Putting the Comics Back in Comic-Con: A Conversation with Tim Bradstreet


Tim Bradstreet is a literal and figurative titan in the world of comic books, and if his current trajectory stays true, you’ll be seeing his name in the credits of movies, too. It’s become something of a yearly tradition to the stop by the RAW booth, home to Bradstreet and frequent collaborator Tom Jane, as well as visitors like Todd Farmer and creator of “The Crow, James O’Barr, who’s consulting on the upcoming theatrical version of his comic creation.

Despite being the size and having the general appearance of a grizzly bear, Bradstreet is also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Our short interview stretched out to twice the intended time and veered wildly off course while a half-dozen or so well wishers and friends popped by the booth. A conversation worthy of the chaotic Comic-Con show floor.

Most recently Bradstreet has been working on covers for the current incarnation of “The Shadow.” As one of the most requested and successful cover artists working today, Bradstreet is given free reign to draw ‐ often without a script to work from, so his covers sometimes bare little resemblance to the actual issue, though this freedom can sometimes cause a dilemma in finding the right style to embrace. “Sometimes I love art direction, if it’s somebody really smart giving me art direction, I like it as much as they want to give it to me,” he says. “When I’m working with an editor who doesn’t really know much about anything, I like that to be hand’s off. And then the other side of the coin is an editor who can give you just enough to get you going… And with The Shadow, I don’t really get any art direction at all… I get complete carte blanche on it.” A master of photorealism, that particular technique wasn’t working for The Shadow, a character with a very identifiable silhouette.

Bradstreet launches into his involved process for “The Shadow,” talking about composition and color choices that are as beyond me as anything my car mechanic says, but within a few issues he says he figured out the right style, which he describes as “graphic, ambiguous covers” with a limited color palette, mainly using just four colors. “The Shadow has a very powerful iteration, right?” he explained further. “The nose, the hat, the red scarf, the two .45s, the way that inverness coat hangs off of him. There’s a shape of him that you have to capture… I just hit it, you know? I hit the formula. It took about four issues. It’s all about the nose, it’s like, that’s The Shadow.

In addition to illustrating “The Shadow, Bradstreet recently wrapped up working on IDW’s “Star Trek” series, an assignment which found him asking the publisher to be brought on over and over again since he loves the franchise so much. He explained: “I’m a Trek nerd, right? I grew up with Trek. Star Trek classic is one of the reasons I even draw. It brought my imagination out. They asked me to do the first couple covers and I did them and I was like, can I do another one? Can I do another one? Can I do another one?” We diverge for 15 minutes to talk shop about Star Trek, and like myself, Bradstreet is on the whole very happy with the direction the recent movies have taken, though we share some issues with the finale of Into Darkness. “[The ending] didn’t have the impact for me, like the original did. Because there were dynamics that were in play, when the first movie came out, that weren’t in play here. Everyone thought that Leonard Nimoy was leaving the franchise and so, Spock was really dying. This was the last we were gonna see of him. So we believed hook, line and sinker, what was going on. Here, we know in the second movie in a franchise, that Chris Pine is not gonna actually die. And this is a nit picky thing, but when Zach Quinto says ‘Kaaahn’ I hated that… They could have just done that silently and it would have been awesome, ya know?”

Soon though, the illustrator aims to take a break from not just Star Trek but all his current cover work to focus on creating a new book of his art that he describes as “full blown nuts” and “some of [his] best shit.” “I don’t pull punches on these. These are like full blown crazy pieces.” The plan is to, within the next few months, launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money that will allow him to step away from comics for a few months and focus on creating new art exclusively for the book, fitting into general themes like medieval, science fiction, and fucking ass-kicking. The idea is to have the book ready for 2014’s San Diego Comic Con and to offer up the actual original art as the prizes for the campaign. The big donor prizes will get high quality originals, their names in the book, while donors of smaller amounts will still be able to get sketches and plenty of cool art and, of course, preorder the book.

Unlike his previous tome, Archetype: The Art of Timothy Bradstreet, which weighs in at a hefty five pounds or so, his currently unnamed book will be split into several volumes so it’s not quite as difficult to lug around conventions. In addition to his art, Bradstreet will have his name on another Kickstarter project soon: a second attempt at bringing the RAW property Bad Planet to the video game world. About a year ago the game was something of a failure to launch on the fundraising site, but the gang has since regrouped and found investors for the game, meaning their sights will be set much lower for the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

The more we talk, the busier it seems Bradstreet is, as our conversation turns to the Thomas Jane project teased last year, A Magnificent Death from a Shattered Hand which Jane will co-write and direct. “We’re gearing up for the Western. We were gonna film last fall, then we were gonna film last spring, now we’re gonna film this fall. Tom thought we were gonna be in pre-production right now.” Last year we saw a teaser real of assembled footage to show the tone of the flick which Bradstreet says hit the normal road bumps of producers and funding, but plans now have the film shooting in Monument Valley on 4K cameras in September of this year. “John Ford wrote the book, but he didn’t have the technology, you know what I mean? So it’s time we went back to Monument Valley for a Western.”

Asked of his exact role on the film, it’s something Bradstreet is still figuring out. In the crowded world of film production, titles are not easily given or gained, but Tim is a logical choice for conceptual work, facilitating between various departments, and other art related duties. If the producers have any sense about them, you’ll see Bradstreet’s name prominently in the credits when the film, set to star Jane, Nick Nolte, and Jeremy Irons, comes to realization. “Initially Tom and I were going to be co-producers, it was our property so we owned, but to make the deal for the movie somehow we fell out of that,” he explained. “And I remember Tom telling me what the producer’s fee budget was, and it was like, twice what the actor budget was and I’m like wait a minute? Who’s earning this money? It’s one of those things, anyway, long story short, I don’t know if we’re gonna take a credit or not as producers.”

As a company closely tied to comics, A Magnificent Death would likely follow the Dark Country model, which started as a short story that Jane adapted for the big screen and then was later adapted again for a Graphic Novel put out by RAW. A similar approach would follow for the Western, with the graphic novel adaptation not necessarily being a translation of what appears on screen, but a more involved and reinvigorated look at the source.

Bradstreet, father to a seven year old daughter, laughs at me when I say how old I feel thinking about the early 90’s, when he first started coming to San Diego’s Comic-Con. This year marks his 22nd appearance at the Con and he’s seen a lot of changes as you’d expect. “91 was my first one. And I haven’t missed one.” He fondly recalls the days of Artist’s Alley dominating the floor, but by the mid 90’s artists were downsized from having full tables to sharing tables. “When I first came here, artist’s alley was huge. It was the epicenter of the show, it was amazing, and it was great for like 5 years.” Then came Bryan Singer’s X-Men film which changed the way movie studios saw SDCC. The Artists got pushed into “the arm pit,” a cramped area that most attendees never actually find. If an illustrator wants some actual space, they’re forced to get a booth instead of a table, which is a massive increase in expenditure.

Despite the changes, Bradstreet isn’t mad at Hollywood (at least not for what they’ve done to Con), and he says that “I haven’t seen it reflected necessarily in the sales of comics, but in a peripheral way, film and comic book adaptations are keeping film relevant. There’s a paradox right? Is it hurting us? How much is it helping us? When you see books like ‘The Walking Dead’ turn into a great TV show, that’s good for everybody.” With DC and Marvel churning out several movies a year, it’s hard to argue. After all, people who see these movies might pick up the comics, then they might go to SDCC, then they might accidentally walk by an independent distributor and find a comic that hasn’t been made into a movie yet. “The truth is that good stuff, the cream that rises, there’s never a huge amount of it. It’s like good and evil man, you can’t have one without the other. You almost need the bad crap to help elevate the good. I just wish that it was a little easier. You know, in the game of Hollywood, taking your project, taking your script, developing it and making a film with it, was a process that wasn’t run by suits and people who only care about the bottom line, which is profit.”

No, it’s not the films or the film fans that hurt the industry, but rather the “suits and money” that have created a horrible climate to make films in. “It’s so twisted and it’s so incestuous that it’s horrible. It’s a horrible climate to try to make films unless you’re somebody.” We spend some time comparing notes on comic properties that are purchased and then turned into movies that have no resemblance to the source material ‐ Cowboys & Aliens, anyone? Bradstreet questions what it is about the original source material that makes Hollywood want to buy them, but then tear out the pages and just keep the title. “You know, this company comes and they option your material, and we love this. Then they go about changing it. So what is it about this material that made you think that you could turn it into a profit? Did you never see this for what it was?” It’s a valid question, a type of practice he calls “dressing up a skeleton.” But hey, risk is a four letter word when making movies, so cowardly producers take something exciting and original and then dress it down until it’s something that feels safe. And boring. And then it fails. Start over.

“Nothing good ever happened without taking a risk,” he says, before dissecting the new “teen genre” of films like Twilight that have taken vampires and werewolves and made them into romantic figures for girls rather than the terrifying monsters that appeal to an apparently smaller, less marketable demographic. “Twilight is a perfect example of what we don’t need. Not to alienate the fans or say something like that, I get why everyone loves the books, I’ve read the first couple. It’s like reading a girl’s diary. But, I come from a way different place with that genre and the fact that it makes the kind of money it makes because it appeals to this broader audience, only kills us even more, because if you try to do something different or risky, you’re not going to get the money to do it.”

Whatever the future holds for Comic-Con, it’s safe to say that Tim Bradstreet will be there, at the RAW booth, watching it all pass by. And we’ll be there, chatting it up, and hoping for a brighter future where bold projects hit the screens and people pick up more comic books. Whether it’s on the page, on the screen, or in a video game, Bradstreet has a finger near the pulse of what’s happening, just don’t expect to find his wares near any Stephenie Meyer books.