After graduating from London’s Central School of Art in 1974, Lincolnshire born artist Brian Bolland quickly gravitated towards the comics industry. A firm fan from an early age Bolland grew up on a steady diet of DC stories, with Green Lantern and The Flash being favourites. He spent a couple of years working on such diverse assignments as Powerman (an Nigerian published superhero comic) and House of Hammer magazine as well as illustrations for various fanzines and a short stint on Syd Jorden’s Jeff Hawke daily newspaper strip. In 1977 he came to the attention of UK publisher IPC who were on the lookout for artists for their proposed new weekly science fiction comic 2000AD. His first work for the title was the cover to Prog (issue) 11 and, after a few more covers, he was commissioned to draw the comics most popular character: Judge Dredd.
His work was an instant hit with the fans and Bolland – along with other Dredd artists Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and Ron Smith – would help establish the look and mood of the character which endures to this day. After working on 2000AD for a couple of years the American comics industry came calling and his work for DC comics would bring him acclaim from a much larger audience, beginning with his work on the 12-issue prestige series Camaleot 3000 as well as numerous covers for the publisher. But it would be his work on the 1988 Alan Moore scripted Batman: The Killing Joke that would cement Bolland’s reputation as a top-tier artist in the US.
Ironically, since that success Bolland has shied away from drawing interior artwork and has concentrated mainly on covers, gaining a reputation as one of the premier cover artists in the business. His work on DC’s Animal Man, The Invisibles (both scripted by Grant Morrison), Batman Gotham Knights, Wonder Woman and Bill Willingham’s Jack of Fables, to name a few, being especially popular with fans. In fact his cover work proved so popular that in 2011 it merited another retrospective of his work: the 208 page Cover Story: The DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland.
Bolland has always been a favourite artist of mine. I discovered his work in the first volume of The Chronicles of Judge Dredd in the early ’80s and was instantly drawn to his distinctive style. Of those early Dredd artists his work always felt the most natural to me as he eschewed the standard bombastic comic book style of the American market and strived to give his characters a sense of realism. There was a naturalness to his work that really appealed to me and The Art of Brian Bolland (Image Comics, 2006) goes a long way to capturing that aspect of this talented artist. The book is lavishly printed on bright white stock and Bolland has written extended captions to many of the images, many of which are printed full-page. On the whole the reproduction is very good although there are a few images that have obviously been scanned from printed source material, which has resulted in the colours looking a little dull and the pen-strokes a little faint. However these are few and far between and understandable considering the age and availability of some of the artwork – on the whole the book is of a very high quality. The artwork in the book is arranged in chronological order and split into sections for each decade, allowing the reader to chart the artists progress as his work becomes more assured and polished. The book also features some non-comics work, such as posters for his local village panto and, somewhat bizarrely, a selection of his snaps from various family holidays.
Lastly, eagle-eyed 2000AD fans will spot reproductions of four pages of his artwork from The Judge Dredd/Cursed Earth storyline from the banned prog 77 – in 1978 IPC were threatened with legal action after several fast-food companies noticed a distinct resemblance between characters in the comic and their copyrighted corporate mascots. IPC settled out of court promising never to reprint the stories, and to my knowledge they never have, so it’s a nice Easter egg for Bolland fans to see some of those pages here.
Running at over 300 pages this book feels pretty darn definitive and it’s well worth a look, particularly when paired with Cover Story: The DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland.
See The Art of Brian Bolland at AMAZON
See Cover Story: The DC Comics Art Of Brian Bolland at AMAZON