Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 4 - The "Fiasco in Philly"

Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 4

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

Click here for part two

Click here for part three

Newsarama: So these portfolios you brought to Gen Con were hot items?

Tim Bradstreet: At that time? I had never made so much money in my life! (laugh)

I mean, I had always hung artwork up at Gen Con and I sold decent—but I never made a whole lot of money on anything by that point. That year I made like two or three grand—which at that point—was a ton of money for me. I mean compared to things today—and what I make at shows…it was an astronomical number for me back then. I couldn’t believe it.

Before the show, they were like, “We’d like to take one of your images to make t-shirts and we’re not going to make money on them—we’re going to sell them for cost.”

Yeah, right. (laugh)

Those things went flying off the shelves. They made a lot more than cost on them.

That was just one of many points of contention I had with White Wolf—we’ve butted heads a number of times over the years which is why I stopped working for them. I felt like they had started taking advantage of me. Probably best not to get into that…

NRAMA: We can move on and let sleeping dogs lie…

TB: That game was so crazy—it took the whole gaming industry by storm. It was just the right thing at the right time.

NRAMA: Did this lead to your first work at DC?

TB: Yeah, totally—to repeat myself again. (laugh)

I had taken my portfolio with me to Chicago Comic Con and I had been talking to Tim Truman when I’d see him up there every year—you know, showing him my work and getting feedback from him—that sort of thing. This time around I had a lot of the Vampire stuff with me and some of the Shadowrun stuff and Truman invited me to work with him…

…which, of course, blew my mind. Let’s put this into perspective: That’s like Frank Miller saying he wanted to do a book with you. (laugh)

NRAMA: …sorry, I was off in fantasy-land…what? (laugh)

Tim’s your favorite contemporary professional, of course—continue…

TB: He’s the guy I’d follow around—don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stalk him—but I’d be at these conventions and I’d be partying at night and Tim Truman would be hanging around with all these guys and I’d look at Tim and his “posse” and I would just…I wouldn’t say envy because that’s got a negative connotation—I yearned to be in the position that he was in.

I just respected the guy so much and I loved his artwork so much—here was the guy who was living the dream that I had. I looked up to him so much—so I mean, I would never even try to bother him at those events when I’d be standing around but I always had one eye on him and his friends saying, “God, those guys are cool.” (laugh)

So, when he asked me to work with him a year or two later—I was just so over the moon. In the book, I mention this moment that my Dad always remembers fondly—of this look on my face—the first time I walked back from the mailbox with this package from Tim with the first pages of Dragon Chiang in it. I was beside myself. I never expected it to happen.

Truth be told—my first published work wasn’t with Tim on Dragon Chiang. It was for Who’s Who in the DC Universe—I did a pin-up of Kanjar Ro—a villain from Hawkworld. I should have put that image in the book and I didn’t…

There are several things—looking back in hindsight—that I wish I had focused on more in the book—I should’ve put my first mainstream comic image in the book.

NRAMA: Next book!

TB: (laugh) Absolutely—it will be in the next book.

If I do another project like Archetype—I’m going to show alternate covers more and do commentary about why it was rejected versus what was accepted, you know? So people can see the development of projects. As a fan, I’d want to see other versions of people’s work when I think about it—but at the same time you want to keep the quality of the book high. I don’t want to embarrass myself on all counts but I do think I mention that there are some pieces of work I leave out simply because I don’t like them and I don’t have to put anything in the book that I don’t want to! (laugh)

Maybe someday you’ll see that shit. Maybe next book—an “All the Worst of…” book.

NRAMA: Alright—well let’s change gears—what’s an important lesson that young artists can take away from the lessons you learned working on Clive Barker’s Age of Desire—and what happened with the “Fiasco in Philly”?

TB: (laugh) Oh yeah—the Fiasco in Philly.

NRAMA: It’s a good title.

TB: I think the event was actually called Comic Fest or something like that—the Fiasco in Philly is actually kind of a sidebar to that whole story involving Age of Desire because everything had kind of come full circle by then.

When it comes to advice and what happened with Age of Desire—people should know that everyone involved with that project came to it with the best of intentions. It was exciting for me because someone was offering me a shot at a graphic novel—not just any graphic novel at that—a Clive Barker graphic novel! And as most folks know, by the early ‘90’s Clive was huge. He had all kinds of stuff going on—he had a license with Eclipse so they were doing all kinds of graphic novels and graphic interpretations of his novels and stuff like that. I think Clive saw the height of his popularity in the early to mid-90’s—not that he’s not good now. But for comics—he was at the height of his popularity.

It was a major thing for me—I got to meet Clive a bunch of times and I hung out with him—we became friends and stuff. That was all cool; but, Age of Desire was a situation where I was going from gaming to doing sequentials—doing whole books instead of single images. It was a massive undertaking and I wasn’t set up like I am now—I didn’t have a dark room; I didn’t have a lot of resources—so it came together slowly. Eclipse was cool about it and everything was fine until I got pneumonia and I didn’t work on the book for six weeks while I was recovering because I got hit really hard.

In the midst of all that, I get this call from my editor—and she was wondering when I was going to be done with these pages—and they were waiting on me. She had spoken with my mom initially and my mom told her what was going on with me and I talked to her for a few seconds because I could barely talk. I was in major pain—I had an ear infection, a throat infection, an eye infection, and a sinus infection on top of all of it which all sort of turned into this terrible case of pneumonia. Life sucked and I could not work.

Five minutes later—Dean Mullaney calls me back and rips my face off verbally—I mean just didn’t want any excuses—just out of the blue, he attacks me. It was the most horrible feeling; I was hurt, I was angry, and I was very ill. I felt betrayed. By the time I got the pages done and I ran into him in Philly—I was still pretty angry at him but I let it go because he didn’t get shitty with me. He was excited to get the book out; and then, two weeks later, they went bankrupt.

What did I learn from it? Like any first major experience in comics—work hard at it and don’t take anything for granted. If people yell at you, take that sort of stuff in stride. I could’ve gotten angry about it and said, “Fuck you!” but that does nobody any good. I had to be a man about the whole thing—and don’t get me wrong—it bothered me that I didn’t get angry and let him have it—but I just upped the ante with myself in a professional manner. I had already defended myself to the point of saying, “Um, Dean? I’m dying by the way.”

NRAMA: Did the experience scare you away from doing sequential work?

TB: I honestly believe that it affected me. I won’t lie—that phone call upset me so much; I was in tears. It was horrible. I thought I had blown my big chance at getting into comics and that whole experience soured me—I didn’t do sequentials for a long time after that. Not only did they go bankrupt—but my pages were lost for quite a long time—like seven years; and all that work that I had done, was just gone.

There’s also a certain portion of that—a very realistic portion of that, which is that my technique is not necessarily cost effective. It might be a little more now—by working in Photoshop and laying things out digitally is so much easier and you don’t need a dark room—a lot of steps have been taken out of the process.

It all comes down to I’m drawing the whole thing and I want every panel to be a gorgeous, really tight singular illustration—so it’s not a fast process. I can make ‘x amount’ and only spend three days working on a cover or I can toil over this tedious project doing like seven or eight pages a week for the same amount of money. Do the math, you know?

The Age of Desire thing—so put me off of doing sequentials and putting so much of myself and my time and effort into something that I started concentrating on inking while I was trying to make my break as a cover artist; I inked people. I worked in the gaming medium and in comics—until the cover work took off. I knew that that was what I wanted to do because, deep down, my favorite thing is illustration. The single image. That’s all that comic book covers are in a nutshell—single images that tell a story.

NRAMA: What did you learn from Archie Goodwin when you worked on Legends of the Dark Knight?

TB: This is pretty funny because I kind of drawn to Archie through Tim—but as a kid, I had been a fan of a lot of his work—so I was familiar with him already. So I’m working with Tim on Hawkworld and Archie was the editor of the series—and I remember getting these pages in the mail and I was like, “Man these are really just break-downs and there isn’t enough here for me to do the work justice.” So I mentioned this to Archie—man, I’m going to get myself in hot water with Truman—and he made me send the pages back to Tim to finish up. And I remember talking to Tim shortly after that and him saying, “I would only do something like that for Archie…” (laugh)

So I had this idea of what it was like to work with Archie before Legends of the Dark Knight—Archie called me and said, “Tim, I want you to do a Batman pin-up for me—and I want you to use that duo-shade stuff.” So, I was like, “Cool! It’s Batman! You’re goddamn right I’ll do a pin-up for Legends of the Dark Knight.” But, I had just sort of stopped working with duo-shade and I was doing this regular black and white style at the time. I wanted to stray away from the duo-shade stuff—I thought it was becoming a crutch for my work—it was adding this layer to my work that I didn’t want to lean on forever—because, for one, I did not want to pay for duo-shade paper for everything—and secondly, I was happy with the style I was working in with just pen and ink. My ink style was getting to the point where it was getting really solid and I was excited by that.

So Archie asked me to do this thing—and I started to do it and I said, “You know what I’m going to do this thing in black and white. Archie won’t care that it’s not on duo-shade.” Do I did this think up—and I was like “Goddamn, that might just be my best piece.” I was very proud of it. So I sent it off in the Fed Ex envelope and mailed it off to Archie and the next day I get a phone call and he’s like, “Tim, I need you to change some things on this piece.”

NRAMA: Uh oh.

TB: I mean, I thought I got an ‘A Plus’—you know? Then Archie calls and says he’s not happy and my heart just sank. He said, “Listen, the head is too fat and I need you to fix it and I need you to do it the way I asked you to do it. I’d like you to do it on duo-shade.”

So I just said, “No problem.” And I started over again—I was a little bummed out but the second one was better.

That’s what I love about a good editor though—a good editor can keep you honest. Archie was great—from Tim Truman to whomever—they’d do anything for him; he commanded that kind of respect. He talked the talk and he walked the walk. It was a sad, sad time when he passed away.

NRAMA: About this time—you started developing this thing called “The Red Sky Diaries”—how did that develop?

TB: Oh yeah! I was so excited by the Dragon Chiang thing—and I had done some illustrations for Tim for the initial release of Dragon Chiang and he was just crazy about these drawings—he bought one from me! I had been buying stuff from this guy for years and all of a sudden the tables were turned—it was the ultimate compliment. Well these images were done on duo-shade and I was hanging out with Joel—the same guy I had used as a model for Dragon Chiang…and I just loaded him up with stuff—and I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was just doing a photo shoot.

After I shot the stuff and developed my film—I said, “Oh my God, there’s some really great stuff here…how can I use this?” And I got this wild hair up my ass and thought that these images would make for a cool prequel to Dragon Chiang—so we flash to a point where this guy isn’t some Chinese truck driver but instead this Chinese motorcycle hellion! (laughs)

To be continued…

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