FAN EXPO: Talking with Brian Bolland

While his most famous cover image of the Joker --that of the seminal graphic novel "Batman: The Killing Joke" -- adorned the front of Toronto's Fan Expo program, fan-favorite artist Brian Bolland found more than a few other characters to sketch for fans in attendance, from Judge Dredd to Animal Man. But with "The Dark Knight" still fresh in comics fans' minds, the Joker was of course the biggest "draw" of all, and there were a number of devotees lining up every morning for a chance to nab a shot of the Clown Prince of Crime from the extremely meticulous Bolland, who can only complete about nine sketches a day.

Luckily for CBR, the waves of fans approaching Bolland's table were happy to stand with mouths agape and silently watch the artist work, meaning there was plenty of peace and quiet to conduct an interview with Boland on his somewhat accelerated convention schedule, the ins and outs of drawing with a ballpoint pen, and a few teases of what's up next for this most acclaimed creator.

CBR: Brian, your name isn't often seen on the bills for many conventions and other events, especially in North America. Have you been trying to make more personal appearances?

Brian Bolland: Well, I really don't remember the year, but some time in the '90s I was invited to a show in Norfolk, Virginia, and I was a guest, David Mazzucchelli was a guest, and Colleen Doran was a guest. And we got to the convention center in Norfolk, walked in and there was about four or five dealers there and no paying customers -- at all. And we stood around, and one guy walked in who had bought a ticket to come in, and the only reason he'd done it was because he was the best friend of the guy who'd organized the convention. Over the entire weekend, David and Colleen and I and one or two others sat up on panels and talked amongst ourselves to a completely empty room! So that wasn't particularly the reason, but I didn't come to America for another eight years after that.

But then I was invited to [Comic-Con International in] San Diego in 2006, and I went there, and I've been coming [to America] every year since. I was in New York in February 2007, so I'm making it an annual event now. I'm a little less rare than I used to be.

It's been very interesting to see what's been happening with the new edition of "Batman: The Killing Joke" in terms of sales. The new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," seems to have given your book a really healthy bump, particularly to people in the mass market who may not have read a Batman comic before. When you sat down to rework the colors, did you say, "Let's line this up with the movie?"

Well, it's possible that the collected editions department at DC knew that, but I think they're doing collected editions of just about everything at the moment. And it just so happened that I was in the DC offices in February of 2007, and Bob Harras, who's the editor of collected editions said, "This is what we're doing." And I said, "Look, can I recolor it please?" I wasn't particularly thinking that there was a movie coming along, not at all really, but I suppose there is a kind of serendipity about it.

I suppose it's the new edition is a nice kind of thing that you can buy in a book shop. I assume it's available to people who wouldn't even consider buying a comic book because it looks like a book, doesn't it?

We've been watching you sketch a little during the show, and amongst all your specific pencils and sharpies and art pens, you're working with a regular Bic ballpoint, which is pretty non-traditional, surely?

Well, that seems to be a little bit of a talking point. It just so happened that when I was coming over here on the plane, the only tool I had in hand was a ballpoint pen. And back home, I don't use any tools like that. I work entirely on a computer, so I'm completely unconfident with any real world tools. And a lot of these things, you start the drawing and you find that the pen you're using has a very thick line to it, and it's not very satisfactory. But I wouldn't use this to reproduce from. This is really just for convention sketches, so I hope I don't start a trend of people drawing with ballpoint pens.

A lot of illustrators make a considerable chunk of their living selling original artwork. How much has that changed for you now that you have been working exclusively with the computer for so many years? Was it ever a factor in your career when it came to going digital?

I went digital because other people were coloring my work, and the computer color really does swamp the line drawing, and I thought if anyone was going to swamp my line drawing with color, it was going to be me. So I just had to learn the whole process, and there is really no distinction between working on the color and working on the line. You're using the same pen that comes with the Wacom tablet, so you might as well use it to do the drawing. In my case, I find that I liked that. But it does, if you're thinking in terms of selling your artwork; well, there is no artwork. So it's a disadvantage, that. But in terms of all the possibilities you have available with a computer, it's just such an attractive thing to do.

Do you find you're producing work faster since you've gone digital?

No. No, I think it balances out because you can blow your image up very large and work on tiny details which are so tiny the printing process is going to lose them. So you often end up losing time because you get interested in a particular detail. It just gives you more possibilities, more options. If you don't like the position of an arm, you can just move it. If you think the head is too small, you can make it bigger or smaller. You can move the figure up in relation to another figure. So it's not a quickening process, it's a process that gives you more possibilities.

These days we're seeing so many different museums showcasing art boards from traditional comic book artists. Do you think it would be cool to present an art show that was all flat screen monitors displaying digital work like yours, where viewers could zoom in and out to examine the detail?

That's a really interesting idea, isn't it? To have an interactive art show where you can zoom in on the image and zoom out on it. You need to do that, don't you? What a great idea. [Laughs] I mean, I personally am just not interested in the idea of comics as collectible art -- the idea that my image, once it's done, is just going to go to some wealthy collector and is not going to be seen by anybody else. My biggest thrill is when I see my work in print. If I see my work reproduced several times over, I get a real thrill from that. I don't get a thrill from handing over a piece of artwork and never seeing it again.

To wrap up, what can you tell us about your upcoming work?

Well, at the moment, I'm regular cover artist on "Jack of Fables," which is a Vertigo book. I'm supposed to be doing a series of "The Sprit" covers. And they're going to do a little run of "Animal Man," and I think there's also going to be a Zatanna series that I've done one cover for. We're doing a deluxe edition of "Camelot 3000" which I did first for DC, and I have to turn in a new cover for that. So I'm cover guy for the moment, but there are all sorts of other projects which I kind of have in mind -- maybe one which is a little more commercial and maybe others that would be commercial death for me that no one would actually buy. I'm not really sure, but mainly I'm a cover artist at the moment.

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