Everyone's favorite Irredeemable Ant-Man artist, Phil Hester, drops by to discuss Firebreather, Golly!, carnies, funny moments for writing materials and more!
Greg: Hello, Mr. Phil Hester! It's mighty awesome to have you on Face To Greg today. How are you doing?
Phil Hester: Smashing.
Greg: Now, like I ask many visitors, please tell us who you are to those who are under a cave.
Phil: I've been drawing and writing comics for twenty years and am still not rich. I've drawn Swamp Thing, Green Arrow, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Nightwing and many other beloved funny book characters. I'm currently pencilling El Diablo for DC.
I've written The Coffin, The Wretch (also drew), Deep Sleeper, 13 Steps, Antoine Sharpe, and many other relatively less beloved funnybook characters. I'm currently writing Firebreather, Golly, Masquerade and The Darkness.
Greg: Sheesh, man. How do you find time for all that? Especially since you're pencilling for El Diablo!
Phil: El Diablo's been done a while. I just thought it would still be coming out at the time of this interview. I don't know how I have time for any of it.
Greg: Understandable. So, sir, as you may know I've been a big growing fan of yours over the past year when you released Firebreather with Andy Kuhn. Can you tell us a bit about that book and what inspired it?
Phil: About ten years ago Andy and I pitched a book to Marvel called The Crew, which was essentially our take on a Young Avengers team. We had a young Cap, Thing, Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, etc. Marvel really liked, and asked up to cook up some teen villains and one we dreamed up was a humanoid, teen clone of Fin Fang Foom. Like I said, we got really close with Marvel, close enough that it hurt when they ultimately passed on The Crew.
The image of this teen, humanoid dragon thing kind of stuck in my mind and Andy and I stepped back, retooled it, and cooked up Firebreather. I think the thing that sets it apart is the divorce situation between Duncan's human mother and his monstrous father, Belloc. Duncan resembles our Foom character somewhat, but actually shares more traits with the teen Thing character we created for The Crew.
So, what we wound up with is the story of a kid who's born of a fretful human mother and a humanity-hating, city-stomping Godzilla archetype. Once you wrap your mind around that relationship ideas for stories featuring their son come bounding in.
Greg: That's very darn interesting. Something that keeps coming into my head whenever I read an issue of Firebreather and see him talk to his parents, I always ask myself, "How the living heck did his parents hook up? He's a giant dragon and she's, well... human." Will we ever get an answer to that or is that best left to our imagination?
Phil: Well, Andy and I thought it would be funny to just leave it to everyone's imagination forever, but the question kept coming up, especially with animation executives. Of course, love finds a way, and we'll be revealing exactly how this unconventional love affair consummated around issue 9 or 10.
Greg: What inspired the relationship between Duncan and his dad? It's a pretty darn hilarious relationship. Even though Belloc is an almighty dragon/monster, he still seems to love his son dearly. I love the scene when he's checking out Duncan's rear to see if his tail is coming out.
Phil: Well, it's kind of the relationship every son has with his Dad. Most sons look at their fathers with a mixture of admiration, love and fear. I don't mean fear of physical harm so much as seeing what the real world does to adults, what kind of sacrifices it asks of parents. At a certain age you figure out that path awaits you, too, and you wonder, am I up to that? Will those compromises I'll have to make for money or love or prestige make me a monster? I guess that's deeper than I originally intended to go, but there it is!
Greg: That's awesome. Another thing I really like about Firebreather is his social life. Despite his looks, what made you decide to have Duncan have so many friends and not be an outcast? Sure, there's a few folks who mistrust him, but he has a lot of friends.
Phil: It seems like even the most downtrodden of high school students seems to find a group of buddies. Plus, high school girls seem more evolved than boys, so I think they would be quickest to overlook Duncan's physical differences.
Greg: Heh, any chances then of Duncan getting laid?
Phil: This isn't Invincible!
Greg: Ha! So tell me, how do you come up with some of the humor for your books? I crack up tons reading Firebreather and your other Image book, Golly! I especially loved the stuff with Duncan and his mom about his birthday cookies.
Phil: When something happens to me or someone I know that really seems odd or funny I tend to remember it forever. The cake thing came from my wife telling a tale of her Mom laboring to make a really spectacular choo-choo train cake for her to take to school on her birthday, but she was too mortified. So, note to my friends- Don't do anything embarrassing around me or it will wind up in my books.
Greg: Haha! Dude, you just answered my next question. So any specific personal embarrassing moments of yours we'll be seeing in one of these issues?
Phil: I may relate my first date with my wife story, but it's probably too far out even for comics.
Greg: Now you're teasing. Well, Phil, since I've mentioned Golly!, one of my new favorite current on-goings, do tell these feeble minds what this book is about and what inspired it.
Phil: Golly! is something I cooked up to pitch about ten years ago to Vertigo, but I think they got cold feet when they saw how stupid it was going to be. The basic concept is that the biblical Apocalypse has been postponed indefinitely, but there are still some hellish critters who don't know that and want to start some trouble. Earth's guardian angel selects a human, almost at random, to become our guardian against Hell. Golly Munhollen, a part time racer and part time carnival ride repairman becomes that guardian. The angel insists, that from a heavenly perspective, trying to pick a competent human is like us trying to pick a competent paramecium from a pond. So, Golly gets a few middling powers and enlists the aid of his carnie friends; Vaughn, a wise cracking tattooed man; Pig, a former fat lady turned strong woman; Miguel, a genius, acrobatic, dog faced boy; Claude and Claudette, the half-man half-woman; and Satan, the creepy slob who may or may not be the actual prince of darkness. They all stumble ass backwards through the soft underbelly of America fighting off things like obese vampires, were-hogs and sentient clouds.
I like to think it's both genuinely scary and genuinely funny. The art by Brook Turner gets more gorgeous with each issue, too.
Greg: Yes, I agree. It really is a funny and scary book at the same time. I have to admit before interviewing you, I re-read the Golly! issues before going to bed and had some slight nightmares. You messed me up that night. I had to get outta my bed and sleep in the living room because I had dreamed something about Hester writing some demons to spy or sneak in my room or something like that.
Didn't you have some experiences with carnies or something? Was that an inspiration to this book?
Phil: Not really, other than I live in small town America and we get a raggedy, broke down carnival coming through here once a year. It's like a de-romanticized version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes". So for one weekend a year a local farmer can expect a pig to go missing, a local junior high girl will get herpes, greasy mullets will flow, prison tats will glisten in the sun, and meth will be plentiful. On the plus side, the rides, fireworks and fried food will abound. I actually love it.
I guess I did see the carnies roasting a hog one early morning on my paper route and thought that roasting a pig at 4 AM seemed odd. That's when the seed was planted!
Greg: Ha! Did you get a piece of that hog?
Phil: No, I ran!
Greg: Heh. Okay, the characters, man. Like, I know most of the main characters of the book is pretty much a given when you go to carnies, etc. But where did you come up with their characterizations? It's definitely the characters I keep coming back each issue to read.
Phil: Tough to say. I guess I wanted to pick characters that would put our titular redneck in awkward social positions. Golly is a redneck, but he's got a modicum of self awareness, so giving him a black best friend and a masculine love interest at once challenge the hick in him, and also demonstrate his existing humanity.
I've heard that every character is just an aspect of the writer's personality and that's true to some extent. Golly is my ineptitude and goofy positivity. Vaughn is the cool customer I wish I could be. Pig displays all the courage, discipline, and strength I fail to muster every day. Satan is my humor and sloth. The angel is the wisdom I aspire to. You get the picture.
Greg: Ah, definitely. Now that you mention Satan, I'm damn curious. What's his deal? Will we learn more about him? Is he really THE Satan?
Phil: You'll have to read on. I like the idea of Satan being real, but having nothing much to do because either humanity has lapped him in terms of depravity, or that he's given up at trying to beat God and just decided to smoke and screw until judgment day.
Greg: Heh heh. So tell me, the lingo on this book, what the heck? Many times I find myself having to put the book away to crack up. "Life's a bitch, but she's a bitch that deserves a vigorous fucking."/"There he is. Living proof that butt sex can lead to pregnancy." Where do you come up with these?
Phil: I'm just cutting loose, I guess. I don't talk that way, but I keep my ears open around certain people in my life or at least in my home town that do. I have a good memory. I confess the whole "life's a bitch..." thing was my life affirming response to one of my high school buddy's lamentations about life's hardships.
Greg: Oh boy! Haha. Lately I've just fallen completely in love with your work. If you don't mind me asking, what inspires you as a writer?
Phil: I don't know how to answer that. I suppose writers are people who can't think on their feet and need to scurry home to practice conversations they may or may not ever have. I look at my books as a way to say things I think should be said, but never lose sight of the need to entertain.
I think the world is pretty terrifying at times and offering each other some form of comfort, be it through courtesy, kindness, charity or even entertainment, is probably our highest calling. Comics is the language I grew up on, so all my sermons come with monster fights or dick jokes or spaceship crashes.
Greg: Heh. So the same type of high you get from your writing, do you feel the same with your art? How do they differ or have similarities to each other as a creator who ventures on both fields?
Phil: Yeah, when I'm really "on" with art it's better than almost anything. Physically gratifying, actually. It is more taxing, though. Writing requires a lot more down time for quiet reflection. I hate to be glib, but writing is much easier from a sheer workload standpoint. I can only draw one book a month, but I can write three easily.
Greg: What other books are you working on? Can you tell us about them?
Phil: I'm writing The Darkness for Top Cow, which I'm sure most people know is a supernatural mob thriller. Top Cow is really letting me take some chances with it and I hope folks would check out the insanely priced $4.99 trade of my first arc when it ships in late January. Art by the brilliant Michael Broussard. I'll also be drawing two issues of it in the near future.
The first six issues are a self contained arc that take place in a tiny, central american country that Jackie Estacado (formerly a mob hit man) has usurped and rules as a narco-dictator with his Darkness powers. Of course, the wheels come off and he has to deal with rebels, corrupt partners, and an uprising by The Darkness itself.
The next six issues detail Jackie's falling out with The Darkness, the rise of his arch villain The Sovereign, and his eventual reclamation of The Darkness. It's a more crime oriented arc than the first. In the middle of that we have a special anniversary issue (#75) drawn by great artists of Darkness past.
My goal is to take a book that too many potential readers dismiss out of hand as shallow and show them the deeper, more complex stories possible with this character.
Golly! & Firebreather we already covered.
I'm scripting a Masquerade mini series with super creator Alex Ross for Dynamite. Art by Carlos Paul. Masquerade has been a blast so far. I'm grateful to Alex and Jim and Nick for giving me the chance to resurrect an underutilized Golden Age character like Miss Masque/Masquerade. It's fun playing in that sandbox and it doesn't hurt to have Carlos Paul illustrating and Alex Ross kicking out covers. It's a ton of fun.
I'm working on an untitled horror graphic novel for Desperado with Dennis Hopeless and Patric Reynolds that's about half done.
I'm writing another franchise's "reboot" that will have to remain under wraps until NYC.
I'm writing a new ending to the cancelled Antoine Sharpe series that will see print as a complete graphic novel from Desperado.
A couple of other deals are in the pipeline, but can't be mentioned yet. I imagine I'll have a pencilling gig to announce sometime soon, too.
Greg: Sheesh, man! Busy man! You've also mentioned earlier about the cartoon Firebreather coming up. What are the stages with that? Any cool news for Firebreather fans?
Phil: All I can tell you is what I've seen and read. There is a script for the pilot movie which is pretty much an adaptation of the first mini that both Andy and I are very happy with. We've also seen animation treatments from two different animation houses that are just lights out.
Greg: I forgot to mention that I have a slight feeling that Belloc was a dragon that seem to have gotten around. Any ideas of half siblings for our boy, Duncan?
Phil: Stop it!
Greg: Okay, okay! How'd you get in touch with the team doing Lil' Firebreather? Their back-ups are hilarious and cute to the bone.
Phil: I've known Josh [Hale Fialkov] and Tony [Fleecs] for years. Both are really talented guys committed to the craft of comics. I think it was Josh's idea to do the shorts and I'm always up for any opportunity to expose readers to Josh and Tony. I think they did a fantastic job and hope they come back for more.
Greg: Now my last and final question: if you ever met Jackie, Duncan, and Golly, what would you say to them? Do you think they'd all get along?
Phil: To Jackie: Nothing. I would avoid him, but if I had to absolutely say something it would be along the lines of "Grow up."
To Golly: Hang in there. You're deeper than you think.
To Duncan: I'm proud to know you.
They would not get along on any level.
Greg: Ladies, gentles and freaks everywhere, that was the great Phil Hester! Thanks for stopping by, Phil, and readers make sure to pick up an issue of either Firebreather and Golly! Both series are at #3 with small story arcs, so jump on by. Also, be sure to check out the first Darkness trade from Hester which only costs $5 at your LCS. So be sure to get it ordered!
Posted originally: 2009-01-20 19:55:25