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Journal of the

"Ontology on the go!"

An Interview with Phil Jimenez

A native of California, Phil Jimenez's professional comics career began with work on WAR OF THE GODS #4, DEATHSTROKE ANNUAL #2, and art chores on TEAM TITANS and NEW TITANS, all published by DC Comics. His later work spanned the DC Universe with GUY GARDNER: WARRIOR, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, and DC ONE MILLION 80-PAGE GIANT along with work on Wildstorm's PLANETARY/THE AUTHORITY: RULING THE WORLD, Marvel's X-MEN: LIBERATORS, and DC/Vertigo's TRANSMETROPOLITAN: I HATE IT HERE. His career first gained recognition when he illustrated for the 1996/1997 TEMPEST limited series for DC and the second volume of Grant Morrison's THE INVISIBLES for DC/Vertigo in 1997. From 2000 to 2003 Jimenez had an acclaimed run on WONDER WOMAN where he handled illustration and scripting duties. Recently he finished a three-issue story arc for Marvel's NEW X-MEN with Grant Morrison and is currently writing and illustrating his own creator-owned project, OTHERWORLD, for DC/Vertigo. Outside comics, Jimenez has contributed art for the first permanent AIDS exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, has been featured in "Out" and "The Advocate" magazines and listed as one of Entertainment Weekly's "Top 101 Gay Movers and Shakers," and did a brief hand-model cameo for Tobey Maguire in the "Spider-Man" film. Mr. Jimenez was kind enough to give J LHLS and Mr. Denton this interview in March of 2005.

Chad Denton: Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview. What are you reading these days, inside and outside the medium?

Phil Jimenez: Almost all of the material I read these days revolves around social science and history of some sort; very rarely do I read fiction. That said, I've been reading Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God, about religious fundamentalism; Special Effects by Pascal Pinteau, about the history of SFX in film and in the world around us, from theme parks to museum exhibitions; and Designing Disney's Theme Parks, edited by Karal Ann Marling, about, well, designing Disney. I've also been reading various books on screenwriting, genre fiction writing, and a few other odds and ends here and there. I've also been doing copious amounts of research for Otherworld, from dragon lore in Chinese mythology to technological trends in urban areas worldwide. Sounds a little dry, I know, but I really get into this stuff!

In the medium, I'm really into Birds of Prey, The Ultimates, Astonishing X-Men, and Teen Titans.

CD: Which artists are you following? Any new talents in the field that have caught your eye?

PJ: Ivan Reis is fantastic. There's a whole wonderful crop of artists out there, coming from Spain and South America, I believe, and I adore them. While they're not new, I just love Bryan Hitch's work, the art/color teamwork of John Cassaday and Laura Martin, and I will always drool over work from Adam Hughes, Jose Luis, Garcia Lopez, Ryochi Ikegami, and George Perez. I'm a big fan of representational, less cartoony art - of art that suggests that the artist knows the structure of each object he's drawn, in and out. I love it when an artist makes me feel something, really connects me to the art I'm looking at.

CD: Unless you are self-taught, where did you receive your training?

PJ: I was essentially self taught; however, I did take an illustration class at Parson University in Los Angeles, and moved to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts as an illustration/cartooning major. I received a fantastic education there, and it really helped me push my art further and faster than if I had not pursued a formal education. I studied under some great teachers - Will Eisner, Jack Endewelt, Jerry Zimmerman - cartoonists and illustrators who really made sure they got the best out of me.

CD: Have there been any artists that have influenced your style?

PJ: George Perez is the most obvious and extreme influence on my style. From the time I started drawing comic books for my friends in junior high school, George's work had a very real, almost palpable affect on my work. His was a sensibility that just spoke to me, and still does, profoundly. While my work is no longer as heavily influenced by George's as it once was, I actually see what I do as not so much imitation but perpetuation. I believe that what I'm doing is taking a sensibility and furthering it, making sure others see it - taking the craft to the next generation as it were. I always hope that George knows that's what I'm doing; that I'm trying to further a sense of storytelling and image making to others, hoping to affect them as deeply as he has affected me. Renaissance artists did this all the time; they created whole schools around learning a particular sensibility. While I think everyone should bring their own thoughts and creativity to the table, I also think that there's a craftsmanship that needs to be learned, and - I keep using this word - a sensibility that's worth spreading.

CD: How did you enter the industry?

PJ: I was hired right after my sophomore year of college by Neal Pozner, who was an editor at DC Comics. He'd gotten a hold of my portfolio and contacted me at my mother's house and offered me a job - a two part story in Showcase, a book featuring talented young artists and writers. From then on, I was working - although my first published work was in War of the Gods #4 - four pages of pencils over George Perez's layouts. While the project wasn't well received, the project was - for me - heaven.

CD: What would you tell anyone - writer or artist - seeking to get their foot in the door?

PJ: Patience and polite persistence are the key. New writers and artists are competing against establishing giants in the industry, names that already sell the material. If you're going to make an impact, you're going to have to have work that's like no other, or you're going to have to be persistent and pursue jobs over and over again. Building relationships with editors, writers, other artists - these are important steps to getting work in the industry - as is having a really strong portfolio.

CD: How do you handle your work load and what is your usual schedule in that regard?

PJ: My workload is overwhelming right now (thank God) and my schedule is unusually extreme. In a perfect world, I'll wake up between 8 and 9, work for a couple of hours, go to the gym, return, and then work on and off for the rest of the day, about 8 or 9 hours total. This is on a good day, however; some bad days, I might only work 6 hours. I generally work 6 days a week, but not the same amount of time on each. I also tend to really love working late at night - it's a very quiet time for me, a very productive time. I find that working on multiple projects that require lots of meetings also slows me down tremendously; I wish I could spend two weeks just drawing, without having to meet over production schedules, plot revisions, or cover concepts! But I'm very blessed to have the amount of work that I do. It's rare in this business and I know that. I'm very, very lucky.

CD: Do you have any rituals you have to go through when you draw?

PJ: My nutritionist made me very aware of certain rituals I have, particularly eating rituals, while I work. I move around a lot, I find; return a lot of e-mails. I like to step back from my work constantly. I like to kickbox and rollerblade to get away from the work. I do lots of layouts and thumbnails to figure out complicated pieces. And I like to eat...

CD: How do you approach writing and scripting?

PJ: Usually it's a matter of getting a plot approved by an editor. I sit down, map out the pace of the 22 page book page by page, then type it up as a plot. Once that's approved, I draw it, and then go back and script the dialogue to the artwork on the page. It's the old "Marvel Style", I guess they call it. I'm definitely still learning the process, and think of myself as an artist first and a writer second (by a long ways). My approach is simple - try to create stories that will move me, touch me, leave me with moments that I'll remember for a long time, and give me something really interesting to draw. What I've learned about scripting is that not everything said aloud translates into text. I tend to "act" every line I write - say it aloud, to hear the rhythm of the dialogue and get the voices right. However, some of that stuff doesn't translate on to the printed page, and I'm continually amazed at how well other writers really have an ear for that. It's a true talent.

CD: Could you tell us a little about your work and accomplishments outside of comics? Anything you want to mention?

PJ: I've had a few things that have been lots of fun. I got to work on the first Spider-Man movie, doing artwork as a hand double for Tobey McGuire. I did artwork for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry; I've designed murals, storyboarded commercials, been featured in magazines like Entertainment Weekly and the Washington Post, and I'm featured on the Wonder Woman season 2 DVD box set. I've traveled pretty extensively. I would love to do production design on a film and write some TV, ultimately. But life's been pretty darn good, I have to say.

CD: I have to admit, one of my favorite recent comics was one of your issues of New X-Men where Jean Grey forces Emma Frost into a nightmarish voyage through her past. What is it like to work with Grant Morrison?

PJ: Grant Morrison is probably my favorite writer in comics, in terms of his scripts. He just seems to "get" me - I feel like he writes for me, and that he knows how to write a script for artists. I think part of this is because he's brilliant, and partly because he's an artist himself. He understand the visual-ness of comics. He's just fantastic.

CD: What impact, if any, do you think your homosexuality has had on your career?

PJ: I think it's had a huge impact, in that it's shaped how I see the world, how I accept things into my life, reject others, and how my overall sensibilities have been transformed by being gay. I bring all of this to my work, so it makes me notice things others might not notice. I bring to the work a slightly different perspective, despite my mainstream preferences and art style. I think being gay is incredibly important to the work I do and what I want to say with it.

CD: Do you have anything to say to gay writers and artists who have ambitions in the medium?

PJ: Be really, really good at what you do.

CD: Would you like to see more gay superheroes? If so, what kind of gay superhero would you envision?

PJ: This might be horrible, but it was something I rarely thought about. My super -heroes were Amazons - Wonder Woman and Troia - because of what they represented to me. Wonder Woman wanted more than anything else in the world for human beings to peacefully coexist with each other. I can think of no greater sentiment than that, and that's why she's my hero. I didn't really need a gay hero to identify with; what I look for in my heroes is an end goal that means something to me. It's why Superman and Batman mean less to me than Wonder Woman; she's a teacher and ambassador of peace, while Superman's essentially a cop and Batman's a crazy guy in need of therapy.

CD: I believe that when you started on Wonder Woman, you had no previous writing credits. What was it like starting out like that? Did you feel as though you were undergoing a crash course?

PJ: Actually, I had several writing gigs before Wonder Woman. I worked on the miniseries Tempest, the Girl Frenzy: Donna Troy one shot - both of which were very well received - and some issues of Guy Gardner, and the ill-fated Team Titans. So I came to Wonder Woman with some experience. What I didn't expect, however, was the amount of editorial restrictions and storytelling changes I'd be asked to make along the way. That really threw me for a loop, and it affected the way I told my stories. They were often paced differently than I would have liked, and I had to incorporate story changes I was not expecting. And I had to kill her mother off half-way through my run! I would love to go back to Wonder Woman knowing what I do now, and give it another "clean" shot, without so much editorial hooplah, and without two consecutive crossovers, to boot!

CD: What's it like working with a prominent character with such a rich history for two years? Have you ever imagined having a conversation with her?

PJ: Oh, all the time. I think anyone who knows that character imagines having a conversation with her. She's inspiring. Like I said above, I wish my time with her had been "cleaner" - less drama involved editorially, fewer changes, a clearer thru-line. But in the end, I got to write and draw Wonder Woman, make an impact, and that means the world to me.

CD: I've seen your run praised as a time when old characters were revived and re-imagined in a fresh light. Did you feel yourself limited working with a character who had been interpreted and defined in so many ways over the years?

PJ: My goal with Wonder Woman was not to redefine her, so much as combine all the previous incarnations of her, many of which were not complimentary to each other, and make sense of it all. I was trying to reinvigorate her. I had wanted to remind readers of her mission and purpose; why she existed; I wanted to really amp up her rogue's gallery, and wanted to solidify her always morphing supporting cast. I simply love working with this character. In many ways, it would be my dream job to return to her, knowing what I know now.

CD: Tell me about Otherworld. It seems a work very much influenced by mythology and dark fantasy. What were your influences in that? What do you hope to achieve with it?

PJ: Everything I've every read or seen is probably an influence on Otherworld. It is, in many ways, an homage to those influences - everything from Saturday Morning cartoons to Star Wars to the books I'm reading now. There are so many fantastic ideas in the world, and so many I'm interested in questioning and exploring. Otherworld is influenced by mythology, certainly, but also by the ideas some mythologies represent. It's an exploration of things like religious fundamentalism, unfettered capitalism, democracy, military dominance, entertainment technologies, race and gender relations, sexual mores, Westernization - and I get to do it with super-heroes, science fiction, and fantasy. I get to cross genres and create a world where I can ask our characters, especially our lead character Siobhan, "if you know there's something bad in the world - you've seen it, experienced it, either personally or through the media - what is your social and ethical responsibility to do something to make it right? How much of your world and creature comforts are you willing to give up to make someone with less than you, to make their life, better?"

CD: Is Otherworld something you've hoped to do for a while? Would you like to work on similar projects in the future?

PJ: I've been working on Otherworld, I realize now, for more than 10 years...going on 15 now, probably. At least, it's been in my head that long. I hope that people enjoy Otherworld enough that it goes on past its 12 issues; I really have grown to love these characters and really care about what happens to them. Plus, I can continue to ask questions of them, and I can sort through my own mental "stuff" while seeking the answers.

CD: Do you have any dream projects? Anything on the horizon?

PJ: Otherworld was truly my dream project. It's been one of the most pleasing experiences I've ever had in this business. Utterly fulfilling. And that's saying a lot, considering the fun I've had the past 14 years or so!

CD: Thank you, Mr. Jimenez.

***

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LHLS Author and Editor News and Reviews

Issue 7 Preview:

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