The Art of Brian Bolland (Image Comics/Desperado)

Bolland’s versatility with shading, animals, anatomy, and women just gets better and better. When he paints wrinkles in fabric with black ink, the detail can approximate that of Caravaggio—it’s super-real, and it pops.

 

 

(IMAGE COMICS/DESPERADO; 228 PGS FC; $49.99) (ED: JOE PRUETT)
Brian Bolland started drafting his own crude, charming superhero comics when he was still in single digits. As he grew, his tastes became outré: He craved Robert Crumb and Frank Zappa. His hair and beard grew to Jesus lengths. He experimented with dope and hippie culture. Through it all, he kept on drawing.

His big break came in the late ’70s with 2000 AD’s bulldog-jawed cop, Judge Dredd. The hippie artist, ironically enough, began to draw the adventures of the future’s fiercest policeman. Bolland’s pulpy, titillating Dredd covers opened onto satirical tales of controlling governments and American junk-culture run amok. Hugely obese men and women calling themselves “Fatties” require a rolling “Belliwheel” to support their awesome guts. “Psi-Judges” can sense that you’re guilty and convict, sentence, and punish you on the spot. The artist had plenty to work with—Dredd’s obsequious little sidekick “Walter the Wobot,” his fat-tired motorbike, and his hissing nemesis, the wretched villain Judge Death, added to the fun. These were 2000 AD’s salad days, and Bolland was indispensable.

And then DC came a-calling. Bolland was tapped to pencil Camelot 3000, a largely forgotten cult classic that mixed SF and King Arthur. And then, the book that introduced America to the full extent of Bolland’s abilities: 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke. Fellow Brit Alan Moore wrote this punch-to-the-gut alternate take on the Joker’s origin, and Bolland took a full two years to finish the art. The result was so tight and effective, DC readers would never forget either man.

But Killing Joke had a dark side in real life, too. The coloring was so un-subtle, so “garish” to the horrified Bolland, that he vowed never to give up that kind of control again. From that point forward, he preferred covers to penciling whole issues—our loss.
Bolland entered into a five-year-plus run doing Animal Man covers that rejuvenated the moribund hero. He did a series of raucous Tank Girl covers, and beyond-bizarre work on The Invisibles. His run on Wonder Woman in the ’90s made it obvious that he loved drawing the curvy, nervy Amazon, and his iconic covers brought new converts to the book.

Those are the Bolland basics. But The Art of Brian Bolland, at 328 pages, goes waaaaay beyond the basics, and justifies its hefty coffee-table-book weight and price. There are pages and pages of color covers and interiors from Dredd, Animal Man, et al. This is a career retrospective, with such obscurities as Nigerian superhero Powerman, the erotic parody “Little Nympho in Slumberland,” work for Hammer Horror and Steve Jackson Games, Dr. Who, etc. There are magazine illustrations, previously unpublished sketches, newspaper comic strips, comics-convention programs, saucy female nudes, and the odd pop-album cover.

Bolland tells stories of working with Moore, along with legendary DC editor Julius Schwartz. He details his problems with Marvel, and the ongoing attempt to recover his original art stolen from (and by) 2000 AD.

But the focus is his art, of course, which develops from page to page as you advance further into his career. Bolland’s versatility with shading, animals, anatomy, and women just gets better and better. When he paints wrinkles in fabric with black ink, the detail can approximate that of Caravaggio—it’s super-real, and it pops. (Drawing each filament of Wonder Woman’s chaotically curly hair, writes Bolland, took the lion’s share of the time for each WW cover.)

Bolland’s comments in this tome reveal a humble, gracious man. Riding along with him on this sentimental journey through comics history, you’ll admire the man, and adore the art.

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