Tuesday, May 02, 2023

It's About Time by Brian Bolland

Brian Bolland has produced a memoir so unlike any other that it takes a few minutes to settle in to what he is trying to achieve. Laid out in rigid six-square panels, any page may contain a photograph of Brian in his twenties or in his fifties followed by a photograph of a brick wall, or a dead bird, or a photograph of fruit, or coins, or a starfish, or another photo of a schoolfriend, a girlfriend or tightly packed envelopes, or magazines. Each page is a collage of differing images and I guess it's up to the reader to try and decode Bolland's intentions in picking a certain image.

It's all about texture. Many photographs are closeups of brickwork, wood, the detritus on woodland floors, fruit, and rust... colours and textures that catch the artist's eye. They seem to be thrown in at random, but that can't be the case. I don't have Bolland's artistic eye, but I know what I like and there's something pleasing about the clusters of images on each page and the slow, steady revelations about his childhood, his schooldays and his career as an artist, although there's more about his holidays than about the time he spent drawing Judge Dredd or covers for Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Wonder Woman, etc., etc. This is not an art book -- see Joe Pruett's The Art of Brian Bolland (Image, 2006) for the definitive overview of Bolland's career or collections like Bolland Strips (Knockabout/Palmano Bennett, 2004) or the Illustrators Special (2019) edited by Peter Richardson if you just want artwork.

This is Bolland inviting you into his world and his psyche... I'm sure there will be psychologists studying these pages trying to figure out why he put in a particular photograph and juxtaposed it with another image... and I, because I am not a psychologist, will say that I strongly suspect he did it because he thought it looked nice, or he was in an impish mood the day he put together those pages. My big worry, since I am still some way from finishing the book, is that with 330 pages x 6 panels = 1,980 images, I just haven't yet come across the ones that, when you rearrange them and decipher their meaning, spell out the words "I WILL KILL AGAIN".

It's fascinating and intriguing in equal measure. Flipping through to a random page I just stumbled upon David Wright's Carol Day; later there are a series of photos of Bolland looking pensive at his drawing board, a Judge Dredd cover visible in some, thumbnails for Camelot 3000 in others; an earlier page has Rupert the Bear being carried off by a balloon and a fifties 'space gun' on the opposite page. You never know what the next page will bring.

Bolland covers his life meticulously through images and photographs. Some day, someone will discover row upon row of neatly written diaries bound in human skin inhis studio. Then we'll look back at this book and say "Well, all the clues were there. We just didn't realise." Until that day arrives, you can enjoy the book for what it is: a beautifully produced, colourful, humorous history of Bolland, his family, his holidays, his fascinations and his artwork.

It's About Time: A Memoir in Pictures and Words by Brian Bolland
Book Palace Books ISBN 978-191354833-9, March 2023, 330pp, £39.00.  Available from Book Palace Books. There is also a slipcase edition limited to 100 copies.

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