acclaimed artists in its early years, but also one of the comic's least prolific. Here's the second half of the transcript for the interview I did with Brian for THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD. It begins with him recalling the creation of iconic Dredd villain Judge Death...


They decided I would do all of that. I do remember them asking when would I be able to turn that in. I gave them a fairly realistic estimate. We did lots of sketches of the characters. I’m sure John sent me reference of Devil Fish and all sorts of things. I’ve got alternative versions of those characters – one of them had tentacles coming out of his mouth.

How much costume was described in the script and how much was you?

I really can’t remember. I know in JDL, when the other judges came, somebody sent me some reference. I can’t remember how Judge Death was described, at all. I’d been looking at Kevin O’Neill’s work – he drew a lot of characters with portcullises for faces. It’s not the sort of look that would have popped automatically out of my head. I think it’s got a very strong Kevin O’Neill influence. I don’t know why Death’s barefoot!

According to legend Debbie Harry was the model for Anderson – true?

She pretty much was… The thing I always found about drawing for 2000 AD was we never got to draw women. There just weren’t any. I don’t know why. I think it came out of the tradition that boys comics and girls’ comics were separate. There were artists in America whose work I admired who did gorgeous women and I wanted to have a go at it. I thought this was a great opportunity to draw a sexy looking girl. See if I could draw that.

She was based on Debbie Harry. I think I did a Forbidden Planet advert and I draw a lot of famous people into that, such as Debbie Harry and David Bowie. I think I must have just drawn her. I’m not sure she’s particularly Debbie Harry…

The thing I remember about her was she had to be bright and breezy, sort of smile a lot. She had to be the very opposite of Judge Dredd and the very opposite of her adversary, Judge Death. That seems to have gone, somehow. There’s a wonderful line by Dredd: ‘I have no guilty secrets.’ To me that bright-eyed face was absolutely key for her.

[Her body language – first appearance, casually leaning against door frame] That was obviously in the script, in the story, she was that kind of character. There’s one scene where she’s taking off her boots and flexing her toes. I haven’t looked at these stories for ages!

John Burns ought to be drawing her, he was always a great good girl artist.

You drew only a few episodes of the Judge Child saga, but these include the introduction of Hershey – now Chief Judge – and Jigsaw Disease. Was the surreal world featured in jigsaw disease written specially for you?

Hershey, she was always the opposite of Anderson, they were like light and shade. She was always stern, clipped looking one. I wanted the hair to look like a helmet and always gave her a scowl.
I don’t ever remember being told something was being written for me, because I was good at drawing a particular thing. The whole experience of drawing Judge Dredd was an incredibly creative thing. You were stretching your imagination to its limits, all the time. Where do I go to do that kind of work again – aliens in tutus? Giant cups and saucers!

I always liked that cover and I remember Nick Landau didn’t like it (Prog 177).
[Star Wars cover] They sent me the toys to use as reference for the drawing.

Judge Death Lives is among your best-loved work on Dredd – memories?

[Fear’s cloak] I did that – guilty as charged! Oh God, I’m so sorry. [Gin trap] I think John must have asked for him having bear traps as shoulder pads. For Mortis – my mother and father in law live in the Lake District and we used to go walking on the Fells. I remember bringing home a sheep’s skull and using that as reference for Mortis.

You have drawn some of the most iconic panels in Dredd – No, Not the teeth!, Gaze into the fist of Dredd, I’m with Rowdy Yates Block – why do you think those single images have stood the test of time so well?

{Gaze] It was a good panel, wasn’t it? To me, Mick was the great Judge Dredd artist. He defined the character and evolved him over a period of time. I don’t think of myself as an instigator of anything. I don’t think of myself as a visionary – I’m just a copier. I can only draw what I’ve seen. I put together elements I’ve seen and try to gloss them up a little bit, as best I can. I always think of Mick as the Dredd artist. I suppose some of the key elements were down to me, but I always put that down to the fact that people somehow prefer a glossier style to an impressionistic style.

Your last strip work on Dredd was the final part of Block Mania – memories?

That was one of my favourites. I was quite pleased with the drawing. It was an action story. Some of my favourite stories in terms of satisfaction with my own drawing, they were not very exciting stories. Some of my favourites were done by Carlos or Mick - I always regretted not drawing the League of Fatties, all those wonderful characters.

I was quite pleased with that last story I did. [Rowdy Yates Block] I loved the anachronistic block names, they were always named after people who were slightly past their sell-by date. The Rita Tushingham Block – even when that story was written, she was an actress who hadn’t been heard of for some time. People that John remembered…

[1979 – BB did 3 covers for regular Green Lantern.] Around that time envoys were being sent from DC to see what talent there was in Britain. They came to the SSI and flirted with us and tempted us over to work. I knew I was going to go there eventually.

Banned Dredd strip from Prog 500...

That was our chance to whinge about the company. I can’t remember what the thrust of it was, but it was good fun. I remember when we were doing it, I said surely they’re not going to let us say this? We were allowed to write it ourselves, you see. But I was told it would be fine. Later on, of course, somebody rung up and said it’s all going to have to be rewritten. I don’t remember the issue that was in, I haven’t got a copy of it.

2000 AD was squarer than the normal size, fatter than A4. When I used to take it to the photocopying centre, they always used to photocopy the middle. So I’ve got these copies of my work with all the outside edges trimmed off!

[Creator rights issues…] To be honest, there are all sorts of issues with creators’ rights and they’ve always taken second place in my heart to what I really wanted to do. I was such a DC fan, it just seemed like going to Mecca for me to work for DC Comics. There were nagging grievances…

Also, you’ve just got to move on. Drawing Judge Dredd did require a lot of creative juices and after a while you do burn out a bit. I did draw 40 or so covers for the Eagle Comics reprints. I’ve always thought they were some of my best work on the character. I got to do the covers for stories I didn’t draw originally, like the League of Fatties. There was the great dark humour and irony in Dredd that Americans didn’t get. So I was very pleased we put something in an American comic book format containing the curious irony and dark humour.

[Stolen artwork issues…]

It really pissed me off. I think was I glad to see the back of 2000 AD when I discovered so much of my artwork was missing. What really happened was… The whole process of returning artwork… I don’t know who was pushing for that but there seemed to be a lot of people pushing for that to happen. They were dragging there heels about it. I tried to speak to people about it and getting fobbed off by secretaries.

Then you had to pay for transparencies to be made of your artwork before they would return it. I don’t remember what the fee was, but there was a charge and it was like the final insult. We had to catalogue it too. We had to provide them with a list of all our pages, where and when they had appeared. I didn’t get round to it for a while, I was trying to work.

Finally I made a deal with Forbidden Planet – they would catalogue it and collect it for me, and buy it off me. It was them that discovered… When they presented the list of artwork, over 100 pages were missing. Some have filtered back since. There were about 115 pages missing from the 280 or so I had done. It was a lot, nearly half.

I was fortunate that I had previously borrowed some of the very best pages to go into an exhibition somewhere. So I do have the Gaze page. About 10 of my favourite pages I had already claimed back, otherwise they would have been the first to go. I think IPC only decided to give the artwork back when they ran out of space and had to shift the archive to Deptford.

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