Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 2: Starting as an Artist

Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 2

Newsarama continues its candid interview with Tim Bradstreet about his twenty year career as an artist and the upcoming release of his book Archetype: Images and Cinematic Illustration Volume 2. Click here for part one.

Newsarama: Tim, you have a great deal of reverence for the people who have proceeded you as fantasy artists—as comic book artists—and this reverence can be seen in your work; how much formal art training do you have?

Tim Bradstreet: None—and I think that you find that the artists who have skipped school found some other way to learn those same lessons—they have to in order to succeed. Does being an artist require proper schooling? No, and I think it’s one of the few vocations that doesn’t require that.

NRAMA: An artist can walk out into their yard and get a lesson…

TB: Right. Art is everywhere and it’s just one of those vocations where there is no prerequisite. You can come up out of the blue. Look at Frazetta as an example—didn’t he do his first oil painting at the age of five? You have some people who are just wunderkinds or prodigies. There aren’t any prodigy ditch diggers and prodigy hamburger servers. Even lawyers have to learn about the law before they can be good at their jobs—so I feel honored that I have somehow reached that arena as an artist with no formal training.

NRAMA: There is one artist you didn’t talk about earlier—Gene Day—how did he influence your work?

TB: For his short time—or better, my short time with him on my radar—before he passed away, his work just completely blew me away. I discovered his work through Space Opera in the 7th and 8th grade when I would play role playing games with friends. Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World—stuff like that; well, I started playing Space Opera and I saw his illustrations and compared to the work you’d see in a lot of other gaming books—with the exception of the D&D books which were a cut above everyone else—this stuff was just amazing. I didn’t understand how publishers worked then and that sort of thing and his work just really stuck out like a sore thumb or more like a very healthy green thumb. (laugh)

I think it was around that time that I saw his work in Master of Kung Fu—he was inking Mike Zeck at the time—you’ve got to love those penciller/ inker teams that worked on books together…

NRAMA: Byrne and Austin were pretty prevalent back in those days…

TB: Oh yeah! Who didn’t love the X-Men? I know I did—when I was just getting started into comics, they were breaking out on the scene and they kind of created this benchmark—people would say, “Wow, I know why I like this book so much—it’s because it’s so much better than everything else!” Granted there were a lot of good books back then—and I’m talking from my memory as a fan—there were a handful of great titles and then a decent middle-ground of fair to average titles and then there was the crap…

NRAMA: There was definitely a transition in that time period where readers experienced the arrival of a new generation of talent…

TB: And Gene Day was one of those people—he brought such a dynamic line and a more graphic interpretation of Mike Zeck than I think I had ever seen and it was really cool. It wasn’t until Gene took over the book that I realized how much his inking impacted the book—and then to look at his penciling—man, it was his journey! I think he did 20-25 issues of Master of Kung Fu and just having him pencil the book was cool enough—this guy’s storytelling was just crazy and fun to look at. Here’s the catch: ever issue got better; more polished—the storytelling kept getting better and better—everything about the artistry was becoming better. Then he started exploring these M.C. Escher-type panel arrangements that you could follow.

To make a long story short—he, and this is a term I use a lot in the book, evolved noticeably over this two year period from a guy who was very talented but trying to get the hang of it to a Master…of Kung Fu! (laugh) He was awesome.

During that time, I also discovered Black Zeppelin—which was an independent book that he published that featured a number of other Canadian artists in it. I must’ve probably been in the 7th or 8th grade and I saw this profile on him in Epic Illustrated; in this profile, he had done this illustration of this samurai that absolutely blew my mind—it was stark and graphic. This was the Gene Day I knew only refined. His gaming art was stark but his comic work was less so.

NRAMA: Did his work in role playing games—sort of propel you to take aim at the gaming market as well? How did you get into RPGs?

TB: Space Opera—which Gene did—was Sci-Fi which is what really made it appealing to me; but to answer your question, yes, D&D had a lot to do with it—gaming in general did. I did a lot of fantasy artwork back in the early days but fantasy never really tripped my trigger like Science Fiction did. Sci-Fi straight or Pulp-Adventure or Horror—those were the genres that really stuck out to me—in truth, I guess fantasy would be in last place for me from the point-of-view of what it is that I like to draw.

As to how I got into the gaming industry—it’s chronicled in Archetype. It’s no secret—I used to spend a lot of time in comic book shops. Well, one day, I went in and there was this guy sitting there drawing comic pages and he was maybe 10 years older than I was—and he was playing the game I wanted to get into. I mean, by then, I had been to comic shows but here was a guy in my hometown—doing comics. This guy did work for independent publishers; in fact, I’m not sure if he ever did anything mainstream but it impressed me and I struck up a friendship with him. He introduced me into someone who worked in the gaming industry, Steve Venters. Steve basically got the ball rolling for my art career—and it was a really great learning process for me. He introduced me to clients and gave me direction.

NRAMA: Do you agree that direction is what young talent needs in today’s industry—not so much the “nuts & bolts” how-to instruction--but the direction in which to utilize their talents?

TB: Exactly. A lot of young guys come up to me at comic shows and they want to show me their work—I never sit and nit-pick the anatomy of their figures. You can tell a big difference between a guy who is going through the motions versus a guy who is really into, right? Well, you can tell the difference between a guy who is just starting out and a guy who is more refined too. This is what I usually tell those guys, “There are a couple of things you need to work at—but it’s going to happen; all you need to do is keep doing it. Keep the doors open to the things that inspire you.” I also tell people, “Keep producing,” because that’s what is going to make you better at the craft. Me telling you that you don’t need those lines in that arm is something you’re going to discover on your own.

Look at Richard Corbin—that guy draws like nobody else! He doesn’t draw perfect anatomy—but some of the stuff he does is so much better—through the imagination that shines through in his work that it doesn’t matter. It’s compelling and it’s very interesting to look at—especially if you look at a lot of his black and white work. You look at this stuff and you see the types of methods he employs and you scratch your head saying, “Where the heck did he come up with this?!?”

So, I never try to squelch that with kids I meet at shows because you never know what they’ll turn into. Lee Bremejo is one of those guys, you know? He came up to me at a show and showed me his work and I was very impressed with it, obviously. Even as a nascent artist, you could see his talent. He would send me his work from the jobs he was doing and I was like, “Lee, you’re so much better than the jobs you’re doing.” He ended up doing things on his own terms—which is great.

How cool is that, though? I used to be that guy. I watched Lee go from starting out to what he is now. Now, that is cool.

NRAMA: You had started getting work initially in role playing games but when you were first getting started you went through a portfolio review with Dick Giordano very early in your career; how did that go? How did your work ethic change?

TB: I wasn’t in comics yet—obviously. I was going to the Chicago Comic Con every year because it was the one giant city I could go to where a lot of the great artists would come—from Bernie Wrightson to Moebius to you name it. A buddy of mine had submitted some stuff to Marvel and, prior to this particular show, I had decided that I wanted to get a gig in comics. If this was my shot, I was going to take it right now.

So I inked these Xeroxes that Marvel had sent my friend and took them to the show in my portfolio. I go to the review and I’m standing in line waiting to talk to this editor, Mark Nevelow—this was right about the time that DC had Piranha Press going. Do you remember that?

NRAMA: I sure do.

TB: What was that mid-to-late ‘90’s?

NRAMA: Early ‘90’s, I think that lasted until 1993.

TB: You’re right; well, I showed him all my work—including my gaming work—and he was impressed! He told me my stuff was really good but he was unsure how to utilize me right away. I was like, “Wow, I might get work.” I was flipping out. So, he hands me his card with a time and Dick Giordano’s name written on the back.

Well, I went and waited in line for an hour—waiting my turn. I lay my stuff down in front of him and he’s leafing through my portfolio. He finally stops on one page and says, “You see this—this is no good at all. This is so busy.” And then he says, “I understand you want to get work, kid. Everyone wants to get into comics.” He takes a few more pages of the portfolio—and he absolutely shreds me. It was so humbling, you know?

He didn’t spare me. He was brutal and I had never gotten that kind of response like that before—it was the first time I had ever heard bad things about my stuff—which, I think, ended up being a good thing. As I walked away I didn’t have any work—and I wasn’t going to get into comics; and he told me that it was going to be a good ten years before I made it into comics.

I mean—I was hurt and I was angry. I was angry for like…six months after that. (laugh) Dick Giordano had definitely succeeded in lighting a fire under me. I don’t think he affected my work ethic so much as he changed my level of determination.

NRAMA: How important is it for young creators to heed the advice of older professionals who take the time to critique their work?

TB: At that time, I was determined to have a body of work that would prove to guys like Dick Giordano that I was going to make it. We all have pride—at times it might be considered arrogance—when you’re working at the table you have to have a slight bit of it. If someone puts a roadblock in front of me, I want to show them I can overcome it.

Getting back to your question, in terms of how I reacted, and based on the events shortly after my run-in with Giordano—who knows, he may have been tearing into me because the work wasn’t good or he may have seen potential somewhere in there. Either way, I have to thank him from the bottom of my heart—because his criticism made me ten times more determined and focused.

To Be Continued…

Twitter activity