Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 5 - Meeting The Punisher

Tim Bradstreet - 20 Years, Part 5

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

Click here for part four

Newsarama: So the images you did for Tim Truman—of Dragon Chiang as a “motorcycle hellion” became the basis for a prequel?

Tim Bradstreet: Well, yeah, at first, but then something else happened. I had this vision of him being younger and covered with tattoos. I had all these notes and now I had these images and ideas from years of exposure to Shadowrun and Vampire. But I wanted Tim to write it—if he would write it, I would draw it. Tim was really busy at the time with several other projects so he just didn’t have the time. He loved it but there was just no time—and I had done like five pieces. So here I was saying to myself, “This is too good not to do something with…”

So there was one specific photo that I knew was going to become a great piece so I sat down one weekend and I did it. The problem was—when I got done with it—I found myself saying, “This is something else.”

As I worked on this image—a new character was created—because this new guy who came out was most definitely not Dragon Chiang. Here was this character—and all of a sudden I was thinking, “I have to create a world for this character!” So I went down to Kinko’s and I made ten xeroxes of this image and I came home. I sat down and I wrote on the backs of each of those copies as I looked at one of the other copies. The piece of art itself inspired the whole thing—and that’s what turned into Red Sky Diary.

NRAMA: Man Gallows.

TB: Yeah. He’s been gestating inside of me forever now but I finally have the story that down pat. After Mark Farmer and I get done writing this really cool screenplay called ‘The Devil’s Commandos’—sometime in the next year—we’re going to write the screenplay for Red Sky Diary.

I got to the point where I wanted this to be a comic; but then, I realized that I was going to have to sell it to get paid. In other words, if I took this thing anywhere—someone else would own part of it—and that, to me, isn’t worth it. Even if I did the book myself—I’d have to do it for free. As time went by, I got older and I got married and I had things to consider—like a house payment and bills—so a Red Sky Diary comic became unrealistic. During this time, I kind of set it in my mind that this project was going to be a movie and maybe, if anything, I’ll do an illustrated story—like a coffee table book—that tells this story.

NRAMA: You’d write some prose with big pictures…

TB: Right and I would populate this book with all these illustrations instead of doing it as a comic book. Most of the artwork from that period has already been published either in Maximum Black or in Archetype—so what I’ll have to do is get my model, Joel, down here for a weekend and I’ll get horses and all kinds of stuff—I’ll get the whole fuckin’ nine yards—and we’ll do this up right and I will make a production out it! (laugh)

There is another whole aspect to this though; if this does ever become a movie—and I can stay on as the creator—whether I’m a production designer or a producer, I’m going to take photographs of everything during the actual filming and I’ll spend the next six months drawing it.

NRAMA: Let’s change gears back to your development throughout your career in the comics industry. In the mid-90’s you did some work with Garth Ennis and Axel Alonso on Unknown Soldier—which is one of your childhood favorites—what was it like to come full circle to a concept that you enjoyed as a kid—as an artist in the medium?

TB: It was awesome—I wish I had a more creative adjective. (laugh)

It’s one of those things where you spend time reading The Unknown Soldier as a kid; you see Joe Kubert’s work; you grow up kind of idolizing him in some small way—appreciating his work. That connection from before, it strikes a chord with you when you’re working on something you’ve always enjoyed.

I like everything about the concept of the Unknown Soldier—it appealed to me greatly and it still appeals to me today. At the time, as a guy who was trying to break-in as a cover artist, having a Vertigo editor call you out of the blue stunned me. Vertigo, at the time, was a place that I knew I wanted to be a destination for my career—and as a Hellblazer fan, but also, because I had been following that imprint since its inception. It had survived a lot over the years—yeah, I know it’s a part of DC and all but, over time, people cash in their chips, you know?

Vertigo isn’t one of those lines that brings in shit-tons of money—in fact, I think they break even—but they are there creating a wealth of good properties; which, essentially, is what it is all about. There’s a definite love for comics in the Vertigo material. You can tell the editorial staff loves comics—you can tell Karen Berger loves what she does. You can see this love in the quality of their books.

I was a fan of Garth’s—I loved Kilian Plunkett’s work at Dark Horse—and…Unknown Soldier! I mean, it was like, “Wow! Hell yes!” I think the first cover stands up really well—there are one or two covers in that four issue limited that don’t stand up as well for me; but at the time, it was strong stuff that propelled me into being a cover artist.

NRAMA: Your work with Vertigo changed your career, did it not? You worked on Hellblazer for seven years with a string of some of today’s heaviest hitters in the industry—how closely does a cover artist work with a writer? How much of an influence did that period have on you?

TB: Every writer is different. Every writer has their own sort of style when it comes to working with an artist—and sometimes, they don’t work with them at all. When I first came on the book, I was new to it all so Axel [Alonso] acted as a go-between with the writers. You know, Axel still works like that. On Punisher, all the stuff went through him. If Garth [Ennis] wanted something—it always went through Axel. It was also like that with Warren Ellis for like the first ten or so issues of Hellblazer, as well. I can’t remember the exact number we did together—but we came onto the book at about the same time and then Warren left pretty quickly after the issue about kids with guns in schools—Columbine had happened around that time. Warren just wasn’t up for the censorship, you know? (laugh)

When Brian Azzarello came on—I talked to Brian on the phone about everything. I rarely had a script in front of me…and that’s not to say anything about Brian’s pace or anything. I’m just saying that I rarely worked with a script in those days. We’d just talk on the phone and I’d bounce ideas off of Brian and Brian would answer questions for me and give me the nuts and bolts of what was coming up—which was great because I could still stay slightly ambiguous with what I was doing by focusing on the themes and the characters. It was a great experience.

After Brian left, Mike Carey came on—and I got scripts. I did really talk to him too much but we did have many conversations. Mike is very pleasant—very classy; he’s a wonderful guy. With him, I just got to read the scripts and come up with a cover.

During this transition, Axel left and Will Dennis came in as editor. Working with Will was fantastic. A little while later, Will got shuffled to something else—Hellblazer is one of those books that kind of shifts at its own volition, you know? Because of the level of talent involved with the book—it’s typically a pretty low maintenance book from an editorial perspective. You can tell though—I worked in three completely different ways on that book. I was constantly evolving—over seven years you’re bound to, right?

NRAMA: Did you have a favorite writer to work with on Hellblazer?

TB: Well, I don’t like to play favorites—but probably Brian, because I know him so well. I will say that I did some of my best covers during Mike Carey’s run though; however, I did some of my favorite covers with Brian. There are some covers during an arc that look like collage art—those are some of my favorite covers. Again, when Mike came on the book—he brought the magic back and opened a whole new door for me to visualize. Not that I’m the kind of guy who draws magic dust flying out peoples’ fingers or people flying around shooting rays out of their eyes. I can say though that Mike’s work brought a new sort of grist for the mill.

NRAMA: How did you get involved with Marvel Knights and “Welcome Back, Frank” in The Punisher?

TB: That was weird—I was at a San Diego Con and I was walking up to go to the bar at the Hyatt and here’s Jimmy Palmiotti and he’s like, “Hey, Joe and I want you to do the Punisher. We want you to do covers—Garth Ennis is writing a twelve issue mini-series. It’s a match made in heaven—you’re perfect for the Punisher.” So, of course, I was like “Uh—yeah—done.” I mean its guns and a vigilante—sign me up! That’s how quick it happened. A couple of weeks later, I was working on my first issue…

NRAMA: And now, one hundred and ten covers later…

TB: No shit—I spent eight years on that book. You know at first, on the original twelve issue mini—I had a really strong idea for what I wanted to do with the covers. The problem I encountered, however, was that I had become hemmed in by my own limitations at the time. I had set these limitations myself: every cover was going to have the Punisher, skulls, and guns. That was my only criteria—and there were no scripts to read on that book either. So I was just doing things based on little tidbits from the editor.

Still, I think it went very well. I was upset that the first cover got censored—it’s something you have to deal with, I guess. I mean you can show bullet holes in skulls but you can’t show a syringe with a target over it…

NRAMA: That’s a pretty anti drug message, one would think…

TB: Yes, one would! (laugh)

The letter of the law at the time though stated that no drug paraphernalia could be on a cover. It was dropped because of that. I just found it really ironic—there’s bullet holes in heads; you’re selling violence but you can’t be anti-drugs.

NRAMA: Well, Wolverine doesn’t smoke anymore either…

TB: Yeah—they outlawed cigars, cigarettes on interiors and on covers at Marvel.

NRAMA: How did the Punisher motion picture change things for you? And no—I don’t mean the Dolph Lundgren affair…

TB: It didn’t really change much for me—it did get me in a couple of ruts creatively during the Marvel Knights Punisher series because I didn’t have an editor and I wasn’t getting scripts. I was just sort of treading water and trying to figure out new ways of doing the same thing every month without any information. Basically, they’d call me up a week before the issue was finished and they’d say, “You need to get that cover in,” and that was it. (laugh)

Coming up with stuff to do and ways to re-invent it was difficult. When the movie was announced and I got involved with it—I totally had this resurgence of new energy for it and, towards the end of that book, I really ramped things up. I assumed when it went to the MAX imprint that I was going with it because Axel was editing it and no one had said otherwise. But he and I had had a conversation that boiled down to him saying, “You know, you’ve been kind of phoning it in…” which stunned me. I mean, I knew the caliber of the work I had been doing for the last five to seven months and I disagreed with him based on what I had said about the lack of direction. So, he decided to give me another shot—but I was told that I really had to bring my ‘A’ game. I was like, “Dude, you gotta be kidding me—it’s MAX, it’s Garth, it’s Punisher—it’s got everything that makes me excited and I’m working with YOU.”

It’s because he takes such a creative interest in the work—that’s what makes Axel Alonso great. He’d worked with me before—he knew what to expect from me. So we started again—and he realized very quickly that I was going to kick ass. Not to be pretentious about it—it was just naked confidence. People just know when they can do something that they were meant to do—that’s naked confidence. When you get to work with a character that you just know inside and out—then you’re going to produce some pretty goddamn good work.

Now, that’s not saying that every cover is a homerun—not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s tough to “bring it” every month especially when you have a hundred other things to do and you get down to those last few moments when you have to get a Punisher cover done. I would say 80% of the time I delivered big time. Some of my strongest, best work is on that series.

NRAMA: Do you have any particular favorites from your run of 110 Punisher covers?

TB: I can’t remember the issue number exactly—maybe issue 45? It’s the Punisher melting out of a tree line in the snow with his breath showing and these clouds lying low in the trees—it’s black and white; there is no real cross-hatching or halftones or feathering. What I’ve done in the image is create negative space against the black and layered it with the white contrast. It’s exactly what I like to do in my black and white artwork—create depth and memorable imagery at the same time so that it all comes together into one overall beautiful composition. Issue 60 has to be one of my favorites as well—the message there being that the image was a salute to fans. Oddly, fans thought that it was a salute to the soldiers in the story arc—that Frank is saluting them. I like that. I like that a piece can be interpreted in different ways.

NRAMA: To close, let’s sum this up—you’ve had a really great twenty year run so far—and you’ve still got several decades to look forward to ahead of you. How do you feel about your 20 year evolution as an artist?

TB: Well, you know—I don’t really think about it. (laugh)

When I was a kid, I felt like my goal was to be in comics. In getting my art published—I got into role playing games and I worked very hard to establish myself before I made the leap into comics. Luckily, I was able to do that at a fairly young age so that I was able to let some of the other things I wanted to do become goals—like working in the film industry and I still don’t know in what eventual capacity that may be. Ultimately, I would want to direct—and that may sound stupid to people. They might say, “Well, you’re a comic artist—what makes you think you can direct movies?” This is something I’ve been thinking about for 30 of my 41 years, you know? And where do directors come from, by the way? Ridley Scott was a former artist. When I say I’d like to direct—I think people will see what I’m really saying and not take that at face value. I’ve always been my own promotional machine and I’ve come a long way in this industry and I’ve realized a lot of dreams. My new aspirations—they just don’t seem like they are that distant as far as being dreams go these days. It’s like what I want is right in front of me if I so choose to reach out and grab it. My career is just like the next guys—I have to continue to take steps forward and evolve—not only talents—but my ideas and my passion. Who knows—maybe I’ll get a crack at something more someday.

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