Phil Jimenez has been widely acknowledged as a masterful artist from the time he began working in comics. Artistically he is the son of George Perez, and has drawn a long run of superhero comics including miniseries like JLA/Teen Titans and Infinite Crisis, and runs of New X-Men and Astonishing X-Men, The Amazing Spider-Man and Team Titans, Planetary/Authority and Angela, Asgard’s Assassin. He also stands out for the fact that after getting his start drawing short comics in DC’s Showcase, Jiminez regularly drew books for DC’s Vertigo imprint including issues of The Dreaming and Swamp Thing, a run on the Fables spinoff Fairest, and a long run on Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. Jimenez wrote and drew the miniseries Tempest and Otherworld, and a long run on Wonder Woman, and has written other comics including The Return of Donna Troy, drawn by José García-López and George Perez. Perhaps the piece he wrote that has had the most impact was a lengthy text he wrote for the final issue of Tempest, where he came out and paid tribute to his late mentor and boyfriend, Neal Pozner, who had earlier died of complications from AIDS.
For more than a decade he’s been teaching at the School of Visual Arts, but after his short run writing and drawing Superwoman, which was part of DC’s New 52, Jimenez stepped away from comics. He went to work for Hasbro, has been developing a TV series, but it was announced last year that he is returning to DC Comics drawing Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick which will tell the origins of the Amazons. Earlier this year Jimenez also gave one of the keynotes at the third Queers and Comics Conference in New York and I reached out to talk about his life and career.
I have known your name and your work for so long, and I was trying to figure out the first time I read you.
I don’t know the first work that you read, but the first work that was ever published was back in 1991. It was four pages of pencils over George Perez layouts on War of the Gods #4, which I think came out in November or December of 1991. Soon after more work came out in Showcase and Teen Titans.
I know that you attended the School of Visual Arts. Was that project right after you graduated?
I never graduated, actually. My very first job at DC Comics was during my sophomore year of college working for Joe Orlando doing some ink work for a licensing project. I was hired the summer after my sophomore year, which was great because I had run out of money. I got hired in July and it took two or three months before they gave me scripts so I was doing these weird odd jobs, but that’s when I got started. Ironically I never returned to school – although I teach there now. They gave me a special dispensation for life experience.
I still have longboxes of comics and the earliest work of yours I found was Showcase ’93.
Is that the Cyborg story or Robin?
That was the first work I drew. Besides War of the Gods I had other published work before that Showcase book came out. Which is crazy, but back in the day that could happen. I drew weird smatterings of things, which looking back was a really wonderful way to learn. There are so many folks who I think could benefit just from working. Particularly young talent I see whose portfolios are almost there – certainly in better shape than mine was when I got hired. I just wish there was a forum that was as accommodating to them as those were to me. I know Talent Development program at DC has been turning out folks but I think a lot of them are already established artists who are learning to work in more mainstream ways.
You were the tail end of the generation or more who got their start that way and learned on the job illustrating short features and backups and annuals.
Yeah, and I think a lot of that also had to do with the volume of product. Not that we don’t put out a lot now, but in that boom period in the early nineties, they were giving work to anyone who could hold a pencil. I always joke that I started working way earlier than I should have. My entrance into the business had as much to do – as all things do – with timing as it did with talent or skillset.
You also started writing pretty early in your career. Was Team Titans the earliest comic you wrote?
The earliest work I co-wrote was Team Titans. It was a miserable experience. I’ve had a lot of these at DC. My roommate at the time was Jeff Jensen, who was a journalist. He wrote for Entertainment Weekly and has written several comics, and is now one of the writers of the Watchmen TV show. This opportunity arose and we took it. We were both highly influenced by Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. We had this 50 issue story, I think. Not that we expected to do it all, but we re-imagined all the characters and we were really excited about it.
From Day One, we kept hitting stumbling blocks in editorial. What we found out was that the Editor in Chief wanted X-Force, this big bombastic thing, and we didn’t know that. We were constantly at odds with our editor because the editor was afraid that if we were told that, then we would leave. We were seen as commercially important at the time, or at least I was. It was a constant battle because of editorial miscommunication. If they had just told us that they wanted X-Force, I’m not sure if we would have stayed or gone, but it would have been less of a fight. I’ve had that experience so often at DC and I find that I am too precious of a writer to tolerate that easily. So that was my first writing experience. I really thought I would never write again because it was such a miserable one. I think a lot of people have similar stories. It’s how the business works and how personalities in the business work. It’s an interesting reminder how often internal decisions are made by external factors. I feel like for a long time comics publishing has been a fairly reactionary business. That may not be fair, but that’s my experience. They react to something and they want “that” no matter what the investment of the creators is, which can be both really good or really bad.
Like I said, I don’t remember the first work of yours I read, but I do have this very clear memory of reading the text piece you wrote about Neal Pozner after he died.
It’s from the Tempest miniseries which they recently recollected. I’ve often said that Tempest was the piece I am most proud of in my career. That to me was a perfect showcase of writing and art. There was no editorial interference. My editor was highly supportive. DC Comics was highly supportive. I had a very clear vision of the story. There were no scheduling issues. It’s this little gem. I look at the layouts and they were far more daring than anything I’m doing now in terms of visuals. Whether you like that story or hate it, that’s me. I was rereading it recently and aside from a few dialogue bits, that’s the sort of comics I wanted to draw and write. I had the full support of DC. Team Titans from a couple years before had been such a fight, but that was a dream job.
I liked Tempest for a lot of reasons, but it’s also self-contained, off to the side. It’s its own thing.
I think you’re right. It was not one of their big set pieces and I don’t think it was a big investment in finances so I don’t think they saw it as a big deal. They left me alone and that was pretty great. I’ve found over the years that the successes and failures I’ve had have a lot to do with whether they leave me alone or not.
I was one of those people obsessed by The Invisibles and you drew one arc of the book and then you became the regular artist when the book was relaunched.
I did the art for the first one as a favor to Stuart Moore, the editor. I loved that book, but the feeling was it was not selling well. It had launched strong, but sales had gotten quite tepid. He thought it needed a commercial hook to appeal to American comic readers and asked me to do it. It was the first time I got to work with Grant Morrison and it was mind blowing! I was so excited because I was obsessed with that book anyway. I drew this three part arc and looking back, it absolutely impacted the way I thought about comics and what comics could be. Also it let the Vertigo people see me as a Vertigo artist. There were not a lot of artists – the one that pops to mind is Kelley Jones – who could crossover between Vertigo and the DC Universe. I was excited to be seen as one of those people who could move between imprints because that did not always happen.
There were very few artists who could draw a superhero book and then a Vertigo comic, and do both as well as anyone.
I was probably happier at the end of the day at Vertigo just because the editorial stewardship was always different than it was in the DCU. I have been told multiple times by various people that I am an A-list artist who writes C-level characters. Or who likes quirky a little too much. I’m not particularly interested in the bombast of the Justice League. I like it, it’s fun, but I was more of an Invisibles reader than a Justice League reader back in the day. So I was very happy to work on The Invisibles.
The Invisibles looks and feels different from the superhero comics you drew at that time.
Yes, it does. There’s a very funny story that I’ve told multiple times. The third issue of the second volume was printed at the wrong ratio and nobody believed me. I think two issues were. I was like, why does everyone have weird pumpkin heads? They finally caught it. I always say that everyone’s a little sadder than they should be.
How much of those layouts and design choices in the book was Grant Morrison and how much was you?
I would love to know what he says because my memories of drawing The Invisibles were that Grant was globe trotting and he would fax 1-2 script pages a day. It was always a scramble to the bookstore or library or the search tool on AOL where it took like an hour to download an image. The only time I remember him giving me hints about design was there was a particular drawing of Ragged Robin that he wanted. I think she and King Mob had just had sex and she was getting out of bed and so I copied that drawing. There was a figure that he wanted. He didn’t draw the layouts. I don’t have the scripts anymore so it made me wonder if there were script descriptions or if I was just young and more brilliant than I am today. Or more innovative. Or was it a question of, I have six hours to draw this page and I wasn’t thinking about it the way I think about material now. My memory of working on The Invisibles is that we started late and were always late. I am usually the problem child in the business, but in this case because Grant was literally traveling the world, we would often get those pages right when they had to be done. I’m curious how much of my design work was dictated and how much was reactive.
You got to draw a lot crazier and draw a lot crazier things than in Teen Titans.
And crazy characters. The one bummer looking back on that material was that they wanted an American superhero artist to boost sales and so my aesthetic was fairly young and American and the few fights that Grant and I had were over fashion choices. He wanted a more underground look and I was trying to high fashion them up. One of the funny things about that is our color choices and textures and palates were very limited. It was hard to mimic the fashions of New York. It always came out either too bright or too garish. It never seemed as high end as I imagined it. The character Fanny I modeled her, or at least her hair after RuPaul, who was quite popular at the time. It was only in later years that I came to realize how much I loved the aesthetic of underground punk drag. That’s what Grant was going for but I don’t think I knew that. If I could go back and change, there would be two things, one would be the clothing choices, and two, I would have Fanny a little more punk underground.
Do you think working with Grant on this and drawing crazy stuff and using a lot of reference was influential in terms of how you worked later in your career?
I often say about working with Grant that I don’t think it’s any more or less heavy lifting than working with other people. Fortunately I was interested in and a fan of that book so that made it very easy. The heavy lifting came more from the schedule as opposed to what I was asked to draw. When you work in these fictional worlds you’re asked to draw all sorts of craziness whether it’s a mystical world in Dr. Strange or a military bunker in The Invisibles. I tend to think of all of these characters in fairly superheroic terms. They wore costumes and had code names. I thought of them as superhero types, if not superheroes specifically. It’s all part of the same genre. I don’t remember finding it difficult conceptually, it was more of a matter of reference and am I doing this right? There was a very specific church he wanted I remember and we had to wait for days for him to send these photo files by e-mail. My experience was not so much about drawing crazy things – we’re asked to draw crazy things all the time – it was process.
You are always drawing crazy things, but there you were making sure you were depicting the Harlem Renaissance properly, researching and making fashion choices, and a lot of elements which aren’t always in the same project.
I guess. I really don’t think it’s all that different from other similar works. Drawing a New York city street for example in 1997 or 1927 still requires the same amount of time and reference and compositional choices. My sense – and again I wish I could go back and ask myself, what did you think of this? – is that I tended to approach most jobs in roughly the same way that way. From the most mundane to the most fantastic, the drawing requirements are all the same.
Not long after that you took over Wonder Woman and you said that making Tempest, you were left alone to do your thing, and I feel like Wonder Woman was the opposite. Which may be unfair.
It is not unfair. From the very first issue, it was a fight. It was a fight with the same person who I was fighting with on Team Titans. [laughs] It reads that way in the pages, but looking back, there’s enough stuff in there that makes me go, that’s pretty good, but the struggle I was having with the company was clear from the first few pages.
In those couple years there’s a lot of crossovers and she’s neck deep in continuity and stories keep getting disrupted.
Part of that was that at the time, she was not considered an A-list character. She was more of a burden than anything else. Nobody could figure out how to get her sales up. When I came in, I pitched a 12 issue maxi-series. I didn’t want to be on the regular book. I’d had success with Tempest and I knew the story I wanted to tell and I wanted to be isolated a little bit, but then they put me on the regular book. On some level that’s why I got into comics – to write and draw Wonder Woman – so this was a dream come true. I’d just turned 30, I think. Of course it was a nightmare from page one. The funny thing is, I kept thinking, this is never going to happen again, so do what you can to make the best of it. There was an enormous amount of conflict and crossover and I had to truncate stories and elongate stories and kill off a supporting character and 9/11 happened. I look back on it and there was a lot of shell shock.
My original pitch would have been so simple. Twelve issues and four stories and each one did a different thing. I’m always amazed at how difficult we make it on ourselves – partly me, partly the publisher – because again, we’re a reactive industry. You hired me so let’s do this. I’m not here to sabotage your company. I will give you something that is good. But again – and I’ve told this story so many times – I had to kill off her mother and her mother was a major part of my 12 issues so I had to truncate all these stories because I was losing a character halfway in. Then they weren’t going to let me kill her off. She was going to die in a Superman event and it would happen in Superman. What was amazing was that all of the Superman creators were fighting for me saying, shouldn’t her only supporting character die in her own book? The Editor in Chief finally conceded, not happy about it at all, and it ended up being one of my most successful issues. It’s funny because I still look back on it and don’t understand the fight we had about that. Or the fact that we fought about every issue. I don’t know what was happening above him or around him, but boy was that a constant struggle. That having been said, I did get some good material out of it. I read an issue and I was making some smart observations back then about stuff I still believe in and somehow I got it in print. It’s kind of messy and paced strangely, but it’s there. Clearly it touched certain people in the way that I hoped it would. So in that weird way it was successful.
Were those four stories you had about different aspects of who she is?
I just read an academic essay about how the tenor of Wonder Woman had been changing. Post-George Perez, DC wanted something almost anti-Perez. They were very clear, don’t do what he did. They wanted her integrated into the DC Universe more. They wanted less mythology. She wasn’t seen as a particularly valuable asset and they were highly Superman and Batman focused, so I think she was the ugly stepsister – and treated as such. Editorial at the time didn’t have a point of view about the character. So I came on with a distinct point of view. I said, she forgot what her mission was. I wanted to remind her who her villains were. One story was about her relationship with her mother, which is such a crazy relationship. I forget what the fourth idea was. It was very specifically to get the character realigned so people would stop asking, who is she? Because every creator who came on that book took her in a different direction. Often in an attempt to either explore the political nature of the character or eschew it entirely. I think Mark Waid is on record as saying when you strip the character of her politics, she’s really boring. She’s most interesting when she’s most political. She changes radically decade to decade because ideologies about what she stands for change. Creators try to figure out how they feel about it, but still make her a salable property for Warner Brothers. I think that remains the longstanding conflict with that character.
So often she’s portrayed as a warrior first and foremost.
I think that’s because it’s a very commercially viable iteration. Dudes like chicks with swords and shields and metal bikinis fighting monsters. I say that not to disparage. I think there’s truth to that. There are certainly some women who find empowerment in that idea and that imagery. That imagery is something that is familiar and easy to digest. It’s not a challenging iteration. It’s the default.
Default is a good way to describe it. And what was so interesting about Perez trying to incorporate mythology is that in the myths characters had so many facets. Athena wasn’t just the goddess of war but of wisdom and handicrafts.
She’s also the goddess of cities and politics. Part of the thing people forget – again because of imagery – is that very early in his run, the Amazons gave up their armor. They melted it down because the only reason they had it was to protect the Gates of Tartarus and keep the monsters from escaping. Once they were defeated, the Amazons had no reason to be warriors and so they melted down their swords and shields and said, now we can live in paradise. They did for years until War of the Gods. Then they all disappeared when Bill Messner-Loebs wrote the book because he didn’t want to write them. What’s interesting to me is that everyone seems to forget that for several years of Perez’s run, the Amazons did not use armor or swords or shields. They were not warriors. And they were happy about it! There’s that famous image of Wonder Woman in the gatefold cover and that’s the image that many people associate with that run, but for most of that run, there is no armor. There’s very little weaponry. And the Amazons are good with that.
One of my favorite things that ever happened to me was I reinvented Paradise Island during my run and it became a sort of cosmic United Nations and a school. George Perez called me and said, I have to tell you, that is the perfect culmination of everything that I wanted to do with the Amazons. That it was now this peaceful place. He was raving about this decision I made which was inspired by the roots he’d laid down in his run. I was just using what he’d established and building what made sense to me. He and I have less militarized versions of those characters in our heads, which again, is not always commercial and a different take from most people’s. Most people think to make them soldiers – not even warriors, but soldiers.
Not long after Wonder Woman, you wrote and drew Otherworld.
Yeah, I drew X-Men and then I did Otherworld
This was a self-contained project that you owned which was published at Vertigo.
It was a dream project that was a story about two warring nations divided by an impenetrable wall. Which in the world of Games of Thrones is funny. I created it in college and the elements were clearly metaphors for religious fundamentalism and technological worship and conflict between these two ideas – and the notion that we’re constantly trying to merge things as opposed to letting them coexist. Very college-agey material. I developed it at SVA around the first Iraq war. During the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11, I dusted it off. I was having a hard time finding a home for it, but DC was willing to do it as a Vertigo book. It’s funny because the reason I wanted to do it as a Vertigo book had to do more with the themes than any explicit material like violence or sex. I wanted to explore – I want to say in a Morrison-esque way – religious fundamentalism, unfettered capitalism, technological fundamentalism. It was the early days of me working with a color artist on more advanced color designs. And quite frankly, I was hoping to create something that I would own. Everyone was saying, you’ve got to own something. So I created something that I would own that interested me and that I thought my agent could sell.
At the core, it’s dragons vs robots. Whatever the underpinnings that I was interested in exploring, the pitch was Lord of the Rings vs. Tron. One of the things Grant Morrison said that really hurt him on The Invisibles was that he started concept first and characters second. So the first year of The Invisibles is all big ideas and then in the second year he does the secret origins of the characters. I believe he said that if he was to do it over he would either mix and match or start with characters. He said the characters were not developed enough to latch onto the ideas that he was exploring. I said, that’s a brilliant observation, and I think we all thought he was right. In Otherworld I was so eager to get to these concepts and conversations that the characters are fine, but they’re not particularly interesting or likable. I had this interesting learning experience that when tackling material like that there are ways to do it and ways not to. That said comics are a pretty good place to explore things visually and it was Eisner nominated and so I got some good things out of it. The funny thing is they shunted me from that onto Infinite Crisis and when Infinite Crisis was done and my contract was over, we decided that I needed more money and I never returned to it. The rights reverted to me. Twice the project was in development and at least one of those times was as funny and as stereotypical as you can imagine a Hollywood development process to be. That was another lovely learning experience, which was essentially, trust your gut, don’t let people represent you when you know better.
I also thought about in terms of many of the Indian wars here in the U.S. where whites moved in and there would be years or even a generation like that and then both sides decided that the only way forward to wipe out the others because peace was impossible.
I’m glad you got that. I’m still very very interested in this idea of religion and science and the contexts that we’ve placed them in as opposed to letting them coexist. Maybe they can’t, but that gets into other interesting issues. I’m still interested in this and I’m trying to find ways to make it interesting fictionally as it can be a very dry topic.
Just as an aside, because I like telling this story, a huge element of Otherworld is that there was this huge wall that separated these two worlds and nobody could get over it. They couldn’t figure out what it was made of and there was a secret about who made it. When we were developing it in Hollywood the first thing people said was, get rid of the wall. But that’s the point! The barrier prevents communication. I still to this day don’t know why but they said, we have to get rid of this wall. Then of course I started watching Games of Thrones and there’s this giant wall. [laughs] There was an issue which was never published that had this huge gathering of mythological characters including dragons. The folks I was working with said, the movie Reign of Fire just tanked and nobody wanted dragons so either get rid of the scene or maybe call them something else. I was like, you can get rid of them if you want, you can call them whatever you want, but they’re dragons. They hemmed and hawed over this for months and then dumped them completely. Then How To Train Your Dragon came out. I just remember that their instincts on everything were reactive and fear based. It was a real learning experience. Walls and dragons – get rid of them! Nobody wants to see that!
Games of Thrones showed that those two elements together is a horrible idea and most people reading this article will go, what was Reign of Fire? [laughs]
You’re a penciler for the most part and when you’re looking for collaborators, what are you looking for in inkers and colorists?
My favorite collaborator was Andy Lanning, who left the business a few years ago to go work for Magic Leap, the Augmented Reality Company. That was one of the many things that has really derailed me over the past few years. Andy was probably the best, most professional person I’ve worked with, but what I look for in any sort of working partner is someone who understands what I do and elevates it. Andy understood my work and elevated it as an inker. He understood how to embellish linework to strengthen what I was good at and minimize what I was bad at. He knew how to draw. He is professional and dedicated and understood my madness, but also had a skillset that was aligned really beautifully with mine. We were a team for about ten years. I’ve had many wonderful inkers since then, but never quite aligned in the same way. A lot of that is to do with the changing style and the way inking has changed. The other thing Andy was able to do was ink detail work in a certain way. He understood my aesthetic and was able to embellish it in a way that was terrific. Later inkers have worked really really hard, but I just don’t think they get it the same way. Although certain ones have brought to the work an interesting point of view that’s neat for short periods of time.
For colorists, a colorist is everything. One reason I don’t do a lot anymore is that it’s a highly demanding job. I’m one of those people who puts a lot on the page, which means inkers and colorists also have to do a lot of work – and inkers and colorists make less than I do. The weird thing is in recent years I’ve been trying to negotiate more money for them because the workload that I’m expecting them to do is not compensated in any fair manner. The colorist I’ve been working with now is Juan Fernandez. Chris Ryall at IDW introduced me to him when we were pitching our JLA/Transformers crossover. Juan did the color on the pitch artwork and it was phenomenal. Then I went to work for Hasbro for a year and did all this Transformers art and he did all the colors for it. He is someone who can color anything. If I want to do a quiet street scene in the 1920‘s, he could color it. If I want to do big bombastic battle scenes with giant robots, he can color it. He’s a fantastic artist and painter and that really shines in his work. He’s also super easy to work with and art direct. I’m really happy the industry has him. It’s a unique kind of team building. There’s an unnameable magical quality to it. I certainly had that with Andy and I certainly have that with Juan.
You’ve done some inking, have you experimented with inking yourself much or coloring straight from your pencils?
We have colored straight from pencils. Sometimes successful, sometimes not. I’ve been inking myself when I can. I’m inking the Wonder Woman graphic novel I’m working on right now and it looks fantastic, but it’s laborious and slow going – much to DC’s chagrin. I’m already fairly slow and I’m inking myself on top of it, so they’re going crazy, but I think it’s the best looking work I’ve ever put out. I’m working part digitally and everyone is blown away by it, but it’s not a fast process at all. I had a wonderful young man inking me on Superwoman, but I know that labor killed him. His aesthetic was slightly different and he was young so there was a lot of teaching on the job, which I love, but those first couple issues were teaching issues. By issue #5 he could ink over my breakdowns, but in those first two issues there was a lot of struggle as he tried to figure out his own aesthetic. He ended up inking digitally over the pencils because it made him less nervous. He was nervous about screwing things up. Which I thought was sweet, in its way. Generally on poster pieces or covers or on this graphic novel, for the most part I ink myself – and I think recently to great effect. That’s partly practical. When Andy left I thought, I’m going to be alone and single for the rest of my pencilling career.
You said that you’re working partly digitally? Are you inking digitally, or what?
I am doing rough pencils and then the finishing inks and graytones and textures on my iPad.
So now that you’re inking yourself, your pencils are rougher than what you used to draw?
Yes. Part of that is expediency. I used to pencil very tightly and then ink them tightly. There are parts that I will always pencil very tightly. Faces and little details like that, but folds on a dress or a certain type of woodgrain, I don’t need to pencil that to ink it. It just takes up too much time.
You mentioned the book you’re drawing now. What made you interested in the book? What was the appeal?
The appeal was the way it was told. I was not really quick to take it. Mostly because I had sort of left mainstream comics for the most part – and was pretty happy, actually. The cranking out of material was just wearing on me. I don’t like it. I get very anxious about it, and as the years have gone by, that’s gotten worse, not better. I thought, it’s a game for the young, let the young do it. However, the sales pitch was Kelly Sue DeConnick writing, and I was like, holy shit, and she described the pitch to me and I fell in love with it. I believe a woman has never written a history of the Amazons in comics. Diana’s origin has been reinterpreted by several female writers, but never the history of her people. That was exciting. The fact that the first chapter is about the gods themselves. It was sold to me as a return to Wonder Woman, which was probably the least interesting part of it. I was excited about using some of these digital skills I have on a big graphic novel. I’m just honored to be asked. Working with Kelly Sue on a project like this is such an honor and it’s something I have a point of view about.
So the book tells the history of the Amazons before Wonder Woman?
We’re starting with ancient Greece. I would suggest that George Perez’s Wonder Woman #1 is a very compressed history from pre-history to Diana’s becoming Wonder Woman. This is that but allowed to breathe. So sequences that take place in a half page in George’s book are given more space. The goddesses get more character, Hera is explored more deeply, even Zeus has some great page time. It takes this highly compressed story and lets it breathe. And it’s Kelly Sue, so there’s a fresh take on all this. I try to leave the ego at the door and imagine that this is just a new work and approach the characters in a new way and not think, “in the old version...” My goal has been to not have any preconceptions about how any of those characters would work. Here some characters are new, some are re-imaginings, and I’m here to serve Kelly Sue’s script and make it this very cool thing that is new.
Are you drawing the book in order? By which I mean, page 1, then page 2, etc.
To DC’s chagrin – which I’ve said probably nine times in this interview – I don’t work chronologically. I hop around a lot, and it’s making them crazy. The idea is that if a god is on the page, it’s a two page spread, so there’s 45 two page spreads. That doesn’t mean there aren’t panels on those spreads. The idea is that they’re gods so they should be big, and the scope of the art should be big. I’m currently working on pages 42-43 and finishing inking this cityscape. Then I’m going to page 53. I still have to design a whole horde of monsters for an earlier spread that I’ve been putting off. I keep telling them, I am designing about 50 new characters for you. That’s what’s taking so long. But in terms of process, I do not work chronologically. I tend to hop all over the project and work on five or six different elements at once, which again, makes them completely insane.
You mentioned that in recent years you’ve moved away from comics and been working at Hasbro. Are there still comics you want to make? Or plan to make?
A division of Warner Brothers invited me to create a series for them. I spent a good year developing that, and had probably the best time I’ve had in ten years. That’s still ongoing. That was incredibly gratifying experience because I had a really supportive network of producers who all get the material and have elevated more than I would have imagined. I thought it would be something quite small and it turned out to be something quite big. Which has taken more time. Nothing is real until it’s on TV, but it’s been a wonderful experience.
I realized that I’m more interested now in telling stories in other mediums or in other ways. I’ve never been good at managing the stress of deadlines. Particularly in recent years. The needs of the industry have changed and we have to get more stuff out more quickly – biweekly books and weekly books. Not only have I never been good at that, it just stresses me out. A lot of people rise to the occasion, but I just feel like if that’s what you need more than anything, give that material to someone else, because they’re going to be better at it than I am. I have found that the stress of production, say, post-New 52, is more more more more. I’m not good at that. I don’t like creating that way – and I’m not good at it. The streaming service offer came at the perfect time. I think the Amazons book is the best thing I’ve ever done. DC is on top of me about scheduling and I am reminded, this is why I don’t feel like I’m a good fit for this part of the industry. I just have never been good at generating that way. We’ll see where my career goes after this. If it goes anywhere.
I was saying on a panel that honestly the thing I’m most excited about these days is not making comics, but helping other people make comics. I’ve been making comics for twenty-eight years. I’ve had a really great life and I’ve met so many people and I’ve literally traveled the world thanks to comics. It’s ridiculous. What excites me now is helping young people get those same opportunities. New talent and fresh eyes who can re-evaluate this material and make it their own. The changes in mainstream superhero comics and they way that they need to be produced are just antithetical to the way that I like to create. If I create something again, I feel like it will be somewhere else. I’m really interested in things like Webtoons and other new delivery systems. I’m really interested in the way the globe absorbs stories and particularly comic book stories and narrative. Who is getting it, and how are they getting it, and what sorts of stories are we telling. Having just seen Endgame, what can we do now? That’s not nihilistic, it’s a very real question. Mainstream superhero comics was good because we had an unlimited special effects budget, but now it’s clear that that aspect of what we do can be matched – and surpassed – by film and TV. I hope there’s a re-evaluation going on about what can we do other than IP generation content. Do mainstream superheroes have a role to teach and educate? Or are they just there so that the next one will be the next big movie franchise?
You want to tell stories still, you just don’t necessarily want to make another comics series.
Yes. I think there are young people who are better at that part of it than I am. I’m really excited to see new talent. That’s just the coolest thing. That thrills me way more than cranking out issue #47 of something. I never got in the business to draw comics, I got in the business to draw a certain comic. I came to realize that recently. A lot of my drifting was me figuring out, where does a voice like mine belong? It’s a very specific voice, a very specific creative cadence I would say. I realized that maybe I said what I needed to say in this particular neck of the woods. So where do I go from here?
I think your voice as a writer has stood out, but artistically you’ve been called “the next George Perez” or something similar from very early in your career. Which isn’t just because of how good you are, but because you’re one of the few to work in that style and that aesthetic.
One thing I’m interested in right now is creating a family tree of artists and influences. A couple years ago a student brought to me some of his favorite artwork and included Ivan Reis and Bryan Hitch – and yet somehow he had no idea that they were both heavily influenced by Alan Davis. He’d never heard of Alan Davis! That kind of blew my mind. One of the things I’ve been very interested in is the lineage of art and influence. I’ve been trying to figure out a project to wrap around this idea. Because most of us were influenced by someone and some of those people are still in the industry. I was less interested in shedding that influence. Maybe some of my layouts on this book look like George, but the artwork looks very different.
I’ve always loved my George Perez influence because I see it as a school of working or a way of working. Like in the old Renaissance tradition where artists would learn how to work as someone and there was no shame in that. You were perpetuating a school or an idea or aesthetic. I know for many people who were ego driven, they wanted to become their own artist and also you evolve as an artist. When Travis Charest stopped being a Jim Lee clone and became Travis, that was super exciting. When Bryan Hitch stopped being Alan Davis and became Bryan Hitch, that was wonderful to see. I was always less worried about that. Nobody does what George Perez does. I can kind of do it, but I think it has value and I want to see it out there in the world, even when George isn’t. I want people to see that this was a way of telling comics that it had a huge impact. And that a lot of people can’t – or won’t – do it anymore. I never minded my influence.
You recently gave a keynote at the Queers and Comics conference in New York. For people who weren’t there, what did you talk about?
It had a lot to do with depression and its effect on creativity. In the past several years my output has really been affected by various issues. Last October I was talking to some of my peers who were having similar issues and then I started talking to a lot of people across various industries, men and women of different ages – and I realized all of them were on antidepressants. I was blown away at the number of people who had some sort of depression or anxiety issue. Our industry, which demands so much of creators – I was thinking about LGBTQ folks in particular – requires generating work and dealing with representation and the external political world we live in, where trans creators are bullied online, all while juggling mental health issues.
So my keynote was about what it’s like to be an LGBTQ creator now. Not to be a debbie downer, but I have been very concerned about this. I think it’s an unexpected factor in our output. More than anything what was interesting to me was the number of peers I had who were suffering from some sort of depression. That made me think about the way we make comics, the added layer of being LGBTQ or othered in some way, and what that means for creation. When you go, whatever happened to that person? I think, I know what happened to that person. I’m more interested in the health of my peers than what Batman is doing to the Joker in Issue #417. That seems to be my path.
So you’re interested in teaching and in people more than comics right now.
More than the comics. Partly because I got into comics to write and draw Wonder Woman, and I’ve done that. So why am I still here? I have been very very lucky and met some extraordinary people and I want other people to have the same opportunities that I had. That requires us all to be good and healthy. A lot of us are thinking, we’ve done this, so what next? To me that is a really extraordinary gift.