Eric Bradbury (1921 – 2001) was one of the unsung heroes of British adventure comics.
My first encounter with his art was in IPC’s Scream! in 1984,where he worked on The Dracula File, written by Gerry Finlay-Day and latterly Simon Furman. As a result of the Eagle/Scream! merger, Eric ended up as the artist on fan favourite Doomlord, where his dark and inky art style was a perfect match for the slightly bonkers direction Alan Grant took the strip. More on this later.
Bradbury studied at Beckenham art school, before going on to work for the Gaumont-British Animation company. Around 1949 he started working for Amalgamated Press which became Fleetway and eventually IPC. One of his fondly remembered strips was Mytek the Mighty, for Valiant. The strip, which was written by regular collaborator, Tom Tully told the rather odd story of a giantrobotic ape!
The art is distinctively Bradbury, with great use of black and white in the page compositions, and even the human characters have an ‘ugly’ feel about them. Another Valiant strip closely associated with Bradbury was The House of Dolmann. A truly bonkers creation (Valiant seemed to have a monopoly on these high
concept strips at the time!) this story featured the titular character’s puppet army of mechanical warriors, which he used to fight crime! Again, Eric’s ability to draw anything made him the perfect choice of artist on this strip.
In 1969, Bradbury moved onto Smash, where he became one of the artists on Cursitor Doom, which was written by British comics stalwart, Scott Goodall. This strip tapped into Eric’s ease with horror and the supernatural. every panel of this seeps of rich detail, and no shortcuts were taken in this depiction of a paranormal investigator!
Some other notable strips that he worked on are Danny Doom for Valiant/Lion (1974),the story of the world’s greatest magician (beat that Dynamo!) and screaming skulls/The Terror in the Fog for The Valiant Book of Mystery and Magic (1976), a one-off annual which unusually credited the writers and artists, preceding 2000AD’s credit cards by a number of years.
In 1978, Eric moved over to Battle Picture Weekly, working on strips such as Joe Two Beans (written by John Wagner) and Death squad (written by Alan Hebden), just to prove there was nothing this artist could not turn his hand to! Around 1981, he started to occasionally contribute to 2000AD, mostly Future shocks (including one written by Alan Moore, “The Big Clock!” in 2000 AD Prog 315) and various Tharg The Mighty one-offs, where he would often depict many of his writing collaborators as droids and drew many a Thrill-sucker over the years!
This takes us up to 1984, when he started work on The Dracula File. This rather bizarre cold wartake on Dracula was again a perfect opportunity for Bradbury to flex his gothic skills! The script is to commended for trying to do something new with the Dracula franchise, but it is the artwork which really makes this strip so popular. Unfortunately, the strip was never completed, a victim of the sudden cancellation of Scream! due to strike action at IPC. When Scream! reared its horrific head again, it was shunted into the New Eagle, issue 128. Rather oddly, considering its popularity, The Dracula File did not make the cut. instead, in a rather ingenious move, eric Bradbury took over Doomlord from Heinzl (in reality Alberto Giolotti’s studio). Eric’s art was a breath of fresh air for the strip, he quickly established himself and
went on to work on this forthe next 5 years! An impressive feat!
During this time, he illustrated a sequel (of sorts) to the first Doomlord photo story,featuring the return
of evil servitor Zyn, and perhaps the greatest Alan Grant invention on the strip, illustrated the story of Enok, Doomlord Vek’s wayward son! The Enok plot ran for years, with him starting out as evil, but being ‘reborn’ as the saviour of mankind!
During this run, you can see the neo-gothic architectural influence apparent in the design work of environments, such as Doomlord’s isolarium on the dark side of the moon. Grant would play up to Bradbury’s strengths, and the stories became darker and darker. A notable entry into the canon, is a sideways diversion into a parallel universe, where an unchecked Enok has enslaved the world! Great stuff!
However, all good things come to an end. Vek is turned into a villain, and it is up to Enok to save the day. The strip really starts to push the boundaries on what you could depict in a children’s comic at this time.
However, Eric’s commitment to the strip remained un-wavered, and the latter days of the strip feature some of his best work, with some stunning composition and creative page layouts. The scripts, latterly became obsessed with death and rebirth, and when the plug was pulled, it came about very swiftly. The conclusion to the story was very rushed, and ultimately wound up with a very ambiguous and bizarre open-ending. Alan Grant told me recently he would have kept writing Doomlord forever if he could! Time for a revamp perhaps?
Eric Bradbury went onto illustrate Loner for the merged Eagle/Wildcat era, and did some other strips, including a story called Beast! with Tom Tully, but these stories never achieved the popularity of his run on Doomlord. He sadly passed away in 2001. His legacy lives on, and this prolific artist can be appreciated by a whole new generation of comics fans in reprints of his work, such as The Dracula File and the House of Dollman both published by Treasury of British Comics/Rebellion.
Now, if only we could get a reprint of Bradbury’s Doomlord run…
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