Let me start easy, asking you to mark some quick biographic notes and
the more significant steps of your brilliant career, with more attention
for the work from 1998 till the present time.
BT: While I was growing up, I'd make comics for my own
amusement but my first published work was in British Underground and Independent
comics, mainly in BRAINSTORM COMIX, starting in 1975. In 1978 I began
writing and drawing THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT for NEAR MYTHS.
By 1980 I was doing a lot of mainstream magazine illustration and a couple
of serialised single page strips and the following year I finished the
first volume of ARKWRIGHT.
Then I worked for the British SF weekly comic 2000AD for about 5 years,
drawing NEMESIS THE WARLOCK and sometimes JUDGE DREDD before returning
to ARKWRIGHT to do the second two volumes.
I worked for DC comics for a few years as an artist, notably on SANDMAN,
THE NAZZ and HELLBLAZER. I also wrote and drew MASK, a 2 part BATMAN story
for LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT.
THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT was my next graphic novel, followed by the sequel
to Arkwright, HEART OF EMPIRE, which was published in 1998. Since then,
I've drawn a 4 part DEAD BOY DETECTIVES miniseries and an issue of FABLES
for DC, done several book and cover illustrations and a fully painted
12 page strip for 2000AD but have mainly been researching, writing and
drawing my next graphic novel, ALICE IN
I also spent about 4 months working on the HEART
OF EMPIRE CD-Rom.
Concerning the creative process, It’d be interesting to know your
modus operandi. You project before a classic storyboard, or you proceed
page after page, following the inspiration of the moment? Maybe you start
from the characters? Some people get inspiration by music: is that your
BT: I get inspiration from anything! When you're involved
heavily in a project, you relate everything you see or hear or touch to
I think a lot about my graphic novels before starting them - usually for
a few years. By the time I come to work on the plot I have a basic shape
in mind but I work on the structure for a very long time. It has to be
rock solid before I even begin to work on the script. By this time, I'll
also have a large collection of notes and scribbles, which I'll include
or discard, depending on how it goes. After the structure is built, scene
by scene, then I storyboard the whole book with thumbnail sketches and
write the first draft of the script in pencil, alongside the sketches,
at the same time. Comics are words and pictures working together - they
have to develop together. Next is to type the script out, polishing it
so it becomes the second draft. As I'm working on the artwork, the script
will be altered several times until I think it is right.
Usually I then pencil the whole book (120 pages with BAD RAT, 300 with
HEART OF EMPIRE). This means that it's easy to alter or correct things
over the entire book - I can return to earlier pages to add or change
things before I ink it all. In between the pencils and the inks, I'll
do a full text placement guide for the letterer. Lastly I do the colours
- either painting it myself or doing full colour guides if I'm working
with a colourist. I also work this way when I draw comics written by other
With ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, I'm still
working on the drawing board but composing it all on computer. I've structured
it and written the script (which is going through countless additions
and changes) but am completing the artwork page by page. Much of it is
my artwork collaged with other material – photographs I’ve
worked on digitally, old prints, maps etc. I’m also doing the colour
and the lettering.
Going deep into technical details: It seems that colour and black/white
techniques have no secrets for you: which one do you like the most and
how many pages, pencilled and inked, can you produce every month?
BT: I enjoy reading and working in both colour and black
and white. My first 5 years was spent doing completely black and white
strips. Although most of my work since then has been in colour, with the
occasional B/W short strip, my current project, ALICE
IN SUNDERLAND, is a mixture of B/W, colour and monochrome.
The number of pages I produce per month varies quite a lot, depending
on if it’s in a cartoon or a realistic style, depending whether
it’s colour or B/W or depending on how it’s inked –
there’s a huge difference in time consumption, for example, between
multilayed crosshatching or a simple line. So the answer is anywhere in
between 30 and 8!
Sometime in the past you’ve changed your style to serve the atmospheres
of a story or better define the characters: are you looking to a particular
direction at this moment?
BT: Absolutely. ALICE IN SUNDERLAND
is unlike anything else I’ve done, so the whole style of the book
is different. It’s not one story but dozens – in fact the
book is about storytelling, myth and history - so the look has to reflect
this. Although all the artwork is visually consistent – it’s
still recognisably mine - the style or technique changes for each section.
And, as I’ve mentioned, this involves changes between black and
white, mono or duochrome, and colour artwork, line drawing, watercolour
painting, digitally coloured artwork and collage. And the layouts vary
from conventional 9 or 6 panel grids and full page illustrations to multiple
In your stories the oneiric theme is recurrent, sometime as an element
of revelation, sometime as a dimension further than the so-called reality
(Luther Arkwright and your story for the Bat confirm this analysis): which
peculiar importance has this theme for you and can you explain that?
BT: No, not really but, like you said, it’s often been there in
my work, from the underground comics onwards. My first published comics
were psychedelic adventure stories (already an established genre then)
of which the plot was basically ALICE IN WONDERLAND: the hero, Chester
P. Hackenbush, would go on a hallucinogenic trip and return to reality
at the end. I’m now doing a graphic novel about Alice so I’ve
come full circle now! There’s only one 2 page dream sequence in
BAD RAT, though the book is about the artistic imagination and, as such,
has flights of fancy.
The future is another of your recurrent themes: through far echoes from
1984, your vision seems to prepare us to worst. War, dictatorship, hunger:
nothing seems to change better…
BT: No, and the way the world is going at the moment. It looks as if it’ll
be far worse. One of the functions of Science Fiction is to sound a warning,
with the hope that these dark futures can be averted. But it is a little
like a feeble voice crying again the inevitable injustices of life. You
can point out the stupidity and horror of industrial pollution and war
but it does seem to stop it happening.
Can you tell us about your favourite artists, penciller or writer, and
some new talent that you think will have a brilliant future, and you’d
like to work with?
BT: I love the work of many comic creators. Just a few: Leo Baxendale,
Hunt Emerson, Robert Crumb, Moebius, Schuiten, Hugo Pratt, Milo Manara,
Vittorio Giordino, Jack Kirby, Herge, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman,
Posy Simmons, Jeff Smith, Alfred E. Bestall, Brian Bolland, Glen Fabry,
Al Davison, Joe Sacco…oh, lots!
I recently met Ricardo Liniers at the comics festival in Amadora. He’s
an Argentinian artist who does a daily colour newspaper strip over there
– very surreal and very funny. He’s brilliant but nobody outside
of Argentina has heard of him. I’ve just put him in touch with Fantagraphics
books, so I’m hoping that they are going to publish his work in
I prefer writing and drawing my own material, rather than collaborations
but it would always be good to work with Alan Moore again.
And I have a great concept and plot for an erotic graphic novel that would
be ideal for Milo Manara. If you know him, let him know!
What’s your opinion about the current state of the American and
world comics market, looking to the recent political and economical changes
over the last twelve months?
BT: I don’t tend to read many comic news fanzines, so I’ve
no idea what state it’s in right now. I know that, generally in
Britain and the U.S., sales of monthly comicbooks have been declining
over the last few years but sales of graphic novels have been growing,
which I think is a good thing. Most bookshops and libraries now have a
graphic novel section. I think that’s a good sign for the future.
I can’t see that the recent political situation has had an impact
on the world of comics – though perhaps you can tell me how?
You’ve been several time in France and in Italy : what do you like
of this two country, and which kind of visual inspirations do you get
from these countries and cultures, so different one to another?
BT: I love visiting both countries and like very much
the people, the food and the architecture and how they differ from each
other and from Britain The first scene of HEART OF EMPIRE is set in Rome,
which was a sequence inspired by my first visit there. Other statues and
pieces of architecture I photographed in Italy and France were drawn as
parts of the fantasy London in the story. In “Victory Square”
(the equivalent of Trafalgar Square) I placed the steps from the side
of the Vittorio Emmanuelle building and a fountain from the centre of
Bologna. In the Imperial Palace, there’s works of art from the Louvre.
These are very obvious examples of visual inspiration but there must also
be an influence on my drawing style from reading Italian and French comics,
which I find harder to pinpoint as it’s hard to look at your own
drawings objectively. I do tend to use a thick, clear outline quite a
bit, influenced by Liberatore and Vittorio Giardino.
Many people say that comics would die, killed by technology progress and
videogames : what’s your opinion about that?
BT: Videogames are different from comics. Someone who
loves reading Hugo Pratt books, for example, wouldn’t regard playing
a computer game as an alternative to them but something very different.
They’re not exchangeable. Where videogames can steal an audience
though – where they can be viewed as a more attractive alternative
– is when compared to superhero comics. Why read about superheroes
when you can be one in virtual reality?
Concerning again technology, which type of approach you have to computer
graphic in your works?
BT: With Alice, I’m drawing the usual way, on the
drawing board, but then scanning it in and composing, lettering and colouring
each page on computer.
Do you appreciate the way it changed the production of comics?
BT: It’s certainly improved the colouring of American
and British comics. The old method of colouring looked terrible! It’s
also good to do the lettering, in my own font taken from my hand lettering.
I don’t think that it makes anything faster though – I find
that I spend more time on a page, as with a computer there’s a strong
temptation to carry on changing and playing around with the art way past
the point you would do if you were just dealing with ink on paper.
Mr. Eisner has left. Can I ask you a little thought about the man and
BT: I thought he was brilliant, a great innovator and
a great storyteller. I’ve met him several times, in different countries,
and always found him to be warm, down to earth and intelligent. I only
saw his work for the first time when the Warren editions of the SPIRIT
strip were published in the 1970s, so he wasn’t as strong an influence
on me as, say Jack Kirby, who I was reading from an early age. Will’s
constant experimentation with the medium did have a big influence on me
though and I hope that I’ll continue evolving as an artist as he
When do you think you’ll be back in Italy? Any chance to see some
of your latest work published here?
BT: I don’t know! Ask my Italian publisher, Comma