On July 5, Pronto welcomed famed comic artist Phil Jimenez to our monthly podcast meeting. You’ll recognize Phil’s name from his work on DC’s Wonder Woman (2000-03) and the 2005-06 Infinite Crisis series, as well as Vertigo titles Swamp Thing and The Invisibles, the Barack Obama cover of The Amazing Spider-Man, and many others.
Phil had a shockingly straightforward start in comics. He went to New York’s School of Visual Arts (at the time one of only two U.S. schools with cartooning programs), but was forced to drop out after only two years when he could no longer afford the cost of tuition. He sent out his portfolio to a handful of publishers, and just before he was ready to head back to his hometown in California, received a phone call from DC.
Phil’s first gig was to draw just four pages in the DC miniseries War of the Gods. However, he says he doesn’t think the portfolio he was using at the time would ever get him into the industry today. “I got into the business 22 years ago. It’s a different time now,” Phil told us. “They were giving pages to anyone who could hold a pencil…I think they hired me because they needed hands.”
At the time, though, Phil couldn’t have been more thrilled. After following comic book artist George Pérez for years, Phil was now working with his “primary influence,” and was “drawing his heroes.”
As for the modern comics era, things are far different now. There’s generally no such thing as a “staff artist,” and most companies (Marvel and DC included) do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or portfolios.
If you do want to break into the industry, though, there is one skill that matters just as much now as it did 20 years ago: the ability to tell a story sequentially. Shortly after first being hired, Phil was told that that’s why he’d been selected—not because he could draw.
“The great fun of drawing comics is the problem of telling a story sequentially,” he explained. “Most people want to just draw big splash pages of their favorite characters…But the splash page moment is never going to get you hired.”
Further, there’s more to drawing compelling characters than their faces. Body language and behavior are just as important in creating a personality on a page. Phil lamented the tendency for many characters to look the same, and seemed disappointed in the fans who like that look.
Phil also denounced any sort of diva attitude. He said that when the writer or employer says they want something, it’s the artist’s job to give it to them. He referred to himself a “hired hand,” though not in a bad way. After all, Phil gets to draw his childhood heroes for a living—even if he may be dismayed by the direction a story takes, you really can’t beat that.
Click here to listen to the complete interview with Phil Jimenez.
-Leah Hansen, Associate Editor