Brian Bolland’s Indomitable Animal Animus

« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach

As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).

After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…

For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.

Created by writer Dave Wood and illustrator Carmine Infantino, Animal Man was introduced, sans costume at first, presumably as he was intended as a one-off, in DC’s long-running SF anthology Strange Adventures no. 180 (Sept. 1965). First known as A-Man, he gained his superhero togs in his third appearance, Strange Adventures no. 190 (July 1966). After a mere five appearances in SA, he virtually vanished… until the second ‘British Invasion‘.

This is Animal Man no. 5 (Winter 1988, DC); logo by Todd Klein. In this celebrated issue, Grant Morrison mashes up the Bernie Krigstein segments of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Bringing Back Father! (Mad no. 17, Nov. 1954, EC) and Alan Moore and Don Simpson‘s In Pictopia! (Anything Goes! no. 6, Dec. 1986, Fantagraphics) then anoints the ointment onto a Wile E. Coyote/Jesus avatar.
This is Animal Man no. 7 (Jan. 1989, DC). Bolland’s tonal versatility is a tremendous boon, his superpower, if you will. He brings to this cover a deft comic touch intended, but sadly lacking from the inside story.
This is Animal Man no. 18 (Dec. 1989, DC), a clever reverse-emphasis homage to one of the great covers of the 1960s, Carmine Infantino (designer) and Neal Adams (penciller-inker)’s Strange Adventures no. 207 (Dec. 1967, DC), winner of the 1967 Alley Award for best cover of the year.
This is Animal Man no. 24 (June 1990, DC). Bolland has a ball redrawing classic Silver Age covers… including issues of Brother Power the Geek, The Inferior Five and Swing With Scooter! The central figure is an old Justice Society foe, the Psycho-Pirate (Mark II in this case), created in 1965 by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. The GCD notes: « Cover prominently features several of the key comics that established the concept of the multiverse (The Flash no. 123, Green Lantern no. 40, Justice League of America no. 21). » Oh, you thought *Marvel* had come up with the ‘Multiverse‘? It’s high time you met Hugh Everett. And while we’re on the subject, here’s a touching song his son wrote about him.
This is Animal Man no. 25 (July 1990, DC), a sharp illustration of that old favourite, the Infinite monkey theorem.
First writer switch! Morrison out, Milligan in. This is Animal Man no. 28 (Oct. 1990, DC). Back to front: the Notional Man (with the forceps), the Front Page, Animal Man, and Nowhere Man (as in…)
A bold change of pace, this is Animal Man no. 36 (June 1991, DC). Milligan out, Veitch in.
This is Animal Man no. 41 (Nov. 1991, DC).
This is Animal Man no. 48 (June 1992, DC). At the centre of the gloopy pink monster hovers snappy dresser and fellow animal-powered justicer B’wana Beast.
This is Animal Man no. 49 (July 1992, DC).
Veitch out, Delano in, and a layout change to boot. This is Animal Man no. 51 (Sept. 1992, DC). By now, it’s pretty much a straight horror title.
This is Animal Man no. 54 (Dec. 1992, DC), a striking homage to Henry Fuseli‘s immortal painting, The Nightmare.

-RG

*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.

**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.