Phil Elliot’s history in comics should be of great interest to anyone interested in comics. Phil started in comics doing fanzines and expanded out, doing practically every job one can have in the industry. Not only that, he, amazingly enough, did so in association with creators who would or already had become important to comics.  

Phil just completed a Kickstarter for The Wonders of Science. This is a collection of a previously published serial that is, in many ways, historical in context as the early work of key creators Phil Elliot and Eddie Campbell. For many though, this will be the first time they had the opportunity to read Wonders of Science. 

To appreciate both Phil’s place in history and the historical context of The Wonders of Science, I interviewed Phil about his long and interesting career. 

 

Joeseph: 

Phil, you have an amazing body of work.  You have been a writer, penciler, inker, colorist, cover artist, editor, and publisher.  Not only that you have worked for fanzines, music magazines, newspapers, and you have been part of small press, indie, alternative, underground comics, and comics from multiple countries 

I find this fascinating on many levels. It is a complete immersion into sequential art. You have experienced comics on a level that many do not experience. 

From your start in this industry to the present day, each one of these forms of sequential art has undergone a dramatic transformation. How does it feel to have been exposed to the diversity of industry we all love?

Phil:

I’ve been reading comics from a very young age, initially British titles like The Beano, Dandy, and Buster and in the mid-sixties comics including Pow! And Wham! appeared, reprinting some Marvel Comics. In the Seventies, I was introduced to even more comics from all over the World.  I’ve always loved the medium and I feel privileged to have been involved as a fan and a creator.

Joeseph:

Not only did you get published in fanzines early on, you published personally published Blitzine, Delapsus Resurgam, and Elipses fanzines in the 70s. You worked with a number of notable people such as comedian and comic creator Kev F Sutherland and David Hine through the fanzines. Any key moments from your fanzine days that stick out today?

Phil:

You mention David Hine – there was the time when I had to white-out an erect penis in his story for Elipse after our printer was refusing to print the comic.  I had no time to speak to David.

Joeseph:

How did you discover fanzines? What was a fanzine to you then as opposed to now? Do you feel fanzines have a place in today’s industry? 

Phil:

In the early Seventies, I started attending the monthly comic marts in London and discovered that there were people who were not only collecting comics like me but were also producing their own magazines, or fanzines, devoted to comics.  I found this fascinating and with a couple of friends we put out our own fanzines, with different degrees of success and quality. Our best effort was Elipse which ran for 3 issues and concentrated on publishing our own comic efforts, along with other people we met up with.  We described Elipse as a strip-zine as opposed to a fanzine. In later years I’d continue this with Fast Fiction.

Joeseph:

Here is an interesting question: Could you, with your credits and experience in comics, publish a fanzine and for it to still be considered a fanzine?

Phil:

I’m not sure I’d do a fanzine but I am still self-publishing comics, like the recent Malty Heave comic that I’ve done with Robert Wells.  I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of self-publishing and with developments in digital printing and print-on-demand services, it’s opened up a lot more potential…not least the option of colour printing which was hardly an option when I first started.  Kickstarter is also a new tool that has made things easier.

Joeseph:

The Suttons was a comic you did for The Maidstone Star. What were the Suttons and how did it come about?

Phil:

The Suttons was a weekly comic strip that I created for a local newspaper.  It ran for 3 years and is something that I’m very proud of. It was essentially about a young couple with a baby daughter and was very loosely based on my own experiences.  I enjoyed going off on flights of weird imagination.

Joeseph:

Newspaper comics had one to three, sometimes more panels to interest a reader and continue a story. It’s amazing what complex and deep stories were told in such a limited space. The writer has an obvious degree of difficulty to navigate when writing for newspaper comics.  Artists do too. You have a lot of visual elements to create in a small amount of space and keep it sequential. Was creating newspaper comics feel different than a comic book for you?

Phil:

Very much so. I had a very limited space in which to work and had to be quite succinct without losing any of the fluidity and fun.

Joeseph:

In America, some creators might attempt to get into syndication with newspaper comics and get carried by a large number of newspapers. What is the framework behind newspaper comics there?

Phil:

It’s very similar.  I’d have loved to have had The Suttons syndicated!

Joeseph:

There’s a sense of greater sophistication in the art and writing of newspaper classics like Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat, Bloom County, Pogo, Spirit and many more than actual comic books. The creators of these were masters of the medium. 

What were some of your favorite newspaper comics?  

Phil:

All those that you mentioned above.  Peanuts, of course. Calvin and Hobbes. Gasoline Alley and many more.  I remember the thrill of seeing some of the American Sunday Comic supplements that a friend of my father sent from The States.

Joeseph:

Aside from editing various magazines and comics, you worked at Harrier as an editor and contributor.  Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Dave Gibbons, Mike Collins, Mark Farmer, Kevin O’Neill, and (even an introduction written) by Alan Moore were all part of a pool of talent at Harrier.  How cool was editing for Harrier? All these creators are highly respected. How did you go about editing them? 

Phil:

It was good times working with Harrier.  I edited the comic !GAG! that featured many of my contemporaries such as Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin, Paul Grist.  I didn’t do much editing really – just let the other guys do what they wanted and then pull everything together to send to the printers.

Joeseph:

You have comics published in music magazines. Music magazines that include comic features always seem to find unique comics to present. Did you approach the music magazines you were published in or they approached you?

Phil:

Eddie Campbell and I worked together on three different strips that ran in Sounds music paper between 1984 and 1985.  We heard that there was an opening and approached the editor. We didn’t think we’d have much luck but they took us on.

This is what Eddie wrote about our time at Sounds in his introduction to Rodney – The Premonition, which collected together some of our Sounds strips…

“Wonders ran for thirty-two weeks, running all the way across the tabloid page, and was usually a bunch of vignettes on a theme, but it often turned into something else unexpectedly. Phil and I alternated on it. Phil sent me his strips, two at a time, which I lettered, and then signed with the name Charlie Trumper, whose surname was taken from Phil’s wife’s maiden name. I was working on the principle that it shouldn’t take more than one person to make something as stupid as a comic strip. Over a year or two we did three or four things under the Trumper name, but the Sounds gig was the only one we managed to make money from. The Wonders of Science was inventive, it was fanciful and whimsical; it was fun, it was funny. Personally, I think it was better than Rodney, which we’ll get to in a minute. In fact, we started with our best and descended to Rodney. But that’s only my opinion. The editor had it the other way round and after 32 weeks word came down that he thought Wonders was crap. Well, he gave it to us in editorspeak, but we had no illusions as to his meaning. He said he wanted a “proper comic.” Alas, The Wonders of Science wasn’t nearly ‘orrible enough. We knew it was too good to last.”

Joeseph:

I thought the hybrid magazines like Deadline, Escape and others were great. I think a lot of ground was broken in regards to exposing music and comic fans together. Is there anything like these being published now?

Phil:

Not that I’m aware of.  There was a certain cross-pollination between comics, music, and fashion in the mid-Eighties in the UK, with Deadline, Escape, Blitz and I-D.  The London listings magazine Time Out regularly had comic reviews as did NME. And added to the mix was Alan Moore and Watchmen etc. It was heady times.

Joeseph:

Having the varied background in comics what are your thoughts on publishing today? What about the publishing of yesteryear do you miss that doesn’t exist anymore? 

Phil:

Publishing comics has always been a challenge.  I was around when the direct comics distribution blew up in the mid-Eighties…Harrier wouldn’t have existed with this.  Of course, that eventually imploded but it shook things up for the big publishers and comic shops. It’s easier these days to get your own work printed with online digital companies but you still need to get it into the hands of people…but people are much happier to read comics on their computers, tablets or phones than they were, say 3 or 4 years ago.  David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly is tapping into this and I’ve been involved with that, but, me, I still prefer a traditional printed comic!

Joeseph:

What publishing model do you see as the most viable for creators? Fans? And retail?

Phil:

Kick Starter is very useful and provides creators the opportunity to publish their work with less risk and fans know what they’re getting and can also get extras like original artwork etc.

Joeseph:

Indie, alternative, small press, mainstream,  underground….you have done it all…do you think these categorizations have merit in today’s market? 

Phil:

I’m sure these categorizations still exist and I’d probably fall into the indie/alternative/small press bracket but then again I’ve also had my work published in very large circulation periodicals.

Joeseph:

Have you considered getting back into publishing?

Phil:

I am with Kickstarter.  I know it’s on a very small scale and so far I’ve just published reprinted stuff but only today I was talking with another artist about releasing something new on that platform. 

Joeseph:

You were an important part of Escape. You and Rian Hughes were the cornerstones of its look.  I have a few issues of Escape and am impressed with everything about it. Not bad for a magazine decades out of print. 

Phil:

There were a lot of cornerstones! Escape was an eclectic mix but there was a definite vision when it was first published, especially it’s championing of comics from all over the world.

Joeseph:

Escape gave rise to Eddies Alec series, Gaiman’s Violent Cases, plus Doc Chaos by Dave Thorpe and yourself and even James Robinson’s London’s Dark. 

That is an amazing catalog of publications coming from, not a comic book company, but a magazine publisher. 

I think this leads to a valuable insight. Especially in today’s market where sadly print magazines are becoming rare, I think voices like Paul Gravett’s are sorely missed.  

Phil:

Paul is still doing his bit!

Joeseph:

Paul was Escapes founder. Eddie called him the “Man at the Crossroads”. To my youthful self that sounded pretty cool. It kept with me for a long time! Did Eddie call him that because of Escape, Fast fiction or both?

Phil:

Paul was in the centre of everything and brought all strands of creators together.  I’ve known him since he was 18 and me 16 and he has always been like that. He’s a very gregarious person and so knowledgeable about comics.

Joeseph:

Tell me more about Fast Fiction. I’ve owned stores, worked a distribution route for capital comics, worked at conventions and flea markets.  Fast fiction sounds like all this and a lot more and a whole lot of fun. 

Phil:

Paul Gravett had this idea to have a table at the monthly Comic Marts in Westminster Central Hall that would sell small press comics and all sorts of other related items…stuff that was hardly featured on any of the other, mainly dealers’ tables.  It was certainly a beacon for talent from all over the country, with “youngsters” like Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean selling their early efforts. Big talents like Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (both yet to break it in the USA) mingled with the likes of me.  The nearby pub, The Westminster Arms was full to the brim for comics talent. Fast Fiction grew from the table to distribution service so that creators could sell their wares through one central, not-for-profit place.

Alongside the table, there was also the Fast Fiction comic that I edited (later Ed Pinsent took over those reins).  It was only a small A5 photo-copied comic but it managed to find its way all over the place.

Joeseph:

From fanzines to the big leagues and everything in between you have a hand it in all.  The industry and the world is being remade by the impact of technology.

Having experienced the comic industry in the broad and far-reaching manner that you have, what do you think the industry, be it a creator or the reader, has lost has / or gained in today’s market? 

Phil:

I’m not sure whether kids get the same excitement from a comic as I did, but it must be difficult to compete with video games and blockbuster Superhero films.  Also, when I was young I could buy all of Marvel’s output each month and still have money left over for candy.

Joeseph:

You have collaborated with many different people. Taken as a whole, while diverse, the work you have done, if you were to make all moods equal, is an interesting reading experience. For some artists, that diversity would be a distraction for some readers.  

Phil:

I’ve always enjoyed working in different styles and using new techniques. This may have been detrimental to my comic career as a whole but that’s too late now!

Joeseph:

In regards to your artwork, I think people can enjoy everything you have done together as a whole.  Something like reading Bluebeard creates a different reading mood than something like The Man from Cancer. Even given that, I think your art somehow can bring a visual symmetry to the differences in those two stories. Very different writers, very different stories and genre-bound by your art. It’s an interesting situation. 

I think your art style is one that is your specific vision of life in a way. And life is varied there are happy times, sad times, really bad times. There is life, death, and the weird. How do you view your own art?

Phil:

I know it sounds pompous but I’ve tried to be honest in what I draw or how I approach a story.  I’m an old Punk Rocker at heart and maybe that has something to do with it.

Joeseph:

I am curious if you give a lot of consideration to the projects you work on? Have you said no to a project? Are you more like a very selective actor in what movies they appear in? There is, after all, only so much time in the day

Phil:

I think I make the mistake of saying yes too much!  I’ve had to pull out of a few projects because it’s got too much for me but on the whole, I’ve seen most everything to the end.  There’s one in particular that I want to go back to and finish – the second Tupelo book, written by Matt DeGennaro. I drew about 20 pages but got sidetracked by a paying gig.

Joeseph:

I read that you worked on Alans Maxwell the Magic Cat.

Phil:

I contributed a pin-up to the collection that Acme released.  The drawing featured Maxwell and my family from The Suttons (the collection of which Alan wrote the introduction for). 

Joeseph:

James Robinson, who you collaborated with twice is an amazing superhero writer. Both of your collaborations were not in the superhero genre. 

You collaborated with him on Illegal Alien and Blue Beard. Both are very different from each other. Illegal Alien is about an alien that is tramped in Earth. The alien possesses the body of a recently killed thug.  Bluebeard chronicles the love and affairs of a serial killer and how the killer was stopped. 

Phil:

I was introduced to James by Neil Gaiman (I know, name dropping!). James said he had the idea of Illegal Alien and one thing led to another.  It took a long time for that book to appear, what with James moving to America and trying to make it over there and problems finding a publisher.  It was when I met James sometime later that he said he wanted to write something for me that would be outside of my “comfort zone” and that was Bluebeard.

Joeseph:

How was working with James?  

Phil:

As I say, James was trying to earn some dollar in the US and he was a bit slow in sending me scripts but apart from that, we got on fine.  I haven’t spoken to him a long time but if he’s reading this I’d like to let him know that I’d still love to do a superhero story with him.  Drawing Fantastic Four is on my bucket list!

Joeseph:

In many ways, your art is a lot like James writing. You have a style that incorporates an aesthetic of the past to the present in comics as seen through your own eyes.  The difference is the source material. His is the continuity of superhero comics. What would you say yours is? What artists, companies, and titles influenced you as a creator?

Phil:

I’ve always been influenced by real life and real people, whether they’re in films, comics or books.

Joeseph:

Judge Dredd and his 2000AD cohorts are very well known and along with Doctor Who, at least in my mind, among the biggest exports there.  Both you and James share in coming to the 2000ad stable later in both of your careers. Was Demon Nik your entry (with collaborator Paul Grist) to the world of 2000AD (via Judge Dredd Magazine)? 

Phil:

I did draw one Judge Dredd story, written by Alan Grant for a 2000AD SF Special many years ago.  Paul was originally going to leave Demon Nic B/W but then changed his mind and brought me onboard.  I’m hoping that one day the story will get published as a complete book.  

Joeseph:

You also did Absent Friends. This was somewhat of autobiography for you. Here, you wrote and Paul did the art.  

Phil:

I met Paul through Fast Fiction and had an idea for a short story that I thought he might like drawing.  We did more together over the next few years and these eventually became collected in Absent Friends.

Joeseph:

It is interesting that you are a colorist as a lot of your published work is in black and white. I am curious how it was being a colorist and why is most of your work in black and white. At the same time, you do colors for not only Paul’s Jack Staff, you’ve colored for Dr. Who, Ghostbusters and other titles. 

Phil:

I prefer working in B/W and very few of my own strips that have been printed in colour were coloured by me (that includes Real Ghostbusters).  I enjoy colouring other artists’ work but not mine.

Joeseph:

Glenn Dakin has a very idiomatic edge to what he does. I think your contribution to his work really rounded it out very nicely.  Greenhouse Warriors, Mr. Night and The Man from Cancer. We also see his work at Escape, Deadline, Fox and other anthologies and magazines. Talk more about Glenn’s collaborations with you.

Phil:

Glenn and I hit it off from when we first met (again, through Paul Gravett).  I’ve always enjoyed working with him. He’s a great talent and I think we’ve produced a decent body of work.  Not really much more than I can say, I’m afraid.

Joeseph:

Dave Thorpe is the co-creator of Mad Jim Jaspers and writer for the excellent Captain Britain Jaspers Warped storyline and the originator of Earth 616. 

Dave also created Doc Chaos. This was a comic that you got to work on and it blossomed forth as a comic, TV Series and novel. 

His contributions to comics are pretty big given his relatively small output.  How was working with Dave?

Phil:

Dave and fellow writer, Lawrence Gray originally came up with Doc Chaos as a TV series but with his comics background also wanted to do a comic book version.  I worked from the TV script, adapting to the comic book format. It was a bit of hard work but I think it ended up being okay. We released the comic in small press comics and eventually Escape published 2 comics.

Joeseph:

Dave left comics and now is part of alternative technology and energy field. I’d love to see an educational comic to fly from his current efforts. There was a company that used Zander Cannon and Ernie Colon and others to create educational or informational comics on science and politics. Combining comics, with Thorpe’s current career and your art is something I think is a great possibility. 

This company published a graphic novel adaptation of the 9/11 Report (with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon) along with books on DNA, graphic adaptations of biographies and graphic journalism plus a graphic adaptation of the U.S. Constitution. That company was Hill and Wang. Sadly, they don’t exist anymore.  

You did hit upon something similar with Science Stories. What was Science Stories about?

Phil:

I was approached by the Rothamsted Agricultural Research Centre to illustrate a couple of comics that featured 6 different scientists explaining what projects they were working on.

Joeseph:

Second City was a sci-fi noir story. How close as the future come to the future you and Paul Duncan created for Second City? Second City was pretty interesting. There seemed to be a lot of energy and enthusiasm for sequential art a  nod towards exploring where it could go.

Phil:

Part of the premise for Second City was people staying in and only having contact through their TVs.  Computers were only just becoming more prevalent then and mobile phones didn’t exist but there are certain parallels that can been drawn with today’s culture.

Joeseph

Paul did the excellent ArkenSword /Ark magazine. The UK has published some great comic magazine. They’re very different than say Wizard or Comics Journal. Given your experience with Escape and others, why is that?

Phil:

Arkensword was similar to Comics Journal in that it featured in-depth interviews with comic creators.  Paul was very good at interviewing.

Joeseph:

You worked on a comic Tupelo. A fictional comic based in a music setting.  I remember a CD was included at some point during its run. You were the artist. Yet your art was, in my opinion, different than your art for previous comics.  

Matt stated in an interview that after receiving one too many superhero art as submissions attempting to gain the art position for his comic Tupelo, Phil Elliot saved the day. At the time this was happening did you know the impact you made on Matt?  

Phil:

Matt told me that story. At the time, I was trawling comic forums looking for work and Tupelo sounded interesting and the band’s back story appealed to the Punk Rocker in me.

Joeseph:

How did you meet Eddie?

Phil:

Once again, it was Paul Gravett who introduced us.  He’d given Eddie one of my mini-comics and Eddie wrote saying how much he enjoyed it and then giving a very long treatise on his vision for comics that he saw me being a part of.

Joeseph:

After reading a lengthy but not complete list of your accomplishments in comics, one wonders…. where did the desire to do art start? Was comics part of that and if not, how did comics enter the picture?

Phil:

Comics have been a part of my life for as long as can remember and I’ve always created them whether that’s drawing single comics that I’d show my friends, self-publishing my own comics for maybe 50 people or drawing the Real Ghostbusters for thousands.

Joeseph:

Your career path has been a pretty wild ride. At what point in your career did you have a pretty good understanding of it?

Phil:
Ha ha! I don’t think I’ve ever really grasped what it is that I’m doing.

 

Joeseph:
Jumping from your beginnings, let’s go to the now:

One of the changes in the industry on Kickstarter.  In addition to the long lists of involvement in the industry, you and Eddie have two Kickstarter under your collective belts with Tales from Gimbley and the recently completed Wonders of Science. 

Kickstarter has made an impact in the comic industry that I think has only been scratched.   If a person running the Kickstarter has things together enough to meet the ks goal and to deliver, the potential for individuals to publish, interact with fans and create rewards that the traditional publisher could not is amazing.  

What is your take on KS so far?

 

Phil:
My first campaign was a collection of various science fiction strips that I’ve done over the years and it was a steep learning curve and I admit that I got pretty depressed at one point.  Some people think that running and fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign is going to be easy but it isn’t! I’m on my third now and still finding my feet.


Joeseph:

What is the elevator pitch for Wonders of Science?

Phil:
Pretty bonkers.


Joeseph:
For your fans and Eddie’s, I have to imagine this is very exciting.  As an author myself, I believe, even if something has been previously published, if a reader doesn’t know about it, its new to them. If your a fan and don’t have Tales from Gumby and Wonders of Science, you should be excited. 

What is coming up in our Phil Elliot and Eddie Campbell Kickstarter future?

 

Phil:
There’ll be the final book in the series of reprints from Sounds, featuring The Mammy and her ‘horrible brood.  It’s pretty sick!


Joeseph:
Readers, don’t get left out, if you enjoy Phil and Eddie’s work, follow Phil on Kickstarter and find out when Mammy and Phil Elliot’s future Kickstarters.

Aside from Kickstarter, what else have you been working on and what future projects are planned?

 

Phil:
I have an idea for a new 40-page one shot that I’m talking to a publisher about and another 12-page (horror) story for the second issue of Malty Heave.


Joeseph:
You also have a Patreon, another internet-enabled service that is a bit harder to gain traction than Kickstarter is creating possibilities for creators and consumers. What do you have in store for your fans at Patreon?

 

Phil:
I’ve been a bit lax on Patreon but for a small amount of money each month people can get sketches and original comic page artwork.

 

Joeseph:

The lasting impression I have from your career is that of a community. You are part of an interesting and diverse community of creators from a somewhat same geographical location. 

I think more comic communities need to exist.

Many comics in the past were often done in isolation even if they collaboratively created.  That doesn’t have to be the case anymore. 

Anywhere, any place could create a creative community and then grow from that. What advice would you give to people who might want to do something like that? What’s essential to a thriving comics community?

 

Phil:

A lot of stuff happens on social media but you can’t beat real interaction with other artists.  I don’t attend many comic cons these days and I miss the buzz I used to get meeting fellow creators face to face.

 

 

 

Joeseph SimonInterviewsPhil Elliot
Phil Elliot's history in comics should be of great interest to anyone interested in comics. Phil started in comics doing fanzines and expanded out, doing practically every job one can have in the industry. Not only that, he, amazingly enough, did so in association with creators who would or...