Comic Book Biography: PHIL HESTER

phil-hesterPhil Hester of Green Arrow fame took time away from the drawing board to chat with us at First Comics News, about his past, his present and his future plans

First Comics News: You started at Silverwolf Comics, how did you meet Kris Silver?

Phil Hester: Cold submission. I lived in Iowa and didn’t go to any cons until I was already a working pro. I started working for Silverwolf while a sophomore in college, 1986.

1st: What did you work on at Silverwolf?

PH:Gulp. Several issues of ‘Port, 2 printed, an issue of Thieves, some gaming comic, and an issue of Grips that thankfully never saw the light of day.

1st: Were you aware of the buzz Tim Vigil was creating on Grips?

Phil: Yeah, but I wasn’t really down with it. I liked Wolverine and everything, because he struggled with his brutal nature, but I had always hated The Punisher and his ilk. I hate killer heroes.

1st: How long did you work at Silverwolf?

Phil: About a year. $35 a page is like striking it rich to a college guy.

1st: The next thing I noticed you doing was a pin up in Caliber Comic’sDominique Killzone, how did you get this job?

Phil: I’d sort of been in the business a few years by the time that happened. I knew the writer and editor and was a Caliber team player. I liked Dominique as a character, too.

1st: 3 yeas later you show up at Now Comics doing a pin up in Rust.

Phil: I actually did this pin-up on spec during my junior year at Iowa. I was as surprised as anyone when they chose to print it. It was kind of bittersweet, actually, because there had been some talk of me getting the book, but that fell through, then this pin-up that I’d done years earlier just popped up in the book out of the blue. Although I got a job there later doing Ghostbusters by taking a sample script at a con, doing a few pages overnight in the hotel room and dropping them at the Now table the next day.

1st: What did you do before Now Comics?

Phil: I kicked around Silverwolf, Eternity, and any tiny B&W publisher who would have me.

1st: A year later you did a feature at Spiderbaby Graphix doing 2 pages on Taboo, how did you get involved with Spiderbaby Graphix?

Phil: Cold submission. US Mail. I have to tell you, this was the greatest triumph of my career at that point. I was 23 or so and these shorts paid $250 a page! Plus I got to talk to Steve Bissette, and I got to be in the same comic as Moebius. I was in heaven. The best part came when Steve told me he had to bump an Eddie Campbell short to run mine that issue. I was shell-shocked. Eddie Campbell was and is a hero of mine. It was exciting and embarrassing at the same time.

1st: Right after Taboo you had an eight issue mini series at Caliber,Fringe, what was it like to get your first story published?

Phil: It was, indeed, my first proper series. I loved it. I got to work with my good friends Paul Tobin, Jim Woodyard and Ande Parks, and the stories were very good. Plus, I got to do experimental covers.

1st: The next year you are working on the Sub-Mariner Annual over at Marvel, how did you break in at Marvel?

Phil: I stood in line at a con in Kansas City and Terry Kavanagh actually handed me a script on the spot. The assistant with him took me aside and said, “This never happens. You should feel lucky.” Later I found out that two of my buddies landed gigs that weekend, too.

1st: Did you feel you had finally hit the big time?

Phil: Oh, God, yes. It was Captain America and Namor, man! We all bought big cigars and sombreros to celebrate. The cigar made me sick…and it wasn’t even lit. I was so ambitious that I had actually gone through as many artists’ bios as I could find and determined the average break-in ages of all my heroes – 21.6, by the way. Joe Kubert wrecks the curve, and here I was already 24. I was thinking, “About time!,” when in fact, I shouldn’t have been let anywhere near a book or characters of that caliber yet. I got to quit my day job, at least.

1st: Your first run on an on gong series was at DC on Swamp Thing, how did you end up at DC?

Phil: The late Neal Pozner had been shepherding me along for a few years.

1st: How did you meet Neal Pozner?

Phil: I think he had the unpleasant task of sitting in those terrarium-like portfolio review rooms of the old Chicagocon. He was a swell guy. He saw me as a Vertigo-type based on some of the wackier, darker stuff I was doing for Dark Horse and Caliber, but at the same time I was doing shiny super hero submissions, too. I broke in with both styles at DC at about the same time. I was doing a Flash Annual, then a year later aBlack Orchid Annual. It felt cool to cut it in both camps.

Swamp Thing is funny. I had submitted a set of samples to Stuart Moore that I thought were really good, but they wanted the book to stay in a kind of Totleben/Bissette mode, and I’m about 180 degrees from that. My samples looked like an attempt to somehow combine Toth with Wrightson, except, of course, about one millionth as good. Anyway, Stuart wasn’t crazy about them, but he didn’t say “NO!” I had just seen Albert Brooks’ film Defending Your Life and the whole movie was about not letting fear or doubt run your life. So I called Stuart back and told him I’d do whatever it took to get the gig, and apparently that was enough. I didn’t have to do another set of samples.

1st: Were you a fan of the Swamp Thing?

Phil: Definitely. I read the covers off of those dollar-sized reprints DC put out in the late 70’s. When I finally met Berni Wrightson I had him sign my beat up copy of #7, the Batman issue, because that’s the one I’d read until I memorized it. I recently met Len Wein, as well, and was star struck then, too.

1st: What was it like working with Grant Morrison and Mark Millar?

Phil: I was in awe of every script I got. I didn’t feel I was qualified to be working on them, but they were so much fun I couldn’t stop myself. Both of those cats are brilliant.

1st: You were with Swamp Thing for 2 ½ years, until the series ended, how do they tell you a series is over and did DC have work lined up for you right away?

Phil: We knew Swamp Thing was winding down. Sales were pretty stagnant, but they let us end it they way we wanted to, sans Mark’s planned appearance of the JLA and most of the DCU. I think DC didn’t really have any Swamp Thing pitches in hand that they thought were worth pursuing, so they let the book go.

Stuart offered me a Helix book right away, but I was overconfident and didn’t take it. I wound up kind of scrambling for work for a few years.

1st: Which title if you don’t mind me asking?

Phil: Vermillion, I think. Al Davison did a much better job than I ever could have.

1st: You also have a large body of work on Caliber’s Negative Burn, where you write as well as draw, do you prefer drawing you own stories?

Phil: I enjoy every permutation of comic book creation. I loved writing for other artists on The Coffin and Firebreather. I love drawing for other writers, and I love doing everything solo, too. I’m easy. I loved my time on Negative Burn. Joe Pruett gave us all so much freedom I think we felt inspired to take chances and turn out quality work.

1st: While on Swamp Thing you also worked on the critically acclaimedFootsoldiers, how did you and Jim Krueger start working together?

Phil: We met at a con I think, and Jim had this portfolio of Footsoldierscharacters with really, really talented artists in it and asked if I’d like to join in. That led to a run on the Footsoldiers book proper.

1st: You have 3 creator owned series at Image, The Nameless, Holy Terror, and Firebreather – what can you tell us about them?

Phil: The Nameless I did with Joe Pruett long ago, and it’s sort of our take on DC’s old Stalker character. The Holy Terror is a wrestling comic done with my pal Jason Caskey that will be collected soon by Jason, andFirebreather is a teen monster book, Dawson’s Creek on Monster Island, created with my man Andy Kuhn.

1st: Most fans know you today from Green Arrow, how did you get theGreen Arrow job?

Phil: Kevin and I had collaborated on a Clerks book at Oni for Mr. Schreck and had a very good time. Plus Kevin was a fan of my run with Mark on Swamp Thing, so we hooked up again. God likes me.

1st: Are you a fan of Green Arrow?

Phil: Yes. I loved the O’Neil/Adams version and I really liked the Barr/Von Eeden minis and I liked Longbow Hunters, but there was this period when he became The Punisher with a bow and he was killing henchmen and shooting villains through the head and stuff that I just couldn’t reconcile with the character I knew, so I sort of disconnected until the Dixon/Dimaggio run which I really dug.

1st: Are you a fan of Kevin Smith?

Phil: Yeah, but not as much as my Dad. My Dad thinks Dogma is the greatest comedy of the last ten years.

1st: I agree with your Dad.

What’s it like working with Kevin Smith?

Phil: Very easy. He had six issues done before I even came on board, but he went out of his way to bring in guest stars he knew I would kick ass on like Deadman and The Demon. He’s a sweetie! I love working with Kevin. He comes at things with such a fresh perspective that every page holds something unexpected. I can’t wait to hook up again.

1st: You were going to work on Brave and the Bold with Kevin Smith after his exclusive Marvel contract is over, any news on that project?

Phil: Still pending. Worth the wait, though, don’t you think?

1st: Definitely.

How is it working on Green Arrow without Kevin Smith?

Phil: Schreck has totally spoiled me. I got Meltzer and Winick, c’mon!

1st: Judd Winick had a very strong run on Green Lantern, how is he to work with him on Green Arrow?

Phil: His Green Arrow is going to put his Green Lantern in the dirt. Judd is Oliver Queen. I told Bob if John Wayne were a liberal he’d be Judd and/or Ollie. He nails Ollie’s voice at every turn. This will be hisbook very soon.

1st: How much input do you have in the creative process?

Phil: I don’t monkey with plot points, but if I think a scene could be staged better, I’ll call or e-mail Judd and we’ll work something out. He’s been very accommodating.

1st: Are there any character you want to wok on but haven’t got the chance?

Phil: At DC: Ragman, my favorite, OMAC and I’d love another go at Swamp Thing. At Marvel: Woodgod, really, Iron Man, and the FF, plus I’d do The Hulk again in a heartbeat. Indies: Grimjack, my favorite character from the 80’s/90’s and Judge Dredd, plus The Heap!

1st: What other project do you have coming out in the future?

Phil: I’m writing Deep Sleeper for Mike Huddleston at Oni and I’m nibbling away at a Warren Ellis strip for Oni, too, but Green Arrow and being a househusband eats up almost all of my time.

1st: Well thanks for taking time away from your busy schedule to talk with us.

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