Simon Bisley doesn’t like to hold back. Whether he’s decapitating someone for a page of “Slaine,” destroying an entire planet in an issue of “Lobo” or dishing out his thoughts on the comic book scene, you can always trust the artist to let you know what’s really in his head. It’s no wonder, then, that he found his first home at “2000 AD,” the subversive, brutal, weekly UK anthology, before moving on to influence the entire comics industry in the early ’90s.
“2000 AD” celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2012 with more than a few landmarks, including inviting Bisley back to draw the cover for prog 1800 after years away from the book. Bisley first made his name at “2000 AD” on such properties as “The ABC Warriors,” “Judge Dredd,” and the legendary saga “Slaine: The Horned God.”
Bisley spoke with Comic Book Resources recently about his epic work on “2000 AD” as part of CBR’s ongoing tribute to “2000 AD” for the classic anthology’s 35th Anniversary. Bisley discussed his trademark works including “Lobo” and “John Constantine,” his feelings on the “Dredd” film, how he broke in to “2000 AD,” his love of Captain America and much, much more.
CBR News: Simon, what’s your earliest memory of “2000 AD?”
Simon Bisley: I’m not sure. I remember the one before that, “Hookjaw.” Seeing a picture of a shark with a hook swimming around the cover. I think there was one with a free frisbee or something on the front, too. How I came across Judge Dredd and “2000 AD” is so vague it’s just kind of blended into seeing and knowing it.
I think it was an American reprint, actually. I forget what it was called but they did “2000 AD” reprints in the smaller American format size. This is very boring already, isn’t it? I’m being boring! I’m falling asleep!
They formatted them to American size comic books, even though I’m pretty sure it was a British company. I do remember that because the format was so different that they had to stretch the images to make them fit in the American size comics. So all the images were stretched out like in a bad movie.
When did you start working for “2000 AD” as an artist? Is it true that Pat Mills first discovered you?
No, I don’t know why people say that. It was the editors of “2000 AD.” A friend of mine was an editor at a car magazine and he had me send him work to show around and he could act as my agent. He got it to “2000 AD” and it was Richard Burton and Steve MacManus who first saw my work and then sent it on to Pat, I assume. I had drawn robots in my portfolio. A lot of robots. That ended up being the basis for an “ABC Warriors” story by Pat Mills. But it was the editors who first discovered me.
What’s discovered though, you know what I mean? Is it because someone just saw me? Oh my god, look, there’s an artist! There he is! Oh look, I’ll make him draw, now I’ve discovered him. It’s not like he hasn’t already been on the Earth for 18, 19 years. It’s not so much a discovery as a decision. It was decided that I could cut it by the editors. But it may have been Pat who was the biggest voice that said, “Hey! This guy’s ok.”
Many artists were just Simon Bisley rip-offs in the late ’80s and early ’90s. How would you describe your own style and how do you feel about being so influential as an artist?
I think you can see the influence now, in modern computer games, really. I think that what I put in was sort of grit. Balls and grit and damage. Instead of everybody looking so nice all the time, I actually put damage on people’s shoulder pads and scars and cuts and shit. I was a bit surprised how quickly and suddenly I was emulated and copied. I think it was all about my style being very powerful and immediate and it was very easy to read and to copy. It wasn’t very complicated.
I was influenced by American artists, Frank Frazetta, obviously. It’s hard for me to say what my style is exactly though, because I’m not not me, you know what I mean? I can’t look from the outside to see. I think maybe I just shook the industry up a bit and put some excitement in to comics at the time.
What are your favorite “2000 AD” characters to draw and why?
Joe Pineapples [from “ABC Warriors.”] I just think he’s cool. He’s a robot and doesn’t do anything particularly, just does his job. Just shoots people. He’s neither bad nor good nor anything. It wouldn’t matter anyways; a robot can do what he likes because he’s a robot. A robots not moral because if a robot’s moral then it can do something against god or society and therefore it has to have rights like a human being.
One of the stories I loved with Joe Pineapples focused on him as an assassin. I forget what the story was, but there was such a buzz to draw when I was younger that I was always excited to draw anything. There’s no drawing I don’t enjoy.
You were the artist for “Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham.” What’s the story behind you getting such a high-profile gig?
I think I was working on “Lobo” at the time with DC Comics. I was approached by “2000 AD,” though, and asked if I wanted to do a crossover. Of course, I was ecstatic. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I was flipping out all over the place. It was very exciting and a very smooth ride. Both companies were accommodating and there was no conflict there. Maybe there was some talk about making Batman a bit bigger or having Judge Dredd show up in a panel, but just to ensure that they both got equal billing.
That kind of job doesn’t come along every day. But then again, I think I deserved it! [Laughs]
“Slaine: The Horned God” is considered by many to be your best work. Why do you think “The Horned God” has remained so popular over the decades?
To answer your last comment first, I think the reason it’s had such success, and I actually think this answers both your questions, is that it’s timeless because it’s Celtic mythology, based on an Irish folk-hero. Everybody loves the Celts; everybody loves that period of history, Mother Earth and all that kind of stuff. The Celts extended all the way to Spain before it dissipated.
Also, because it was in color, more or less fully painted. At that time, that was unusual to see a color book like that. It obviously had a strong impact. You couldn’t help but notice it. It was loved by people at the time and I think it’s still fresh because of the subject matter.
Do you prefer penciling or painting your work?
I prefer both. Both exactly the same. With inking there’s more precision, more of a draftsmen work where you have to be more precise, more accurate. That’s fine, but then painting creates more speed and more of an atmosphere. The pencil, the pencil lines can smudge and that works for me but then paint works for me, too. Paint can create a better atmosphere with more textures and colors. You can create a mood much more rapidly with paint. Just straight pencils are great too, because you can create atmosphere and then have someone else ink your stuff and that’s exciting to me too. To have to ink it yourself is like doing it twice, for me. It’s like, well I’ve already done that why redraw it again? But yeah, pencils and inks and paints, it’s all good for me.
Your collaborations with Pat Mills on “2000 AD” in the ’80s were particularly fruitful. What other writers did you enjoy working with in your heyday at “2000 AD?”
Well, I didn’t even realize that my collaboration with Pat was so fruitful until I was older, I’m 50 now. I appreciate Pat much, much more than when I was younger. When I was younger I was just full of spunk, man. I was full of energy. I just wanted to go. I could stop buses, I could do anything. I was as strong as three men. I had no consideration for anything or anybody; it was just all about me. Now that I’m older, I reflect and think that, yeah, Pat was a great writer and is a great writer. He’s always an interesting person.
I think Frank Miller [is a favorite collaborator], too. But that was not so much his writing as the visuals that went hand-in-hand with the writing. As a package, you know what I mean? Oh and Alan Grant! Of course, Alan Grant. A genius and what a laugh. He’s hilarious. Also, Keith Giffen, of course. He’s very fun to work with. I think I enjoy working with everybody!
Do you still read “2000 AD” today?
Yeah, as I get older, every now and again. [Laughs]
I did do a cover for “2000 AD” recently that I was very lucky to do and very happy to do.
That cover was for Issue 1800, correct?
Yeah, what a great job! I was so excited; I actually couldn’t believe how excited I was to do that. It was great.
Does that mean you might come back to do actual interiors for “2000 AD” in the near future?
They’re always asking me to do a story. I’d love to work with “2000 AD” more. I’d love to do more stuff with them. I will be doing in the next few years. Definitely yes.
You touched on this a bit earlier when you said your style featured grit, so it might not be a coincidence you’re best known for anti-heroes like Judge Dredd, Batman and Lobo. Does your style attract people to offer these types of assignments to you or do you actively seek out these types of characters and stories?
It’s interesting you say that, because someone else mentioned that recently. They asked if I realized I was best known for drawing all these anti-heroes and it’s true! I do draw a lot of anti-hero types. I don’t choose them; it’s just what people give me to do. I guess I’ve been stereotyped a bit, maybe the way actors are, or maybe it has to do with my personality, I don’t know.
I mean, John Constantine [from Bisley’s current “Hellblazer” run], what about him then? Actually, I guess he is the same! He is the anti-hero type.
Yeah, I’d say John Constantine definitely falls in to that category.
[Laughs] That’s funny because my own personal favorite to draw is Joe Pineapples and he was more of a quiet character and more reflective. I am very much more reflective inward personally.
I’ve drawn Wolverine, too. And the Punisher for Marvel! You’re right; they’re all anti-hero types.
But I think that maybe anti-heroes have more substance to them. A little bit more to draw about. You don’t just draw a character, you draw the way he walks, he moves, he gestures and everything else. You draw on experience from things you see. And I suppose most of the people I know are a bit of the anti-hero type.
To give you an example of a more conventional character, what about Superman? Would that be harder for me to do? It might be, I think. It’d be interesting. There’s gotta be something twisted in it.
You should get on the phone with fellow “2000 AD” alum and current “Superman” writer Andy Diggle.
[Laughs] I wonder… I dunno, I’d be a bit of a risk, wouldn’t I?
I’ve actually just done 25 images of Superman for a Japanese company. It’s being used for one of those pachinko machines in Japan. It’s ace.
One of my favorite characters, though, that I want to do more with is Captain America. I think he’s fucking awesome! I don’t know why I like him so much but I think he’s amazing! I just don’t know why, maybe it’s the uniform? He has to fight so hard. All the other Avengers, they have all these powers. Hulk can just hit somebody, Iron Man’s got the suit, Thor can hit someone with his magic hammer, but Captain America is just like, ‘Oh fuck!’ because he’s just barely superhuman. He’s above human strength, yeah, but nothing crazy. He has to really pile in there. And when he’s fighting the Nazis, it’s hilarious. All the action and imagery and All-American style is great. I love all that stuff. I did a great image of him for a trading card. He’s running straight on towards us, but his body’s twisting so the shield’s coming around, but his head’s still straight like a sprinter. And there are flames all around whizzing past him and he’s just running forward. I loved doing that.
Yeah, Captain America! I want to do a whole scene where he just has a fight with the Germans. Just punching Germans and smashing things and running around. Then you get the big German guy whose on steroids or some shit who thinks he can take Cap on and they have a big brawl and it just goes on for ages. I fucking love that shit.
You need to pitch that to Marvel right away!
I’ll just do it anyways!
I think Cap’s greatness comes from Kirby’s power. He just had so much power. That’s what gets me excited. It’s funny cause I didn’t like Kirby’s stuff in the old days, though. I thought it was all blocky and chunky. Now I see the genius in it.
Who do you think would win in a bar fight between Judge Dredd, John Constantine and Lobo?
Clearly, clearly, clearly it’s gonna be Lobo, isn’t it? [Laughs]
There’s absolutely no hope for the other two. But then again, maybe [John Constantine] with his cunning will find a way. Or Judge Dredd through his pure stubbornness. Judge Dredd is almost like Marv from Sin City, just impossible to kill. Lobo probably wouldn’t just kill Constantine and Dredd, though, he’d kill the entire city. Then you can count on him killing the entire planet. I hate to be nerdy here, but I think that Constantine and Judge Dredd would have to collaborate together to even stand a chance.
I think John Constantine wouldn’t be bothered to fight, though, and I think that Lobo wouldn’t either. I’d think Judge Dredd would just want to arrest them both!
What do you think is the lasting impact of “2000 AD” on the comics industry, both in the UK and worldwide?
Staying power, I think. It’s also spawned a lot of talent. Artists and writers that went on to America. It’s the birthplace of a lot of creativity. It gave birth to me, found me and made me, really. If it wasn’t for “2000 AD,” maybe I would have made it to America, maybe I wouldn’t have, I don’t know. So it made and shaped me in to the artist I was. If anything, it’s like a mother to a lot of British creators. I owe it a lot and I’m glad to see it’s still going.
It hasn’t had much of a worldwide impact, though, has it? “Dredd” was a good movie but that’s the latest thing to hit internationally from “2000 AD.” I think “2000 AD” deserve to have more movies of their characters.
What did you think about the “Dredd” movie?
I loved it. It was very cool. It was very loyal to the essence of the character and to “2000 AD.” It was even more hardcore than the “Batman” movies have been so far. I was thinking, “Crikey, I wish Karl Urban could make a ‘Batman’ movie!”
I was very surprised because I had no real interest in watching it. I didn’t see how it was going to be done well, but they did do very well. I really liked the approach. The economy of scenes. It was clever in all the senses, you know? Dredd came across as you’d imagine.
How did it go down in America?
It did very well among critics but underperformed at the box office. They didn’t it market it well at all.
That’s the problem. I think it could have had the same impact as “Mad Max.” It was that kind of movie. Who is Judge Dredd, anyways? American people don’t even know who he is. It’ll be a cult film, eventually. People will catch on to it. Hopefully a sequel will have better marketing.
They should do a Judge Dredd and Batman crossover, shouldn’t they? That would be fucking kickass, man. That would be amazing. It’d be so hardcore, there’d be so much action! So many of these superhero movies just fuck around talking and philosophizing about their day. Just get on with it!
“2000 AD” is available weekly in comic shops and digitally at 2000adonline.com and in the App Store.