Posted August 29, 2012 by Paula Hammond - Features Editor in Features
 
 

Drawing Dredd


With Spidy and the Dark Knight having done the rounds this summer and a new Dredd movie to salivate over in September, the world seems to be superhero crazy.

With
Spidy and the Dark Knight having done the rounds this summer and a new Dredd movie to salivate over
in September, the world seems to be superhero crazy.
However,
it’s easy to forget that the characters which we know and love began their
lives in so called kid’s comics. And one of the greats of the comic genre – Brian Bolland – has contributed more
than most to our communal vision of what our Lycra clad heroes should look
like. They call him the artists’ artist but to fans, Bolland is simply the guy
who has spent the last 30 years making comic books a lot more fun. Paula
Hammond takes a look at the life and career of an illustration guru.

Learning
the Trade

Like many illustrators, Bolland became obsessed
with drawing at an early age, meticulously copying his favourite Marvel super
heroes over and over onto sheets of typing paper. By the time he was in his
teens, childhood fascination had turned into passion and Bolland enrolled in
Art School. There, he began to learn about the broader art world although
comics remained his first love. Turning that passion into a profession however
wasn’t an easy task and it took until 1975 until he landed his first professional
comic commission — sharing illustration duties with Dave Gibbons (of Watchman
fame) on a Nigerian super hero comic called Powerman.

In 1977 Bolland’s life and career changed
forever when he was asked to draw a series of covers for a new British publication
called 2000 AD — the Galaxies’ greatest
comic
. His first piece — a dynamic, Dan
Dare
cover — appeared in Prog. 11 (7th May 1977) to be followed in quick
succession by covers featuring strips as the super soldier M.A.C.H 1, rampaging dinosaur, Flesh
and, ultimately, the character with which he would come to be most associated, Judge Dredd.

Dredd
Good

Bolland wasn’t the first illustrator to draw
Dredd. Nor was his vision of the helmeted lawman necessarily the most iconic.
That honour probably goes to another 2000 AD luminary, Carlos Ezquerra. What Bolland brought to the strip was his
breathtakingly detailed inks — and a level of command and control over artwork
which left others shivering in the shade. Meticulous by his own admission,
Bolland’s work owes more to the likes of Golden Age Marvel artists like Dick Sprang (Batman) and Alex Toth (The Flash and Green Lantern)
than the looser, more instinctive comic creations of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko.
Yet it was this attention to detail and ability to make the fantastical real
which has earned Bolland a place in the 2000 AD’s Top 20 Creators.

There is a tendency amongst the less enlightened
to think that the more detail something has the better it is. However, just as
important are style, flare and dramatic expression, none of which is adequately
described by detail alone. Fortunately, Bolland’s work has it all — a fact
which 2000 AD’s Editor, the Mighty Tharg, recognised early on. Bolland’s first
2000 AD story came, as they often do, by chance when he was asked to step-in
after another illustrator was unable to complete a commission. The result was a
Dredd story, The Mega City 5000
which ran through Progs. 40-41. What’s notable about this two-parter, was not
only the contrast between Bolland’s work and that of Bill Ward who drew the first part (and who is excellent in a
different way) but that Bolland seems to have arrived on the scene fully
formed. With some artists, their early work is … errr… less good. It takes
them time to find their feet. With Bolland, from the first frame you knew you
were in the hands of a comic sensei. Not surprisingly more commissions
followed.

Going
Stateside

If you were forced to pick fault with Bolland’s
work, it’s that there simply isn’t enough of it. He’s limited in his output by
the time consuming nature of his work, and back in his 2000 AD days it’s clear
that Tharg must have reserved his talents for special stories. Even then, there
must have been a great deal of midnight oil burnt for Bolland to have produced
such a body of work. To be precise, 44 covers plus 300 interior pages including
some of 2000 AD’s most fondly-remembered strips: The Cursed Earth (Prog.. 61-65); The Day the Law Died (Progs. 89-108); Judge Death (Progs. 149-151); The
Judge Child
(Progs. 156-181) and Bolland’s last 2000 AD story, Block Mania (Progs. 236-244).

It’s in this early work that Bolland is at his
most inventive, with figures careering across the page and frames overlapping
and flowing into one another. Yet the overall impression is of solidity, of a
recursive drawing style which is so defined and so carefully crafted that it’s
hard to believe that he ever finished anything on time. He must surely worked
at a loss on those early strips to establish his reputation. And he certainly
did that.

These days we’re used to the fact that the best
comic artists and writers are Brits. That may be a partisan comment, but
there’s no doubt that both Marvel and DC have benefited from being able to tap
the well of UK talent fostered by the likes of 2000 AD. So it was no surprise
that, in 1982, DC eventually came a-calling. Bolland had always been a fan of
US comics and jumped at the chance to work on a new, Arthurian maxi-series
called Camelot 3000. He later
admitted that he had no particular interest in the character, but was pleased
to be wanted.

Cover
King

Along with the likes of Barry Windsor-Smith, who worked on Marvel’s superb Conan The Barbarian, Bolland was one of
the first Brits to really make a name for himself in the US. Camelot 3000
wasn’t his first published US work, but it was the piece which won him industry
cred. In fact, along with its author, Mike
Barr
, Bolland was nominated for a 1985 Jack
Kirby Award
for the Camelot series. His reputation was further bolstered
when he landed the job of illustrating Alan
Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke
in 1988. Incidentally, the 20th
Anniversary Deluxe Edition, featured new colouring by Bolland, which finally
gave readers the chance to see his original vision for the story (John Higgins was the colourist for the
first edition).

For the fans, of course, one of the downsides of
a favourite artist being ‘in demand’ is that ultimately, tend to specialise in
cover work and much of Bolland’s recent output has been almost exclusively
that. Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder
Woman, Swamp Thing
and memorable runs on Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, Jack Of Fables and Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of
Tomorrow?
have cemented his reputation as one of the foremost comic artists
of his age. In fact he currently holds the record for five Comic Artist Eisner Awards – the illustration world’s
equivalent of the Oscars. Self-penned works such as Mr Mamoulian have also proved that there’s more to Mr Bolland than
a Number 3 brush and a steady hand. If only he could draw a little faster,
comic books – and perhaps comic book movies – would be a lot more interesting.


Paula Hammond - Features Editor

 
Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com