Gerald Brom - Finding Neverland

Published: 23 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 195, February, 2011

The artist Gerald Brom – or simply Brom as he is better known the whole world over – is one the worlds best kept secrets, but it’s a secret that’s surely to be blown wide open with the release of his latest book The Child Thief. What’s he doing in Skin Deep? Well, a chance conversation led him to a big cupboard where he got out all of the photographs that his fanbase have sent him of his art that they have had tattooed – and that was as good a reason as any for me to get my pen out…

I’m intrigued. A lot. You hear about this sort of thing happening with bands and collectors who like to hit the big movie iconography but I’d not come across a specific artist being on the hitlist of tattoo collectors – so I ask Brom what the deal is behind it, did somebody send him an image once upon a time that he happened to mention that then prompted a flood more or do they just kind of drift in randomly in isolation from each other? Either way, that’s what you call a dedicated fan base…

“They’ve been drifting in randomly since around ‘97, after my first art book was published. Art can be a solitary business and I look at it as a form of collaboration between artists. I get a kick out of seeing how my work translates into ink. For the person being inked, they’re choosing to carry my art on their bodies for life. This creates a very personal bond which is why I think they enjoy reaching out to me. 

It’s the highest form of flattery. Someone choosing to wear your art on their bodies for life? Brilliant. As far as the quality of the tattoos, well that varies widely as you can imagine. Some images certainly translate better than others and of course some tattoo artists are more talented than others – it’s worth bearing in mind that I’m a painter and buttery paint effects can be very difficult to translate into skin art – sometimes I’m amazed by what can be achieved on skin.”

Looking through the shots, I feel a need to apologise in advance if this feature chokes up his inbox with hundreds of other Brom tattoos that he never knew about but mid apology, I stop at some of the work that Russian artist Sergey had mailed into him totally unprompted – the back piece in particular is something else - did it generate a slightly smug response from yourself that it could be translated that well?

“What actually happened was that I saw one of his images in a random tattoo post. It was that back piece. I was so blown away that I wrote to him through his website and asked if he could send me some high resolution images. He wrote a very flattering note back saying he was a huge fan. I have to say the feeling is mutual – but it wasn’t the only one he has done.” 

Long term fans will be aware of Brom’s history – which prior to the release of The Child Thief most notably means his work with role playing games and his work at Dark Horse comics -  but does he feel like he’s left parts of his past behind and is now able to control what he does a little bit more now in the way of being able to pick and choose what he does for a living?

“The goal of any artist is freedom to create what they want. To follow their muse. I have done plenty of commercial art to keep a roof over my head, especially early on, but of late, yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to only take on work that I am interested in. This need to follow my muse has a lot to do with why I started writing - before I was limited to only illustrating other peoples ideas, writing novels gives me more freedom to follow my own vision as opposed to someone else’s.”

Ah – the writing. A u-turn for an artist perhaps but it’s no sloppy work of fiction. The Child Thief belongs up there with some the greatest fantasy fiction ever created. It also includes art plates of some of the main chatacters that appear in the book. I ask if this was a concentrated effort on his behalf - that it would be expected of him to include pages like this or did the art come first and generate the direction of the story? 

“The Child Thief is my first novel, I also have two fully illustrated novellas. The first being “The Plucker” a children’s book for adults, plenty of voodoo and under the bed nasties fucking with toys in the land of make-believe. The second “The Devil’s Rose” - I call it my romantic western set in Hell. Plenty of undead being wonderfully awful to one another. Those two were a balance between the paintings and art. With The Child Thief I wanted to branch out and try writing a novel reliant on prose first. So even though there are plenty of images, the story is told through the text.

A couple of years back I read James Barrie’s original version of the tale and was amazed at all the underlying darkness. Here’s a quote from the original Peter Pan: “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.”

Thins them out? What does that mean? Does Peter kill them, like culling a herd? Does he send them away somewhere? If so, where? Or does Peter just put them in such peril that the crop is in need of constant replenishing?

That one paragraph forever changed my perception of Peter Pan from that of a high-spirited rascal to something far more sinister. How many children had Peter stolen, how many had died, how many had been thinned out? Peter himself said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”  Once I pondered these unsettling elements I began to wonder what this children’s book would be like if the veil of Barrie’s lyrical prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in grim stark reality. How would children really react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers?”

So, what’s next? I would venture a guess that the feedback has been good from the book and that another is expected from the public, his publisher and fans alike in the not too distant future.

“I’ve just signed a two book deal with EOS/Harper Collins, the publisher of The Child Thief. Along with a new art book on the way. Now I just have to get my butt in my studio and make some stuff!” 

And is he still a pencil and paper kind of guy or has he succumbed to the siren calls of PhotoShop?

“You know, digital art has revolutionised the art of illustration. This comes with trade-offs both good and bad. The computer can make an average painter good, and sometimes a good painter average, in other words using the exact same tools, and exact same technique can often homogenize art. There are plenty of exceptions to this. These digital tools have flooded the market with more talent and thus each artist has to strive to find their own unique niche. For me this was expressed in my fiction, I focused on my ability to bring a world to life with both pictures and words combined.”

Like Brom, I have a real love for Frank Frazetta’s work - it was pretty sad to lose him last year – we follow the train of thought and turn a corner that leads us into a conversation about how the world is such a different place now that the likelihood of having an artist become as iconic as he was is very slim, to say the least. Personally, I don’t see media being collected and treated the same way as it was when we were kids (we’re about the same age). I discovered his work in second hand bookstores and dove in from that direction, but that sort of “browsing” culture really doesn’t exist any more… thoughts Sir?

“A talent like Frank only comes around every hundred years, but even so, I often contemplate this very point. When we were kids there were a few very focused outlets for fantastic art, the good thing about this was that I was aware and could keep up with everything in the genre, could name every artist in the business. Now I am overwhelmed by the venues and have fallen behind on who is doing what. Even when I was building my career, the amount of artists working and the smaller venues helped make it easier to establish my name, or at least the path was more apparent and focused. It would be daunting to try and do that now.”

Which I believe is where we come in – exactly the same is happening in the tattoo world. It takes a sharp cookie to keep track of everything going on in the world now that everything is louder than everything else. 

 

Brom

Born in the deep dark south in 1965. Brom, an army brat, spent his entire youth on the move and unabashedly blames living in such places as Japan, Hawaii, Germany, and Alabama for all his afflictions. From his earliest memories Brom has been obsessed with the creation of the weird, the monstrous, and the beautiful.

At age twenty, Brom began working full-time as a commercial illustrator. By twenty-one, he had two national art representatives and was doing work for such clients as Coke, IBM, Columbia Pictures and CNN. Three years later he joined the art staff at TSR and entered the fantasy field he’d loved his whole life. There he contributed his unique vision to all the fantastic worlds of Dungeons & Dragons as well as creating the highly dramatic look and feel of the best-selling Dark Sun world.

In 1993 Brom returned to the freelance market and since that time his distinctive works have graced all facets of the creative industries, from novels and games, to comics and film, working on such notable titles as: World of Warcraft, Magic the Gathering, Diablo, Doom, Batman, Galaxy Quest and Tim Burton’s Sleeping Hollow. Most recently he’s created a series of award winning horror novels that he both writes and illustrates: “The Plucker” (a horrifying adult children’s book) and “The Devil’s Rose” (a modern western set in Hell). Brom will be signing at the Spectrum booth promoting his latest novel, “The Child Thief”, a gritty, nightmarish retelling of the Peter Pan myth.

Brom is currently kept in a dank cellar somewhere in the drizzly Northwest. There he subsists on poison spiders, centipedes, and bad kung-fu flicks. When not eating bugs, he is ever writing, painting, and trying to reach a happy sing-a-long with the many demons dancing about in his head. If you would like to learn more about Brom’s particular brand of deviltry, the Child Thief, or future concoctions go to:

www.bromart.com.

Credits

Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Brom

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