"Bad Planet" Week: Talking with Inker/Art Director Tim Bradstreet

All this week we've been taking a close look at the December debuting Image Comics series "Bad Planet." So far we've talked with series creator/co-writer Thomas Jane and co-writer Steve Niles in a two-part interview that ran Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we sat down with penciler Lewis LaRosa. Today it's Tim Bradstreet's turn, who brings his inking and art direction skills to this scifi epic.

As Jane told CBR News on Monday, he and Bradstreet became acquainted when Jane was working on "The Punisher" movie and quickly became good friends. Jane had read the "Punisher" MAX series and was instantly a fan of Bradstreet's based on the strength of the covers he did for the series. When it came time to ready publicity for the film, Jane asked that Bradstreet be involved. "When we shot the stuff for the movie poster, Tom was very cool and down to Earth. He was a fan to an extent because he told me that he did not decide to do the 'Punisher' movie until he had seen my work on the title," Bradstreet told CBR News. "It helped to nudge him into taking the role. That was most flattering. Then we discovered that I'd drawn him before on the cover of 'The Crow: City of Angels.' We had a good laugh over that one.

"That might have been the end of it, but down the line when Lion's Gate was trying to make a decision on the theatrical poster for the film, Tom became my biggest advocate," Bradstreet continued. "He stood up for me and my vision in the meetings. He said, why are we looking at this other stuff when we have the guy already? During promotion for 'Punisher,' Tom did a San Diego appearance at a local store and I joined him. The previous night over drinks and smokes he hatched me his plan for 'Bad Planet.' I became the facilitator. We kept hooking up at Cons and stuff while promoting the film and we just hit it off with our similar sensibilities both in comics and in film. Now I can't get him to stop calling me!"

Jane & Niles has met previously at a convention and the duo realized they both grew up in Washington D.C., both ran in similar circles and, in fact, Jane had purchased CD's from the band "Gray Matter," which Niles was a member of. "This was in the back of my mind when Tom was asking me about established comic writers he might team up with to get 'Bad Planet' out of his mind and onto a page," explained Bradstreet. "I'm not sure I even thought of anyone else seriously. The only other guy I even considered was Brian Azzarello, but I quickly realized he was exclusive to DC. I'd like to get those two together, though. Brian would completely dig Tom's vibe and vice versa. Sick minds think alike.

"My first instinct was right on the money, though. Steve is the perfect guy for this. I don't think Tom talked to him five minutes before he realized the same. It was perfect timing because Steve and I had only recently reconnected after being out of touch for a long while. Somehow we got drawn back together. The three of us collided and the result is this asskicking scifi epic called 'Bad Planet.'

"Those two are a great team and I'm along for the ride"

The series was originally set-up with IDW and Australian artist Chris Bolton, but when the series moved to Image Comics, Bradstreet was brought in to help guide the artistic side of things. "At first I was trying to help find artists and initially I was throwing out names like Richard Corben, who I thought would have been ideal for this having done similar material in 'Creepy,' '1994,' and with Fantagor. It would have been a coup to pull him onboard in light of the fact that we wanted 'Bad Planet' to have that old E.C./Warren Publishing feel. In a sense, the same feel we want for the lion's share of our RAW books. We couldn't land Corben because he was too tied up with projects and then I went off to Italy for seven months to work on a film. While I was gone Tom and Steve found this Chris Bolton guy. We were all in love with his conceptual stuff. It had a unique look that also carried with it the flavor we were going for. But when it came time for him to turn in pages, he had decided to do them in a different style. Tom elected to let him go.

"We really needed an a-list guy so we all three skulled it over one afternoon at Tom's house and I threw the idea of Lewis LaRosa at them. He'd had a tough time working for another company and was considering getting out of the business. I told Lewis 'You are way too young to abandon your dreams because of a few bad experiences.' Tom and Steve both loved Lewis' stuff so I offered him the job the next day. The rest will be history once issue six hits shelves next summer."

Bolton had done a number of production sketches for "Bad Planet," as was seen in our November, 2004 interview with Jane, but with a new creative team on board things were bound to change. Bradstreet said that the one element that did survive was the design of the Alien Death Spiders. "It has changed according to the artist's interpretation, but for all intents and purposes it's very near to what Chris did," said Bradstreet. "But that was Tom. Tom had a very unique idea for how he wanted the spiders to look. He art directs everything. I always throw in my two cents.

"The other big concept was the character of the Convict. That's Lewis being directed by me and Tom. Tom has final word, but it's a rare occasion when he doesn't trust or support my input. Both he and Lewis have a pretty good idea that I know what will look cool. That's my specialty. But as I said, it starts with Lewis giving us something to begin with, then we shape it bit by bit. Get rid of the fur, give him skin like an elephant, below the neck line he is covered in scars, keep the Mandrill shaped mouth, but lose the antenna, stuff like that."

While Bradstreet knew LaRosa from his work on "Punisher" for Marvel, the two never directly worked together outside of a project where Bradstreet inked Lewis work, but ultimately the published product was inked by someone else. When Bradstreet brought LaRosa on board "Bad Planet," the two finally got to work together, with Bradstreet in something of a mentor position. "Lewis is pliable and wanted to be directed a bit because he wanted me to be happy with the material," said Bradstreet. "So, I asked him to get rid of a lot of the comic book style (how to draw comics the comic book way), like lose the crosshatch and the big swishy lines and give me texture. Think of these panels as separate illustrations, make every one of them an illustration that could stand alone as a piece of art. 'Bad Planet' is taking that a step further because he's doing all of those things and his style is evolving. Then I get those pages and I add what I need to add. Mainly I wanted him to be very tight with the pencils. I absolutely hate to ink unfinished pencils or breakdowns. I'm only as good as the art I'm given to work with. If it's tight, then I can really do my thing, which is accentuating the good stuff that is already there by adding my line to it. Then I'll take it an extra step on occasion. Where is it OK to depart from what Lewis has given me and add a dry brush technique? Or sometimes it's me just knowing a better way to show a star field or smoke. I like to booger stuff up, too. I feel totally comfortable adding things where I think it needs an extra dash of attitude. Lewis doesn't carry an ego on his sleeve and we're all about the collaboration so it is working out famously. Again, similar sensibilities."

In addition to inking the series and ultimately being the guy who brought the "Bad Planet" team together, he's also serving as designed and art director for the series, responsible for having landed an impressive list of guest cover artists. "Originally I was going to do all the covers for 'Bad Planet,'" explained Bradstreet. "Then when I went to Italy and 'Bad Planet' was steam rolling without me, we decided I'd just do the cover for the collection. Then I got back and we switched publishers. At that point I became a lot more involved. Because my schedule is so jammed already and after deciding to take on the ink chores once we scored LaRosa, it seemed a better idea to contribute only a few covers. Then one night Tom and I were brainstorming and we thought, we have to bring in our mutual buddy Bernie Wrightson. Then I got the idea that this could become a murderer's row of classic illustrators. So I say to Tom, how about we get guys like Stout, Kaluta, Schultz, Dave Stevens and Gary Gianni to follow Bernie's lead? That way we really give this book that look and feel we so desperately want. Tom's like, 'Great! Now how do we do that?'

"That was the easy part. I know most of these guys so I just called them, emailed them or found them in person at a show. We already had the first issue cover done so it helped us in our recruiting to be sure. So that's how it happened. Bernie led to Dave Stevens, that led to Schultz, Bill Stout, and Kaluta. They just came on board in succession. I just saw Schultz's cover pencils a few weeks ago and my jaw hit the floor. It's very cool to sit back and hire guys and see what they do with the material. I keep telling Tom to pinch himself. It's like seeing your child born."

Science fiction comics have a decidedly different look and feel than most mainstream comics, especially when you look at product that comes out of Europe where scifi comics tend to flourish. Bradstreet contends that being the rich genre it is, scifi is suitable for many different artistic styles, but the "Bad Planet" team had a very specific style in mind. "The one style that really gets us is that old Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson thing," said Bradstreet. "Or, as with Corben that eerie, strange, and disturbing vision. Either way the characters have to be believable and drawn somewhat realistically. It helps us identify with them. It becomes easy to put ourselves into their situation like it's me or you that is getting scared to death, alone in a massive drifting space hulk with only mutated walking corpses to call company. It's why I always identified more with The Unknown Soldier than Green Lantern. Or Warlord rather than Spider-Man. To me the superhero thing was always cool, but when I got older it was the more believable heroes I gravitated towards. And for horror, you absolutely have to have that sense of realism. The intensity goes up a notch when it might just as well be you running in fear from a hook wielding maniac. It's ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. If you're Superman it just doesn't work. You'd simply laugh while the hook wielding maniac clangs his weapon against your impervious skin. It's apples and oranges though. Superhero comics have their place and scifi/horror has it's place as well. You can certainly combine all of that and get something nice too, like Deathlok (the original), but even so I'm not sure I would ever have called Deathlok a Superhero comic. When you combine all three it becomes something new or something classified by whatever genre is most prevalent in the material. To me it's all good. It's the escape."

Be sure to return tomorrow when we bring "Bad Planet" week to a close with an extended art preview plus the CBR exclusive premier of the live-action web movie "Bad Planet: Deathleap" directed by Thomas Jane.

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