Practitioners 1: Simon Bisley

We’ve gained a lot of new fans in the last few months so I’ve decided to rerun all the old Practitioners articles that I’ve written. Over the next year or so more writers and artists will be added but otherwise, The Practitioners will appear here every Tuesday. Some of the articles will contain updates, corrections or new artwork for those who followed them first time round. You can find them all on the tab at the top of this page if you like but hopefully this way a few more people will get to enjoy them. Starting this week with Brit bad-boy Simon Bisley.

Black Heart 2000AD ABC Warriors: The Black Hole

Blackheart claims a guardsman 2000AD ABC Warriors: The Black Hole

Simon Bisley, born March 4, 1962 might have well have been born toking a mighty cigar made out of dragon skin and playing an electric guitar made of human bone and bits of broken tank. Simon Bisley is the ultimate British artist thanks to his work on 2000AD (ABC Warriors, Judge Dredd) Lobo and Heavy Metal.

Simon Bisley is a fine artist gone nuts. Much imitated, he inspired a generation of artists to draw the extreme in intricate detail. His work relies entirely on an intimate knowledge of human anatomy. He uses this to stretch, distort and excensuate in equal measure. He is a practitioner in the purest form. One that learned his trade intimately so he could turn it on its head and rape it silly.

Its hard to come up with enough superlatives about Simon Bisley’s work. His artwork looks like a methadone freakout in a schizophrenics wet dream. Muscles and sinew stretch across blood drenched and eyeball bursting panels lined with delicate and sumptuous colours or intricate crosshatched fine inkwork. Whether capturing an embattled mecha or a languishing nymph in minute (or no) clothing, Simon Bisley ruled the 90s in British comic books. No artist came closer in that period at capturing the grit, the savagery and the downright wild untapped sexiness and humour that the British comic book reader wanted.

He is a rock god with a pencil. Said to now be drawing for European magazines and having lost the legendary mojo of his youth I would have to say that there was little or no way he was going to keep the work he was doing without setting his right hand on fire and trying to paint with the stub of his finger while wanking crude oil into a cup. This is how I think when I’m faced with Simon Bisley’s work.

Slaine: The Horned God (1988) by Pat Mills and Simon Bisley

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Practitioners 55: Chris Bachalo

Chris Bachalo has pushed the boundaries of what’s acceptable in modern day mainstream comic books to the extreme. Highly intricate, cartoonish page layouts depict insidious caricatures of popular characters. With blade like precision, Bachalo creates highly detailed dream sequences from whatever writing he’s handed. Forming a visual world of monsters, uggos, bandits and vagabonds throughout his career he has sent out Superheroes dressed for the streets. Pushing the concept of the superhero closer to street level has made Bachalo a hero of mainstream comic book readers deserate for an alternative interpretation of their favourite characters. After almost 20 years working with DC and Marvel (as well as a brief stint on his own title with Image imprint, Cliffhanger) it’s fair to say Bachalo has achieved exactly that.

Bachalo was born in Canada August 23, 1965, Portage la Prairie but was raised in Southern California. Perpetuating the idea that many great comic book artists arrive at their calling because of weaknesses in their preferred fields, Bachalo had grown up wanting to be a carpenter until he discovered he was allergic to dust. He attended the California State University at Long Beach, where he majored in graphic art and illustrated a number of underground comics.

Following graduation, Bachalo found work pretty much immediately with DC Comics. His first published assignment The Sandman #12 (1989) – however he had already been hired as regular artist for Shade, The Changing Man, revived by writer Peter Milligan with a greater adult orientation. With clear black and white definition in his work, Bachalo demonstrated the influences of Sam Keith (artist and writer on Maxx and Zero Girl, with a liquid attitude to realism in his artwork), Bill Sienkiewicz (Eisner Award winning artist and writer best known for his work on New Mutants and Elektra: Assassin, utilising oil painting, collage and mimeograph) and Michael Golden (famous for his work on Marvel’s 1970’s Micronauts as well as his co-creation of characters Rogue and Bucky O’ Hare.

Initially, Bachalo’s work was visibly influenced from many different directions as he began to try to find his own style. This leant itself nicely to Shade as it was a kaliedoscopic, dream-like character and loaded with abstract ideas. Bachalo’s work has always held a certain dark and teenage self-conciousness, reminiscent of rock cultutre of the early nineties – something which strangely has carried forwards with his development – somehow always representing very well the graphic representation of youth at the time. As the design work of a less disenfranchised youth became more assured, brighter and more heavily influenced by street design, graffiti and graphics so too has Bachalo’s work. Most likely coincidental it is this that has catapulted him into the most mainstream family of books there are today.

His early 90s work is minimalist with strong, thick lines, quirky characters and little concern for realism. Never shying away from detailed landscapes but showed a rare inclination towards pages with many small panels, something that deepens any artist’s involvement in a piece.

In 1993, Neil Gaiman selected Bachalo for the Sandman miniseries: Death: The High Cost of Living, starring the Sandman’s older sister. The popularity of Sandman at the time and the strength of the series itself bolstered Bachalo’s visibility significantly. The creative team reunited once again in 1996 for Death: The Time of Your Life. Apart from returning breifly to DC in 1999 for the Witching Hour with Jeph Loeb for it’s Vertigo Imprint, Bachalo’s future lay with the other side of the comic industries fermament. The X-Men were calling.

Bachalo’s introduction to Marvel was during his tenure at DC comics, illustrating X-Men Unlimited #1 – an anthology to the ongoing X-Men comic books. Based on the noise generated by his introduction in this book Bachalo ended his time on Shade and made a permanent transition over to it’s big rival. His first project was as part of the forward thinking and innovative 2099 universe, reinventing popular Marvel characters into a corporate nightmare of a future. His particular nightmare blended his own dual fascinations of steam twisted tech and metaphysical beings with Ghost Rider 2099. A technological reincarnation of the Spirit of Vengeance, Bachalo’s rip-snorting, highly detailed blend of twisted perspectives and steam punk edge furthered Bachalo’s influence with what was, otherwise, a more minor title in the 2099 universe. He also drew a cover for Runaways.

It was with Scott Lobdell, Uncanny X-men scribe, that Bachalo introduced a new youth team to the X-canon. Generation X lurched out of the Phalanx Covenant crossover bizarre and idiosyncratic because the creative team wanted to avoid the recent trend in superhero teams, where every member of the team represented a stock character. Generation X became a hit with the series’ namesake due to Lobdell’s realistically cynical and emotionally immature teen characters and Bachalo’s atypical artwork. Bachalo illustrated the series through much of its first three years, taking a break in late 1995 and early 1996 to illustrate the second Death miniseries, Death: The Time of Your Life.

During his time in Generation X, an unusual influence began to appear in Bachalo’s work. While still intricately detailed. Influenced by the unlikely inspiration Joe Madureira, his characters became more cartoony and manga-like, with large eyes, heads and hands. He gravitated towards extremes in anatomy, drawing characters that were previously portrayed as bulky, short or thin as even more so. This elongation, bulk out and caricature of easily recognisable characters in Marvel would make Bachalo a staple and an unusual choice for major events.

In 1997, Bachalo left Generation X folr Uncanny X-men, arguably the industry’s most popular title and his new found inspiration’s previous assignment – where he remained for more than a year until the end of 1998.

In 2000, Bachalo luanched Steampunk, a comic book series deliberately inspired by the genre of fiction of the same name, which emulates early science fiction by intentionally applying self-conciously antiquated and deliberately awkward solutions to modern design. Written by Joe Kelly, the series came under heavy critical fire for it’s obscure artwork, small panels, detailed panels and muddy, dark colouring which many felt made it difficult to tell what was happening. Kelly’s writing at the same time was not as straight forward as many readers would have preferred at the time. Conversely however, the hardened fan base for the title, which was brought out via Image’s creator owned imprint, Cliffhanger, supported it for the same reasons. Regardless, the luke-warm response to the title saw it end prematurely at issue #12 – it’s intended 25 issue run sliced in half. It is currently available in two reprinted trade paperbacks, Steampunk: Manimatron and the perhaps aptly named Steampunk: Drama Obscura.

Following his aborted tenure with Cliffhanger, Bachalo returned triumphantly to the halls of Marvel, completing occasional work on various X-men series including the new alternate universe, Ultimate X-men, Ultimate War, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men (collected in New X-Men vol.5: Assault on Weapon Plus and including one of the finest examples of a single issue story). In New X-Men Bachalo realises a scene beautifully envisioned by Grant Morrison in which Wolverine and Sabretooth find themselves at the urinals of the Hellfire Club – a no violence rule allowing a moment of barely contained aggression between the two of them. Bachalo’s combination of clean, crisp lines and perspectives – mixed with the organic, intuitive detailing of the figures and the characteristic elongation and exageration of the two figures brings the light but knowing humour of the scene beautifully forward to such a pleasing degree that it might well be one of the finest combinations of writing and artwork in a Marvel comic book of all time. Not an understatement (though obviously a matter of opinion) and the sequel to the Age of Apocalypse Crossover.

Bachalo's current assignment - the X-Men come of age in Wolverine and the X-Men

Bachalo was also the artist on Captain America for 6 issues (21–26, running December 2003–May 2004 cover dates) pencilling a divisive run written by Robert Morales. In an attempt to humanize Steve Rogers, the pair managed to split fans opinions fairly resoundingly with both leaving the title – Morales 10 issues short of his intended contract for the series.

From 2006 to 2008, Bachalo was the artist for the X-Men title along with new writer Mike Carey after completing his final story arc for Uncanny X-Men (#472–474). He was often filled-in for by artist Humberto Ramos, however.
Bachalo has also pencilled (and coloured) a number of cards for the Vs. collectible card game. These have been renditions of both Marvel and DC characters.

On top of his continuing work for Marvel, Bachalo finished issue #7 of Comicraft’s Elephantmen, an issue 4 years in the making. The issue was done entirely in double-page spreads and marks his reunion with Steampunk writer Joe Kelly. The issue’s story, “Captain Stoneheart and the Truth Fairy” also represents Bachalo’s first work outside Marvel and DC since his fill-in issue of Witchblade.

Bachalo has also been one of the four artists who was originally part of the Spider-Man Relaunch. Brand New Day, along with Phil Jimenez, Steve McNiven and Salvador Larroca.

Starting with New Avengers #51, Bachalo will provide variant covers for the creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Billy Tan to bring use the “Who will be the next Sorceror Supreme?” storyline.

When Richard Friend inks Chris Bachalo’s pencils, the piece is signed “Chrisendo”, a portmanteau of the names “Chris”, “Friend”, and “Bachalo”. Antonio Fabela is a regular colorist of Bachalo’s work.

Pictured some way above is Bachalo’s latest assignment, a critical and fan hit by the name of Wolverine and the X-Men. It’s the next generation of X-Men back at Xavier’s School for Higher Learning under the tutelage of the ol’ canuckle head and it seems pre-fitted to Bachalo’s specific style. Anarchic, high octane and cartoonish, Bachalo’s lavish imagery has found a great home for his brief tenure in these pages. Writer Jason Aaron even going o far as to create BAMFs – small Nightcrawler-esque imps – that create havoc everywhere they go in order to harness Bachalo’s habit of dropping unusual midgets into otherwise mundane panels.

As his graffiti style of comic book art would suggest, Bachalo will leave an indelible and lasting mark that brightens up everything around it. An anarchic and chaotic practitioner – Bachalo is an artist who has caused the mainstream comic industry to adapt to him – something that has furthered the pursuit of great stylistic innovation in mainstream comic books. Bachalo so much pushing the envelope as setting fire to the envelope and feeding it to the little toothy deamons that hide at the edge of his pages.

Kapow Diary 3: The Isle of Wight Burlesque Stick of Rock, the art of queuing and Steve Dillon

At one point during the weekend as I was sat at the table and having worked my way through a not inconsiderable cup of coffee I was offered a piece of Isle of Wight rock. It was sort of dirty orange and maroon or blood coloured in whirly strips. I was feeling a little sideways at the time as I am not nor ever have been particularly stable on coffee. The other issue was that I had been up at 5.30am – something Dan blames me for for living outside London – as if there’s an invisible barrier around the city outside of which nothing relevant could potentially take place. Anyway – I’d fallen out of bed at 5.30am and made my way steadily in – but in the pursuit of sleep there was no time for eating. I’d taken a coffee on nothing, something I did at LCSPE and started tripping. While this was less severe I was getting the odd rush and feeling pretty uneasy.

In this malais, no doubt I was spotted by a sort of stout girl wearing an uneven black dress with a memorably immense cleavage offered me a stick of rock. This took me by surprise as I was in a really good mood but she insisted and I took it. It turned out she’d got this stick of rock from a burlesque dancer from the Isle of Wight festival which mostly made me wonder if the Isle of Wight festival was what I’d pictured it as. Anyway, I accepted it – because it was weird and weird always gets me through the day. It turned out that she was a child minder, though she was quick to insist she rarely dressed like a gothic steam punk tea lady when she was at work.

Meanwhile, on my travels – trying to work off the first coffee – I went to take a look and see if I could skip the queue for a Steve Dillon autograph. It wasn’t for me it was for some guy who was overly enthusiastic when he came to the table. He’d mentioned the coke in his bag several times with a knowing air that suggested he had something that wasn’t limited to coke in his bottle. He waggled it insistently under our noses until, without much pushing, I took a swig. Dan eventually had a crack too having seen that I hadn’t spontaneously shat myself and fallen over sideways. It was rum and coke. It lacked the shock appeal that his own piss would’ve offered but it was preferable in taste. My explanation that in Australia they sell Rum and Coke ready made in bottles was enough for the lads in question to consider buying tickets. That was enough for me – I liked these guys. They were deliberate idiots (in a good way), embracing every new experience as if it wasn’t something that wasn’t fairly plausible and had no doubt been done many times before – something I try myself on slower days. They were talking about a copy of Ultimate Avengers I think they’d bought that was drawn by Steve Dillon (cover unsurprisingly by Leinil Yu).

I offered, because I was high on coffee and because they suggested it and I’d bought a little too much into their psychology, that I’d see if the flimsy blue plastic band around my wrist that identified me as an exhibitioner would give me access to Steve Dillon who was signing on the far side of the room, in the corner. I tried. Steve Dillon sitting at a table with a queue numbering in the hundreds looping around the outside looked like easy pickings. No obvious signs of security. This was Steve Dillon, not George W Bush. The only person between me and him was a rather pretty organiser with blonde hair and a flowery dress and a badge that said Staff. But this was Dillon. Artist on Preacher. Surely it’d be artistic irony to pop the young lady in the nose and walk over to Dillon’s table as if nothing’s happened like Jesse Custer after the word of God. But I just walked over to the lady and she answered politely, clearly wondering why someone my age would think this wasn’t an obvious situation, that ‘it wouldn’t be fair on the hundreds of other people waiting.’ This I had to concede as I knew it all ready and I sidled off doing my best to let her know I’d clearly thought so.

On the way back I found a man with ginger hair sitting at a table on the end of an aisle. It was a perfect position and laid out in front of him was my artwork on the cover of Fallen Heroes and more importantly in the identification of the man in question a set of piles of Burke and Hare; the book written by Martin Conaghan – who is adapting Fallen Heroes. This made him Will Pickering, the master draftsmen of the title. If you haven’t already, you should pick up a copy of Burke and Hare when you get the chance – its better than the film and not particularly related to it as its based on the facts for a start…. Will’s a nice guy but in this particular case he was struggling with an issue it was hard to see a solution to. Wrapped around the table was a queue for JRJR, John Romita Jr, one of the biggest names in comic book art. Fear that the queue would move on without them had gripped the people inside it as they were now close to the man in question so no sales were being done at all. This is the nightmare scenario as you’re blocked off by the people you’re supposed to be trying to sell to. MyseIf and Dan were concerned briefly about the DC stand opposite for basically the same reason but this was entirely another level. I had a speedy chat with Will and returned to the table.

The lads were on their way away from the table at this point and I pulled them back to buy a copy – the effort I’d gone to alone justifying the sale. But I still had the stick of rock. I hadn’t put much thought into it but it became clear it wasn’t normal. Friends of the Bunker came by to see how we were getting on and I offered it to them. They refused on the grounds that it looked weird and ‘like it had blood in it’. The ongoing tale of Isle of Wight Burlesque rock was beginning to look like it wasn’t going to go any further and get left under a table in Islington. What perhaps didn’t help was that I discovered it was a little bendy. As a result nobody wanted it at all. The day progressed and I had of course unceremoniously arranged to go for a pint with a famous person on the grounds that he drank with a mate of mine in Edinburgh – thereby creating a presumably inescapable bond in my head for those brief moments. As the day drew on and the Rum and Coke and coffee was allayed by a lovely delivery of food and drink (another coffee) by Dan’s parents who were surprised and impressed by how normal the whole thing was, I came to realise that short of pursuing Frank Quitely around the building and making arrangements with him by asking him where he was going and what he was doing and with who – it was unlikely that I would be going for a pint with him. This meant that I stopped thinking too hard about what we were going to do after the shut down on Saturday night and more obvious options presented themselves.

As everyone packed up for the day – putting everything under our table or in a clear indicator of the futility of this act simply putting the table cloth up over it, I noticed that Will was packing his things and was getting ready to head out. He’d had a tougher day than me – most likely, though not definitely without access to rum and coke or a second coffee as his parents were most likely in Scotland, and certainly because of the immense queue around him the whole day. I thought… how to cheer him up and we started making for the door. Suddenly I remembered something and ran back to the table to collect something that might sort him out. As he threw his bag over his shoulder I reappeared, beaming and handed him the Isle of Wight Burlesque Rock that looked like it had blood in it. He duly accepted it and I suspect probably threw it in a bin outside.