Tim Bradstreet, Two Decades - Part 1, the Early Years

Tim Bradstreet, Two Decades - Part 1

2008 marks Tim Bradstreet’s 20th year as a professional fantasy artist. In coordination with Desperado Publishing and the release of Archetype: Iconic Images and Cinematic Illustration Volume 2, Newsarama has conducted an exclusive interview with Bradstreet that looks candidly back at his first twenty years as a professional fantasy artist and as one of the most iconic comic book cover artists of his generation; as well as, talking about his evolution as an artist from his start in the role playing game industry to comics and beyond that to film.

Newsarama: Tim, what’s your earliest memory of drawing anything?

Tim Bradstreet: It’d have to be dinosaurs and stuff like that—grade school stuff. I don’t have a great recollection of doing it that much prior to being in school until someone had thrown the tools in front of me, making it a requisite, or simply that everyone else was doing it so I was doing it too.

It was weird because as I think about it—kindergarten, first, second and third grade—I remember that we would have assignments, or we would sing songs—there was this song—I can’t remember the name of it but it was about this guy who would make sausages out of cats and dogs. Let me tell you—cats and dogs were not safe in my neighborhood! (laugh)

NRAMA: (laugh) And the interview took a dark turn…

TB: Well, it was kind of my first experience with concepting—because the song was so visual that I was drawing dogs getting turned into sausages, you know? Stuff that could create a mental image fascinated me—anything that could inspire any sort of imagery—I was inspired by it in a very natural sort of way.

NRAMA: This natural ability helped you evolve into a young artist?

TB: Yes. I think it’s just steps—I talk about this in the book—everything happens in little steps whether you’re aware of it or not. When I was younger, again with the grade school stuff, I was always upping the ante; I started out with ‘stickman wars’, dinosaurs, and rudimentary stuff but I had an awareness that the more I kept drawing, the better I got at it. I felt confident—like I knew I had a talent—and I was conscious of it, but at the same time, I just did it.

Again—you draw stickman wars or a dinosaur ripping off some dude’s head and the other kids in the class go, “Wow! That’s cool.”

NRAMA: And they all want to watch you draw…

TB: Yeah—this is something else I talk about in the book. As I progressed into middle school and high school, people looked at my stuff—which wasn’t that great but maybe slightly better than your average student—and they could tell that I was trying to tell a story. They would see that I was trying to tell a story; there weren’t any pictures of a still life of the house across the street. It was genre material; dudes having wars—I guess, looking back, some of the stuff had a really violent streak to it.

It’s funny because now—being an adult artist—I have friends who come to me telling me their kid is in trouble at school because the teacher thinks the kid has violent tendencies because of the stuff he draws and I look at the artwork and I say, “Puh-leeease, this is stuff boys draw.” Don’t get me wrong—if there’s really dark disturbing stuff, there may be something going on there but this stuff I was being shown was harmless, you know?

NRAMA: What were some of the comics that influenced you as a young boy with an artistic inclination?

TB: When I got to the sixth grade I really hit the jackpot with comics, I had a friend up the street who had a ton of comics and we played superheroes all the time. He had Superman family and Batman family stuff, along with Legion of Superheroes stuff—lots of DC stuff. I loved Tomb of Dracula. I loved genre stuff; I loved Star Trek and Lost in Space. I loved Johnny Quest and all that sort of stuff and comics were like another permutation of that love; it was another way to get that escapist fix…oh, that’s a terrible term.

NRAMA: No, I don’t think that’s a bad description for the sensation people get when they enjoy things like comics or the way kids enjoy videogames and cartoons today…

TB: Yeah, you’re right—and I think videogames have replaced comics and cartoons to a large degree—the escapism is now right at your fingertips. Videogames are much more immersive but there is an innocent charm to comics; you can hold them in your hands, read it, carry it around with you—that’s kind of cool.

I used to do that with my Frazetta book; I carried this Frank Frazetta art book everywhere I went in the sixth grade. At one point, some kid tried to tear the book out of my hands at a bus stop in the middle of the winter and he threw the book in a puddle of ice...and I beat the kid up. I felt very strongly about this stuff! (laugh)

NRAMA: (laugh) There’s nothing wrong with that; you felt passionate about your book. Let’s talk more about Frank Frazetta—was this book your first introduction to his work.

TB: No, it wasn’t. I was actually made aware of him through some sort of scholastic magazine that had pictures of the Silver Warrior and the Death Dealer and a couple of other pieces. Can you imagine seeing an image of the Death Dealer in the sixth grade?

NRAMA: Yes—I remember being introduced to those images around that age as well…

TB: …and I’m sure your mind was just as blown as mine was! I mean—wow—hell, Norman Rockwell is an incredible artist when you’re ten years old but when you see something fantastic and over-the-top like Frazetta’s Death Dealer—I mean, it took me so many years after seeing that image to realize how incredibly difficult that technique is for someone who doesn’t have the gift Frazetta has, you know? It was the composition (even though you didn’t know the word yet), it was the simple things about this illustrations that really got you. These images just radiated so much power—and that’s what really got to me. I mean you can show someone who isn’t aware of Frazetta’s place in popular culture or aware of his work in the fantasy genre and they’re still usually blown away by the intensity of his artwork.

NRAMA: Yeah, his work just takes you to another place…

TB: …which is why those Conan books sold so ridiculously well. Hell, a lot of people bought them just for the covers. When I was working on Vampire and just starting to get cover work in comics, I remember people telling me that they had bought something because of the cover I had done and feeling so great because I had sort of come full circle. Don’t get me wrong, I would never put myself in the league of Frank Frazetta but to get a compliment for something that made me yearn to want to be an artist is pretty cool.

NRAMA: You mention your “three Godfathers of illustration” in your book—who are they?

TB: Well, technically there are four. Jim Steranko, Paul Gulacy, Gene Day, and Tim Truman.

NRAMA: What did each of these guys bring to the table that inspired your work?

TB: With Steranko, it was just eye-popping visuals and a very slick style that, in comics, wasn’t extremely realistic but it was very unique to the medium in its level of dynamic detail.

I sort of traversed a path because then I found out that Paul Gulacy was pretty much born out of Steranko—and the first time I saw his work was Master of Kung Fu but when I saw Sabre…I flipped out! It was just amazing.

Tim Truman was a guy who entered the scene in the early ‘80’s—and the thing about Truman was his storytelling was so gritty yet cinematic; his work has this real organic power to it. He’s told me—and he’s said in interviews a number of times—that he was surrounded by guys like Totleben and other really amazing artists and that he was the worst one. Well, he never gives himself very much credit out loud but I think being a part of such a tremendous generation of talent pushed him to create this very dynamically powerful work. He’s just so great at telling a story.

You know, I’m not a sequential artist per se but I understand the nuts and bolts of it and it’s not a mystery to me—it’s out there if I want to grab it, I just haven’t really had the right impetus to grab it but if I did one of the guys who has mostly strongly influenced my work has been Tim Truman.

It doesn’t matter that he’s considered to be one of the old-timers in today’s industry—storytelling is ageless, you know? If you can tell a great story, it doesn’t matter. I think there are a lot of parallels to film and comics—in both industries today, everyone wants to see something new and different that’s faster and better and all that stuff…but that soon goes away and it doesn’t matter who you are if you have a passion for something whether it’s film or comics or whatever—as you continue to grow, so will your tastes. Your tastes will refine themselves and if you take the time to care about this refinement—you’ll go on a road of discovery.

Take Jack Kirby—when I was a kid, I loved his work. As I became a young artist—I despised him, saying, “Oh, his work is too blocky and simplistic.” And then I came back when I started to evolve more and began to understand what it was that he was doing—I began to understand what it was he was doing because it wasn’t blocky and too simple. I was just wrong.

To be continued…

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