‘all structures collapse, mysteries unfold
borne from the skies in these times of grace’
Whilst John Blanche is quite rightly regarded as the undisputed master of grimdark within the Warhammer realm, there are myriad other artists working beyond that it’s narrow borders whose visual aesthetic could certainly be considered ‘grimdark’ and thus partially responsible for the ritual scarification of my adolescent mind. As an act of penance on my part if you will, to provide a cultural counterweight to my forthcoming Rob Liefeld confessional, I want to cleanse my soul by turning my attention to a master of the form. A man, much like John Blanche, whose sense of grim splatterpunk violence and gallows humour was crucial in shaping my own tastes and approach to artistic endeavour. Guys, can we just take a minute and talk about Simon Fucking Bisley?
I first became aware of Simon Bisley (aka The Biz as you will often see him referred to) back in 1987, my first year of ‘big school’. Instead of pocket money my Gran had organised a standing order at the local newsagents and would collect 2000 AD and Transformers comics for me when she brought the TV and Radio Times round for my mam on a Friday afternoon. During that awkward and difficult period of my life it was quite literally the highlight of my week and the only night when I would purposefully hurry home from school. The simple joy of finding that comic book waiting for me on the table after enduring a week of prepubescent hell is a bliss I have never truly recaptured but will always appreciate.
2000 AD was a weekly escape, an esoteric portal through which I leapt willingly into twisted dystopias occupied by fascist lawmen, genetic infantrymen fighting future wars and bizarre twisted tales that brimmed with insane violence and venomous mirth. In retrospect it’s abundantly clear how much of an influence 2000 AD had on the development of my personality, cultural appetites and sense of humour.
As I mentioned HERE I was a really shy and nervous kid and movies and art in particular would have a profound and troubling effect upon me. Opening the pages of 2000 AD after a particularly brutal day at school, I was confronted with this image and it was fucking OVER for me man. (Years later this pic appeared on a bootleg live tape of my old band Rot In Hell.)
The ABC Warriors was Simons first work for 2000 AD and it felt like someone had driven an ice pick into the front of my skull and ripped my pineal gland wide open. For those who are not schooled in 2000 AD lore, ABC Warriors was a strip summoned from the poison pen of another hero of mine, the mighty Pat Mills. The ABC Warriors were a group of seven robots led by war droid Hammerstein. Mills gifted storytelling often used the Warriors as a mirror to reflect back at humanity it’s worst excesses and flaws with stories that skillfully wove together themes of environmentalism, paganism, magick, religion and sexuality amongst the seething ultraviolence and pitch black humour. Over the last thirty odd years many great artists like Brian Talbot and SMS have illustrated the strip but for me Bisleys work will always be the quintessenital rendition of these characters and the realm they moved through.
Bisley’s versions of Hammerstein, Joe Pineapples, Deadlock and the rest were completely over the top techno-organic entities swathed in glyphs and death metal/punk references (in fact the first time I encountered the term ‘Mosher’ was within these hallowed pages) that made the war droids seem both terrifying and strangely compelling to me. The artwork was weird and scratchy and Bisley used unusual perspectives and brooding shadows to inject a sense of arcane dynamism and foreboding that dripped from each and every panel. In Simon’s hands Deadlock went from being a philosophizing robot mage to a sinister,cloaked tech-occult shaman on a sick motorbike, leading the warriors down a black (rabbit) hole through cycles of death and rebirth toward a greater destiny as disciples of Khaos. Imagine replacing the human cast of Jodrowskys Holy Mountain with insane HR Giger-esque robots whilst listening to Neurosis “Through Silver In Blood’ and you’ll have an idea of just how good this comic book is.
I think ABC warriors shared a lot of aesthetic and intellectual commonality with the early ideas Rick Priestly had for WH40k. There was a presence of dark wit and a sense of discontentment with the real world that simmered beneath the surface of both properties. Sometimes I like to think that both 2000AD and WH40K in the mid 80′s were operated by (and spoke for) a generation of creative but politically disenfranchised sarcastic metal heads.
Bisley’s talents were soon recognised and he moved onto other higher priority titles.His run on another Pat Mill’s project Slaine: The Horned God truly has to be seen to be believed. Fully painted colour pages, very different in execution to his stark black & white ink work on ABC Warriors. He captures all the meat and gristle of this pagan epic in a truly visecral style that succeeds in both taking your breath away and horrifying the reader at the same time. The Horned God is a timeless and hauntingly beautiful fantasy work that still stands up to scrutiny some twenty plus years on. I always felt the bloody handed tone of the book chimed with my interest in Warhammer Third edition and the whole Slaves To Chaos thing that was going down over at GW around the same time.
Shortly after that, the lure of the former colonies and DC Comics took Simon away from 2000AD and he wound up doing some character defining work on Lobo: The Last Czarnian and Lobo’s Back mini series with Keith Giffen before hooking up with (yet another of my heroes) Glenn Danzig and Verotik Comics, including the Frank Frazetta Death Dealer books, (a character that should be familiar to any fans of vintage fantasy art worth their salt) as well as the sleeves for Danzig’s Thrall album and The Lost Tracks compilation. I feel like a lot of our younger readers (or folk who simply weren’t into comics as kids) might have missed out on Bisleys seminal early work, so if you like what you see here please investigate further. You won’t be disappointed.