To continue my sporadic series of favorite pieces by my favorite artists, I’ve decided it’s time to talk about an artist whose work I was probably way too young to be looking at when I did. I was in my preteens and the local magazine shop thought Heavy Metal was a comic book with regular kid-friendly superheros. ‘Nuff said.
Simon Bisley has become a name synonymous with bulging muscles, voluptuous vixens, and all around craziness. I remember the first thing that ever grabbed me about his art, aside from the obvious overly endowed women, was the dimensionality of the characters. They looked like sculptures animated by way of a fever dream. Frenetic. And it is with this admiration of his art that I bring you my top five favorite Biz pieces.
Disclaimer: I don’t know the proper titles for a couple of the pieces on here, in which case I just made something up. Allow it.
Hellblazer 263 (Cover)
This image of John Constantine smearing a bindi is as striking as it is simple. His is an expression that is equal parts worry and dread. The light emanating from below gives the scene an ominous mood while the tight shot gives a sense of active participation in the scene. A character as closely associated with Catholic-themed horror as Hellblazer isn’t easy to drop into Hindu culture, and it’s even tougher to pull off with just one image. Bisley doesn’t go mainstream too often, but when he does, he makes it count.
Speaking of religion, this here is probably my favorite piece from his Bible-themed artbook. The angel Gabriel appears as a haunting cloaked spectre and looks more like a ghost than a messenger of God. Mary’s humble circumstances are lit by a single light source, instantly giving the piece a sense of focus. From the torch our eye follows down along the angel’s other hand as he greets the virgin with a message. My favorite little detail is the woman’s slight paunch, hinting that she may be with child.
And then of course, there’s the women. I mean… there had to have been a reason why I spotted him on Heavy Metal first, right? The theatrical lighting on this piece (focused on her bum, no less) gives it a very staged look, which is always a nice irony for jungle and wilderness-themed pieces. The woman’s pose echoes that of her striped friend, and in place of the cat’s teeth is a long dagger in her hand. Her expression is one of curiosity and playfulness, a stare so piercing it has reduced the jungle in the background to the shapes and colors that define it.
This and the previous piece are absolutely in the spirit of Frazetta. That is, if Fraz was on LSD. This image of the wild man in what appears to be a jungle graveyard is a powerful example of Bisley’s command of atmosphere and mood. The slightly yellow hue to the greenery hints at a sense of rot and decay, and the skulls are concealed enough that you don’t spot them on the outset. To sell it, bats hover over our heroes head, as would opportunistic flies looking for a free meal.
Beauty and the Beast
Again with the bats. This is easily one of my favorite takes on Frankenstein’s monster. He’s got the classic Boris Karloff melancholic expression and flat head, but with steam punk elements like the valve in the knee joint that apparently releases pressure. Bisley’s mastery of the female form is showcased without having to show too many naughty bits. The final element of the swamp gas and foliage completes the scene and allows us to almost hear the muddy waters being disrupted as the creature lurches away with his prize.