While primarily a fantasy artist, John Bolton has brought his signature style of painting to a number of different franchises and characters over the course of his long career, including Batman, Sandman and “Army of Darkness,” among others. He’s also known for his collaborations with Neil Gaiman on “Books of Magic” and Chris Claremont on “Classic X-Men.” With a resume stretching back over thirty years, newer readers have recently become aware of his work thanks to new hardcover collections of Bolton classics like “Marada the She-Wolf” and “Someplace Strange” as well as recent works like Vetigo’s “The Green Woman.”
Starting in 2011, Bolton began painting a new comics trilogy, “Shame,” written by influential colorist-turned-author Lovern Kindzierski and published by Renegade Arts. The second installment in the trilogy, titled “Pursuit,” arrived in 2013. Now the dark fairy tale is ready to conclude with the third volume, “Shame: Redemption,” which comes out this March. CBR News spoke to Bolton about the end of “Shame” which, as he reveals, won’t mark the end of his collaboration with Kindzierski or their exploration of this realm.
CBR News: With “Shame” about to come to a close, let’s reflect on the trilogy’s beginning. How did you initially end up working on “Shame”?
John Bolton: I got a call from Lovern in 1988. He introduced himself and we talked for a while. He then told me the story of “Shame.” The story really interested me and I wanted to work on it straight away. I was so inspired that I did some character sketches and even a painting — not knowing that Lovern and I would have to wait two decades to find a publisher. Three years ago Lovern told me that he may have found a publisher and, because I still had enthusiasm for this story, I thought, “Great, at last.” The first ideas I came up with in 1988 shouldn’t have worked today, but in this case, I found the character sketches and designs were strong and they worked.
What exactly was it about “Shame” that made you so interested and excited about the project?
The story was fascinating with the extremes of beauty and evil but also empathy. I liked that it’s a story that doesn’t follow mainstream fantasy fairy tale stories.
With that being said, how would you describe “Shame?”
“Shame” is a dark, spellbinding story. It is an unusual macabre and visually exciting. The character Shame is thoroughly wicked and performs her plans with a steadfast malevolence.
So what can you say about “Shame: Redemption,” the final volume of the trilogy? I’m wondering what will happen in the final book given where the second one ended.
There was an innocence in Book 1 of “Shame,” which in Book 2 moved into a more mature level. With “Redemption,” the final book — well, I don’t want to ruin it for you — maybe you should just wait for the book.
What has it been like working with writer Lovern Kindzierski?
Lovern is one of those writers who has left me to interpret and visualize the story with complete freedom. He is always open to suggestions I make and will include ideas that I have come up with. He is a generous writer and never overwrites. For example, there was dialogue for the last page of “Book 2,” but when he saw the page, he decided it would be more powerful without words.
What is your creative process on a book like “Shame”?
I receive a plot outline from the writer. I then scribble ideas on the script and break it down into pages. I then transfer those first ideas into my breakdown book, which is a small A5 sketch book. I need to see if pages and spreads work well together. I am also at this point trying to work out the colors. Even though I am sketching in black and white, I try and visualize the pages in color.
The atmosphere of a story will help me decide on what medium to use. With “Shame” I used watercolors, which gave me the ethereal delicacy I was looking for. Watercolors can be notoriously difficult but at the same time immensely satisfying.
Why did you feel that watercolors were the right media for this project? What are they able to offer that other media could not?
Like I said, the atmosphere of a story will help me decide on what medium to use. With “Shame” I used watercolors, which gave me the ethereal delicacy I was looking for. Color is very important to me and each medium offers up different moods. I wanted really thin layers of color that conveyed shapes and maintained transparency and captured the light through the washes, which adds another layer.
With “Shame,” you’ve had to design and create nearly every aspect of the world depicted in the series. Do you enjoy working on a book like this, where you have to do a lot of creative heavy lifting in order to bring the world to life?
That’s true of not only the “Shame” trilogy, but many of my other books. I like to come up with the look of the characters and the surroundings. I become the locations manager, the costume designer, make-up artist, art director and cinematographer.
Do you have a favorite character or creature from the books?
That’s a difficult question to answer because of the time I invest in each character. Each of the characters, including Merritt — but not Mother Virtue — start off vulnerable but then they find an inner strength and become stronger and consequently their body language changes over the course of the story. I have never been asked this question. I don’t know. What I do is intuitive.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of great writers over the years, everyone from Neil Gaiman to Chris Claremont. What do you look for in a collaborator or in a project?
I have been lucky over my career to have worked with some of the best writers. They write their stories to my strengths and leave me to create. With each story I often use a different medium. The style for each project stems from the content and emotion of the story.
Is there something you still want to do? Something you’d like to do more of?
Never before have I wanted to continue on a character as much as I have with “Shame.” I have already started the first book of the second trilogy. The fact that there is a second trilogy tells you how much I am committed to this project and enjoying the story and characters. I am always pleasantly surprised with what Lovern comes up with.
There has been some very nice books reprinting some of your older work in recent years. Do you like seeing your previous work presented in this way?
It’s nice to look back — as long as you are looking forward!
“Shame: Redemption” arrives on March 26th
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