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Joss WhedonJoss Whedon - ’Wonder Woman’ Movie - Phil Jimenez Interview
Thursday 31 March 2005, by Webmaster
“I observed that the death of our friends might be a consolation against the fear of our own dissolution, because we might have more friends in the other world than [in] this.” - Samuel Johnson
A Conversation with Phil Jimenez, artist/writer extraordinaire
The cold season has overstayed its welcome. As I ascend from the train station, I’m assaulted by an icy, penetrating wind that has rolled in off of the Hudson River. The day itself is quite sunny, but not even the power of the sun is a match for a New York winter. I don’t have much time to consider this, though. I’m much too excited about my appointment. I’ve been given the once in a lifetime opportunity to the one and only Phil Jimenez.
The Eisner and Wizard Fan Award nominee is one of the most sought after talents in comics. His extraordinary work has graced the pages of such prestigious and popular works as WONDER WOMAN, NEW X-MEN and THE INVISIBLES. It’s a long journey from the young boy growing up in a humble, single parent home dreaming of becoming a comic book artist to actually becoming that artist, yet it’s also a testament to his tenacity and aplomb. His mother fondly recalls that he spent entire days in his childhood creating comics using loose-leaf and construction paper. I ask her if she’s proud of him. She doesn’t immediately answer. She pauses to reflect for a moment, surely because she understands the obstacles that her son has overcome. Resolutely, she says: “Incredibly.”
I can see him as I approach our meeting place. He greets me with a warm hug. When we finally sit down in one of the Greenwich Village’s favorite eateries, we’re famished. It’s a charming place permeated by the smell of baked bread and the sound of jovial conversation. After pleasantries are exchanged and we have sufficiently caught up on each other’s lives, I’m anxious to begin our interview. There’s so much that I’ve heard and so much that I want to know about OTHERWORLD, which has been described as The Matrix meets Tron meets Lord of the Rings.
[Editor’s note: A number of pieces of artwork accompany this interview. It was decided to include text links to the images because many of them are presented in large scale and also due to the length of the interview. Please click your browser’s return button after viewing the art to continue reading the interview.]
RJ: OTHERWORLD is a project that has been over a decade in the making. What inspired you to tell this story now? Why not earlier?
PJ: Well, I believe that it’s because most editors believed that I simply wasn’t ready to tell it, and rightly so. It’s funny how at 22 years old, I thought that I would just come in and tell this amazing story when I didn’t have any of the skills required to tell it.
RJ: That’s interesting because most comic readers tend to think of you as an artist, yet it sounds like you’ve always had the intent to be a sort of writer/artist hybrid.
PJ: That may be true to a certain degree, although, I didn’t come into the business to write. I still don’t believe that I’m in the business as a writer. It’s very much artist first and writer second-far second. However, OTHERWORLD is a specific story, with a specific voice, that I wanted to tell. Most of the writing that I do is born out of that and not out of passionate need to prove what a great author I am. I don’t have that in me. It has more to do with a specific point of view that I’d like to see conveyed in the work or in the industry itself. This is not to say that because I want to write and draw this project, I want to write and draw every project. It’s that this particular project is so personal, and its voice is so personal, that I think the best way to ensure that the voice is properly conveyed is to write it myself.
RJ: So, tell us about OTHERWORLD? What is this story about?
PJ: OTHERWORLD was proposed as an epic, as a violent space opera that takes place in the land of Otherworld-which is sort of the Celtic version of Olympus [home of Greek gods] or Avalon [paradise of the afterlife]. It’s where Merlin and King Arthur end up. It’s the magical land of mythical people and fairies. In my story, there’s a war going on between two opposing cultures, one with mythological roots and the other with technological roots. A group of college students from Earth, for various reasons, are pulled into the conflict; they’re taken from Los Angeles and are forced to fight in this border war in Otherworld. The story’s focus is a young woman named Siobhan Moynihan who possesses latent mystical powers and is descended from a magical lineage, as all great mythological characters are, like Wonder Woman, Buffy or even Hercules.
Mostly, this story is about Siobhan, her boyfriend, and their opposing points of view, how they decide to take action in this war and through them we get to examine the world we actually live in.
RJ: You’re using elements of the Celtic myths. I’m not sure that’s been done before in comics. Why did you decide to use those particular myths?
PJ: Mainly, I chose these because the Celtics have this fairly rich, fairly traditional mythological stable of trolls and ogres and what have you, which, visually, I knew that I wanted. OTHERWORLD the series has dozens of other mythological references. The moment readers delve into the story they will begin to see that. That has been a real joy. In fact, I’m working on issue #8 right now where all of the Chinese mythology comes into play. That has been fantastic! It’s a different sensibility, a different use of language. I’ve been reading loads of books on Chinese mythology to get a feel for how Chinese use language. It’s been really fun. We’ll see everything from African to Australian mythology.
RJ: These character designs are breathtaking. It’s as if you took elements of a dozen different cultures, added a unique perspective and gracefully placed it all on the page. In some of the images, I see what I believe are Eugene Delacroix and Salvador Dali influences. What and/or who was your inspiration in terms of the look of OTHERWORLD?
PJ: The mythological aspects came from textbooks; from copious amounts of material I’ve collected since I was sixteen, filled with artwork from these various cultures, as well as 19th century and modern interpretations of them. So, the influences are all from the source material. One character for whom a reference was very difficult to find was the Chinese witch named Hu. She’s a hun witch and considered a barbarian by the Chinese. She attempted to kill a Chinese emperor and is, evidently, very powerful.
This character is one of my circle of magicians. I love her. She’s an old fashioned witch. The problem was that style, in terms of dress, was almost impossible to find! I was googling left, right and center until I finally found something in the region that was close. That’s what she ends up being garbed in. I had the same difficulty with Heitsi-Ebib, who is a powerful sorcerer from South African Bushman mythology. Traditionally, Bushmen don’t wear a whole lot and because I have a counsel of ten sorcerers in robes, I thought it best to not have a naked Black man standing there. I wanted him to look just as regal. I found the attire, something very close in the culture he’s from, and modified it.
The conundrum I confronted with the mythological characters in the series was in attempting to ensure that they remained true to their artistic and cultural roots even while making some of those irritating decisions to diverge from those roots when aspects of mythology didn’t work visually. I suddenly found myself understanding why in film you see changes that might frustrate, but are ultimately better for the look of the piece.
RJ: What about the technological characters?
PJ: With the technological characters, the cyborgs, I remember exactly where I was when I conceived them; it was when I lived in West Hollywood. I was in my living room. I just moved there, my furniture wasn’t there. I was in the middle of an empty room and I just sat down and started drawing them-all from my imagination. It was the most free-floating, unconscious drawing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve never done anything like it before or since. I’m very pleased with them.
RJ: The colors and effects (like the 3-D, neon tattoo on one character’s face) are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a comic before. How did you guys come up with this innovation?
PJ: That’s all Jeromy Cox, the colorist who, in my opinion, is the star of this book. In pitching OTHERWORLD, I knew that I wanted color to play a vital role in terms of having these two cultures as visually distinct from one another as possible. Getting a colorist who could do that was vital. Jeromy Cox had just come off of PROMETHEA. I called him and he was willing to do it! Fantastic! It could not have been better.
RJ: PROMETHEA is a great book, by the way.
PJ: PROMETHEA is a fucking great book! Pardon my language. [Laughs] And the other thing is that the colors in it are fantastic. So, Jeromy was into [doing OTHERWORLD], his schedule was open and it has been a dream working relationship because he is so kind and generous. He’s a very, very, very nice man. Incredibly talented, willing to try anything, open to stuff. Plus, he’s very free to experiment. He feels very good about experimenting. I tried to make it safer for him to do so. In comics, artist are a little bit more precious with their work than not and so colorists are usually a little leery of altering or playing with it in any way. I encourage it because I think it’s a way to discover new things and make the work a bit more fun.
The character with the tattoo that you referenced is Donnie, Siobhan’s boyfriend. I knew from the get-go that when he activated his powers, I would want this tattoo to appear on his body. Jeromy and I talked a lot about what that was and I showed him samples and said I would kind of like them to look like this, as though these images are floating on his body. He did a variation of those samples and that’s what we ended up with, which was so much better than the samples I showed him and exactly what I wanted. We will see that pattern shift and change throughout the book as Donnie’s power grows.
RJ: And is that how you guys pretty much worked on all the visuals?
PJ: Yes. In issue #1, one of my favorite things about the collaboration is the “psychic cyborgs.” I said that I wanted them wearing sharkskin, a la Banana Republic-sort of a windbreaker material, except shiny. Well, he thought that I meant literal sharkskin. So, he researched it, found it, altered the fabric, added highlights to it and made this amazing thing that I would have never, ever considered. It’s infinitely better than what I had planned. It’s those happy accidents that make me thrilled to death to be collaborating with Jeromy because so many of the color effects that you are describing are his.
RJ: I’ve read in other interviews that OTHERWORLD is your opportunity to address sociopolitical issues that are relevant to you. How would a reader know where you stand? Is Siobhan’s voice your voice? Or is your voice purposely hidden and/or ambiguous?
PJ: Siobhan’s voice is my voice from a moment in time. These characters are about 19-27 years old. I’m turning 35. My socio-political outlook is shaped by years and years of experience and reading, of living in ways that these characters haven’t yet. It was a bit difficult because I have to remember what it’s like to be that young. I have to remember what my feelings were like about certain things when I was in college. I have to remember what my upbringing was and what I had and hadn’t been exposed to. So, I guess that the arc of OTHERWORLD is that exposure. Siobhan’s issues are about exposing her to each of these ideas and growing her along the way. Her voice begins where my voice was when I was 19.
I find it odd when writers don’t write themselves into a personal work somehow. The others characters, to some degree, are me; almost all of them have a little bit of me in them, some have a lot more. And then there are a couple who are just strong archetypes that I believe need to be there.
RJ: There’s one character, in particular, that I have a strong affinity for. I don’t know her name, but she’s the Dominican-American character.
PJ: She actually based on a friend of mine. There are some interesting observations that she makes because of her background that no one else makes. She probably the least enamored of this Otherworld, although it does make her question her faith in God. But, in terms of Otherworld as this magical, perfect fantasy, she’s the character quickest to see the cracks in the armor; that it’s not a perfect world.
RJ: You’re one of the most talented and sought after writer/artists in the business. Why not make tons of money drawing JLA, BATMAN or WOLVERINE on a monthly basis? Why do something like OTHERWORLD?
PJ: There are few reasons. First, I’ve wanted to do OTHERWORLD for a very long time. On a very practical level, it’s great to be able to do it and get it out of the way so it’s not this thing lingering in the back of my head. Secondly, it has resonance for me. It’s addressing topics that are important to me while, at the same time, allowing me to do very traditional superhero/sci-fi/fantasy stuff for the people who’d like to avoid the politics and just look at the pretty pictures. Thirdly, I just believe that in an industry like this where the work can be so personal, you’re best bet is to go back and forth; to do a couple of years of X-MEN, do a personal project, go back and do BATMAN, etc. I’d also say that, unfortunately, the problem with the bigger characters is that there are creative restrictions and confinements.
RJ: You’ve said that working with Karen Berger and Will Denis has been one of the best experiences in your career. How so?
I’ve said this before, but if this book is a success, it is in large part due to Will’s vision. Will is a master at taking a property, seeing what works with it and what doesn’t work, getting rid of what doesn’t-trying to encourage you to get rid of what doesn’t-and emphasizing what does. He has an incredible sense of what’s commercial and what’s not. He’s willing to experiment, listen and barter. I think we’ve had one disagreement and the two years that we’ve been working on this project and even then, he was willing to say, “Well, let’s see it if works. If it doesn’t, we’ll change it.” He’s incredibly supportive and protective. He puts up with my frightening anal retentiveness. In the first issue, there were probably a dozen revisions on the script, things like “Should this be ‘um’ instead of ‘and?’” or “Should this be in parentheses?” or things about the choice of fonts. And while I’m sure he was ready to pull out his hair, he did it and the end result is better for it. He’s the first editor who I showed this project to who “got it.” He understood the socio-political underpinnings of it.
I also want to mention his assistant editor Casey Seijas who came in after who has also been amazing just for practical reasons if not total story reason. He’s been a great sounding board. He’s helped me do a lot. These guys are my support team. I live for these guys.
Karen Berger I’ve known since I was a teenager. She’s been amazing. I was concerned early on because so much of this work had to be imagined. She’s investing her company into this project so she had to believe in it. Her questions were all very good and very solid. She’s been extraordinarily helpful.
RJ: Will you be interacting with your readers this time around, and if so, through what channel/avenue?
PJ: One of my great regrets is that I was going to have a website for this project and for various reasons, including cost, I just never got around to doing it. I forgot that we have no letter column. I’m so used to posting on the GLA mailing list that I don’t often think about other, external forums. I suspect that I will go to the VERTIGO boards, but I have a couple of feelings about that. I don’t want my visitation to be constant. The series isn’t completed and I found that when I was working on WONDER WOMAN some of the early criticisms seeped into my brain and I wanted to address them in the book and it affected the way that I wrote. So, what I’d like to do is have limited access at first, see if there’s an overwhelming sense of confusion amongst readers about things in the book and determine if I can compensate for that later. But what I didn’t want is to start dealing with nitpicks and the little things because people affect me. As much as I don’t want to be, I’m deeply affected by what I read, particularly the nastiness. So, I’d rather have it be more pure. Even if it fails, I’d rather it be an ambitious failure.
RJ: But wouldn’t you like to know if your readers are enjoying the work?
PJ: To some degree, yes. But I don’t want to hear “Yeah, everything is perfect” because I don’t ever want to stop thinking about my work. Essentially, I want it to be between my editor and I-just the two of us determining what works and what doesn’t work. The accolades can be just as distracting as the criticism.
RJ: With the critical and commercial success of a Vertigo property like HELLBLAZER (Constantine), do you imagine allowing OTHERWORLD to be adapted for the big screen?
PJ: I have. I would prefer that it be adapted as a TV series.
RJ: Like on HBO?
PJ: HBO would be perfect! I find that most of the stuff that I’m interested in seeing, even Wonder Woman to a lesser extent, is better serviced by television. Comic books are, by nature, serialized and character-driven. You could do so much more with a character over five episodes than you can in a two-hour movie, which often need to meet certain commercial requirements.
RJ: Is there a goal that you wish to attain in telling the story of OTHERWORLD?
PJ: What I’m hoping to do with OTHERWORLD is, of course, to have it be a huge success, but I also want to have a set of characters who return to Earth (the ones that live) to explore these deeper notions of race, class, cultural identity, sexual identity while at the same time roping readers in with a fantastic, mythical adventure. The goal was to create a world and environments that people have never seen; a conflict that people have never seen in comics. We’ll see if I succeed.
RJ: The first work that made me say, “Okay, this guy is going places” was DC’s TEMPEST. There was a particular scene in the last issue where Tempest vomits after fighting the biggest battle of his life and then breaks down and cries. Anton Kawasaki [associate editor in DC trade] said that you have a knack for hitting these really emotional beats in your stories. I know that, for various reasons, TEMPEST holds a special place in your heart. What is it like to look back at that series?
PJ: TEMPEST is probably the best work I’ve ever done in that it was written in sort of an editorial vacuum with a character that no one cared about. I could do pretty much whatever I wanted to do with him. He carried very little continuity baggage and I had a great editor, a guy who had been my editor for years, Eddie Berganza. We sort of sat in the corner and figured it out. It’s a very pure, organic work. I call it “the work before I knew things” because it was an incredibly intuitive work. I look back fondly on TEMPEST.
RJ: Why isn’t it in trade paperback?
PJ: I’ve been told that there’s no way to market it. It’s too small, not enough pages. They need a way to package it. I think that it should packaged with Neal Pozner’s AQUAMAN.
RJ: And then you moved on to JLA/TITANS with Devin Grayson, which was a lot of fun for me. Was it as fun for you to work on?
PJ: It was great and it sold really well. The only thing that wasn’t fun, of course, was dealing with the JLA editor. It was so irritating because he thought that the pitch made the JLA look bad, but that wasn’t the case. And also, he told us that Batman had to know everything and explain everything to the Titans. Thus, Devin and I had to change the battle between the JLA and Titans into a clever ruse formulated by Batman. Other than that, it was a joy to work on and the characters were fun.
RJ: I have the poster.
PJ: Yes, there was the poster.
RJ: I was just happy that Wonder Woman was portrayed as a strong, capable character. Which brings me to your work on her series. I know that your experiences with WONDER WOMAN had been somewhat bittersweet, but you have to know that some really good things have came out of it. Greg Rucka has gone on record to praise WONDER WOMAN #170, #171 and #176. Jeph Loeb said that issue #172 was the best story that came out of OUR WORLDS AT WAR. And I concur. But, it seems that the issues that you felt could be better, the ones that were subject to compromise, get the most attention. Why do you think that is?
PJ: Because I think that there was an even number of each. In hindsight, I don’t think of “the bad stuff” was horrible-it just wasn’t great. In fact, it was okay and it had nice artwork, too!
I also think that this is particularly true of comics: When people decide that something is bad, that’s it. It’s bad from then on. Conversely, when readers decide someone is brilliant, they’re brilliant from then on, even if their work is bad. I tend to think that on WONDER WOMAN, from early on, there were very high expectations. I had high expectations and didn’t anticipate any of the turmoil.
Another part of it is that I have a very specific vision of Wonder Woman. In my head, she behaves a certain way and that’s not a vision shared by everyone.
RJ: And then there’s Trevor Barnes, who’s probably the most controversial character ever to appear in WONDER WOMAN. Personally, I found him incredibly refreshing. It was a pleasure to finally see a Black man in a comic who was intelligent and unapologetically Black: Dreadlocks, broad nose, full lips; intellectually and spiritually equipped to meet Wonder Woman on her level.
PJ: And was taller than she was.
RJ: [Laughter] And was taller than she was. Why do you think that Wonder Woman readers so poorly received him?
PJ: I think race was a huge issue and I also think that advanced press was an issue because prior to his appearance, it had been circulated that Trevor would deflower her. Readers were outraged that it wasn’t Steve Trevor, let alone that it was a tall, Black man, which was horrifying enough to them.
RJ: I think a lot the venom also came from the fact that Trevor initially turned down Wonder Woman’s request for a date. I think many of her fans felt that he should have counted himself as the luckiest man in the world that she would be interested in a “guy like him.”
PJ: I agree. Part of the point of that story was that she thought he was hot. She was responding to him because she was sexually attracted to him. And maybe they would have worked out and maybe they would not have. But, it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about her falling in love. It was like how many of us respond to someone physically before we like him or her on another level. Someone said to me, “Well, she’s probably met Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell, so why would he be so hot to her?” I thought that comment was so telling; that the two examples he cited were icons of White, beautiful maleness. It’s as if to say, after seeing this beauty, how could she possibly think that is attractive? That, to me, said a lot about why some people couldn’t respond to him. Because they couldn’t imagine finding someone like him attractive, so how on Earth could Wonder Woman?
RJ: According to WIZARD, you actually met Lynda Carter! What was that like?
PJ: It’s funny because I was at DC Comics and I found out that she was in the building. So, of course, I hung out for hours. I asked the president if I could meet her and he said yes. I was introduced to her and she was grace and dignity personified. She was so beautiful and so kind and so graceful and tall. I burst into tears and basically told her something to the effect of me having a career because of her and her embodiment of that character influenced me so greatly as a child and made me want to work with the character of Wonder Woman, etc. She was so touched that she gave me a bug hug and said that we had to take a picture together. I ran out and bought a $20 disposable camera...
PJ: I happened to have a copy of my comic, WONDER WOMAN #188, and thought, “Oh my God! This is the one with her costumes in it!” So, I gave it to her.
The great thing was that I didn’t overstay my welcome with her. She seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. It was sort of a divine meeting because she was everything I wanted her to be.
RJ: You said earlier that you have a very specific vision of Wonder Woman that runs contrary to the visions (or lack thereof) of others. Why do you think that is?
PJ: I think that you articulated this idea to me far more clearly than I’ve ever articulated it to you. The thing that really struck me was your examination of the idea of feminine power being perceived as weak or useless. If you imagine traits being masculine or feminine inherently-and when I say “feminine,” I don’t mean that to say “female”- particularly now in this culture, things like love, compassion, defensive strength, etc., these are all perceived as weak. And I think a lot it has to do with the perception that masculine energies seem to get the most immediate results sometimes. You go in, you smash things up, you beat people up, you kill the bad guy and then you’re done. They serve much more immediate needs. And adventure comics, which are, in many ways, about heroic archetypes going in, defeating the bad guys, destroying their bases and ending their threat, I think those are very masculine or can be perceived as inherently masculine qualities and are very appealing to people. And you said, I believe, that there’s a degree of sexism that comes into play when...
RJ: When a writer may think that they’re doing Wonder Woman justice by making her more masculine, more aggressive.
PJ: Right, right! Yes, yes! What I’m fascinated by are the women who want to see Wonder Woman more aggressive and more masculine because on some level, not knowing any of them personally, I find myself wondering what is so appealing about that. The obvious answer to me is that they can get the results that men can, as quickly as men can and that has to be appealing on some level. It’s frustrating to continuously behave with grace and dignity when the guy that’s being a shit next to you keeps making these gains that you don’t. I think you’d want the freedom to behave that way to achieve the end goal.
RJ: You seem to infuse a certain amount of political awareness into your characters. Do you think these characters are inherently political? Even characters like say, Storm or Troia?
PJ: Wonder Woman is an inherently political character. To avoid the politics of Wonder Woman is to avoid Wonder Woman herself. [William Moulton] Marston created a feminist icon, a sexualized feminist icon in a very interesting period of time. Storm, I think, is inherently political. She’s a Black woman, a leader of the X-Men who has ties with America and Africa. Troia, less so. I don’t think of Troia as an inherently political character. Many people disagree with this, but I think, in many ways, that when you are The Other, your life, your existence becomes inherently political.
RJ: I also think that Superman is inherently political.
PJ: Oh, I believe that Superman is completely a political character.
RJ: Yet, that aspect of the character is quite often avoided.
PJ: I believe that’s because he’s a corporate icon. The thing that you have to remember about these larger characters, more so that the smaller ones, is that they are corporate entities and that will always be the trick with Wonder Woman-especially with Joss Whedon developing this film. I’m curious to see how that plays out in the comics.
RJ: What do you think about the announcement of Joss Whedon as writer and director of the WONDER WOMAN movie? Whedon has said, “When Joel and I began discussing the character, I realized there is a woman behind the legend who is very fascinating, very uncompromising and in her own way almost vulnerable. She’s someone who doesn’t belong in this world, and since everyone I know feels that way about themselves, the character clicked for me.”
PJ: I do believe the fish out of water aspect is there. And would have to be present in the first movie. It’s present in the Marston stuff, in the [George] Perez stuff. She comes from this island of Greek women with big temples and shows up in America...
RJ: And sees a skyscraper for the first time.
PJ: Exactly. That stuff can be played, but might be difficult because we’ve all seen skyscrapers and that doesn’t shock us anymore. So, to see a woman shocked by it, I think the response would be “Yeah, and?” I love the idea that she doesn’t speak English [in the Perez version] when she comes here and has to learn it. I love the idea that she has an accent. I don’t know if any of that will make the movie, though.
I feel fairly confident that Joss will do a fantastic job.
RJ: Do you have any more WONDER WOMAN stories to tell? Would you ever want to work on WONDER WOMAN again?
PJ: I may have one last story to tell. We’ll see.
RJ: I loved your work with Grant Morrison on NEW X-MEN, particularly the Emma Frost issue (#139) and murder mystery storyline (#140-141). Although, I found that I was disappointed with the big Phoenix/Magneto finale. How was it to work with Grant on that book?
PJ: Grant writes me better scripts than anyone I’ve ever worked with. Despite some of the oddities that he may ask for in some scripts, the scripts themselves are never odd. They’re incredibly exciting and written in fairly mundane language. He knows how and when to describe things. Another thing is that Grant is an artist. He draws really well and because he can visualize, it makes him a much, much better scriptwriter.
[Note: View the Emma Frost and Jean Grey cover art.]
RJ: Did you read We3?
PJ: I loved We3! Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! He and Frank Quitely are one of the best comic book teams ever. They get each other. They’re perfect for each other.
RJ: Frank Quitely’s a genius.
PJ: He’s a genius. He’s so good.
RJ: You seem to be drawn to working with and creating female characters. How come?
PJ: Practically, women are easier to draw. You have more room to play with their costumes. I have a theory about my attraction to female characters that I believe applies to most gay men. Female characters are easier to imprint on. Alpha male characters, such as Superman or Batman for example, are, at their core, “straight.” That’s not something that I can ever be, nor is it something that I desire to be. The female characters are both powerful and are often the object of desire for men, which is what I want to be. So, it’s easier to project myself onto their adventures. Going back to our discussion about masculine and feminine, I tend to relate better to feminine energies than I do to masculine ones. I don’t have powerful revenge fantasies. I don’t have bloodlust, although sometimes I do like a good, old-fashioned Freddy [Krueger] movie. I was always more into Storm than I was into Wolverine. I love the idea of these graceful, dignified characters being able to do these incredibly powerful, destructive things, but at the same time, able to go home and water their plants. Psychologically, I’m more interested in what would make a woman an adventure hero.
RJ: You’ve also been very vocal about no further tampering with the origins of characters like Troia or Power Girl. Why?
PJ: I think what damages these characters the most is the tweaking of their origins. When the trade paperback was being prepared [DC’s NEW TEEN TITANS: WHO IS DONNA TROY? trade paperback-on sale June 1, 2005] we realized that there were six or seven “Who is Donna Troy?” stories. That’s retarded. The constant revisions have done damage. For some reason, people think that the complex origin makes her a more complex character than she actually is. I’d rather she have a story that doesn’t have to do with her origin.
Ironically, the DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY mini-series [the first issue of which is on sale June 29, 2005] plays some with her history, but it’s not revisionist history. It doesn’t revise anything. What we’re trying to do is take elements of her history that might be confusing and connect them to something larger and reasoned so that those elements are no longer confusing, but have function, purpose and relevance. I find the minutia tweaks especially annoying. People found the “Wonder Girl-as-descended-from-the-Titans-of-Myth” origin problematic because it didn’t explain where she got the name or the costume. Well, John Byrne answered that. It makes sense and it’s actually kind of cool. It makes Hippolyta her spiritual mother and Diana her sister. It’s done. It’s over. Let it go. People really liked the backup Troia stories I did in the WONDER WOMAN series because I was exploring her background rather than her origin.
My argument has been that CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was twenty years ago. So, Power Girl has been Atlantean longer than she’s been Kryptonian. I recently had a disagreement with someone who objected to the idea of Flamebird and Herald [of Titans West being retconned]. I said that they’ve been Flamebird and Herald almost as long as they were Batgirl and the Hornblower/Guardian. You have to leave that stuff alone because the constant tweaking and rebooting of these characters only does damage. We invest in these characters. We invest in their histories. We invest money, time and emotion into a long narrative. If we’re asked to believe that the story didn’t happen the way that we’ve come to understand, but it happened another way instead, I think we can do it. But, if we’re asked to do it multiple times, I think we lose the investor, we lose the emotional connection. The stories become more about revising the history than they do about furthering the character.
RJ: And is that what you’re hoping to do with THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY?
PJ: I was talking to a Titans fan about this. He’s a great guy. His name is Bill. He runs the “Titans Tower” website. He’s awesome. I was explaining to him that one of the things that I want to do with Donna is, not necessarily separate her from Wonder Woman, but she needs to do what Nightwing and Flash have done-that is, transcend the idea of being the junior versions of their big characters. They’re the middle children of the DC Universe, these original Titans. The problem with Troia and Tempest is that they can never be as powerful as their mentors, for creative reasons and for corporate reasons. So, you have to play them another way.
RJ: But, I think that Tempest is more powerful than Aquaman.
PJ: Yes, but creators would never concede that because it’s Aquaman! The prevailing thought is that the junior character can’t be more powerful than the senior character. One of the reasons why I embrace Troia’s “Titans of Myth” origin is because it moves Donna in a different direction. Although, I think it makes old school Titans fans sad because one of her appealing traits is that she’s Wonder Woman’s sister. Nevertheless, I think it’s good for the character in that it still connects her to mythological roots, and she and Diana still have a connection. But most importantly, it gives her someplace to go. It gives her another way to grow up. Otherwise, she’ll always be bumping into Wonder Woman.
RJ: Do you watch any of the DC Animated series?
PJ: I do. Not all of them, but most of them.
RJ: Justice League Unlimited?
PJ: Yes! I have that TiVo’d.
RJ: Why do you think that characters like Vixen and Doctor Light on Justice League Unlimited or Bumblebee on Teen Titans, and other third stringers, play so well in the animated series but are obscure or completely ignored in the comics?
PJ: Well, with Vixen or John Stewart, I believe it’s due, in large part, to Dwayne McDuffie [writer/producer of Justice League Unlimited and former creator of DC imprint, Milestone, which focused on heroes of color]. I can tell which episodes he’s worked on by the characters utilized in them. He’s in a position to take these characters and put them in the forefront.
The problem you face in the comics is that there are writers and editors who are either not interested or don’t even think about those characters, or who have written them off or don’t imagine them in a certain way. There are various reasons for this. Perhaps, the character is of a different racial background than the creator. Or maybe the creator read a story about the character and hated it, choosing not to see the character’s potential. Or perhaps characters just have baggage and in the animated series you can reinvent them a bit, start from scratch. And there’s a fear in comics that bringing back an old character will alienate readers, particularly new readers, because the character would imply too much continuity or history that a new reader wouldn’t have immediate access to. And it requires the editors to do extra work because they don’t always know as much about those characters as the creators do.
I would love to use Bumblebee! The trick is convincing an editor to let me use her. Also, it’s a competitive issue. We’re competing with characters like Wolverine, the Punisher, Magneto and Dr. Doom-and then here comes Bumblebee. From a very practical level, I can see why that would concern someone. There’s always a desire to invent the next “Wolverine,” but for us, if just for just financially competitive reasons.
RJ: Is there a comic character that you’d like to work on that you haven’t already?
PJ: Storm. I’ve only worked on Storm in a story once and she didn’t really do anything. I also would have loved to work on The New Mutants circa 1987.
RJ: You’re talking about back when it was comprised of Wolfsbane, Cannonball, Sunspot and the gang. Yes!
PJ: Asgardian Wars! I love those characters! Most of the characters that I want to work with have so radically changed that I’m not interested in working with them anymore. I would have loved to draw the pre-reboot Legion of Super-Heroes. That would have just thrilled me!
RJ: Can you talk about your role in the collective reshaping of the DC Universe, your work on DC COUNTDOWN?
PJ: What I can say is that what’s exciting is that, for the first time in years, the DC Universe has an editorial point of view. Dan DiDio wants to take the books and the characters in a specific direction, has united the editorial forces and creative forces so that everyone is on the same track. I think we’re going to be seeing emphasis on the human characters, more ground-level characters, in some measure, to compete against Marvel’s characters that share that sensibility. I prefer the more outlandish, super-heroic epic, but what’s thrilling is to know that you’re on this ride that has a multi-year plan. You’re not just going from issue to issue. There’s a vision and it’s going somewhere. And I think it’s a commercially sound vision.
RJ: When does DC COUNTDOWN come out?
PJ: It comes out the same day as OTHERWORLD, March 30th. DC COUNTDOWN, I love! It’s fucking great! It’s so good!
RJ: [Laughter] I’ve not been this excited about comics in a long time. I feel like a kid again.
PJ: It’s so good, that story - at least, my chapter of it is, as I’ve not read the entire issue yet. It was handed out in pieces to the different artists. So, no one knew the complete story. All we had was reference. And I didn’t want to know. It was like, just tell me what I need to draw and I’ll draw it! I got a particular writer’s script and it was fantastic! He’s great with these types of stories. It’s amazing! He just gave me these incredible descriptions of what he wanted, great subtleties, the fighting. It was just great. He’s a very grounded writer. This is the perfect scale for him.
RJ: I’m going to ask you a question that you don’t have to answer. You and Geoff Johns have been tied to a series that has the comic industry abuzz, a series purported to be a new CRISIS ON INFITINITE EARTHS. Is this true? Are you and Geoff working on a CRISIS II?
PJ: [Smiles] You’ll have to wait and see.
[At press time, the comic book website, Pop Culture Shock released a preview of DC COUNTDOWN featuring the cover whose logo read “COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS”].
RJ: Damn! [Laughter]. Well, moving right along. How about some personal questions? What do you see when you look out of your window?
PJ: It’s such a great view. I face north on the upper west side [of Manhattan] and there’s no building in front of mine. So, I get to see this beautiful New York cityscape. I get to see all the water towers and rooftops and the scenery in the distance. It’s great.
RJ: What comics are you reading or would like to read?
PJ: The only comic that I read religiously is BIRDS OF PREY.
RJ: Isn’t Gail Simone amazing?
PJ: Amazing! I talk to her so much now. We instant message each other constantly. She’s really, really great. That book is easily my favorite. I’m actually very sad to see Ed Benes go, whose art is normally not my kind of art, but is so perfect for that series. That book makes me happy. I went to the comic shop recently and picked up SEVEN SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT #1 was fantastic. I haven’t tried the SEVEN SOLDIERS #0 yet, but I hear it’s amazing as well.
RJ: It is. A must read.
PJ: I love it when Grant is on. When he is on, it’s this incredible magic that no one else can do. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s his sensibility or what. But, it’s just great. Someone else recommended a book to me called Atomika.
I try to go into the comic shop at least twice a month just to see what’s on the shelves and to get into the mind of the reader by asking myself, “What would I buy if I had $20 to spend on comics?” Comics are expensive. I’d like to know which bargains the consumer would go for and which ones they wouldn’t.
I buy Astonishing X-Men which I think is great, THE ULTIMATES because Bryan Hitch floors me.
RJ: Who’s your favorite artist right now?
PJ: Brian Hitch! Hands down. If I could draw half as well as Bryan Hitch, I would feel like more than a cartoonist.
RJ: You don’t think you draw as well as he draws?
PJ: I’m not as good of a drawer as he is. He’s a great drawer, a great anatomist. I’m faster than he is. I’m probably a better commercial artist, but I think he’s a better fine artist. I think he’s an artist’s artist. Also, he was incredibly influenced by Alan Davis and I was incredibly influenced by George Perez. He’s shaken almost all of that influence. It still comes out a little here and there. My Perez influences are still quite strong. Part of that is intentional, but part of it is that I haven’t evolved in the way that Bryan has evolved. And I’m so impressed by his ability to have done so.
RJ: That’s funny because when I look at Ethan Van Sciver’s work, it reminds me of yours. Were you an influence on him?
PJ: Everyone says that, but I don’t know. I think he comes from the same school of thought that I come from, that Perez comes from, that Brian Bolland comes from; with emphasis on a technique that utilizes lines, cross hatching, light and shadow, etc. I might be an influence. His early work looks like my early work, but I honestly don’t know.
RJ: You mentioned Brian Bolland, whom I wish would do a graphic novel-a Wonder Woman graphic novel would be perfect!
PJ: It’s a shame. I wish I had the money to commission it personally!
RJ: What creators would you like to work with that you haven’t already?
PJ: Gail Simone, Geoff Johns. Alan Moore, because I’m very curious about what it would be like to work with one of his scripts. I’d also like to work with a Brian Bendis script.
RJ: You’re an avid reader. What are you reading currently? What’s on your bookshelf right now?
PJ: Karen Armstrong’s Battle for God, What Do We Need Now, which is a collection of essays on how to be left leaning political activists, and the ROBIN: YEAR ONE trade paperback.
RJ: If you could invite any five people, from any period in history, to dinner, whom would you invite?
PJ: I’d definitely invite religious scholar, Karen Armstrong. I’d also invite Robert Moses, because Moses was this very frustrating figure for me. There’s such good (like the green space) and bad (like the Cross Bronx Expressway) in New York because of Moses and I would love to talk to him about it. Jesus Christ, because how could you not? I know that’s sort of cliché, but I was thinking that I’d like to ask him some questions because so many people take so many actions in his name-interpreting his word or not interpreting his word. I’d love to be able to say, “Well, what do you think about this, this and this?” and get it from the horse’s mouth, as it were. I’d perhaps invite Oprah Winfrey as well. And I’d love to talk to those first Native Americans, the ones that first saw Christopher Columbus and invited him and his crew onto their land; to be able to talk to them a few days later and ask, “What happened?”
RJ: How ironic that you’d be inviting them to dinner. What a twist!
PJ: Oh, yeah! I’m attempting to think of people for whom I’d have questions, people that affect my life personally because of their influence in society-or in Karen Armstrong’s case, because I’m a huge fan of her work. You’ll see that when you read OTHERWORLD. The question I pose to the gay character in OTHERWORLD is why a secular, consumer society is so much more inviting to a gay person than a religious, traditional one-but at the same time, analyzing the spiritual and psychological damage that’s done if all of your energy is spent in the former. We, a gay people, sort of reject the religious because it rejects us, but in doing so, we also reject this spiritual, meditative part of ourselves. Karen Armstrong calls the two sides logos and mythos; logic and reason versus the mythological part of ourselves that answers those spiritual questions that the rational side of us cannot.
She introduced me to the idea that, pre-1492, reading passages from Biblical works, reciting mantra, prayer, etc., was not so much about the acts themselves, but about the process, about the meditative state it placed you in to consider the higher world around you. It wasn’t so much about memorization of a particular passage, but was about the idea that, at some point, you’d be lulled into such a deep, spiritual trance that your eyes would be opened up to a larger plane of existence. This intrigues me because it makes perfect sense. I think she would say, and I could be wrong, that one of the root causes of religious fundamentalism is that misunderstanding: by taking the literature as truth, by taking it literally, as opposed to using it as way to get you meditating, a way to get you contemplating.
RJ: I get that. It’s very inclusive and appealing.
PJ: Yes. Even the words themselves should be challenged, interpreted, thought about and discussed because that process is what elevates you spiritually.
This is the perfect moment to end our interview-on a spiritual high note. Phil has to meet up with a friend from out of town, someone who is the inspiration for one of the OTHERWORLD characters and I have to head home to prepare for the congratulatory surprise party planned for Phil. So, it’s back out into the cold and back down into the cavernous, underground tunnels that transport New Yorkers around the city.
That evening, when I arrive at the party, I’m amazed. The soiree manages to be both larger-than-life and intimate. It takes place in an exquisite loft in lower Manhattan. Everyone is in one of those festive moods that you only see during the holidays. They sign OTHERWORLD promotional posters to express well wishes for the guest of honor. When Phil finally arrives, there is a look of astonishment on his face that conveys the delight that he’s experiencing in finding himself among a host of his friends and family-including his mother, whose smile is communicating so many things, but whose eyes are speaking solely of dreams made from loose-leaf and construction paper.