Changing The World: Phil Jimenez talks 'Otherworld' & 'New X-Men'

Mon, September 29th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

One thing you can't accuse writer and artist Phil Jimenez of is not diversifying his career choices. From a controversial tenure on "Wonder Woman" to the early work he did illustrating the mind-bending ride of "Invisibles" to the super-heroics of "New X-Men," Jimenez has made a career of keeping fans on their toes. And now it seems, it's time to throw them for another loop by giving them a case of vertigo (pun intended). Next year, Jimenez will be producing a creator-owned series through DC Comics' mature readers' imprint- Vertigo Comics- and while entitled "Otherworld," he said that the series he's writing and illustrating draws inspiration from the real world.

"The overarching story in 'Otherworld' is about a group of kids from Los Angeles, many of them are in college, who are kidnapped for various reasons and are taken to Otherworld, which is a magical realm in Celtic mythology," Jimenez told CBR News. "There, these kids end up in a terrible border war between two civilizations that exist in this place. I don't want to give too much away, except that it's been informed by the voluminous amount reading I've done in the past few years from social science to politics to celebrity in our culture."

If the political implications of that plot seem like they're ripped straight from the headlines, you'd be somewhat right, but the politics of the series are derived not from a desire on Jimenez's part to be controversial, but to instead be introspective. "Oh, I think there's going to be undertones and I think [Vertigo editor] Karen Berger approved it because of the political underpinnings. At the same time I'm asking the characters questions that I'm asking myself today, on a daily basis. 'When you know something is wrong in the world, something is bad and you've experienced it, what is your social, moral and ethical responsibility to do something about it? Is it enough to write about it, make art about it or write a comic book about it, a newspaper column? Or do you have physical responsibility to do something about and physically change the world you live in, to make it a better place?"

Posing those kind of questions would in theory take a lot out of a writer and Jimenez says that's not untrue. "It's both exhausting and invigorating because some of the reading leads you to some dire conclusions about the world we're living in, but that also leads to some glimmers of hope here and there. The thing about it is at the end of the day, I don't want to write some huge downer series- I want it to be hopeful on some level- I just want it to ask a lot of questions that the readers do. What I do find enervating is the constant research and I always feel like I haven't covered something- every time I read a new book, there's an entirely new angle to apply to the series. The trick is to make the series multi layered but not to make it overly dense."

With Jimenez's voracious appetite for expansion of perspective, he says he's planned out the entire "Otherworld" twelvie-issue maxi-series, but given himself enough breathing room, too. "All twelve issues have been fully plotted but haven't been fully scripted We know what the arc is, what the arcs for the characters are, but even with the issues having been written, I can layer in a lot of the stuff that I've been talking about. One of the things that my editor Will Dennis liked about the series is that it's structured in the very classical three act hero's journey structure, which is malleable enough that a theme can be explored more fully or a theme can be opened up if enough hasn't been done. That's one of the reasons we wrote it all ahead of time- so we could map it out, chart it out and as issues came out, we could see a character needs more screen time or that a certain place is perfect to discuss something I want to touch upon. It's been a real joy with all the lead time and my editor is really into it, he gets the material and he gets what I want to talk about."

Any comic book series comes down to the characters and in "Otherworld," the main character is someone who's gone through somewhat of a genesis. "The main character is a woman named Siobhan Monyihan. She's changed some, but I don't want to give too much away," admits Jimenez. "She was starting out as a more cold character than I wanted, an intellectual elitist, but as time went on I found she was more fun to write and certainly more accessible to readers if she was still smart, but not snob; a child of privilege who's grown up in Brentwood (LA). She's the key this group is kidnapped and the key to success or failure to this war."

When "Otherworld" was announced at Wizard World Chicago, it was described as "'Real World' meets 'Lords of The Rings' meets 'Tron'"- which got a "huh?" from a lot of people and still gets Jimenez laughing when he hears how he described it. But he explains that like so much of the series, the inspiration for this series is personal and his latest push for this series to be published was the result of a tragic event. "It was my college reaction to the Gulf War," explains Jimenez of the series' roots. "I had turned some of my friends into comic characters and written a story, god, when I was 19 or 21 yrs old. I always thought there was some fun there and I would pull it out, tweak it and then pitch it. I pitched it- I dates from like '95, '97- rejection letters over a period of years. After 9/11 happened, with some tweaks and extra layers, I realized it could still be relevant. These events in the world continually forced me to asked questions about myself, the world and how I lived my life, and the characters in the book really seemed to really lend themselves to asking those questions."

Still… "Tron?" "The world at war is split in half, one side more fantasy based- a la 'Lord of The Rings'- and the other side is technological, consumer based, best described visually as 'Tron,' further explains the writer/artist. "Those descriptions are best because the 'Lord of The Rings' art tends to highly rendered, very beautiful, highly ornate and Jeremy's coloring it with very lush colors, while the 'Tron' world is very simple, it's very much like a computer game."

This isn't the first time that Phil Jimenez has written and drawn a dream project- he worked for a couple of years on "Wonder Woman" doing the writing and pencils, but he says this project is a much different experience. "It actually feels good, because it feels like control is there," admits Jimenez. "We talked about it before, but 'Wonder Woman' was never the glorious project I thought it would be, mostly because I never had the control I want in the first fifteen months and so many issues were affected by outside forces, like crossovers. At the end of the days I look back and I know it's not a terrible run, -- as a matter of fact, I actually think a lot of it is fun, and I amped up her rogue's gallery, cleaned up her continuity, as well as creating buzz and interest, and it's certainly some nice art -- but I also know there are places where it could have been stronger. The nice thing about 'Otherworld' is that I have an incredibly strong editor, Will Dennis, who edits '100 Bullets,' 'Hellblazer' & 'Losers' and has been really eager about the project. He gets it. He knows what I want to do and at the end of the day, it's just him and me, it will live or fail because of the choices we make. It's more of a pure work than 'Wonder Woman' was."

If this all sounds a bit different for a Phil Jimenez book, or at least what you might expect from one, the creator says that he feels it'll appeal to fans of his work and those who haven't given his stuff a try as of yet. "I actually think that it's kind of superheroey for a Vertigo book, but intentionally so, and Karen Berger saw it as kind of a crossover book for superhero fandom to Vertigo fandom. It definitely crosses the lines. I think there's enough kinda mainstream superhero suspense, action, soap opera, and drama. The art's going to be amazing because we have Jeremy Cox, the Eisner-nominated colorist from 'Promethea' who's making it all look great and Andy Lanning, of 'Legion' and 'New X-Men' fame, who's doing the best inking he's ever done. I actually think that it's not going to be a big departure in terms of art or the way I tell stories or the human, accessible characters. I think the trick will be the social and political underpinnings and asking readers questions that you can't ask in the DCU. In Vertigo, you have the freedom to ask questions and some of the characters will have answers, whereas in the DC Universe, you couldn't actually ask these questions and give the characters a certain point of view. At least I couldn't, I'm seeing other people do it now, but I never got the feeling I could truly commit say, Wonder Woman to this specific cause or that, whereas in 'Otherworld' each character will have distinct points of view and I'll have freedom to explore those points of view. I think people who are looking for a certain type of art will see it and people who are looking for more layers will find that- I'm kind of taking as my cue Grant Morrison's 'Invisibles' and Alan Moore's 'Watchmen'- even 'Camelot 3000,' with these epic, large sort of stories focusing on these small groups of these stories and their impact along the way."

You'll often hear fans talk about creating their own comic books, but Jimenez says that the fact he's working on original creations is the hardest part, but in the end, is also what makes it most rewarding. "Research is difficult. The fact that I'm creating a world from scratch is difficult- I have my initial plots and inspirations of course for reference and I think 'Lord of The Rings' has made it more palatable to a larger audience, but it's still a lot of work. For example, I was designing a hall for a group of mystical beings and the characters were drawn from various mythologies, and I had to sit there and think about the architecture, what look would be appropriate, the size and the space, would it fit with the characters, etc. I find that one of the challenges, but one of the best parts of the jobs, is the visual challenge- creating the worlds. That so far has been the hardest, but I've only got through the first issue so by issue seven for example, that could change."

But does "Otherworld" mean no more superhero comics from Phil Jimenez? Will fans of spandex clad do-gooders miss out on the artist's detailed and lush illustrations of their favorite heroes? "Unfortunately, I'm so bummed, I can't talked about it, but I've been talking about what my future will hold after this. It's a nice departure, it's a great way to come back to DC Comics and it's the perfect time, I seem to have the right voice for it, but there will be more superhero stuff in the future in it."

Though the work is technically done, you will see a few more issues of Jimenez on "New X-Men" in the coming months and he's happy to have worked with some of his favorite characters of all time. "It's been one of the best jobs I've ever had. Working with Grant [Morrison] again has been awesome-everything he writes to me has been exciting and awesome. I get it! This story arc is so good, it's so strong- I'm not even bull shitting, it's not about promotion or selling, I'm just so happy to work on this book."

You might wonder why he's not sticking with the series and if your conclusion is because of the departure of Morrison to DC Comics, you'd be right. "Absolutely. His departure was a real big reason for my own. When he left, I realized he was the guy I wanted to work on the project. Without his influence and input, it didn't seem so appealing; Grant just knows how to write a script for me. He just writes to my strengths. I also had to produce each issue fairly quickly because of our schedules and it would have been nice to work on each issue with a little more lead time so I could really punch up the art."

Besides "Otherworld," Jimenez has more stuff coming up in the next year. "I'm doing some artwork for 'Superman #200,' I've got the eight page eulogy for Donna Troy coming up in 'Titans/Outsiders Secret' and other stuff, though 'Otherworld' will consume me for most of next year. My hope is to work on something with Geoff Johns and I'm hoping to work on something [pause] Titans related with him. That would be a very happy thing."

And would that happen to be Donna Troy related, since she is his favorite Teen Titan? "That just might be," laughs Jimenez. "But it's all about Geoff's schedule at this point! But I sure hope so!"

Being such an unspoken fan, even having produced a "Donna Troy" one-shot some years back, CBR News though it apt to ask Jimenez about his feelings on the "death" of Donna in "Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #3." "Quote un quote is perfect for it. I sort of knew of it for a long, long time and knew that it was a corporate driven death to get the characters of Outsiders and Titans to a place they need to be, figuring the character would at some point come back. That was sort of it. I sort of loved her actual death scene. I was just talking to Jim Lee about it and he sort of wanted her to go out in more of an Amazon blaze of glory, but I thought the suddenness of the moment was pretty powerful. But y''know… they killed off Donna Troy. [laughs]. You can only be so forgiving about that I guess. [laughs]"

Then there's the "Teen Titans" cartoon and Jimenez says he's a fan of that, too. "I love that cartoon. I think it's amazing. I think one of my strength's is contextualizing this kind of stuff whereas some people will say 'Raven didn't look that in the comic books.' But this isn't the comic books. It's the cartoon. They're adapting the material and turning it into something else. Is that something else a success? I think it is."

"My initial experience with the Internet was generally negative, in that I dealt almost exclusively with the Wonder Woman DC message boards, and a small but nasty and mean spirited group of people there. And not just the WW boards - many of them just seemed to play host to mean spirited readers. I actually stopped going to those boards soon after 9/11, because they were so unpleasant - and I had a different perspective. On the other hand, I've met some incredible, wonderful people through Internet forums and one the biggest supporters of my 'Wonder Woman' has moved back to Brooklyn, become a really good friend of mine, someone I adore. We have wonderful conversations about comics, life, school, the world etc. He's wonderful - I based a character in 'Wonder Woman' on him. As with all things, though, the Internet itself is neutral. It's all about how people use it, for good or evil. I've been finally getting my act together and developing a Web site…which I hear is a great place to go and exchange ideas- it's a very positive place I'm told. As many people know, when I was doing 'Wonder Woman,' I was shocked by the number of racist and homophobic posts that were appearing on the DC boards and by some of the nasty emails I got. I'm sure the anonymity of the Internet helped in the egregiousness of those posts. So I think you have to be careful of that. But as a device for comic fans meeting each other, I think it's great. And I look forward to nurturing a place for positive internet interaction!"

Jimenez would love to say more about "Otherworld," but with the project still about six months away, he knows that "mum's" the word. He does say, "I hope this project will help me change my life" and then adds, "Expect to see me involved mid to late next year on a book featuring the return of Donna Troy. Or die trying!"

And then adds, "I'm pitching a book to DC featuring their International heroes and the trick is finding the perfect pitch to convince Dan DiDio that the characters are viable and worth the effort. He's not sold on it yet, but it's my mission to sell him on the idea."

 
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