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DC characters drawn by Phil Jimenez. All characters copyright DC Comics

THE ART OF PHIL JIMENEZ

Expanded Article from UPDATE #3, 2005


Phil Jimenez has worked in comics since 1991, gaining significant recognition for his writing and artwork on the DC Comics miniseries Tempest. He later penciled The Invisibles, JLA/Titans, and Planetary/Authority, wrote and drew a two-year run on Wonder Woman, and penciled New X-Men for writer Grant Morrison. Most recently, Jimenez contributed pencil art to DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis. He is currently writing and penciling Otherworld for VERTIGO, has taken on writing chores for DC Special: The Return Of Donna Troy, and is penciling the much-anticipated Infinite Crisis at DC.

Jimenez was a guest at the 2005 Comic-Con courtesy of DC Comics, and alongside DC editor Eddie Berganza, Phil discussed his career in comics.

Tell us the Jimenez/Berganza relationship?

(Ed. Note: All audience questions are paraphrased.)

Phil Jimenez PHIL JIMENEZ: Eddie was my editor on Tempest, which remains one of the most satisfying comic experiences because it was just the two of us, figuratively, working. We were new, we were taking a character that nobody cared about and turning him into something else, and whenever anyone asks me what my favorite book is, I say that one. Eddie has actually edited me through almost every major thing I've done [at DC].

The nice thing about Eddie is he knows how to handle my mania. He always tries to figure out what the problem is and then how to solve it. It's been a pleasure to work with him for that reason because he's much better about taking my madness and spinning it into something better.

EDDIE BERGANZA: For me, I call that madness, "passion". Phil cares so much about everything, that the depth is translated. Like whenever I pick up a project, he's so excited about it. He's the first fan of what we're working on and that translates to the project.

Give us the "secret origin" of Phil Jimenez.

Phil: I was born and raised in Southern California and started drawing when I was very young. I was a big dinosaur fan and went to the La Brea Tar Pits a lot, and anyone who's read my book Otherworld, there's a big fight scene at the La Brea Tar Pits for no other reason than as an homage to my childhood. Anyway, as a latch-key kid I [drew] a lot, watched Superfriends and then Wonder Woman, and that transformed everything. But the only comic book I read was Star Wars. It wasn't until a friend in junior high was reading comics that I discovered the medium and the joys of visual storytelling.

What were the first comics you read?

Phil: The very first comic was an Earth 1/Earth 2 Wonder Woman crossover, so very early on I understood the DC multiverse. Then I started reading [the Walt Simonson issues of] Star Wars. One story was about the Rebellion defeating the Empire and they blow up this Death Star-like space station, and everyone was cheering. But Princess Leia actually thinks it's a little tragic because not everyone on the Death Star was evil and yet they're all dead. [She sees that] all war does is perpetuate constant death, and it's not something to celebrate. I've long teased Walt by saying that story cemented in my head a worldview, and I realized that comics actually have power to do that. It's another reason why I take my job so seriously, because I think comics mean something, especially to young kids who are looking for a vision of the world that's maybe different than the one on TV.

I don't know how many of you are reading Otherworld. If you are, thank you. It's a very dense, complicated project, which will all pay off at the end, but the lead character is very much me at 19; a real by-product of consumer culture, a lefty pinko liberal but in name only, not really in action. She likes the idea of it more than she likes the doing of it, and part of her arc is putting her money where her mouth is. How much of her life is she willing to sacrifice to make this world a better place? And the more reading I do about what that means, and the more I invest in her, the more I start to challenge myself. I think, okay, I'm going to put this character through that but am I willing to make the same choices? Am I willing to give up as much? And that's a sort of fascinating personal journey.

What kind of non-comic art inspires you?

Phil: Most of my exposure to non-comic art came after moving to New York. My first assignment [in painting class] was to go draw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was from those drawings that I [became] exposed to different kinds of art and artistic sensibilities. As I got older I started to appreciate other artists, particularly modern art, which I didn't have a great love affair for. For example, Jackson Pollock is best viewed on a 15-foot canvas in person where you can actually see the scale of it on a wall, and the texture and quality of the painting.

One time, I was with Dave Gibbons, artist of The Watchmen, at a convention in Madrid and we saw a very famous painting that Picasso did called Guernica. It's a large painting expressing his sadness about the Spanish Civil War, and in art history books it's very small, and often in black and white. (He pauses.) Even thinking about it now makes me sad. But that was the second time I actually cried looking at art, and I thought that was amazing to actually be able to see the art in person. It was a really powerful experience to walk in the room and think, Wow, now I get it. So if I had a specific non-comic art influence, it would be the experience of visiting art itself.

Talk about your two years on Wonder Woman.

Phil: Wonder Woman was an up-and-down time for me creatively, and part of that was because at the time I don't think I understood that these are not my characters. I came to Wonder Woman with a sense of ownership, which I think we all do, but they're not. And that was a very difficult lesson to learn. I'm there to do a job and when I sign that voucher and take their money, part of that fine print is that [they] own these characters and the work. Sure I think I know what Wonder Woman would do on any given day, but who am I? I'm one of a huge cast of people who have worked on her and I'm certainly not the last, and I'm certainly not the last with an opinion.

Was it your decision to kill her mother, Hippolyta, in the mini series Our Worlds At War?

Phil: Killing Hippolyta was decided before I got onto the book, but [what] I like about corporate crossovers [is] the idea of a shared universe. I like how all these events matter to everyone else. We were the tail end of Our Worlds At War, all these other [events] had been determined, but what I wanted to do was incorporate these things and make them happen as organically as possible in the book. If the corporate heads wanted Hippolyta in gold armor, great, I just wanted to know how. Like I want to create a story where I figure out how to get her in that and still solve their problem, but make it make sense in Wonder Woman. And Eddie really helped me do that. A lot of people come to me and say [Hippolyta's death] was the best part, and that scene was very important to me. In my head, Wonder Woman has always been a love story between a mother and daughter, and I wanted to make sure that [her death] was an incredibly moving, important thing, and that it wasn't lost in Our Worlds At War. [Eddie] actually fought hard for me and made sure that happened, and I think we got probably one of my finest issues out of that run.

How did you deal with Donna Troy's origin in the miniseries?

Phil: I don't find Donna's history that tricky. There's a lot of it, but it's linear. People had misgivings about the first issue because we were using the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Titans of Myth origin, and they thought I was removing Wonder Woman from her history. I wasn't. I just wasn't using it in issue one. We got her origin down to three panels: Orphan kid, raised in outer space by some Greek Gods, plopped back on Earth, becomes a Teen Titan, later finds out she's the sister of Wonder Woman and becomes Troia. In my head, it's that simple. So we had José [Luis Garcia-Lopez] draw those three panels. My hope is that would be enough to get people to the forth issue where we learn some amazing things about this character and why she's so pivotal to Infinite Crisis. With Donna, specifically, I hope we never have to see a "Who is Donna Troy?" story again.

What's happening with Otherworld?

Phil: Otherworld took me a lot longer than I thought it would, mostly because of the artistic experimentation and the writing, which adds easily a week. The research alone adds a week to each book. And when we agreed to do Infinite Crisis, at first I believed I would be far enough along in Otherworld that we'd just print the whole thing, come in at the tail end, finish up the last issue, and the schedules would all work out. Well, they didn't. So [Vertigo editor], Karen Berger, very graciously let me split the book in two. The nice thing is that it's split after issue seven, which is essentially the end of Act One. It's a very even, perfect split. So once I finish Infinite Crisis I'll go back and finish the project. I suspect there will be a lag time between Issue 7 and what will either be issue 8 or issue 1 of the second volume. I call it like being on hiatus for a second film, and I think it will also be good because everyone on Otherworld needs the break.

I get a lot of the attention but [editor Will Dennis] and his assistant Casey, [colorist] Jeremy [Cox] and certainly [inker] Andy Lanning all have things to say about the book and I would love to do a version where you get all of their memories, maybe a sort of running commentary on the bottom. Sort of like AMC's Dinner and a Movie where they have the director's commentary on the bottom. There were a few mistakes made along the way that made the storytelling a little confusing, so it would be nice to go back there, fix that, and have a nice clean volume and less of the chopped up novel.

How did you get on Infinite Crisis?

Phil: I said, "I hear there's going to be a big crossover, I'd like to draw it." It's a really wonderful script and what I like about it is, yes, there are 91 characters or something in the first issue, but it doesn't feel anything like [Crisis on Infinite Earths] which was a real fear about working on this project. It's sort of like [the movies] Alien to Aliens; that's the analogy I use.

What's it like working on the "big three"-Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman-in Infinite Crisis?

Phil: Superman is a very difficult character for me because I kind of draw him a little small so I've learned to give him size and mass that makes him Superman. I'm happy to see it. I think that has a lot to do with how the younger generation approaches these characters. I'm looking at artists like Ivan Reis and thinking, I need to compete with these people. They don't need to compete with me, so what can I take from these new young guys? What are they getting that I don't because my education or my training is a little more classic?

What I do think I bring to [Infinite Crisis] is a sense of storytelling I'm very proud of. I think you'll always be able to tell what these characters are thinking or feeling by their faces. I actually have been having a ball drawing those three characters. There are spreads of madness going on throughout the DC Universe and I'm drawing tons of stuff [but] what I find is time consumptive are just scenes with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman because I want to make sure that they're nailed in a way that will last for 20 years. That people will look back at this work in the way that I look back at work 20 years ago and say this is what these characters look like.

Is Geoff Johns, the writer of Infinite Crisis, giving a full script?

Phil: Geoff is actually writing full script, which is amazing because many of these pages are 11 or 12 panel pages. For a writer to be able to do that and figure out spatial relations on a page with 12 panels is insane. We're trying to approach the art differently than Crisis on Infinite Earths. I think there's one slight sort of homage, but we're just trying to give it a whole other artistic tone. It will seem similar because it's a lot of characters in a cosmic story, and my own similarities to George Pérez will obviously be there, but we're also trying to not make it that tight. I'm approaching this job as just an artist. I definitely have some opinions but I'm trying not to let them overwhelm the job. I just feel lucky to be working on it so if I can see a better way to tell a story, like maybe we should combine panels, then that's great, but it's mostly trying to draw what Geoff has given me.

Does it bother you when people compare you to George Pérez?

Phil: I can't really control how people peg me, but I've never tried to cash in on George's influence-and we've talked about it. Yes, the influence is there, I will admit it to anyone, but I also see it as an artistic tradition in much the same way as Renaissance artists would teach a whole school of people to paint just like them. Comic book artists have these tools, these ideas of artistic tradition, but I don't think a lot of people work in the same tradition as George and I do.

What I've learned from him has to do with multi-character pages, which I don't think too many other artists do because the design work requires a certain vision and understanding of the way characters relate to each other. I [created] this height and body chart with about 10 different female characters to see how tall they are, how their builds are different, because I believe we relate to each other based on size, looks, etcetera. And one of the joys of working with a large casts of characters is Beast Boy has a different shape and size than Cyborg, Wonder Girl is different from Starfire, and Wonder Woman is different from Black Canary. I love that. So I think the "George Perez school" certainly, to narrow it down, is about making really specific characters that don't have interchangeable faces or bodies.

Any plans for future writing projects?

Phil: I write things I want to draw. One of the things about Infinite Crisis is, I love drawing that stuff. If Geoff wanted to write that for me every month or two, I would be really happy. With Otherworld there's a story and I'm learning a lot about writing, but it's an art thing. I wanted to draw these things. I'm not a real-world person. I like superheroes, space knights, dragons, the fantasy aspect, creating worlds and places. That's what I love about comics.

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