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Phil Hester Interview


[ Phil Hester ]

This interview with comic book writer and artist Phil Hester was conducted by Director Sebastien Dumesnil via email during the editing of Adventures Into Digital Comics. This interview is a part of the second set of interviews, which means that Phil Hester was asked to answer questions accordingly to the final cut of the movie.

Can you tell us about your background?

I've been writing and drawing comics professionally for all of my adult life. I've worked for most major publishers and have had long runs on Swamp Thing and Green Arrow. I created The Wretch which was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series in 1997. I wrote Deep Sleeper, The Coffin, and Firebreather, the latter two currently optioned for feature films. I am the current artist of Nightwing.

In the film, we discuss the nature of comic books. Can you tell us what, for you, a comic book is? What are the strengths and ideas you like or intend to explore?

I think any series of pictures that tell stories qualify as comics. I love the flexibility of the form. It can be quiet and still or loud and kinetic. It provides both the thrill of the cinematic experience as well as the more introspective feeling of reading a novel.

Marv Wolfman told us that ten years ago, there was not even one comic book store in Wyoming. What do you think of the distribution channel in the US? Do you think that comic book stores are good ambassadors of the medium?

I love comic shops, and really good ones are the best ambassadors for the form. A good retailer provides a fun experience for both new and old customers. That said, I'd love for comics to be available in more outlets. More outlets equal more new readers. Look at it this way—you can buy a bicycle at any discount mega store in America, but if you become serious about cycling you will soon turn to specialty stores. Comics should be the same way. Wal-Mart and Target and 7-11 should be our gateway outlets that lead serious readers to comic shops.

There is a debate about the nature of the growth of comic book sales in the early 90s and the subsequent recession. Would you qualify these events as a boom followed by a crash, or an aberration followed by a "back to normal" situation? Why? In the case of a boom followed by a crash, do you feel that the small press was hurt during the same period?

The small press was hurt most. When contraction took place Marvel and DC found they could make money in sales territories (10,000-20,000) that were previously dominated by indies. Publishers big and small are getting better at slicing the pie thinner all the time.

honestly don't know what qualifies as a boom or crash. Everything is cyclical, right? Joe Kubert says he's been through the death of comics six times. Publishing in general has seen a decline in sales, but an increase in the number of magazines and books. Perhaps comics is simply experiencing the "narrowcasting" effect evident in all media.

In the 90s, we saw the rise of digital lettering and coloring. Nowadays, there's even this new trend of digital inking that people like Tim Townsend dislike a lot. What do you think about the use of these digital tools in the making of print comics?

I enjoy the traditional ink aesthetic, but certainly willing to experiment as both a reader and an artist with any new technique technology provides. The more the merrier!

In the film, Chris Gossett says it is a very tough gig to try to make an original graphic novel and sell it on the American market. How difficult is it nowadays to sell an original graphic novel in the US if you're not Alex Ross or Neil Gaiman?

Well, if you're not concerned with making money it's quite simple. If you're willing to just do it, and it's fairly professional, and defer any payment until publication, you will have no trouble finding a publisher. Look at Oni, AiT, Image, etc. They're not paying their talent page rates, but splitting profits and they have no shortage of artists willing to take that gamble with them.

In the film, Scott McCloud says there are more golfers in this country than comic book readers. By right, we should be able to sell comics about golf, but it's not happening. Do you feel there is an issue of diversity going on?

Sure, but how many actual prose novels about golf are there? That's kind of bogus. Golf is not a dramatic subject. That's like saying we should be able to have monthly comic book series about raising tropical fish.

I do think we'd be better off with more diverse subject matter, but the existing audience is small. Unless the work is genius like Blankets or Acme Novelty, it has a hard time penetrating the mass market. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it's risky.

Do you think that it is now easier for kids to find printed comics or to find webcomics on the Internet? For you, what is a webcomic? Why would people read them?

I like the experience of reading a tangible comic myself, but any comics is good comics. Get 'em any way you can!

In the film, artists like Patrick Farley and Cat Garza say they make webcomics because publishers would not touch their work, because it's too offensive, different, etc. As an example, Patrick talks about his Apocamon webcomic, a Manga style rewriting of the Book of Revelations. Do you think that the Internet could be the next logical step of the comic book for artistic or business-related reasons?

Sure. It means absolute freedom. I am convinced that freedom still exists to some extent in the print form as well. Really, comics are far less restrictive than novels, film or TV. No focus groups here.

Finally, do you think that the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands is necessary to the comic book reading experience?

For me it is, but I'm a dinosaur.


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