Interview: Simon Bisley Gives Us Hell in Heavy Metal’s The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Trailer

Simon Bisley has been melting fans’ faces with the power of his wickedly cool art since the 1980s. Bisley’s style of extreme musculature, buxom babes, and horrifying monsters has been a calling card that fans just can’t get enough of. His latest project, Heavy Metal’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, sees Bisley handling interior art chores and this time melting quite a few character’s faces, thanks to the main setting being the fiery depths of Hell itself! The first of four graphic novels, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Helldiver plunges the readers into the world of Adam Cahill, part of a Pope-approved assassin squad set on destroying evil wherever it may pop up– and this time, he’s been taxed with going straight to the source.

We recently had a chance to interview Mr. Bisley, a.k.a. Biz, about his collaboration with writer Michael Mendheim, his use of traditional versus digital art, and just about everything else that popped into our heads when tasked with interviewing a personal hero.

MTV Geek: You are an artist that has become synonymous with Heavy Metal and its brand of no-holds-barred storytelling. Do you feel like they give you more freedom to let loose with your imagery than other publishers can/do?

Simon Bisley: I think so–generally yes–it is usually all creator owned stuff, so I tend to take a little more time with it–go a little deeper–but it still has to go out and the world and sell so you can’t go to far. Some of my favorite Heavy Metal work has been on the covers–I’ve done 15 or 20 of them over the years–and Kevin leaves the door open for any ideas I might have for one–I’ll pretty much catch an idea, paint it out, and send if off–a few months later it’s on a cover.

With most other publishers I still have a lot of freedom, but it can be very character specific stuff–so there are limitations–not with Lobo, and stories I raised hell with, like the “Father Christmas” one–all the blood and mayhem–but people expect me to push it as much as I can regardless of the publisher–in the end it has to be fun for me.

Geek: How did you get involved with The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse series?

Biz: Michael Mendheim contacted me originally, said he had hand picked me, and showed me what they had in mind for the project–the world they had built. It already had a great deal of detail when they asked if I would join the team–which was great, as there was tons of reference–I really liked it–it was a world I could see how to tell a story in–and jumped in.

It ended up being quite a lot of work, and over a long period of time–two hundred pages in the end I think–tons of covers and character sketches–around six years from start to finish–Michael directed and funded it–so there where gaps where I took other work while he worked out funding and then I’d be back on it. I’m very proud of the work in the end–it was a massive undertaking and now that it’s here and I can look at the body of work it is mind-blowing we got through it all!

Geek: You’ve recently been getting a lot of exposure with your terrific cover work on DC Comics’ Deathstroke and Vertigo’s Hellblazer (along with interiors on a recent arc). Is there a big difference for you in your approach when tackling sequential pages and not just a single striking image?

Biz: Umm, sorta I guess–on the cover there is one image, and on the inside there are lots of them! (laughs) It is always about a key impact shot that I’m looking for pretty much–the same thing that can make an interesting cover can also make the focus point of a page–and then with the page anchored, I can build the rest storytelling around that.

It is always a challenge to tell a story as a series of single images–you need to capture mood, pace, acting, drama–but with an economy to move it along and get the job done effectively–I don’t think spending six more hours on any single panel is going to make it better at the end of the day if you know what you’re doing–it is a knife’s edge of style over story–it has to look great and move.

Geek: The world of Helldiver, particularly Hell and the “Purgatory” realms, has a very distinctive look. Was the appearance of these places (the buildings, demons, Horsemen,etc.) a collaborative effort or were you just unleashed to give your spin on things?

Biz: In many cases Michael was very specific as to what he was looking for–as it had to fit a pretty massive concept that they had already developed and were making into a game and a film, but yet it was still a work in progress–so the work we were doing on the comic needed to match what they had done so far–a lot of which was in my style–but I could still flex quite a bit, especially with the big set pieces/backgrounds. It was a controlled give and take in the end I guess–many parts of the world had been built with me in mind, and I still got to twist a few things to make it more mine–good fun all the way around.

Geek: What, if any, are your influences for working on a project like this?

Biz: Nothing specific, but everything and all at once–all the stuff I have drawn over the years, the stuff floating around my brain–artists that have inspired me here and there are always there–and I just channel it all into what is going on in the moment is guess(laughs) don’t really think about it, I’m not sitting there with a bunch of reference trying to make it look like this or that, it is just what I see and how I would see the pieces fit together–Simonize it–bring it to life–it is already all there in Biz world! (Laughs!)

Geek: In the first volume: Helldiver, there are tons of eye-gougingly badass action scenes. What was your favorite piece of the story to illustrate?

Biz: Pestilence scenes come to mind first–I love drawing women–but I liked her story–I thought there was some great mood there, some great bits of story there–grounded stuff–but sexy and scary at the same time. The big backdrops are a blast, the set pieces, those are the places you can really suck the viewer completely into the world and the story you’re trying to tell–those are the pieces that really make it work.

There is so much detail in these books, I think fans will be surprised–I mean I always put a lot of work into what I do–but there are a lot of layers here–the story is very strong, but the art brings it all the way home! (Laughs!) Heh! Nah! Yeah! It’s good–a lot of fun, gory shit.

Geek: Speaking of illustrating, how did you go about creating the lineart? Are you still using traditional mediums, digital, both?

Biz: No digital at all for me–all pencil and pen–old school–at least for my part–Michael worked with the colorists he chose to work over my finished work–pretty standard in comics–but I like it here–lots of details stayed–it’s all there, and some nice effects as well. Digital coloring in the right hands can be really good as long as they don’t try to over paint it–let the color compliment the original work, not change it I guess.

I still like the finished pages, the feel of it, smell of it–and in the end, it is an original piece of art–I can keep it, give it to someone, or sell it–but it is an original you can hang on the wall–I just don’t get the same feeling out of digital stuff–there is great work there, but it still feels cold to me somehow. Dunno, just going to worry about my stuff in the end I guess–I’m fifty years old now–old school.

Geek: Have you already begun work on the following volumes?

Biz: All done–it’s all done–200 hundred pages–more with all the extra bits and covers–and honestly, it has been great to see all the work again. So much had been done a while back, then it goes through coloring and lettering, and then you sort of forget about it as you gone on to do a bunch of other projects and here it is–I get to revisit it all and simply enjoy it from start to finish–all my heavy lifting has been done!

Geek: Any particular designs or scenes that you think will blow people’s minds?

Biz: All of it! (Laughs) There really is a lot of mind-blowing work in there, and it is a great deal of it–I spent a ton of time on many of the shots–I love the big shots, the set pieces–but the character stuff I think works really well as well. I think there are some beautiful character moments in the middle of some pretty horrific stuff–and of course I love the action stuff–it’s pretty dynamic–the whole thing is like nothing stands out as the best of the best, but it all stands out as huge amount of work I’m proud of. No ego here huh? (Laughs)

Geek: Who do you think screws over Satan’s plans more: Adam Cahill or John Constantine?

Biz: Hmm…they use Satan in different ways really—John really doesn’t care and spends half his time thinking he is Satan–and Adam uses him to get what he wants. That is the lay of the land in the simplest terms I guess–lots of layer in-between–but I guess how I see it–or them rather.

Geek: Besides The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Helldiver, what projects can fans be on the lookout for from you?

Biz: It’s funny–I always keep quite busy–a steady clip–regular work coming out, with the Hellblazer covers and story guest spots–but it seems like some that I have spent a long time on are now finally coming out, like Four Horsemen–200 pages, over three fat issues with behind the scenes–and I get to relive it all with the fans!

I have a few more covers for Heavy Metal coming up–stuff for it’s 35th Anniversary–which makes me feel old because I have collected it for so long and sad about Moebius passing–but I have a project called “13 Coins” that might be published soon–a bit more work to do on that one, I have some more “Jaguar God” work coming, more “Hellblazer” and another big one with Legendary Comics and Matt Wagner called “The Tower”–which is like four sixty page books I think…Man, that is a lot.

I hope to get a bit of food and some sleep in between–(Laughs)–suppose I should do that now and get back to work! Cheers!

For more info on Simon’s work in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Helldiver, be sure to check out the official website!

*Special thanks to Kevin Eastman (yes, THAT Kevin Eastman) for all the assistance!

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