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Thoughts From The Land Of Frost:
A Discussion With Tim Bradstreet By Alexander Ness
Welcome to another installment of Thoughts From the Land of Frost. This week features an exclusive interview with game illustrator, film developer and comic book cover artist extraordinaire Tim Bradstreet. In it, Tim discusses his work on Punisher and Hellblazer, as well as the statuses of his Red Sky Diary, and other current and future projects. Exclusive art from both Marvel and DC books are sprinkled throughout, so be sure to click on the pictures to see them in their full glory.
Alexander Ness: Welcome to my column, Thoughts From the Land of Frost. Where are you from? Are you married? Kids? Where do you live now?
Tim Bradstreet: I was born in Cheverly, Maryland, I grew up in Bloomington Illinois. I'm married to the gorgeous Mrs. Leigh Anne Bradstreet - no kids yet. I now reside in San Diego, California.
AN: What was your first comic book purchase?
TB: My first comic book purchase was X-Men #109. I'm pretty sure the villain was Mesmero. Wolverine was the impetus. That hair, those claws. Very cool.
AN: I know that you are spoken of as being self-taught regarding your artwork. What was your inspiration to teach yourself?
TB: In sixth grade, my teacher, Mr. Livingston, had a break time session for like a half hour during the school day. We got to have snacks and take some time to read, draw, talk, play records or whatever. It was like a free half-hour period.
He had a bookshelf full of books ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird to Dune. He also had a table with comic books. Among the titles were Tales To Astonish starring Deathlok and War Of The Worlds starring Killraven.
I was hooked immediately. Before that all I drew was cars and Dinosaurs. I voraciously started drawing super heroes. That's when I started buying comics and that's when I really started to draw them. Comics and TV shows like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Johnny Quest were the fuel for the fire. Pure escapism, not that my childhood wasn't spectacular. I just felt different from other people. And just for the record, I want to thank Mr. Livingston for introducing me to Dune and Deathlok. My favorite book and my favorite comic book character. Kids are so impressionable.
AN: Who are the influences upon your work? If there are any, being that you are self-taught.
TB: I'll just give you the list. Lots of guys but mainly Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Steranko, Paul Gulacy, Gene Day, Moebius, John Byrne, Joe Kubert, P. Craig Russell, Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Golden, Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Walt Simonson, Bilal, Serpieri, Roy Krenkle, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Tim Truman, and Bill Sienkiewicz. Pretty much just comic book artists and movies.
AN: Who are your closest friends in the comic and gaming industries?
TB: I'm in such a vaccum. No one lives close to me so I don't have any best friends in the biz. But my closest pals are Tim Truman, Bernie Wrightson, Jill Thompson, Brian Azzarello, John Mueller, James O'Barr, Chris Warner, Fred Fields, Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, Joe Jusko, Steve Niles, Mark A. Nelson, Jeff Laubenstien, Essad Ribic, and editors Axel Alonso, Will Dennis, Bob Schreck, and Diana Schutz. I'm leaving off a ton of people but those are the ones that come to mind.
AN: How did you break into the field and become a wage-earning professional?
TB: Pretty much right out of high school I got involved in the Role-Playing Game market. I showed my work to a guy named Steve Venters who was doing covers for Game Designers Workshop and FASA. He was also doing interior illustrations for a book called Twilight 2000. He wanted to concentrate on covers so he asked me to do a try out illustration in his style. I did a few and he was happy with the results so he took me in to meet the art director. They liked what they saw and I got the job. Twilight 2000 was a series so I picked up a decent job right off the bat. Steve then introduced me to other clients and I started getting work from them all. One led to another. I was pretty busy.
During this time I would attend comic book shows big and small. I used to go up to Chicago Con and see all of my heroes and artistic influences. I wanted to make the leap to comics. Tim Truman was a major influence on me. I met him at a show in 1983. He was just then making his big splash on the scene with Starslayer and then Grimjack. I was a huge fan and he was very personable.
AN: Tim is a gentle and kind soul. He is one of my heroes in comics.
TB: He was always surrounded by other cool artists and writers, Tim's posse. I kind of idolized him. Anyway, I'd see him every year at the big Chicago show and would always show him my work. In 1990, I showed him my latest stuff, which were the illustrations I'd done for Vampire: The Masquerade. I could see a different look on his face this time. He looked up at me and said, "Would you want to work on something with me sometime?" I almost died right there. I walked out of that show on a giant cloud. A week later I had pages for Dragon Chiang in my mailbox. I have never looked back.
AN: What was your first published work?
TB: Both suck. In games it was actually a couple illustrations for a book called Traveller Digest, published by GDW. In comics, it was a pin-up and several illustrations of Kanjar Ro for Who's Who in the DC Universe. He's a character from Hawkman/Hawkworld. One of Truman's friends, Graham Nolan, set me up with that.
AN: Dragon Chiang ruled. How was it working with such a great artist?
TB: Working with Truman was unreal and surreal at the same time. I respected this guy so much I didn't want to ruin his pencils. I lightboxed at least 4-5 pages before I felt comfortable enough that I wouldn't ruin his artwork. What can I say, it was a dream come true. Tim was so supportive. A great teacher. I was a huge fan of Joe Kubert and Tim was a former student of Joe's so that was hanging over me as well. I felt this tremendous pressure to not screw it but I also had the time of my life. My dad got a tremendous kick out of watching it all unfold. He supported me in my dream a lot. Drove me up to Chicago to the shows before I had a license, all that stuff. That was a magical time.
AN: Hmmm, my magical time was when I found a five dollar bill on a snowbank. I need to get a more exciting life.
Did you have designs of a full out storytelling-style pencils or did you nearly always understand that you'd be more of a cover artist than interior penciller?
TB: I started out doing a lot of inking and trying to get cover work cause that's what I really wanted to do. I don't think I was thinking along the lines of being a penciller until Cat Yronwode offered me Clive Barker's Age Of Desire. I knew it would be a big task, shooting it all. Casting it, finding locations, the whole thing was rather daunting, but I said yes. Hell, I was 23 years old, who was gonna stop me?
After working on the project for about 9 months I was a page from being done when Eclipse went bankrupt. I had not been paid for a lot of the pages. It turned into a nightmare when I couldn't get any of the art back. I had no idea what happened to it. It was lost, along with Eclipse. I was pretty crushed. That whole episode very much soured me on doing interiors. I started getting regular cover work not long after that so I just moved on. It's not that I won't do sequential work, it's just that the project has to be worth the time I'd have to invest in it. Covers and illustration is my passion but I definitely have a good bit of sequential work in me as well. Right now it's only a question of what and when.
AN: For many years I have heard about Red Sky Diaries. Did it ever come out in published form and where is that project now?
TB: A link to an interview available on my website right now that addresses this question pretty well. However, suffice it to say that right now nothing exists of the material except for about a dozen illustrations and paintings of the character, my notes, and a screenplay in the works. I'm planning on illustrating some source books based on the characters in the very near future under the "Archetype" banner. You can also find out more about Archetype on my site (seriously, not a plug, just a good resource). I eventually want to do the main part of the story as an illustrated book. There are a lot of ideas but so far no scheduled release of any material. That's gonna change soon though.
AN: I hope so.
While I am more of a comics person than a games person, I am familiar with Role-Playing Games. Your work became really well known with your White Wolf Worlds of Darkness art portfolio. What was it like to achieve fame in games first, what role-playing gaming have you illustrated for, and which have you played?
TB: Way back in high school I used to play AD&D with some friends of mine. This guy Pete Holstien would game master for a bunch of us. I don't think I'd have really gotten that into it except Pete was such an unbelievable storyteller. Playing that game with Pete hosting was unbelievable. He had this rich, deeper voice and he painted pictures of the surroundings with his words. He made it a wonderful experience. I played off and on for about 3-4 years. AD&D, Gamma World, Space Opera. Oldies but goodies.
Playing the games actually inspired me to take a serious look at drawing for RPG's. I would draw everyone's characters. The consensus was that the stuff I was doing was better than the stuff in the books. The next thing I knew, I WAS drawing the books.
It was pretty amazing when the Vampire stuff took off. In '92 at Gen Con it was mammoth. I had no idea. I decided to do my own portfolio of the work because I was proud of that stuff and I wanted something new to sell at the show. I had 200 portfolios printed up and brought them with me that year. I sold every single one. I was stunned. All the years I spent going to shows and matting, framing, lugging my artwork around. I'd done modest sales, had a decent following, and enjoyed pretty good success.
But nothing prepared me for that. I remember I was up in the art show at my table. I was scheduled to do a signing at the White Wolf booth. They sent someone up to get me cause I was late. I followed the person out of the art show and down the escalator. Outside the front doors to the convention I noticed a rather large line outside the door. I remember commenting Jeez, what's that line for, to which the guy I was following replied, it's your line, they are in line to see you. I was like yeah, right, sure. We went inside the convention, followed the line all the way to this little table and it was then that it dawned on me. This IS my line. Holy Sh*t! There were like 800 people standing there waiting for my autograph. I'm not padding that number. I sat and signed for the next 4 hours. I was completely stunned. That kind of thing doesn't happen too often.
As far as games go, I have illustrated Vampire, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Twilight 2000, Traveller, Traveller 2300, Renegade Legion, Dark Conspiracy, Torg, Star Hero, City State of the Invincible Overlord, Battletech, Space 1889, among a ton of others. I was pretty prolific. The popularity and recognition I achieved in games single handedly propelled me into the comic biz. It was the next level.
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AN: You and artist Brom worked upon the Dark Ages Collectible Card Game and those cards are incredible. Do you see a lot of fans sending those cards to you to be signed and what is the process of illustrating for a card game versus say a comic cover?
TB: Dark Ages was awesome. Brom and I had known each other for a while. I'd met him years earlier when he was a fresh face at TSR. I thought his stuff was amazing even then. At the time Brom contacted me about Dark Ages he had left TSR and was working with FPG in Pittsburgh. He called me up one day and said he was putting this card game together. Guys like Phil Hale were going to contribute. Brom was art director. That was nice cause he just let us run with the concepts. I can't remember how many I did but I turned out some stuff I was real proud of. Grant (my colorist/collaborator) and I even did a couple of oil paintings.
I'd contributed to several card games around that time - Heresy: Kingdom Come, Vampire: Jihad, Star Wars Galaxy ll, Vampire, and other assorted stuff here and there. I always get cards in the mail to sign.
<< AN: After interview note: When my Uncle Leo, rolemodel and hero to me, passed away in 1994 I sent out cards to be signed by the artists and writers I liked and admired. Tim's had to be forwarded by White Wolf and the turn around from me sending to Tim returning was 8 or 9 days. Incredible. >>
TB cont'd: Card games and game illustration are very similar to cover illustration. For me anyway. I take the same approach. It all has to do with archetypes or characters. The only difference between a card and a cover is that there is more room to operate on a cover. The card will usually focus on the character only whereas a cover focuses on the character, the story and elements from that story. Other elements may include other characters. With a cover it's easier to tell a story in a single image. With card art I concentrate soley on the character and try to put him/her into some kind of ambiguous situation or setting. I like to leave certain things to the imagination of the onlooker.
AN: What are the comics you are reading now?
TB: I don't see an awful lot because I'm hell and gone from any comic shops. But when I do get out, the stuff I pick up is Hellboy, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Bruce Jones' run on The Hulk, 100 Bullets, Transmetropolitan. I loved 30 Days Of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, and of course, Hellblazer and The Punisher.
I tend to buy a book based on artwork more than anything, so when I pop into a shop I browse pretty thoroughly to see what looks cool. I really liked what Frank Quietly was doing on X-Men. That's the first time I've picked up that book in years. I left the X-Men in spirit after John Byrne left, stayed with or on\par with it during John Romita, Jr., Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith and then finally gave up on it. I was outgrowing it. But Quietly's stuff get's me excited for the material again. I always check out what Adam Hughes is doing on the Wonder Woman covers and I always look at what Bolland is doing. Maybe you can clue me into some new hot looking books.
AN: I read more for story than art. But for art I recommend the various collection of artists working with Garth Ennis on War Story and Warren Ellis over at Global Frequency. And Paul Gulacy's pencils and Jimmy Palmiotti's inks are my current rave with Reload. They combined to kick equal amounts of butt over on Master of Kung Fu and Sci Spy. Tim Truman's art on Dead Folks is great. And the best art I saw in a long time was over at Marvel with Richard Corben illustrating Cage.
Your favorite character from comics is Deathlok, but who is your favorite to illustrate and who would you like to illustrate but as of yet have not?
TB: Deathlok (is my favorite). Followed closely by John Constantine. Wolverine is still up there as well. My favorite to illustrate, unfortunately for a very short while was Blade. Constantine a close second and The Punisher right there as well. The Unknown Soldier is one I'd do in a second. As for those I'd like a crack at, here's a short list in order: Deathlok, Morbius, Kilraven, Wolverine, Enemy Ace, Grimjack, Scout, Black Cross, Sabre, and Shang Chi Master of Kung-Fu.
AN: You've done some work with lawyer/writer/child advocate Andrew Vachss. What kind of insights can you share with us as far as how it was to work with him?
TB: At first it was awe-inspiring. I got handed one of his "Burke" novels back in 1991 - I think it was Blue Belle. Beau Smith handed it to me at a retailer show and said "Read this." I did and was immediately a fan. Two weeks after I read the book, then-Dark Horse editor Jerry Prosser called and asked if I'd be interested in doing a cover for Hard Looks, Vachss' new project. A week later I was in Chicago shooting the cover. I also did an illustration for a short story called "Stations of the Cross." It was a complete success. I was becoming a huge fan of Vachss. I read all his other books. He was going to do a reading at the World Tattoo Gallery in Chicago so I went up and met him. He was a hard dude but he embraced me into his world. I talked to him on the phone occasionally and he made himself available to discuss certain projects we'd been teamed on.
All was wonderful until I did a cover for the Hard Looks collection. He hated it and sent the editor a 10-page fax detailing what he hated about it. I read the fax. I was hurt and disappointed and then pissed off. I felt the way you feel when you've taken a test and are sure you got an A, then you find out you got an F.
AN: How'd you know what my high school experience was like?
TB: Andrew is a hard guy to gauge. Prosser assured me that Andrew had just had a very rough week and I became the outlet. That was a tough one to swallow. A week later it was as if it never happened. We were talking just like it never happened. I did have to make changes to that cover and because of the changes the printed version is crap. I continued to work with Vachss here and there until he and the publisher parted ways. I am honored to have worked with him. He's an amazing man. I felt like my work took on a different meaning, there was a point to it beyond comics and superheroes. I consider working with Vachss a high-water mark in my career.
AN: He is a powerful person deserving of much praise.
Editor's Note: The following is a post-publication addition by Tim Bradstreet concerning the above passage:
Clearing The Air -
I made the mistake of bringing up a bit of personal business in our interview. Specifically, the part about the "Hard Looks" collection cover.
It seems that my version of that was not the whole truth. I was led to believe there was a harsh tone to the fair constructive criticism offered by Mr. Vachss. Andrew has contacted me about the incident and I now know the real truth behind the comments.
It's a combination of two things: 1. I was too young and too stupid to ask Vachss about it directly. 2. I just took the editor's word for law and drew my own conclusions.
Andrew was only trying to help me and I got the whole situation wrong. I'd like to publicly apologize to Andrew Vachss, and also make it clear that this episode is officially behind us.
- Timothy Bradstreet
And now back to the interview...
AN: How long a process is it for you to do a cover illustration? Can you take my readers through the process?
TB: All in all it probably takes a week to do one right. The actual drawing part only take 1-3 days but there is a lot more that goes into it. Let's use Hellblazer as an example. First I get a script from my editor, Will Dennis. I read it and circle or underline parts of the story I think may be candidates for making it on the cover. If I have a radical idea I talk to Will first to bounce it off him. Once I decide on my visual options I go about shooting. Sometimes that means casting if it's a character that I don't already have photo-ref for. Sometimes sketches or additional drawings are needed. So all of that get's drawn, shot, etc. I call it 'legwork" like I'm some kind of detective.
Once all of the visual elements have been shot or drawn I scan the material into my computer and compose the cover in Photoshop. I can agonize over this stage for a good day or two easily. Composing, re-composing, moving things around until I find the best composition and layout. At this stage it's mostly photographs and other elements pieced and positioned together into what I call a photorough. Before I print out the photo-rough to draw from I flip it horizontally. I do this because I will be drawing it on a lightbox over vellum, then it's flipped over and dry transferred to my art board.
Once that photorough is green lit, I go to work penciling. Some of these covers can be pretty detailed so penciling can take anywhere from 5 - 15 hours. Once that sucker is penciled onto the vellum I flip it back over and dry transfer it to my bristol board. After the pencils are transferred to the board I begin may favorite part of the process, the inking. The inking is where I really pull out all the stops and give those lines character. I'm nose down on that paper having a ball.
When the piece is fully inked I get the image shot onto Fabriano Artistico 140lb hot press watercolor board. Then it gets painted with watercolors, either by myself or more often by Grant Goleash. On occasion I'll want to add some digital effects so after the painting is scanned and the colors tweaked, we'll sometimes add those effects here and there. I'm not a big fan of over-filtered, over art directed Photoshop tricks so what we add is usually subtle. I don't want the cover to look like a videogame. I want it to look like what it is. A hand-painted illustration.
Sorry you asked now?
AN: Not sorry in the least.
John Constantine versus Frank Castle in a no-holds barred fight: who wins and how would you capture that image?
TB: Manno a manno Castle kicks the crud out of Constantine. Though, Constantine can take a real beating and you should never count him out. One scenario is JC beaten to a pulp, smiling anyway with that sh*t eating grin (between broken teeth) as Castle walks away from the scene triumphant. As Castle walks, he suddenly realizes he can't remember where he's going, or where he's just been. He can't even remember his own name. Total amnesia. Constantine has wiped him clean. They both win.
Constantine is that kind of sort. He's a smart-ass prick but deep down he's got a heart. He knows the good guys from the bad guys. He reads Castle as a tortured soul and frees him, probably out of spite for the beating he took. Castle is no longer obsessed with his loss. He's a clean slate and starts a new life freed of his emotional pain. Don't you love happy endings?
AN: You are a baseball fan. Your favorite team/s, position and favorite player, please?
TB: First and foremost I'm a Pirates fan. I'm often asked why the Pirates? The answer is simple. I spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh growing up. My parent's best friends live there. Their kids were the same ages roughly as me and my brother and sister. They are like family. I adopted the Pirates. I never liked the Cubs and I'm a National League guy so the Sox were out as well.
There is great history with the Pirates with players like Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Smokey Burgess, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, John Candalaria, Kent Tekulve and then Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and Tony Pena. World Series victories in '60, '71' and '79. I'm pretty die hard with these guys and I'm excited about this year. It looks like they could do pretty well. The guys I like now are Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Aramis Ramirez, Rob Makoviack, Jack Wilson, and Pokey Reese. Favorite position is Catcher. You have to know the game to play behind the plate. My all-time favorite player is Clemente. Also, I would be remiss if I did not add that I'm a major Steeler and Penguins fan as well.
AN: Timbradstreet.com is really cool. Tell my readers about it and any plans you might have for it.
TB: Well, originally my webguy Greg Pare and I just wanted to put something together as a resource. A place for fans to go to get all of the new scoops on projects and sneak peaks at upcoming covers and such. We added things like a checklist of my published work (badly in need of updating), photo galleries, art galleries, the usual. Since he is rather adept at Flash we added a trailer to the intro of the site. We change it about every year and a half to try and keep things fresh.
The one problem I have with the way it's set up is that I can only update three pages myself. The main page, the appearance schedule and recent news section. I want to do an overhaul on the whole thing this summer. I want to be able to update the entire site myself. There are also new links now on the main page for people to buy stuff, which is new. Stuff like prints and my artbook, as well as additional links to interviews andoriginal art availability. The site is real easy to navigate and there is a lot of content, but when we overhaul this puppy, look out.
AN: Please tell us about your upcoming projects if you could.
TB: Well, let's see. There is the upcoming issue of Hellblazer. I'm shooting that this summer. A new line of art books called Archetype. Each of the books will focus on a different subject. The first is Archetype - Vampires. I still haven't gotten vampires out of my system and I have a good deal of reference laying around that I've been holding onto for this book. The second book is going to be Vigilantes and Anti-Heroes. The third book will be Bounty Hunters and Pugilists. The themes are general to allow me to do whatever I want. For example, the Bounty Hunters book will have historical, contemporary, and futuristic characters. No timeline is safe. I bounce all over the place. It will be packed with both male and female characters so it will give people a chance to see more ladies show up in my work. These are all characters I will create.
Basically Archetype works like this. A full-page illustration of the character on the left hand page. On the facing page is a dossier. Vital statistics, some backstory and in some cases, additional illustrations. There will be approximately 22 to 23 characters per book. After I publish the first three volumes they will be collected into one large volume. We plan to do the collections as hardcover volumes. After the first three are collected I'll start on the next three books. That entire trilogy will feature characters from Red Sky Diary.
Right now, in addition to Hellblazer and Punisher every month, I'm doing a cover for a new Cal McDonald mystery by Steve Niles. A new print for the 25th anniversary of Dawn Of The Dead, available only at The Pittsburgh Comicon at the end of April. I'm getting set to work on a film which I can't talk about yet, and I just finished doing a ton of conceptual work and attitude illustrations for Namco's sequel to Dead To Rights (videogame). I'm ready to take a break and just deal with my two monthlies for a while as convention season gears up.
Slush and Alex thank Tim for a terrific interview.
All comic publishers and creative talent are welcome to submit items to be reviewed. Send items to be considered for review to:
Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142
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