If you have stepped foot in a comic book or gaming establishment over the last decade, it is more than likely that you have seen the work of Tim Bradstreet. Bradstreet provides covers every month for the likes of The Punisher and Hellblazer but his work has graced the front of various monthly titles and mini-series for all the major publishers. Through his work at White Wolf, he has had a hand in defining the gothic-punk look of the Vampire Role-Playing universe and he continues to branch out into other mediums, applying his dark, atmospheric illustration style to projects like the Blade 2 film and Namco’s Dead to Rights video game.
Tim found time between conventions and deadlines to discuses his career in comics, as well as his future projects, with First Comics News contributor, Rik Offenberger.
First Comics News: You started at Fantasmagraphics, how did you break in?
Timothy Bradstreet: Actually, I helped form Fantasmagraphics along with Artists Steve Venters, and Cliff Van Meter. It was all about starting a studio. Venters was teaching me the ropes of becoming a freelancer. I worked on a portfolio while I was there and also worked on Twilight 2000. We started going to Sci Fi cons and the like, to ply our wares and meet many of the fans. A few of which I still have to this day. Basically it was all about diving in and learning for me.
Cliff didn’t last too long, maybe a few months. Steve used to give him a pretty hard time, and he was more focused on comics anyway. I worked there (we rented a space in a building in downtown Bloomington) for about a year and then worked at both Steve’s as well as my house. The building burned down soon after we vacated, thankfully. It was a big experiment. I was 18-19 so I was just trying to learn and produce. We disbanded several months later.
1st: Your first comic work was Dragon Chiang; how did you get together with Tim Truman?
Tim: I stalked him at conventions for about 3 or 4 years, showing him my stuff and fawning all over his. On one of these occasions (after Shadowrun and Vampire) he said we should work together sometime. I about flipped. It all led to Dragon Chiang a few months later.
1st: What was it like to ink for Tim Truman?
Tim: Dream come true. I was such a huge fan. Very intimidating at first. I inked like 6 of those Dragon Chiang pages on a lightboard over the originals because I didn’t want to screw them up. Then I started “getting it” and it all started to gel. I finally felt confident enough after those first few pages to do it the right way. Working with Truman was like my wildest dream coming true.
1st: As a European release, did Dragon Chiang help you get work in the States?
Tim: Yes it did. Eclipse was publishing Tim’s other work and I believe it was planned at the start that Eclipse would do a collection. They were seeing my work and I was getting offers for projects from them. That all led to adapting Clive Barker’s Age of Desire.
Around that time I did a retailer show up in Chicago with them (Eclipse). That’s where I showed my work to Dark Horse which led to me working on Comics Greatest World – X, with Chris Warner whom I admired hugely. Then came Andrew Vachss’ Hard Looks. The door just got kicked open, pretty much all thanks to Truman giving me a shot.
1st: So that’s when things started to come together?
Tim: Very much so. Everyone was just loving my work over Truman. Beau Smith kept telling me that Truman hadn’t looked so good since the ‘ol Grimjack days, which I found to be very flattering. The job offers started pouring in and I took full advantage. Young and hungry.
1st: You also worked with Tim on Hawkworld; a high profile project like this must have given you tremendous name recognition?
Tim: Oddly I never received much feedback about those issues. We finished off the run with the Death of Hawkman arc.
I guess I was just an inker to folks. Not as high profile as one might think. One good thing that happened while working on that though was establishing a relationship with Archie Goodwin who gave me my one and only shot to draw Batman in Legends of the Dark Knight #50. I probably sign as many as ten of those at any given convention I go to. I’ve always had great feedback and response to that pin-up. Someday someone will wise up and say – Bradstreet should be doing Batman. When that happens, look out.
1st: Can you give us some detail on your involvement with Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World?
Tim: The nuts and bolts of it was that a guy by the name of Jerry Prosser saw the stuff I sent home with Chris Challenor after I met those guys in Chicago. Prosser was the editor on both Comics Greatest World and Hard Looks. He loved my stuff and was more than willing to throw me work. Luckily Chris Warner liked it too. I’m a huge fan of Warner’s work and it was an amazing situation to be inking him on X. Another dream come true. Warner and I went on to do Will to Powerand Barb Wire: Ace of Spades together as well. Now he’s my editor. We became fast friends over the years. I consider Chris to be one of my best friends in the industry.
Thirteen years down the line Dark Horse remains one of my favorite publishers to work for. Whether it’s Star Wars, X, Barb Wire, Aliens,Xena, Lost in Space, or Hard Looks. Richardson, Stradley and the rest of the gang have always treated me well and dealt with me fairly. I wish I could say the same about all publishers.
1st: DC hired you as a penciler on Gangland, how did you make the transition for inker to penciler?
Tim: Well it wasn’t difficult. I’d done it before on Age of Desire. Storytelling always came naturally to me. Working with guys like P. Craig Russell and Tim Truman served to give me a better understanding of the medium.
When Axel Alonso asked me to pencil a story I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. I was comfortable doing covers, and doing 8 pages for a fourth of what I make on covers was not exactly making me jump. I got burned on Age of Desire back in ‘91. I did 48 pages for a graphic novel that never got published and the art ended up becoming lost until a few years ago. All that effort just pretty much wasted. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to dive back in. Alonso really wanted it and found a writer that I liked and who would work with me. I read the story and decided to do it.
The writer was a pre –100 Bullets Brian Azzarello. We worked very well together and I found that I missed doing sequential more than I had realized. Axel was surprised when he saw my thumbnails. Surprised that I had such a good grasp of storytelling. When he saw the final pages he was at a loss for words. Everyone loved it. Also, the cover I did for that issue is a particular favorite of mine. The “hard luck hitman” took on a life of his own and even made it to the cover of theGangland Trade paperback. The guy who models for that character also starred as the small town sheriff in “The Other Side Of Town”, [from] Hearthrobs, Azzarello’s and my follow up to our Ganglandshort.
Also, I think that it would be remiss of me not to mention that the original painting to Gangland #1 hangs in a place of honor over Joe Jusko’s commode.
1st: How did you end up working on X-Man for Marvel?
Tim: What a mess that was. I had done a cover (one of 4 alternate covers) for Gambit #1 around that time. The same editor, Jason Liebig asked if I would like to be the regular cover artist for X-Man. Warren Ellis had recommended me for the job. I do the same thing every time an editor offers me a job. I ask them – Are you hiring me because you want my look, my style, on this character? Or are you hiring me because I have a name as a cover artist and you want to art direct the hell out of me? If they give me carte blanche on how I want to handle the character, I normally say yes. The answer was they wanted my look, that’s why Warren wanted me. What Warren wants, Warren gets. As it should be.
Now it should be noted here that I knew I was doing these covers for a month or two but we didn’t have a deadline. Then all of the sudden they needed it in a week. I had other jobs that I had immediate deadlines for but I made it happen. I found a model, I did my shoot, and I delivered my cover. Is it the best cover I have ever done? Not nearly. But given the circumstances I think it turned out all right. Next thing I know, the consensus at Marvel decided that the direction I’d taken with the character was not what they were either wanting, or hoping for (sketches were approved). After one issue I was let go. Whatever, I moved on.
1st: You work in a variety of mediums; do you prefer penciling, inking or paining?
Tim: I prefer penciling and inking the most. It would be hard to choose between the two. Penciling gives me total control over what I’ll be inking. But inking is where I have the most fun. Black, black, and more black. I love to chisel a facial expression out of the shadows. I often times can’t stop working on a piece until it is fully inked. I just have to know how it’s going to turn out.
1st: You are most known for your painted covers, how did you become a cover artist?
Tim: It all started with Hard Looks #1. Dark Horse gave me my first legitimate start. I had done covers for an Eclipse mini series called The Retaliator but not many people saw that stuff. Hard Looksput me on the map.
I continued to do covers for Dark Horse, Eclipse, and Topps for a year or two and that’s when I got a call from this guy at Vertigo. The aforementioned Axel Alonso. He wanted me to do covers for a mini series they were doing called The Unknown Soldier. I nearly checked out right there. Joe Kubert’s Unknown Soldier? Hell yes. In a heartbeat. It couldn’t have been any better. Unknown Soldier was a character that I completely loved and he wasn’t a superhero. I couldn’t believe my good luck. Working on that series was one of the great working experiences of my life. From working with Axel to executing the images. A complete success.
That led to Human Target, which led to me being offered Hellblazer. 56 covers to this day and it’s still my favorite thing to work on month after month. I’ve outlasted 3 writers, multiple pencilers, and 3 different editors on the title. Proud? You bet I am.
1st: Your covers are very realistic, almost photographic; you use models?
Tim: Yes. I want to draw realistically. To do that the way I see it in my head I use models and do photoshoots. I find props wherever I can. I costume them myself. I light, I shoot, I print, and I draw. It’s a lot of steps and a ton of legwork but it’s worth it to me.
1st: Could you take us through the process you use to create a cover?
Tim: First I get a job offer and decide if I can handle it. If I can, I try to get as much info as possible on the character. If it’s not an existing character I like to talk to the writer or editor and have a good skull session to make sure we’re all on the same page. Then I cast the parts.
I often ask the writer, if you were casting this story as a movie who would you want in this role? Then I find someone who fits the physical characteristics. Friends, family, strangers, I’m not shy. Once I’ve cast it, I do the photoshoots. Find the props and costumes, light it and shoot it. Then I compose a photorough. I composite out shots of the character I like and add all of the other elements I want to see on that cover. Other elements may or may not be photographic. We’re talking backgrounds, other characters, so on and so forth.
Once I have a fully composed photorough I print it out. Then comes the penciling. If there are elements to the character that I couldn’t get in the shoot, be it props or wardrobe, I add that stuff here and then fully pencil the sucker out. There have been times where I’m simply not happy with the results at which point I start from scratch and re-pencil it. It’s never the same thing twice. You learn something on every one. Once I have finished pencils I go to inks.
Now because I’m penciling on vellum over the photo it makes it necessary to transfer my pencils to my art board. I lay the pencils face down on the board, tape it down, then add another piece of vellum over top (to protect the original pencils), tape it down and then dry transfer. I transfer by rubbing an HB lead pencil over the entire image. When I’ve gone over it enough to see all the lines, I pull the vellum and bust out my inks. That’s when the fun begins. Once it’s inked it then needs to be colored in most cases. At this point I paint it myself or call upon the services of Mr. Grant Goleash (painting master).
First I have to transfer my black and white line art to watercolor board. This can be done simply by copying it onto the board or if you want a “grade A” transfer I’ll sometimes have a plate burned at an offset printer and have them print it onto the paper of my choosing. I recommend Fabriano Uno 140lb hotpress watercolor board. Then the Dr. PH Martin’s liquid watercolors are applied. If it’s an oil painting, I follow the steps through the pencil phase but then simply transfer the pencils to illustration board with copious amounts of gesso applied. Then underpainting followed by full painting.
1st: How much time does each piece take?
Tim: Depending on the amount of work and detail, a cover can take anywhere from 2–5 days to complete. With oils it’s more like 2-3 weeks.
1st: Much of your work has been on the Punisher and at Vertigo; do you prefer darker characters?
Tim: Yeah, I guess I kinda do. Those are the themes that interest me the most, but I like all kinds of stuff. The Star Wars stuff is always fun and that’s not real dark. As long as the characters are something I can sink my teeth into I’ll do it. I don’t get the opportunity to do many female characters. That’s something I feel I do really well. Someday someone will figure that out and then I’ll be known as the “chick artist”.
1st: You have worked for every major publisher; is there any difference between them?
Tim: Sure, everyone has their way of doing things. With DC you get good, fair royalties on everything you do. At Marvel, they own everything but they have the books that sell the most so you stand to make more up front. Apples and oranges.
Some people dislike working for Marvel, others dislike working at DC. I like working for just about anyone who treats me fairly. If you cross me or treat me unkindly, I’m gone. No regrets. I’ll move onto the next project, be it covers, interiors, illustration, film work, software and video game illustration, whatever. There are a ton of publishers and there are always lots of options.
1st: You also have an extensive list of credits out side comics, what brings you back to comics each month?
Tim: Illustration and the medium. I love comics. If I got a job art directing for some publisher, an in house gig at Disney, or switched gears to become a full time film conceptualist, I’d still do comics. As long as my appeal is viable I’ll continue to work in some kind of field of published illustration. I checked out on role-playing games full time over a decade ago but I still go back and do jobs from time to time. Not because I need the work, but because I enjoy the craft of illustration. It gives me more of an opportunity too draw for me. Games are where I started. I have a deep appreciation for the industry and it’s fans.
1st: You worked on the Blade 2 film, how did you get involved with that?
Tim: I met Guillermo del Toro back in ‘97. We were mutual admirers. I loved his film Cronos, and when I had the opportunity to meet him it was like I was just introduced to an old friend. We share a unique vision. His is in writing and film (he also draws), mine is in concept and illustration. We like the same stuff but have different talents. If you could blend them all together . . . Yikes.
Guillermo was a big fan of the Vampire stuff and the comics work. We talked off and on after that initial meeting. Each time I would hear about a new project he wanted me to work on. Finally it turned out to be Blade2.
Guillermo is the best and working with him on Blade 2 was one of those dreamlike situations you never thought you’d find yourself in. I kept having to pinch myself.
My job was to conceptualize the Bloodpack. One of the things I am most proud of is coming up with the character for “Priest”. In the script he wasn’t fleshed out much, so I wanted to take it and run with it. I came up with this whole concept of a Napoleonic era Hussar who still clung to those ideals (A big thanks to Tom Gilliland who helped with conception and back story and posed for the illustrations of Priest). He even wears the uniform of an officer in the Hussars. The costume designer took it a step further by making the entire uniform black. Too cool. There was a point where they were going to cast a black actor in the role. I about died. It just wouldn’t be right. There were no black officers in the Hussars. It would have made the character historically inaccurate. I had to battle to change their casting. Guillermo, being open minded, listened to my reasoning and finally relented. This was all happening a day before I left the production, I didn’t know how it would turn out. Then I saw the film at the cast and crew premiere. They actually even cast the guy I liked the best from the casting tapes. That was pretty cool.
Another character that turned out almost straight from my concepts was “Lighthammer”, the guy with the Maori facial Moko (tattoo). I was like a pig in mud when I first watched the camera pan by those characters in the film. Absolutely awesome.
1st: Are there any characters you would like to work on but haven’t had the chance?
Tim: Most definitely. There are a slew. Probably a few I don’t even know about yet. Mainly – Deathlok, Morbius, Batman, Wolverine, more Superman, Nick Fury, Captain America (in some form), characters from 100 Bullets, Lucifer, Jango Fett, Dr. Strange…I’d love to do covers and interiors for an Unknown Soldier mini series. The list goes way on.
1st: What else do you have planed for the future?
Tim: Can’t talk about a lot of it. I’m planning a Hellblazerissue, covers and interiors and a 3 issue Punisher mini, covers and interiors. I’m also continuing on as cover artist for the new Marvel MaxPunisher as well as jamming out Hellblazer every month.
I just finished doing conceptual work for Namco’s upcoming sequel toDead To Rights, DTR2: Hell to Pay. I’m talking with Devil’s Due about doing a series of G.I. Joe covers for them. Actually that’s about all I feel safe mentioning. Suffice it to say there is a lot coming up in the very near future that is going to blow some people away.
1st: Glad to hear you are so busy, and thanks for taking the time to chat.