Simon Bisley in Poland: Simon SaysA comics interview article by: Michal Siromski
edited by Michal Siromski
Based on utterances from meeting with the fans, the press conference and an interview with artist
Our friends at KZ Magazine in Poland were kind enough to permit Comics Bulletin to publish this interview they conducted when Simon Bisley was in Gdansk. The material was originally published inKZ magazine, the most important Polish online magazine dedicated to comics.
About the creation of his graphic style:
Simon Bisley: As far back as I can remember I was always drawing, so I was probably born with a pencil in my hand. I haven't finished art school; I think that my style is created through work. There is no philosophy; you have to draw all the time, practice, practice and just get it done. The passion may help.
What do I think about drawing guides? Yeah, why not. You can learn from a book how to ride a bicycle or fly an airplane, so you can also learn how to draw.
About his technique of drawing:
SB: When I read the script, I already see the scene in my head and try immediately to move it on paper. That's why quite often I pass over the sketch phase. If I draw the same thing too many times, I start to get bored with it. I lose my power and freshness.
I like to work quickly and spontaneously, so one of my favorite techniques is painting. Paint allows me to cover large fragments of the board very fast, so I take sprays, mix paints and just paint; sometimes I add blood and small animals [laughs].
I basically don't use a computer to help with drawing; I just don't see the point. If I see that some frame isn't good or compositionally does not match to the panel, I'd rather draw the entire page from the beginning, than do the computer correction.
Contrary to some opinions, I'm not good at anatomy, so often I use stylizations and big muscles to hide my lack of anatomical knowledge. I'm not fixated on muscular guys. I just usually draw superheroes and I think this is how they should look like. Remember, it's not a realistic drawing. It's always a little grotesque, exaggerated.
About his work tempo:
SB: One page in full color usually takes about 6 hours. Of course, everything depends on the technique used. If I drew Snoopy, I could do a hundred pages a day (laughs).
SB: I'm not an Artist. I am a worker. I'm like a fisherman; he catches the fish, sells it to the market and gets paid. It's the same with me. I just give the people what they want to buy. Besides I usually work with a script, which does not give me too much room for creativity or artistry.
About cooperation with the script writer:
SB: I definitely prefer scripts that give me more freedom. Generally writers leave me action scenes. They just write: "In the next four pages a monster destroys the city; just draw it!"
I really like to add some jokes in the background. It's only comic book. For Christ's sake, you can't be serious all the time.
About a favorite script writer:
SB: As a matter of fact I've worked with only few writers so far. They were all great, but the best was definitely Alan Grant. We have the same kind of mentality. We balanced each other very well. We both also have similar, dark senses of humor and don't take our work on comics too seriously.
About his dream project:
SB: I would love to work with Frank Miller. We could do Batman together, oh yeah! Or we could do some of Marv's story from the Sin City universe. Sub-Mariner is a very cool character. Maybe Venom. Oh he's perfect, Spider-Man is fine too, but I do not want to draw a web [laughs].
About writing scripts himself:
SB: Oh no, it's not for me; it's better to leave this to professionals. Sometimes different ideas come to my mind, which seem to me to be poetic, but probably in fact prove to be really bad. Moreover I have no idea how to use punctuation marks. I'd have to hire a separate person for this; he would have a printed page with dots and commas, he would cut and paste them in the appropriate places in my script [laughs].
About his work on Slaine:
SB: I worked once on the whole panel and blackening borders, that avoided the dirty paper effect, which really annoys me. It gave me full liberty and vigor in the composition of the art on the board. It sometimes happened that I cut out a single panel and used it as a full-page image, so I could keep the effect of epic proportions.
About a Horned God sequel:
SB: No, I wouldn't come back to Slaine; that would be a step back for me. What's done is done, there is no point to doing it again. Besides, now Slaine is drawn by Clint Langley. The guy is really good.
About his covers for Doom Patrol:
SB: Actually I never had any contact with Grant Morrison as part of this work. I just received his scripts. I read them and drew absolutely everything that occurred to me. Though these covers are a bit surreal, it's all good, because they fit the mood of the series. This was the work in which I could perhaps most express myself artistically.
About drawing Lobo:
SB: Alan's scripts were ambiguous, open to interpretation, so usually I took just the beginning and the end of original story and I did between them what I wanted to do. I added all these penguins and gorillas. Alan then just rewrote the dialogue and story so it could be held together somehow [laugh].
Lobo is very special character for me, because he expressed some parts of me. He fits into my drawing style, combines comedy and violent action. A bit like MAD magazine. I always wanted to draw in this style. I would love to do MAD's cover once. It could be fun.
About censorship in Lobo comics:
SB: Lobo is a very brutal series and indeed censorship was inevitable. There was a picture of a guy in one issue with his guts all over in the air. I put arrows for fun to explain where his spleen, heart or liver were, but the publisher removed them.
DC also censored Lobo's birth scene. They didn't like the point of view of that scene, showing Lobo's mother with outstretched legs. Finally they ended up covering her with a blanket.
There was also this fight scene between Lobo and Loo, when Lobo pulls a guy's arms from his shoulders and I drew the blood gushing all over the place. The picture turned out to be too gory and was modified.
Oh, there was also the cover in which Lobo's meat-hook comes out from a man's jaw, with the man's tongue at the end of the meat-hook. It looked too realistic for DC and I had to change it.
About the possibility of a Lobo movie:
SB: Yeah, they keep talking about it all the time, but it's still only a rumor. The only serious approach to the Lobo movie came from Guy Ritchie. Finally however he chose to do the second Sherlock Holmes movie.
I imagine the Lobo movie as a live action film, but in the background we could use cartoony characters like animated Disney characters. With today's technology that's not a problem. Perhaps 3-D animation in the Pixar style would be an interesting idea?
About working for DC Comics:
SB: Working for DC is great. We've cooperated for many years. It's like a family, they look after me: they pay on time and pay well. They pay royalties. I have no reason to complain.
About his work on Hellblazer:
SB: This series had completely different requirements. The horror or magic scenes must work in the context of the Hellblazer's world, as if they were normal, ordinary part of this world. This requires a more realistic and precise graphic style a, perfect form of body language. The comics must look more like a movie. I wanted to see if I could restrain my inflated style and do a normal story, because there was no room there for stylization or penguins in the background. It was the perfect way to improve my professional development and polish my technique.
Drawing Hellblazer is a very hard job, because I compete with artists who use computers in their work. I have to show the best that I can to offer is a higher quality then digitally edited works. I'm better than a computer, better than anyone! I rule! [laughs].
About religion and illustrations from the Bible:
SB: I'm not a religious man, but rather I consider myself as a spiritual person. Why, then, do I like to draw allusions to the Bible? Once Jesus came to me at night and said to me: "You will draw the Bible!" Now I'm afraid that when I go to heaven Jesus will ask me for royalties. Ok, that's a joke. This album is a kind of exercise for me. Like a musician. When he plays guitar, he practices on classic compositions. So it's my practice when creating material, to have allusions to many great classical artists like Michelangelo or Da Vinci. Besides, there are a lot of interesting topics in the Bible. There is love, hatred, suffering, death, life. God and Satan are like Batman and Joker. They are elements of the same reality. They cannot exist without each other.
I would like to paint a crucified Jesus in a real scale. It can't be done like a Lobo comic. It would require a perfect representation of anatomy and muscle structure. For now I don't have time to do it, but I would like to paint this.
About heavy metal music:
SB: I often listen to metal music when I work. The more severe the music, the more relaxed I am. I can't listen to the radio. Sooner or later voices or commercials start annoying me. In addition, every time I draw, my neighbors for some reason make noise. They're always knocking nails or drilling something! I expect that one day when they open their doors I will see that they built a whole Noah's ark while I was drawing! I don't understand; did they know something that I don't know? Is it gonna rain soon or what?
I went through different phases of metal music fascination. Currently my favorite band is Type O Negative. Their October Rust album is fantastic. I also love black metal music such as Marduk, but I ignore the lyrics. Songs about hanging Jesus upside down seem rather ridiculous to me. I've heard Behemoth too, they are very cool, but I didn't know they come from Poland.
About playing the drums:
SB: I play drums very badly. Actually, I'm not a drummer. I just bang them with sticks in a piece of skin outstretched over the wood. On the last gig my band did, the whole audience left except for one guy. We thought that only he was interested in the concert, but it turned out that he didn't leave because he was dead [laughs].
About his friendship with Glenn Danzig:
SB: Yeah, we always make each other laugh, hold each other's hands and run up the hills with the wind in our hair [laughs]. Seriously, we've been friends for thirty years. We are very similar, both stubborn and self-confident. Glenn is really a regular guy, with great sense of humor.
About the so-called British invasion in American comics:
SB: I think that British artists have gained such popularity in America because England and America are closely related historically and linguistically, yet mentally and culturally distinct. British writers are also a little homely, but they're a little exotic for an American audience.
About accepting jobs:
SB: I always look first at the main character and the world represented in comics, how it affects me. I hate to be bored while drawing, I must have fun. Of course earning money is also important. It may sound arrogant, but that's how it works. Besides, I am an arrogant asshole [laughs].
I don't like projects in which the publisher requires me to do many sketches and make many changes. It's not productive for me. It's just stupid. Oh, and I always refuse if the publisher wants to keep the original art.
About doing long series:
SB: I'm not interested. I'd be bored quickly. I've always liked smaller, shorter stuff. Besides, my work is not just in comics. I do quite a lot of other things. So I couldn't do long comics. I have no time for them.
About his painting:
SB: Honestly, I don't have time for painting, although I always wanted to paint landscapes in William Turner's style, with realistic clouds and developed colors. Painting for me is not a matter of subject, but the relationship of the colors.
For some time I have had this idea in my mind to enter a dark studio and just paint the picture and then burn it without looking what came out. That would probably be the most honest, purest work of art that anyone has ever done, completely free of customers expectations.
About male chauvinism charges:
SB: Yeah, I hear this charge quite a lot, but I don't understand it at all. After all, the women I draw are always strong, self-confident and independent. They are never waiting for the help of men.
About his current projects:
SB: I'm still working on Hellblazer and Deathstroke covers for DC. I'm also working with Glenn on a Dante's Inferno album, which is kind of in opposition to the Bible. The album tells the story of the Devil, who falls back on earth, sitting on a rock and watching people as they ruin their lives.
Soon you will see my new fully painted album about a famous monster. It will be 100 pages.
Would I make a comic book in cooperation with a Polish artist? Yeah, sure! Except that nobody's asked me for that...
About his connections with Poland:
SB: I know it exists on a map [laughs]. But seriously, my mom is Polish. She came from Krakow. So I have family here, but I don't know them. My grandfather was in the Polish army during the Second World War. He fought on Monte Casino Hill. After the war he and my grandmother came to England. My mom still argued with her sisters in Polish, so I know one Polish word – "cholera" ("damn it" in Polish). So I definitely have Polish roots and that's cool.
Of course I was looking for information about my family history. It's quite interesting, especially on my mother's side. I'm not exactly sure about the dates, but after the war my grandmother and grandmother's sisters were taken to Siberia, and they worked in a salt mine as forced laborers. Fortunately, they survived.
About his impressions of Poland:
SB: I like Gdansk very much. I am surprised by its medieval dark gothic architecture. The entire old town looks like a fortified castle. And bars, they are everywhere, on every street! There is no escape, you end up at the bar whether you want to or not [laughs].
In doing research for my comics, I drew attention to the Polish armor. I like the Polish flag with its symbol of the eagle, it's very cool. Oh, and Polish money... they have interesting illustrations, they look good. I like your bills.