Brian Bolland is probably best known to readers of this site for his work on Judge Dredd or Batman: The Killing Joke. There are far worse properties a creator could be associated with, certainly, but Bolland himself has always been a remarkably versatile artist, capable of effortlessly carrying virtually any genre, given the chance to illustrate it. Which is good, because the stories in this comic – a collection of strips written and drawn by Bolland in the mid-80s – are in a genre all their own.
Captioned throughout in rhyming couplets, the Actress and the Bishop tells the stories of two unlikely cohabitees (note that “actress” is a more polite way of saying “prostitute”) and covers, through a whimsical filter, both character’s unconventional relationships with both their professions and one another. The stories straddle genres, part comedy-of-manners, part horror, part existentialist pornography, part spiritualist soap opera. It’s light and dark at the same time. At a glance it can seems impossibly superficial, yet a well-place turn of phrase or slip of the pencil turns it deeply introspective.
There’s a remarkably restrained Englishness to the stories – the contrast between the restrained facade and the raging emotions beneath epitomises a certain stereotype of Englishness, and takes on a gentle, nostalgic quality. The portrayal of the two characters carries a coy, sexually-charged air, and the stories dive deep into both of their motivations and attitudes without ever getting seedy or judgemental about their behaviour. Although the character designs could have seemed flamboyant or misplaced in the hands of another artist, Bolland’s precise linework anchors them perfectly within in the world shown in the strip.
For $3.99, you get all the published appearances to date of the characters, which comprise 2 3-page strips from the A1 anthology, together with a 17-page story previously only seen in the artwork collection “Bolland Strips!” a few years ago. Desperado have done comicdom a fantastic service by putting these stories into print as a traditional pamphlet, and having read it several times already, I know it’s one of those comics I”ll return to again and again. It’s rare you get to feel like you’ve “discovered” an artist you’re already so familiar with, but it’s making me see Bolland in an entirely new light – and if nothing else, that feeling is worth the cover price alone.