A page of stolen Judge Dredd art by Brian Bolland from the early 2000AD “Cursed Earth” story has surfaced on the comic auction site Comic Link.
As of this morning, the page was still on offer on the site, although a number of Bolland fans have reported it.
downthetubes contacted the site for comment, and correspondence subsequently exchanged between the auction site and Brian’s British art agent.
The story of stolen Judge Dredd art – and, indeed, other art once held by then copyright owner IPC – dates back to the 1980s and is a little complicated, but in essence, if you own a page of 2000AD art and it’s not signed by Brian Bolland, in red ink, at the bottom of the page, then you own stolen property.
When the art theft first came to light, in 1988, it was widely reported, including in the American The Comics Journal, who ran a list of stolen pages in its June 1988 edition.
“Here’s what happened,” Brian himself notes on the Facebook Brian Bolland Appreciation Society (and not for the first time, deservedly anxious to highlight the thefts). “Publishers IPC in London had been publishing comics for many years. They paid the artists for their work, but their names wouldn’t be printed on their pages and their artwork would not be returned to them. At 2000AD, Kevin O’Neill arranged for a credit box naming the ‘art droid’ to be added to the first page of each story.
“Eventually, the archive of artwork stored in the vaults became so unmanageable IPC had the revolutionary idea of returning it to the artists. Something the artists had been asking for for some time. But – IPC required each artist to draw up a list of his pages and pay for a transparency to be made of each.
“I made a deal with the Forbidden Planet store in London to do that for me, collect my (probably) 300 pages and they would buy them off me (all except for a few I chose to keep). Mike Lake went to collect them and returned with about 185. It seemed about 115 had already been taken by someone else.
“Various British publishers and individuals had been given access to artwork, including mine, for use in other publications,” he continues. “All of the people who had access came from the closed world of comics – be they publishers, shop owners or fellow artists. The individuals who took my pages were people known to me, even friends. Soon, news surfaced of the stolen pages turning up in the hands of American collectors.
“The pages that actually came my way were all signed by me in red biro. Anything not signed that way was stolen.
“In the decades that have passed some buyers of these pages have contacted me,” Brian reveals. “Some have offered to pay me a small amount in compensation.
“The best I can do is to keep this issue alive, shame the people who took them and the people now selling them.”
The current example on Comic Link is the the splash page from “Giants Aren’t Gentlemen”, but other pages have emerged down the years. In addition, there have been instances of legitimately sold Bolland art being stolen, such as another “Cursed Earth” page in transit from Silver Acre, back in 2008.
The treatment of original art, and artists, by IPC remains contentious, with horror stories of art being used to soak up water from leaky pipes, or destroyed on the orders of Fleetway management, later owners of many IPC comic properties. But the fact of the matter is, theft is theft – and since IPC instituted a process by which art could be returned, they acknowledged the artists’ ownership. Those who took advantage of the poor security of the archive and have these pages are either aware of the provenance, and don’t care, or, in some cases, may unknowingly be in possession of stolen goods.
The whole issue of stolen 2000AD art was re-ignited when Rebellion announced plans to publish its Judge Dredd by Brian Bolland Apex Edition, due for release in February 2022, and put out an appeal to track down missing art.
Co-edited by Masters of British Comics Art author and artist David Roach and Rebellion graphic novels editor Oliver Pickles, many pages of Bolland’s 2000AD work have been located and scanned for the book, brought together from private collections in the US, UK, France, and beyond. The editors also circulated a list of pages they were hoping to trace.
The Brian Bolland: The Apex Edition has the artist’s full support, and will be followed by a Judge Dredd by Mick McMahon – Apex Edition in October.
“Even the pages that were legally returned to me were sold legally by me at the time for a modest fee,” Brian noted in past posts, “so it’s inevitable that now they are changing hands at many multiples of the price I got for them. I’m no longer expecting any financial returns for them. Just to see them in print would be reward enough (along with a nice royalty).”
All comic book stores were able to order the standard trade edition through the October 2021 edition of Diamond Distribution’s Previews magazine