Wednesday, December 23, 2020

No. 139 Eric Bradbury RIP

First Prog: 10
Latest Prog
: 838, but a year later the 1994 Winter Special and 1995 Yearbook*

Total appearances: 62
-limited entirely to his 2000AD input (well, and one Tornado cover). If we covered the man’s work for Eagle, Battle and all the other ‘Treasury’ titles he’d be WAY up on the list of most prolific!

Matt Tallon comin' through!
Words by Tom Tully

Art credits:
Rogue Trooper
Tharg the Mighty
Mean Arena
Various one-offs

Notable character creations:

The fella in the flat cap may not agree, but he's basically God in this story.
Words by Alan Moore


Shakespeare always did love a 'comedy double' drama.
Context by Chris Lowder

(Just my little joke, although he did deliver memorable renderings of both)

Notable characteristics:

One of the Prog’s more recognisable talents, if you ask me, although I’m struggling to pin down exactly what marks out his work. There’s a lot of black, and it has a certain busy-ness, as if he doesn’t mind his ink pen flicking little splots of the stuff around the edges of his work. Except I imagine it’s far more calculated than that.

Lots of thick, spooky black ink at work
Words by Tom Tully

Extreme cross-hatching AND inky splodges at work!
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

He’s one of the best at drawing horror reaction shots – you know, when a person has just seen or experienced something too shocking to wrap their mind around. A useful skill for telegraphing a Future Shock, that! 

The spooky and the spooked, in one handy panel.
Those are coat hangers,
in case you're wondering.













I’d say that Bradbury was also possessed of that rare talent, being good at drawing just about everything. Buildings, people, machines, animals. I used to think anyone who could draw could draw anything, but I’ve learned that, in fact, most artists do a few things well, and other things not so well, and tend to avoid those things. Horses, typically. Not sure whether Bradbury was naturally gifted or naturally hard-working (or both), but he’s rarely delivered a duff panel.


All the vehicles, and a sense of foreboding, too.
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

On Eric:

A horror artist who never really got the chance to do any horror stores for 2000AD, Bradbury is more or less notable for being the artist who drew Tharg’s own adventures for the longest time. Poor bastard.

So it took me a while to work out why he was so well-loved by 2000AD fans. The answer is, he was busy drawing all the other comics that informed so many childhoods! I wasn’t old enough to be there for Von Hoffman’s Invasion or Leopard of Lime Street, and reading the wrong comics to discover Invasion 1984, and that’s just listing three strips that have been reprinted recently. The point is, people who grew up reading a range of British adventure comics would have been as familiar and fond of Eric Bradbury as 2000AD devotees knew and loved Carlos Ezquerra. At least, I think that’s an apt comparison. Two giants of the medium that non-UK-comics readers have likely never heard of.

But, you know, I’m using this blog to explore and dissect all things 2000AD, so that leaves us with a very specific set of work to look at in celebration of Eric Bradbury: fill-ins, Future Shocks, and of all long-running stories, Mean Arena. Very early job on Invasion shows how well-formed Bradbury already was at this point. He knows what he’s doing.

He'll draw you dogs, water, boats, a psycho with a shotgun - no problem.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

 The same skills allowed him to fill-in on a single episode of Rogue Trooper to equally solid effect.

Gnarly monsters! It's kind of sad there aren't more straight up horror stories in Rogue Trooper overall.
Words by Gerry Finley-Day

But really, when I think of Bradbury I think of Future Shocks. I don’t know if his work was reprinted more often than others, or if perhaps he made these short stories look better than they perhaps were. But if you see a Future Shock with Bradbury’s name in the credits box, you know it’s going to be a solid ride – and you can’t say that for a LOT of them.

A wibbly monster this time, and no skimping on the tentacles or the face bumps.
Words by Alan Moore

The eyes! The eyes!
Words by Kelvin Gosnell

You can forgive a cheap pun (alright, this one's actually rather good)
with this much love and care put into the panel.
Words by Alan Moore

‘Future Shocks’ of course is kind of shorthand for ‘one-off tales commissioned to fill up a slot.’ And for a few years, that often meant an outing for the big cheese himself, Tharg T Mighty. As a character, Tharg has endured remarkably well. He’s arrogant, condescending, and occasionally Right On. As the protagonist of a story, he’s rubbish. In fact, even the writers knew this so he often only shows up at the beginning or end to shout at droids and save the day. Bradbury does what he can to ground Tharg in the specific time and place of Thatcher’s London, early 1980s. 


Nails the key Tharg characteristic of self-importance and grumpiness.
Words by TMO (probably disguised as Alan McKenzie)

But even he can’t do much to make such generic goonish bad guys ‘the Dictators of Zrag’ feel even slightly menacing.**

You could argue they evoke something of the Daltons from Lucky Luke, or just generic bullies from most British humour comics. Or you could just ignore them as characters not worthy of getting like 3 entire 2000AD covers to their name. That’s more than Blackhawk!

Which leaves us with Mean Arena. Specifically, a rather weird period of that story that was designed to let readers in on the action, where they suggested team names (and even costume designs) for Street Football teams that Matt Tallon could compete against. 

You get the design concept, yes? They have blades on their heads, and charge headfirst into things.
Got to hold back your sporting finesse, that. Like, imagine if Arsenal players were contractually obliged to knock goals using only their arses.
Words by Tom Tully, character design by some kid in 1981.

 Plus the usual ‘Tallon commits murder in the name of revenge, sometimes with the aid of a small robot boy’ shenanigans. This future sports story ended up in some WEIRD places.

Robot boy, paranoid hero, wheelchair hobgoblin - your typical sports story, then.
Words by Tom Tully

Bradbury brings all this far more quality than it deserves. His storytelling is immaculate, and at times it really needs to be to make sense of the action in a sport that has nebulous rules, and goals that change from team to team. His stark blacks also keep up the tension, and remind the reader that the word ‘street’ in Street Football is very much code for ‘working class, run-down, unrefined, nothing like the Premiere League’ type game.

Bradbury'd using that ink-flecked trick again to evoke a salt-of-the-earth quality in Tallon's team mates
Words by Tom Tully
Every now and then, we get scenes of the game being played. It's pretty rough and tough!
Words by Tom Tully

And let's not forget that 'hero' Matt Tallon is a crazy-eyed psycho...

Matt Tallon - one of 2000AD's more 'anti' heroes

Presumably hard at work on umpteen other comics, Bradbury slowly disappeared from the Prog, barring a late Future Shock and Terror Tale. But he was a pretty regular presence in the specials for a good long while. It’s worth noting that his style changed a little during this late phase of his career, or perhaps that’s just me not appreciating the difference a little colour makes. And of course it didn’t help him that he was essentially the go-to man for Tharg tales. I don’t know if it was editorial mandate but he has a thing where he loves drawing people (and monsters and even robots) proper warts-and-all style, but his Tharg varied from nobbly-faced to smooth as anything.

Nobly Tharg in uncle mode


Nobbly Tharg in crazy-eyed psycho mode

Tharg in ultra-smooth 'supreme leader' mode

Bradbury is a rare artist of the early era who had the chance to do some proper full-colour work. And for someone SO GOOD as black-and-white, it was a surprise to me how lush his colour work turned out – even if it was generally seen on more of those pesky Tharg stories. At least these ones focussed as much on Tharg’s droids as the man himself, so there’s that frisson of fun seeing some behind the scenes stuff, with droids drawn, one assumes, to resemble the actual background staff.


Except Burt. Burt doesn't look like Richard Burton.

This is not a good comic, but Bradbury is still giving a good go.


When they only came round once a year, these Thargs strips were perfectly welcome.
And boy does Bradbury draw the heck out of a totally gnarled troll-man.

More on Eric Bradbury:
Well, he's one of the rare 2000AD creators who merits his own Wikipedia page!

Personal favourites:

Tharg’s Future Shocks: Fish in a Barrel; 'ang about; Benjamin Blint
Time Twisters
: The Big Clock
(much as I admire his art generally, I can’t bring myself to say any of his work on Mean Arena or those Tharg strips stands out as ‘favourite’)

*The ‘95 Yearbook was published in Autumn 94; the Winter Special a few months later. OBVIOUSLY.


Just time for one last surprise!

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