Saturday, January 23, 2016

No. 58 Brian Bolland

First Prog: (front cover) 11; (strip art) 32
Latest Prog: (strip art) 238; (front cover) 1821

First Meg: (cover art) 1.16
Latest Meg: (cover art) 350

Total appearances: 170

Bolland warms up for his 'Gaze into the fist of Dredd' panel.
Words by John Wagner

Art credits:
Judge Dredd
Dan Dare
Walter the Wobot
A handful of Future Shocks, including the very finest Supercovers.

Notable character creations:
Sov Blok Judges
Rarely has a character made such a big impression with so
little screen time. Words by Pat Mills, the king of incidental
but memorable charcaters
Tweak the alien
Judge Caligula
Gestapo Bob Harris
Judge Death
Judge Anderson
Owen Khrysler, the Judge Child (I think)
Judge Hershey
Judge McGruder
Judges Fire, Fear and Mortis

Judeg McGruder makes a low-key first appearance as part of the Council of Five.
Words by Wagner and Grant

Mortis is everyone's favourite after Judge Death, right?
Words by Wagner and Grant
-heck, that’s three chief Judges right there! Four if you want to count Death as temporary Chief Judge during Necropolis. Five, even, if Bolland was the first to draw Judge Solomon in the relevant episode of the Cursed Earth.

Notable characteristics:
Immaculate character design. Sort of realistic style, without actually drawing real things. Solid, dependable black inks. Super dramatic compositions. Idiosyncratic covers. Dynamic poses. And, said to say, not being the fastest man with a pen.

On Brian:
Is he the definitive Judge Dredd artist? The definitive British Comics artist? The idea of both these things existing at all is of course ludicrous, and yet no one would argue if you put Bolland’s name into that conversation. He’s really very good. I struggle to imagine a young reader seeing Bolland’s work and not immediately thinking ‘Yup, that’s how you draw comics properly’.

The shattering glass and the zip of the bullet - pure comics class, that is.
Context by Pat Mills

At the same time, I also wonder if, somewhat unfairly, he’s also the sort of artist that a more seasoned reader still likes, but would perhaps pass over for the more stylized greats such as McMahon or O’Neill. And yes, when I talk about a generic ‘young reader turned seasoned reader’, I’m clearly talking about myself.

Bolland’s work is super exciting to look at, and always immaculately drawn. It has an air of perfection about it, coupled with an approach to realism that can even be intimidating.

The water! The hair! I can't begin to imagine being able to draw like this.
Words by John Wagner
The helmet sits correctly but looks wrong, somehow.
Words by John Wagner

And occasionally it looks a bit off – the most obvious example being Bolland’s commitment to drawing Judges' helmets not as pseudo-faces, but as actual objects that sits on top of their faces.

He's so famous now as a cover artist that it's easy to forget that he knows his way around stroytelling, too.

Dredd takes down two perps in three panels
Words by John Wagner

So far, so much about the style. It’s a huge part of Bolland’s appeal, but frankly I suspect the bigger part of his appeal is the man’s imagination. No, he didn’t invent Judge Dredd, or even anything about Mega City 1. But he did define the look and feel of a hell of a lot of the best supporting characters to grace Dredd’s world.

Solid black gives way to a burst of light. A classic Bolland trick that never fails to make a picture burst into your face.

The ectoplasmic spaghetti strand incarnation of Judge Death is still the scariest.
Also, check out how Bolland makes Anderson super sexy but also non-objectified at the same time.
Or maybe that's my male gaze bias speaking.

Famously, Judge Hershey's hairstyle is patterned on the shape of the helmet.

The first look at Judge Cal - a tyrant prone to outbursts of rage.
Bolland may or may not have been asked to model him on none other than Pat Mills...
Words by John Wagner (the real name of script robot John Howard)

Pat Mills circa 1978; photo extracted from the film
Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

Judge Cal with his more roman-esque do.
One of the first Judge Dredd collections I ever bought.
I never did get hold of Book Two!

This version taken from the rather fun
Judge Dredd Board Game
A trend that continues right on down to some seriously throwaway figures. I doubt John Wagner gave detailed descriptions of a one-story perp such as Gestapo Bob Harris (although there’s a clue as to his look in his name for sure!), 

let a lone a single-panel gag of a character in Aaron A. Aardvark. But by gosh, does Bolland nail their personalities right down, and make these most unimportant of people linger in the memory down the years.

Ultimate sad sack Aaron A. Aardvark
Words by John Wagner

The Kleggs - yet more much-remembered Dredd villains who haven't actually appeared much,
although they've had a bit of a revival lately, thanks to Rob Williams.
Words here by John Wagner

It’s not just character design. Bolland today is known and beloved around the world largely for his work as a cover artist. And it’s for his astonishing choices of what to show as much as for his ability to render them.

He began his career at 2000AD with covers, earning the very first Supercover credit. I’ve no idea if this image was entirely his own work, or if a scene was described to him. I get the distinct impression that some of his later covers were entirely his own idea.

Crying robots - can't get enough of 'em.

No doubt Tharg was keen to get this rare talent on strip work as soon as possible – but it was presumably known long in advance that he was never going to hit the page-creation rate of a Mike McMahon or Dave Gibbons, let alone a Carlos Ezquerra. And so it was that he did the odd Dredd episode here and there, alongside bursts of one-page nonsense with Walter the Wobot - Fwend of Dwedd. Nonsense in the charitable meaning of the word, of course.

I don’t know at what point it became obvious that he was a perfect fit for Dredd – it may simply have been that Tharg wanted one of his ‘best’ artists used on his most popular character – but it was such a good fit that he became exclusive on the character from then on. He managed just enough chapters of the one-two mega-epic punch of The Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died that he genuinely was a regular Dredd artist. And then he started disappearing for longer stretches, drawing only those episodes that best lent themselves to his design and mood-setting talents.

When that allows for Judge Death and Judge Death Lives, it’s worth it. One imagines these are the two most-reprinted stories in the history of 2000AD.* With a single, gloriously memorable episode of Block Mania to his name, Bolland said farewell to 2000AD strip work, and went back to drawing covers – something he still does from time to time.

And what covers! I haven’t included them as part of his official count as contributor for this Blog exercise, but many of his most celebrated covers first appeared on the Monthly Eagle Comics reprints that were amongst the first attempts to package Dredd in a US friendly format. I’m sure it made the comics stand out on the shelves, although I also suspect they were amongst the most notorious examples of a common disappointment – why is the amazing artist on the cover not also drawing the pictures on the inside?**



One of the most dramatic examples of this, for me, was Bolland’s delightfully cheesecake cover for Brit-Cit Babes. I bet it helped shift copies of that issue of the Megazine, and may even shift copies of a reprint, but it sure didn’t prepare me, as a reader, for the Steve Sampson art that actually graced the strip. It’s actually pretty suited to the story, but it’s so utterly unlike anything promised by THIS cover.

Yes, this is pure titillation - although technically it fits with the undercover cops storyline, too.

Still, not Bolland’s fault. And it’s absolutely worth noting that the mans; work still comes across as definitive 2000AD material even though he’s produced just 8 official covers since 1982.

Dredd's grimace is both off-putting and strangely magnetic at the same time.

Bolland's most recent Prog cover - classic, if weirdly shiny.
He sure knows how to play the Dredd as fascist card, with a side order of poking fun at the USA.

Before I end, I can't resist posting the official Rebellion mini-biog of Brain Bolland:
How amazingly passive-aggressive is that final sentence

Rumour has it the man has expressed an interest in doing some strip work again for Judge Dredd. Who wouldn't pay to see that?

More on Brian Bolland:
His own Blog
A pinterest dedicated to his work.
Two part YouTube interview starts here
And I'd encourage you to visit his page on Barney, which has a gallery of some of his more obscure Dredd covers, chiefly from the Eagle reprints and the old Titan albums, treats one and all.

Personal favourites:
Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth; The Day the Law Died; Punks Rule; The Forever Crimes; Judge Death; Judge Death Lives
-oh wait, I’ve practically listed every Dredd strip he drew (the missing ones are mostly where I’ve forgotten the name and can’t be bothered to copy and paste from Barney.)
And the non-Dredd stuff looked great, too.

The real answer to this question would be a rundown of my favourite Bolland covers:





*I reckon Judge Death, as reprinted in the Best of 2000AD monthly issue 3, was one of the first two Dredd stories I ever encountered. I’ve never looked back since, so I don’t begrudge Tharg’s continual pushing of this story as a general way in to Dredd for new readers. Even if, thematically, it makes very little sense to take Judge Death as a typical Dredd villain or even Dredd story!

**Regular weekly/monthly comics readers are entirely used to this, of course. Frankly, I’m suspicious that US monthly comics market only exists at this point as a profit-making exercise because collectors are willing to pay for variant covers by big name artists.

But amongst readers who only glance at comics occasionally, the mismatch of cover artist-interior artist is one of the biggest bugbears going. Along with ‘why is the story so short, and unfinished’ and ‘why has one panel suddenly turned into part of an advertisement’. 2000AD, of course, avoids all these pitfalls by being an anthology – it’s built-in that the cover artist isn’t going to feature on every page, and that each story is serial in nature. 

Who could forget Jigsaw disease?
Words by John Wagner

1 comment:

  1. Yup, that BB fella can draw a pretty piccie, that's for sure.