Appreciating Bruce Timm

I’ll be honest with you, Batman bores me unless he’s drawn by Bruce Timm. Ok, ok, you’ve got others like Mazzucchelli and Josh Simmons that also make Batman stories that blow the competition out of the water, but Timm distills and re-contextualizes the essence of Batman and the world of Gotham in his drawings spectacularly in a way that I’ve seen no other artist capable of replicating.

When I was a kid I grew up watching Timm’s creations, Batman the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. They were available for viewing on Cartoon Network both in Venezuela and in the States so I was weaned on those stories and on Timm’s aesthetic.

I’m writing this post because of a post I read a while back on Bruce Timm’s Color Guides. It brought Timm back into my life and it had me scouring the web for more images. Unfortunately I haven’t found much that has satisfied me. Most of it was pin ups. Hell, simply Google Image Search “Bruce Timm” and 60% of the results are busty babes. Honestly, that shit’s boring. But his comics? Holy hell are they great! Too bad there aren’t too many scans out there. Take a peek:

In his work there’s a beautiful distillation of character that moves towards a genuine iconography. What better way to handle these mythological characters than with a deserved minimalism?  While most stories in the world of comics have moved towards the razzle dazzle of photorealistim, Timm was doing some pure cartooning. This distillation of character parallels the distilled story-arcs both in the comics and the animation. Interestingly, Timm consciouusly told everyone on the Animated Series project to never touch Batman’s origin story. Batman’s story of tortured vengeance is so deeply entrenched in American culture that to go over the origins. Instead, Timm places the viewer in medias res  in such a way that I’m reminded of Jim Woodring’s Unifactor and the myth of Sisyphus. There’s constant suffering and anguish, and the efforts are for naught. The moment one villain is safely put away in Arkham, another is let loose or another is born. The universe of Gotham is reset to its natural state.There’s never any development of justice and what better way to show this iconic sense of eternal cycling through pain than the iconic world that Timm appropriated and redesigned in the ’90s?

His figures are carved out along flowing forms of organic solidity. The bodies flow effortlessly, but the way in which Timm depicts their mass(particularly Batman’s) lends the acts to become even more impressive and acrobatic. There’s a real satisfying sense of gravity and force in his drawings.It’s my belief that in these drawings, the adherence to formal structure and simplicity allow the flowing human form to really take the spotlight.

Additionally, the coloring is extremely strong and crucial to the series’ success. Long gone are the days of the 4 Color Process, but it’s impact is readily felt when one flips through quality colored comics of the superhero variety. Timm’s color work channels the principles that allow for a bold solidity to register on the page and on the screen. These stories have to be iconic. They have to fit in a place in our minds that and its color and an adherence to formal visual structures that lend themselves to this iconicity.

In line with this, the story has to act as a map and cluttered frames with garish coloring distract from that. They prevent the story from being internalized and effectively taking advantage of the comics medium’s strength. The artist is doing too much of the reader’s work. It becomes nothing but entertainment at that point.

What’s wrong with that? Simply put, I’m not looking to simply be entertained when I read comics. I want something to chew on past the narrative, even if it’s a mainstream DC or Marvel story.

Sharing this appreciation we have the lovely folks at Fuck Yeah Bruce Timm! who put together a little tumblr that celebrates Timm’s illustrations.

Additionally, I found a copy of the Writer’s Guide to the Animated Series over at Comic Book Resources. Check it out if you’re interested in.

Here’s a selection of morsels for you to chew on for now:

From The Batman Adventures Holiday Special 1995 – story by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, art by Kevin Altieri & Butch Luki

Have you come across any Timm illustrations that you’d like to share? Leave some links and thoughts in the comments.

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