Trevor Hogg chats with Sean Phillips about Ed Brubaker, Fatale and The Fade Out…
“My dad and his mum could draw but never took it up seriously. All my siblings are practical and work with their hands, and drawing comics is a similar thing,” states British illustrator Sean Phillips. “I can’t remember a time before I was reading comics. When I was a kid, I was really into Marvel comics, but they were hard to come by in the UK back then, so I would read pretty much anything apart from the British war comics and comics aimed exclusively at girls.” Phillips has recently changed his approach to producing artwork. Up until the first issue of The Fade Out, I used traditional methods almost exclusively. Until then, I’d done the odd cover or illustration using Painter or Photoshop, but most of my work was ink or paints on paper. Everything in The Fade Out is produced digitally using Manga Studio on a Cintiq. It was a steep learning curve for the first few pages, but I’ve got the hang of it now I think. For our next book I might go back to working on paper, it depends on the project. I’ve been making the covers for the new editions of our Criminal books with ink and a brush on paper, and you just can’t beat the feel of working like that.” Phillips observes, “Comics are all about telling the story, not how well something is drawn. Covers too, are more about an eye-catching design rather than the rendering of a figure. Composition, colour and readability are the important things in making comics.”
A longstanding creative partnership has been established with Ed Brubaker. “I was asked to ink Michael Lark’s pencils on the last three issues of Scene Of The Crime, written by Ed,” recalls Sean Phillips. “We then worked together on Batman: Gotham Noir, and met in San Diego about halfway through that project and hit it off. After we did Sleeper together, we decided it was time to do our own, creator-owned project and Criminal was eventually it after a couple of other ideas that didn’t pan out. We trust each other to do our respective jobs, and leave each other alone enough to get on with them. I tell Ed how great his scripts are when I receive them, and a few days later he tells me he likes my drawings. Pretty simple really! We’re lucky that enough people like what we do, so we can carry on doing it. Since Criminal, we’ve signed a five-year deal with Image Comics for them to publish whatever we want! No pitching, no editorial interference, just whatever we want to do, published in a format we choose. It can’t get better than that!”
When it comes to crime noir, Sean Phillips admits, “Actually, I’m not a particular fan of the genre. I’ve not read or seen hardly any of the classic books or movies. It just suits the way I draw!” Drawing beautiful female characters is not an easy task. “It’s always a struggle not to make them ugly. An extra line on the face can age them terribly, or a line that is a millimeter out can make someone ugly. It’s much easier on a craggy male face to keep them on-model. I’ve never been one to draw cliché cartoonish male or female characters, it wouldn’t suit the kinds of comics I draw. Naturalistic rather than realistic is probably a better word to describe what I’m going for. I’m always aiming for the whole world I’m drawing to have a consistent internal logic, irrespective of the style of the drawings.” Fatale which was a mixture of crime noir and horror was expanded to 24 issues. “Ed had too much story to fit into 12 issues. More issues didn’t make any difference to how I approached the storytelling. I just take it a page at a time.” Phillips states, “Making Jo more than a caricature was the biggest challenge, and I tried to give her some personality in how she moved and dressed, to give some sense of something going on behind her eyes.” The comic book artist adds, “All of the pictures are usually a disappointment, never as good on paper as they were in my head, but most of the covers came out pretty well!”
“We weren’t planning on going anywhere else, so it just seemed a good idea to make it official,” remarks Sean Phillips in regards to the exclusive five-year deal that he and Ed Brubaker signed with Image Comics which includes The Fade Out where a Hollywood screenwriter may or may not have killed an actress. “I don’t know what to expect. Ed never tells me what’s going to happen in the story before I get his script. I’m only a few pages ahead of the reader.” Other genres are of interest to the creative duo. “We have got vague plans for a Sci-Fi story sometime in the next five years. I’d be keen on drawing a Western if I didn’t have to draw many horses!” The Eisner Award winner has a fondness for John Constantine who he has illustrated for the Hellblazer series. “I haven’t seen the TV show yet, but in the comics John is such a great character because he’s such a bastard. Nothing much goes right for him and he’s always making mistakes. The fun is seeing how he gets out of his predicaments!”
Photo of Sean Phillips courtesy of Joe Gordon.
Fatale and The Fade Out images courtesy of Sean Phillips.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.