Sunday, January 07, 2007

review: The Art Of Brian Bolland

When I was a young man, I may have signed a particularly nefarious Faustian pact with Aul' Nick. I can't really remember, and I've drank a hell of a lot since then. I think it went something like this in the end: "Sure you can have big glossy art books by three of your favourite artists, Mark, but you'll have to wait until you're in your thirties until they come out... mwuhahahahaha!". Bastard.

I thought I was buying this book for, duh, the art of Brian Bolland. Yet for any comic art fan of my nationality and age, ironically, what might end up leaving the greatest impression about this book (and I assure you, it's a big, heavy slab of a thing - if I decided to use it as a weapon, it'd make a hell of an impression) is the text. Bolland's narrative is one part confessional; one part sentimental journey; one part social history; to one part backstage memoir, with all the juicy titbits about his days at 2000AD and DC a comics groupie could want. It tells us a lot about the man, his background, and the industry he's chosen to work in. It even serves somewhat as a family album. You wanna see Brian Bolland at Stonehenge? Check. Bolland in Red Square? Check. Kevin O'Neill at his desk in IPC Towers, circa 1977? Check. Dave Gibbons smoking a big cigar in a fancy restaurant? Yup.

I say "chosen", because with talent like his, he could easily have strayed from comics - there are plenty of examples of his advertising work (though he clearly didn't have the temperament to stay in that world), and plenty of covers for TIME OUT here, too - but chooses instead to continue in the field he clearly loves. That said, he does have a hell of an inferiority complex about comics, which he touches on often without ever really attempting to analyse it. From the blurb on the back cover and onwards throughout the book, he creates or mentions scenarios that suggest a certain discomfort or embarrassment with comics; his lack of fame outside a small subculture of fans; and the lack of understanding when he has to explain to non-comics fans (Hock! Spit!) what exactly he does for a living.

The cynical, working class, no-nonsense, Irish part of me would suggest that Bolland should just bloody get over it - he's pre-eminent in his field, he's produced a gorgeous body of work, he's loved by that aforementioned subculture (who may be small but are damned influential). Of course, the comics fan in me also looks at the latter half of the book and wistfully wishes he'd do more sequential work. Though he may have convinced himself he's a cover artist these days, every opportunity he gets to draw interiors he absolutely belts it out of the park (his BATMAN: BLACK & WHITE short, through to his current crop of Mr Mamoulian strips in NEGATIVE BURN to his chapter in the FABLES hardback 1001 Nights Of Snowfall). The chapters showcasing his work drawing covers for THE FLASH and various BATMAN titles do suggest a deep discomfort with the whole process of being a "superhero cover artist" and working within the whims of editors and colourists an ocean away. I say come back to what you know, Brian. Draw some comics. Be happy.

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