I Thought You'd Never Ask: Phil Hester

A brief introduction and then let's get to the meat of things, no? I'm Filip Sablik, Publisher over at Top Cow Productions. You can read my little blurb at the bottom of this post. Long story short: I work my dream job. I love comics, movies, TV, and all things geeky. One awesome side benefit to this gig is that I've become friends with a slew of incredibly talented writers, artists, colorists, and other creatives. As a process junkie, I love to find out about their work habits, what inspires them, and so on. Most interviews just ask the obvious questions, so I figured I'd use Geekweek to abuse my connections and ask all my friends the questions they don't get asked in the typical interview. Hence, the title of this bit - "I Thought You'd Never Ask."

The subject of today's interview is Phil Hester. Phil is a writer, artist, and creator of comics. He's also one of the nicest guy's in comics and entirely too humble. You can get the 411 on Phil on Wikipedia. The Reader's Digest version of Phil's career looks something like this - created The Wretch, drew Kevin Smith's relaunch of Green Arrow, created Firebreather (now being developed as a cartoon at Cartoon Network), and helped this guy relaunch The Darkness after the platinum video game. You can read two free issues of Hester's The Darkness run HERE. He's also such a good dad that he doesn't curse in his house, even to the point where he yelled "Fiddlesticks!" after smashing his thumb with a hammer... even though he was home alone. 

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Filip Sablik: As far as I know you live in the same small town in Iowa you grew up in, right? I always find it interesting, as someone who grew up in a small rural community and promptly fled to a larger city at 17. How do you think where you live effects your writing and world view? Does it?

Phil Hester: Actually, most of my childhood was spent in larger cities (at least to me) like Boston and Oklahoma City. I returned to my little Iowa hometown as a teenager and spent a few years hating it pretty hard. It took me a while to acclimate to small town living, but once I experienced the kind of extended family a small town provides I began to cherish it. There's a stillness or at least a slowed pace of living that forces you to live a self-examined life. I don't want to overstate this, because by and large people seem to be the same everywhere, but it's easier to carve out some productive isolation in this almost monastic setting. Moving here as an awkward teen led me deeper into comics and books and music. My school was actually too small to have effective cliques, so you were sort of left adrift to find your own interests and comics and art became mine.

When you live in a small town you really know everyone, so if someone's holding up the line in the post office you grant them some forbearance. No one's just a face in the crowd. That's a practice I've found easier to apply to the larger world due to living here. So, in a counter-intuitive kind of way, living in a small, homogeneous community helps me be tolerant of pretty much anything in the wider world.

Also, I never lock my car. In fact, I'm seen as a bit of a paranoid for taking the keys out of the ignition.

FS: Huh, I actually didn't know that about your childhood. See? I get to learn stuff too. Although I've always suspected you were a bit paranoid. I mean, seriously Phil, who's going to steal your car? The cows?

In recent years, you've made a pretty steady transition from penciler to writer, something which doesn't happen very often. Was this something you always intended to do? Or did you originally envision yourself as a writer/artist (as you started out on books like The Wretch)?

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PH: I always saw writing and drawing as part of the same storytelling continuum, so it's more like I just shifted the dial to a different station. My big heroes are cartoonists who do it all; Eisner, Miller, Kirby, etc., so writing and drawing have always been different parts of the same animal to me. I still see myself as that writer/artist, but am struggling to find the project I'm right for as an artist. There are a lot of great artists I love to work with, and almost any time I cook up a new idea I think they'd be better at it than I would. We'll see.


FS: You are one of the nicest, mild-mannered gents in the comic biz and a great family man. And yet, you write some really twisted stuff, Hester! Where do you come up with this stuff? Why do you think you tend to be drawn to the macabre, the horrifying, and the bizarre? Are you secretly using writing for therapy?

PH: Maybe. What is it to you?

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FS: Um, nothing. Nope, nothing at all... I'll be right back, just gotta lock my office door...

So, you're also a big original art junkie and have one of the more impressive and varied collections I've seen this side of Geppi's Pop Culture Museum. So here's the impossible question - what's your favorite piece and why?

PH: I own a Frank Miller page from Daredevil. It's the classic issue in which Daredevil fights The Hulk and takes a huge beating, but keeps coming back. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking, "Wow. Comics were always cool, but this comic is taking me places even movies don't." Miller on Daredevil sort of woke the storyteller in me. I bought the page ten or so years later for $400, which was a huge amount to me at the time, the most I'd ever paid for anything and a divorce-able offense. I study that page almost daily and am still in awe of the storytelling Frank was capable of when he was just in his early 20's. Another valuable thing about the page is that it has a huge storytelling flaw in it, which actually helps me get a toehold in the storytelling process. It's not just some alabaster icon from on high, but a process that results in a few clunkers even while you might be churning out genius work. It's an inspirational piece. 

Also, it has The Hulk on it.

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FS: The wives, they just don't understand a geek's need for Hulk Smash... Thanks for the time, Phil. Now get back to writing more The Darkness scripts. Those things are gonna write themselves.

Filip Sablik is the Publisher of Top Cow Productions, Inc. He’s been in the business for nine years and just officially entered his thirties. Occasionally, he does a bit of writing and drawing. He loves comics.
Top Cow Productions, Inc. was founded by Marc Silvestri, co-founder of Image Comics. Top Cow currently publishes its line of comic books in 21 languages in over 55 different countries. The company has launched 20 franchises (18 original and two licensed) in the industry’s Top 10, seven at #1, a feat accomplished by no other publisher in the last two decades.

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