Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons at COMICA 2023 – Report

Spring 2023 is, in a very unplanned way turning into a golden age of British comic creators biographies – Bryan Talbot’s “father of the British graphic novel” was recently crowdfunded on Zoop, Dave Gibbons Confabulation has just been published, and Brian Bolland is just about to see IT’S ABOUT TIME: A Memoir in Pictures and Words, by Book Palace Books. Interestingly, they’ve all taken very different approaches to telling their story.

Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland at COMICA 2023. Photo: Dean Simons
Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland at COMICA 2023. Photo: Dean Simons

At a packed COMICA event last Tuesday, a large audience at a sold out event had the chance to hear from two of these creators, Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland, about their books, their lives, and their approaches to sequential art.

For context – Bryan Talbot’s book takes the classic ‘sequential’ approach to his life story, with all its attendant highs and lows (and some of the lows are pretty low – it’s a really interesting read, and hopefully it’ll get a bigger release at some point). Dave’s book, on the other hand, looks back at his life in the manner of an “A to Z” listing of people, stories and characters – an encyclopaedia of his life, if you will. Finally, Brian’s book is different again with a book full of annotated images of his life. Brian himself was only seeing print copies of his book for the first time – but it’ll be out very soon from Book Palace Books.

It fell to compere Tim Pilcher and co-conspirator on Confabulation to try and fit Dave and Brian’s life stories into the allotted 45 minutes! He was helped by Dave being able to confidently tell people that the unexpurgated version of every anecdote was in the book, and that they should rush out and buy it now.

Photo: Dean Simons

Dave and Brian have known each other for over 50 years, and picked the annual comic convention at the Waverley Hotel on 5th and 6th August 1972, organised by Nick Landau, as a sort of “big bang” moment for them, and the people who attended it. Dave recalled meeting fellow artist Angus McKie there and it was also the only convention that TV Century 21 and “Garth” artist Frank Bellamy ever attended.

They both ultimately attended that convention because of their love of DC Comics, a company for whom Brian has now created in excess of 450 covers for. Brian started collecting comics as a 10-year-old in 1961 – this pre-dated Stan Lee and the Marvel revolution and he felt that Marvel Comics “just looked wrong” with “too much blurb” all over their covers – instead, Brain fell for DC comics with their Carmine Infantino covers.

Dave was self-taught as an artist: he trained to be a surveyor and told us that to this day he’s kept his professional membership up to date, and always gets the members’ magazine, just, you know, in case this comics malarkey doesn’t work out. Brian, on the other hand, went to art school, although the course he was on was called “graphics” and was more about how to set type than how to draw comics. In consequence, Brian’s years at art school ended up being more focussed on the recreational student lifestyle.

Dave reflected that in fact if he’d gone to art school that might have been as far as he got with cartooning – if his parents had been OK with him pursuing a career as a cartoonist, then it might not have been quite as rebelliously alluring as it was. As it was they weren’t keen on him becoming a cartoonist – hence the need for him to become a professional surveyor.

In the end though, his parents inadvertently helped to kick-start Dave’s comics career! It came about because Dave’s dad was doing some architectural freelancing and was worried that if he did the lettering on the drawings, his style would be recognised and the game would be up. So he got Dave to do the lettering instead. As well as lettering Dave recalled learning lots of the more technical elements of drawing from his dad who Dave often pictures alone in a room, smoking a cigarette in the dark, with the light from an anglepoise lamp illuminating the desk.

Brian’s family, by contrast, are all farmers. No artists, no musicians, farmers. As he admitted, he should have followed in the footsteps of his dad and become a farmer, too. Instead, a drive to draw like Gil Kane and to compete with Dave Harwood, later a professional comics artist himself, who, at the time, lived in the village next to Brian, was what stopped Brian farming.  

Dave answered a letter in Eagle from a comics fan in South Africa, who put him in touch with a UK fan who, in turn, put him in touch with future Warrior and Eagle Comics publisher Dez Skinn and his fanzines. Dave’s early lettering work for Dez can be found in fanzines like Fantasy Advertiser, archived on FANSCENE, and this soon became the home of Dave’s early strip cartooning work.

Fantasy Advertiser #36 (February 1971) - Cover by Dave Gibbons
Fantasy Advertiser #36 (February 1971) – Cover by Dave Gibbons | Read it here
Fantasy Advertiser #37 (April - May 1971) - Cover by Dave Gibbons
Fantasy Advertiser #37 (April – May 1971) – Cover by Dave Gibbons | Read it here

Eventually, the work was enough to get spotted by Barry Coker of Bardon Press – so called because the artwork was supplied by artists in Barcelona and in London. It was Barry who got Dave his first professional work on Pocket Chiller Library.

All the time Dave was trying and trying to get into comics his mum helped keep him solvent with little loans. When his work appeared in Pocket Chiller Library, he took his £80 pay cheque and went to see his mum to pay off his debts. She took out her little pocket book and checked through it, before telling Dave that he owed her £81.50 but she’d let him off the £1.50!

Powerman #6 cover by Brian Bolland published in Nigeria in the 1970s. Brian was then paid £17 a page for his work...
Powerman #6 cover by Brian Bolland published in Nigeria in the 1970s. Brian was then paid £17 a page for his work…

It was also Barry Coker who would get Dave and Brian to work together on their ‘lost’ series, Powerman.  Earning £17 a page on this strip, written by Donne Avenell  and Norman Worker, for the nascent comics market in Nigeria proved to be quite the training ground for two years. After political instability bought an end to Powerman Dave switched to drawing “Harlem Heroes” for 2000AD, who he said, looked quite a lot like Powerman!

Brian attributed getting into 2000AD because of his links with Nick Landau – another attendee at the 1972 comics convention.

Photo: Dean Simons
Photo: Dean Simons
Photo: Dean Simons
Photo: Dean Simons

30 minutes in, and we’d only got as far as 1977 – and this was despite Dave’s repeated please that the anecdote was in the book! Buy the book! Tim therefore missed out the rest of their comics careers and moved straight onto their recent work on their autobiographies.

It turned out that the work wasn’t quite so recent. While mainly a lockdown project that got out of hand, Brian revealed that he’d been working on IT’S ABOUT TIME: A Memoir in Pictures and Words since 2012. The format of project is a nod to the classic six-panel grid of comics, but with a stream of consciousness approach to the text. The title a nod to how much time has passed.

Brian likened the book to rummaging around in the attic looking at all sorts of different things – it all jumps around a bit, he confessed. He’s enjoyed the project so much, he’s currently eschewing paid work and is up to page 115 of Volume Two!

Photo: Dean Simons
Photo: Dean Simons
Photo: Dean Simons
Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons at COMICA 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Photo: Richard Sheaf

Dave didn’t seem to have a second volume of Confabulation up his sleeve but he did explain that he’d been working on the book for four to five years and really wanted to produce a book that would allow comics fans to be able to “peer behind the curtain” of life as a comic artist. “The sort of book I’d want to read”, as he put it.

A few audience questions rounded off the night – with, again, Brian and Dave’s shared love of DC Comics to the fore with titles like Green LanternThe AtomThe Flash. Both have worked on Green Lantern, although Dave has done more interior work because he is able to work faster than the “late” Brian Bolland (as he self-deprecatingly pointed out).

Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons at COMICA 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Photo: Richard Sheaf

Dave also mused on the Watchmen film (he concluded that Zac Snyder was damned whichever he went with the film, and reckoned he’d done as good as you could with it); and the Watchmen TV show (which he was initially much more sceptical about but which he now considered to have been something of a triumph).

Frankly, these two could have talked for far longer than the hour allowed but, sadly, the evening had to draw to a close. My thanks to Tim Pilcher, Paul Gravett, The century club, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and all those involved in organising the event.

Richard Sheaf

With thanks to Dean Simons for his photographs

For more COMICA events in March 2023, check out our Events Page

COMICA London on Facebook

IT'S ABOUT TIME: A Memoir in Pictures and Words by Brian Bolland

• IT’S ABOUT TIME: A Memoir in Pictures and Words
By Brian Bolland
Published by Book Palace Books | ISBN: 978-1913548339
Available to preorder direct from Book Palace as a standard or signed, limited edition | Preorder the standard edition | Preorder the signed limited edition

A visual journal of Brian Bolland’s development as an artist, writer and observer of the world around him.

Through the course of the 336 pages that this volume comprises, the artist takes us through his family history, his friendships, the comics he was reading, the bands he was listening to – in essence a potpourri of the many influences that shaped his development as one of the most outstanding artists of his generation.

Features a Foreword and Introduction by Johnny Vegas and Dave Harwood.

Dave Gibbons’ Confabulation: An Anecdotal Autobiography, compiled by Tim Pilcher

• Confabulation: An Anecdotal Autobiography
By Dave Gibbons and Tim Pilcher
Published by Dark Horse Comics | ISBN: 978-1506729053
Available from all good bookshops, including AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

From his earliest years copying Superman and Batman comics as a kid, to co-creating the bestselling graphic novel of all-time, Watchmen (all DC Comics), and beyond. Presented alphabetically, with informally written anecdotes that can be read from cover-to-cover or simply dipped into, Gibbons reveals unseen comics pitches, life as the first Comics Laureate, and going from being a fanzine artist to infiltrating DC Comics in the 1970s.

The book covers everything from working on Doctor Who and meeting Tom Baker to being inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame.

Gibbons also discusses, for the first time anywhere, the reasons why he and fellow Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore no longer speak. Packed with over 300 iconic, rarely seen, and unpublished art pieces and photographs, Confabulation: An Anecdotal Autobiography not only entertains, but peels back the layers of a fascinating career in comics.

That COMICON 72 Convention…

COMICON 72 Convention Booklet - Cover

COMICON 72 took place at the Waverley Hotel, Southampton Row, London over 5th – 6th August 1972. Organised by Nick Landau – now co-owner of Forbidden Planet and co-publisher of Titan Comics, the convention booklet includes a report on the 1971 convention and a tantalising snapshot of a Frank Bellamy gathering by Andrew Skilleter – today one of Britain’s best-known SF book cover artists and illustrators. The much-admired Thunderbirds and Dan Dare artist, who died in the 1970s, was of course the major guest.

The booklet, the cover the work of “various hands”, also features artwork by Robert Crumb, Dave Gibbons, Kevin O’Neill, and Mike Higgs and you can view it online here as part of the amazing FANSCENE archive of early British comic con booklets.

Categories: British Comics, Comic Creator Interviews, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Events, Features, Reviews, US Comics

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