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Conversations with yourself #11: Phil Hester edition

Written by Eric Ratcliffe on Saturday, June 21 2008 and posted in Columns
Thats right hemopheliacs Phil Hester took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss everything from his work with Kevin Smith to Robert Kirkman, how he got his start in the industry and just how tough it is to write a title like the darkness and a little indepedant Image book by the name FIREBREATHER.

Read on!

My first question is actually probably the most asked: How did you get your start in comics?

I was always a big fan as a kid and when I was in art school the black and white explosion of the mid-80's was in full swing. If someone could draw at all back then it was easy to get work at at least a tiny start-up company. I sent copies of my work to every company that printed their address in the indicia. I lucked out and started working regularly as a penciller when I was a sophomore.

Eric: So your start was more indy based then? What was your first book that you had published?

Phil: Yeah, I worked for every tiny company around. My first regular book was called 'Port for Silverwolf Comics. Surprisingly it didn't win any Eisners.

Eric: So what was next for you? Did you start getting the writing bug this young into your career or did you feel like you'd continue penciling?

Phil: I always wanted to do both. When I did my own mini comics I wrote and drew. It's just that I got more work as a penciller, so that's what most people saw from em early on.

Eric: Well I can see why you got a lot of work as a penciller, your work is strong and original. Who inspires you as an artist?

Phil: Mostly dead guys. Kirby, Krigstein, Eisner, Wood, Toth, Kurtzman, Boyette. Among the living; Miller, Ditko, Staton, Wrightson, McKean, Nowlan, Salmons, Grist, Wagner, Mignola, Timm, Mazzucchelli... look this list never ends.

Eric: But its amazing list, I can definitely see homages to a few of the artists on that list in your own artwork. Moving on though, which big name company did you work with first? And do you remember the book?

Phil: It depends on what you call a big name company. First hired me to do back-ups in Nexus and Badger when I was in my early 20's. In my mid-20's Bob Schreck hired me for a mini at Dark Horse called Freaks' Amour. At the same time I was doing weird little visual poems for Taboo, Negative Burn and Deadline USA. When I was 24 Marvel hired me to do a Namor back-up at a con, which was pretty rare in those days. A year or so later Brian Augustyn hired me to do a Flash annual which was a big thrill and my first real work for DC. Right after that I did a mini called Argus that spun out of that Annual. I never got to finish that mini because Vertigo, by way of Stuart Moore, hired me to be the regular penciller of Swamp Thing.

Eric: It seems like you stayed with DC for a few years right? Eventually moving on to what fans usually recognize as a fan favorite run on green arrow. How was it working with Kevin Smith? And just how much freedom did you have on character designs as I've heard that a lot of mia aka speedy was yours?

Phil: Kevin was great. He was just having a blast playing with all these DC toys. His dialogue was really spot on. I wish he'd come back and write a Batman gig- actually the plan was for us to jump ship after Sounds of Violence and do a Brave and Bold book, which would have been cool as hell and made me very rich, but movies lured Kevin home. I'm sure DC would have rather had a big name on the book with Kevin, but he and Schreck fought for me and Parks. I had to take some abuse at the beginning of the run as my style might be a little jarring for traditional super hero fans, but I think most people warmed up to Ande and me by the time we left 45 issues later. The only characters I got to design were Onomatopoeia and Speedy. DC let us run do our thing. The only thing they changed on Mia was making the arrow symbol on her chest open, exposing her skin, rather than the red arrow I pictured.

Eric: The red arrow design actually sounds pretty interesting, I wish they would have let you stuck with it. It wasn't till recently that I personally picked up kevin's green arrow run and enjoyed the full thing. I think my favorite stuff that you drew during the run involved "heaven" and the conversations between ollie, ollie and hal. Your artwork definitely resonates in my mind at least.

Phil: Funny, because that's one of the few times in the book I ever had to redraw anything. We drew the extra creepy, skeletal version of Deadman in those scenes, but DC said no, draw the healthy acrobat.

Eric: My next question though moves on to your marvel work on marvel team up's best arc in my opinion "league of losers" how much fun was that? Where else can you draw speedball, terror inc and darkhawk all in the same book? And if I may elaborate on the marvel team up book a little more, you became the lead artist on the book right after skott kollins left, was pressure added or did you just keep that out of your mind and just have fun with it?

Phil: I actually only did covers on that run. Kirkman and I already had Ant-Man in the works, so this cover gig was just a sort of transition between Nightwing and Ant-Man.

Eric: And after marvel team up, you continued to work with Robert Kirman on the irredeemable ant-man. Was this pure coincidence or did you want to continue working with kirkman? And how much did you enjoy working on a book that starred a guy like Eric O'grady?

Phil: Kirkman sort of recruited us. Ande and I weren't crazy about Nightwing and working with Kirkman at Marvel seemed like a nice change of pace for us, so we jumped.

Eric: Oh I was talking to my comic book guy today, his name is Dave. I mentioned the fact that i'd been talking to you and he was like "plug the store" (Edit:Tj's collectibles in Milford,MA happy now Dave?) Without him I would have never known about firebreather though, which is actually one of my favorite books. The original miniseries which is in trade form now actually came out at the same time invincible did. Was your schedule hectic at that point and thats why it originally started as a mini series? Or was the plan always to pick it back up a few years later?

Phil: Well, we wanted to be a monthly, just like Invincible, and initially our orders were pretty much the same, but Kuhn and I are much older than Kirkman, Walker and Ottley. Those youngsters could live on Cheeto dust and tap water while their numbers grew, but we had families to support and could both make better money doing books for big publishers, so we bailed after the mini. We always planned to keep doing it and Andy finally had an opening in his schedule, so we jumped back in. Glad you dig the book.

Eric: I'd honestly call the book Image's new sleeper hit and for a kid who's half dragon he's very easy to relate to. I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us readers.

Phil: Thanks. We're trying to hit the right super hero notes, but still offer some unexpected stuff, and I think what happens in the next 4-5 issues definitely qualifies.

Eric: And speaking of future's it doesn't look like Jackie Estacado's is going so well at the end of issue 3 of the darkness. How'd you get the gig on the book?

Phil: Rob Levin and Filip Sablik were fans of The Coffin and Deep Sleeper and invited me to a sort of open casting call for the position. Thankfully, I hit them with something different from the rest of the pitches, then wore them down with my charm and escalating bribery.

Eric: And do you take all the previous material to work with? And did you play the game?

Phil: Yeah, I was an off and on reader of the book before, so I was familiar with the Ennis and Jenkins runs. It didn't take long to bring me up to speed and figure out just how many toys I was allowed to break. I only have a Wii, so I've yet to play the game. It looks cool as hell, though.

Eric: Do you find it easier in your writing to write for a character who's so in the grey? He's not really good or bad but more inbetween?

Phil: No. I find it incredibly difficult. So far most of my books have focused on characters who are seeking redemption in some way, or transcend their past sins. Jackie doesn't really give a shit about that, so I'v got to find ways to grow the character and keep him pretty much a bastard.

Eric: And if I may ask it seems like the book hit a snag, like it missed a month or two in shipping, is everything back on track?

Phil: Michael Broussard is immensely gifted, and his work is labor intensive. His pencil to paper time is just higher than other artists'. I have a lot of scripts in the bank, so when the first arc ends things should roll out monthly for a good stretch.

Eric: And finally what else is coming up for you soon Phil? Please plug away so that the readers of my column know what else to be expecting from you.

Phil: As an artist: El Diablo from DC. As a writer: The Darkness from Top Cow, Golly and Firebreather from Image, Antoine Sharpe from Desperado... and more to come!

FireBreather and The Darkness are both monthly from Top Cow and Image Comics.

Posted originally: 2008-06-21 00:18:54

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About the Author - Eric Ratcliffe

Eric Ratcliffe is the host of The Why I Love Comics podcast, as well as the writer of the long running and award winning webcomic New Comic Day! When not interviewing the biggest names in geek culture, Eric writes the occasional column about something he is enjoying or informing people about webseries, podcasts, gadgets or many other cool things. You can also find Eric on Email / twitter / facebook / youtube / steam / x-box live and many other social media avenues on the internet. 


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