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
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.
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 wayyou
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
Townsend dislike a lot. What do you think about
the use of these digital tools in the making of print
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
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
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
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
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