Comic Book artist Tim Bradstreet began his panel at Long Beach Comic Con by looking around the full room and laughing.
"I was kind of hoping it would just be eight of you and you could just come down to the table and chat!" said Bradstreet as the audience cracked up. Explaining that moderator and actor Thomas Jane would join them in a bit, Bradstreet told the audience he was glad to do the panel and to see interest in illustration and his art.
"I feel very fortunate to be here. I started out in role playing games and worked my way up," Bradstreet said.
Starting at the very beginning of his interest in art, Bradstreet said he first became obsessed with drawing as a kid, drawing in the backseat of the family car with his brother. He then plugged his book, "Archetype" which was a twenty-year artist retrospective on his work.
"So I say, really, go read that!" Bradstreet joked. Exactly at that moment an audience member's ring tone, which was the sound of crickets chirping, went off. "Yeah exactly!" laughed Bradstreet as the audience cracked up again.
A fan then asked Bradstreet what it was like working with Thomas Jane on the 2004 "The Punisher" movie and on the comic book "Hellblazer."
"There's pinch yourself moments, and one of those for me was first when I got to draw 'Hellblazer' monthly -- because I used to be on that side of the table for a long time," said Bradstreet, pointing to where the fan was sitting.
"It always smells like body odor a little bit on this side of the table," joked Jane as he walked in and joined Bradstreet at the table. Bradstreet continued his answer, noting that he became involved in the "Punisher" movie after he heard Gale Anne Hurd was producing it.
"I sent an email to Frank [Darabont] and I said, 'Frank, you know I do this 'Punisher' book and they are making a movie, Gale Anne Hurd is producing it, is there any way you can get me her office number, I want to try to work on that film,'" Bradstreet recounted. Bradstreet received a swift reply from Darabont who informed him Hurd was a friend, and not only that her husband, Jonathan Hensleigh, was directing the movie. Darabont then sent an email to Hurd recommending Bradstreet and the next day Hensleigh called him up to talk about the visual aspects of the film. The pair continued talking back and forth as the film went into production, but unfortunately Bradstreet's involvement in the production process was short-lived.
"When they got green lit and went into production, [Hensleigh] called and went, 'Tim, I'm really sorry, they don't want to hire you,'" recalled Bradstreet. According to the artist, Hensleigh told him, "'They say, they have these covers, what do they need to pay you for?'"
The audience gasped at this and Bradstreet said he then asked "The Punisher" producer Avi Arad to give him a chance to do the teaser posters. "It would be a great bridge to get the comic book people to see the movie," said Bradstreet. Arad told him he would think about it.
"Two months later [Arad] calls back, 'I got a great idea -- we want you to do a teaser poster!'" laughed Bradstreet.
"At some point somebody was going to get a fucking poster out of it!" added Jane as the audience laughed.
Jane told the audience at that point the theatrical posters were photo mockups of John Travolta and him, "and we all hated them, everybody hated them, I hated them vehemently!" While Bradstreet pitched to the producers on his end, Jane pushed for Bradstreet to do the promo and theatrical posters from his end.
"The whole time we were making the 'Punisher' movie I kept dragging out Tim's work all the time and tried to pummel Jonathan Hensleigh and the cinematographer with it," said Jane. "It was Tim's covers that got me excited about doing it in the first place, because I didn't like the script and I didn't like the idea."
Bradstreet recalled when the two first met in person Bradstreet showed Jane his drawings, which he had done from photo references from movies. Suddenly Jane spotted himself in one of Bradstreet's drawings.
"I had drawn Thom before -- he's a member of Iggy Pop's little crew in 'City Of Angels,'" laughed Bradstreet.
Turning back to how he broke in, Bradstreet said he went to conventions in Chicago as a teenager to get working artists to critique his art portfolio, meeting comic book legends like Joe Kubert, Jim Steranko, and Gil Kane. Recalling his first convention portfolio review as a Chicago convention in 1983, Bradstreet said after his dad dropped him off he walked into a tiny horseshoe shaped room and turned around to see Gil Kane, John Buscema, Marshall Rogers, Bill Savage, Tim Truman and other comic book legends surrounding him.
"It was like walking on a movie set with John Wayne standing there. I was in the hall of legends!" said Bradstreet. While most of the artists were friendly and happy to give advice, Bradstreet said not everyone wanted to look at his work.
"The good ones also give you advice, they critique. Bless the people who take the time -- it's hard for someone to say, 'Hey, can you look at my stuff and tell me what you think,' especially when that guy's there to sign autographs and maybe sell some stuff," said Bradstreet. He then told the audience the worst treatment he ever received as a fan was by John Byrne.
"He's just mean!" said Bradstreet, recalling how he first met the artist at one of his first conventions as a teenager. "At the time it broke my heart, but for every John Byrne there was a Walt Simonson or a Ron Wilson."
"[Wilson] was sitting there when I showed John Byrne my work for the first time, and Byrne did this," said Bradstreet, miming tossing a paper over his shoulder. After spending three hours in line to see the artist, "I was absolutely crestfallen, crushed. Ron Wilson saw that and said, 'Can I see that?' And then he sat there and he went through every page and he sat down and critiqued my work and I was his biggest fan after that day," said Bradstreet.
Jane then asked Bradstreet about working with artist Tim Truman, calling Bradstreet his protégé.
"I had just done this game called 'Vampire: the Masquerade,'" said Bradstreet, naming the role playing game artwork that he said marked the first time his artwork had really come together. About 23 at the time, he brought his artwork to Tim Truman at a convention and Truman loved it, giving him pages from an unpublished story called "Dog Soldiers" that he had worked on with Chuck Dixon and telling Bradstreet he'd love to work together with him.
Explaining that Truman would take artists under his wing to mentor them, Bradstreet praised the artist for taking an interest in the careers of others. He and Truman then collaborated on the one-shot comic "Dragon Chiang," with Bradstreet inking Truman's work. Bradstreet told listeners he was so intimidated that he first copied Truman's pencils onto a new sheet and practiced it over and over before actually inking the real pages. As a result, Bradstreet added a lot of detail that Truman used to do, but had dropped in subsequent years.
"The people around him like Bo Smith were seeing the pages and going, 'Oh my god, Truman hasn't looked this good in ten years!' So even though I was worried, and now I look back and see it was overworked, at the time I just wanted to please Tim," said Bradstreet. Truman then introduced him to the Eclipse Comics editors, who asked Bradstreet to do a comic version of Clive Barker's "Age Of Desire," adapted by P. Craig Russell.
"I didn't know this at the time but the reason I got the job was because they fired Craig [off] the book," Bradstreet said, adding that Russell stayed on long enough to thumbnail the book. From there, Bradstreet called up his friends to come pose for him and he took photographs to use as reference for the book.
Jane asked Bradstreet how he first started in his photorealistic style, and Bradstreet admitted he first began as an artist working, "from the head to the paper." After being offered to do the artwork on a role playing game called "Shadowrun," Bradstreet saw the artwork of a young Alex Ross and realized Ross was using references from movies.
"You basically render them, you are redrawing the whole picture in pencil and moving it around," said Bradstreet of his style, adding that working from photo references was, "laborious and painstaking as hell, but it taught me a lot."
"When I saw Alex's stuff it was the next kick I needed," continued Bradstreet. Swiping references from "Nation Geographic" and other magazines, Bradstreet cited that stylistic switch as the point where he became a commodity in the role playing world and his work took off. He then began shooting and developing his own pictures using a Pentax K 1000 camera. Unfortunately, not having a dark room to develop the pictures, "Age Of Desire" took a long time to complete and, as Bradstreet told the audience, when he finished the job Eclipse never paid him the rest of the money, going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy before he could claim what was owed.
"I just spent 6 months of my life pouring my heart and soul and doing this learning process to do this Clive Barker book," said Bradstreet "The last thing I wanted to do was another sequential book."
Jane asked Bradstreet if he ever got back the art from "Age Of Desire" and Bradstreet told him and the audience that editor Val Jones at Pacific Comics ended up with a box of his artwork after Eclipse's art was bought by Todd McFarlane and different companies.
"It's like finding your children safe after your children had been abducted!" said Bradstreet as the audience laughed.
Comic book writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Steve Niles, the latter of whom was wearing a pair of giant, leathery bat wings, then walked in to start the next panel.
"Is it the Q&A yet? Why are you two so sexy?" Palmiotti demanded to know as the pair sat in the front row and the audience laughed.
The final question of Bradstreet was if he would do more back and white art books or black and white art.
"We're the only ones doing it," said Bradstreet, adding that he was working on another one and that he had art books available at his booth.