Last Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist extraordinaire Phil Jimenez held a spotlight panel discussing his storied career. Jimenez, known for such works as “Infinite Crisis,” “New X-Men,” “Astonishing X-Men,” and “Amazing Spider-Man,” shook up the usual panel style held at CCI by running his spotlight panel without a moderator and without even a guideline, deciding to let his fan dictate the course of the hour.
The panel began with a surprise as a CCI representative came up on stage and told the crowd CCI had decided to give Jimenez their Inkpot Award for Achievement in Comics Art, honoring the artist for nearly 20 years of amazing comic art. This was a total shock to an appreciative Jimenez who had not been told beforehand about the award.
“Holy camoley! I’m actually taking this to dinner tonight. You think I’m joking but I’m not!” said Jimenez. “Somebody tweet this for me.”
The panel then officially got underway, with Jimenez explaining what he wanted to do that afternoon.
“I have spent my life, literally my adult life, coming to conventions, drawing comics, sitting on panels and talking out at people. Basically telling you stories, hoping that I’m entertaining you, hoping that I’m going to give you some insight in the world that we live in and what we do," Jimenez said. "And I found out I’m more interested in your opinions on things and your ideas. I was hoping to start a dialogue with you guys.”
He took a poll over whether fans would prefer the old or new way by show of hands, and when the room was evenly split, he decided to do a bit of both.
“Is this anyone’s first year at the con?” Lots of fans hands were raised immediately. “Holy shit!!” exclaimed Jimenez.
He asked how people were enjoying the con, with everyone giving a positive review of CCI so far. Jimenez then pointed out some former students of his in the crowd and told everyone to ask to see their amazing work. Jimenez quickly described what he’s been up to on “Astonishing X-Men,” laying the blame for lateness on Warren Ellis.
“Consistency of scheduling. How important is that to you guys? Are you guys willing to give time to creators if you’re really in to the story, or do you want it there every 30 days?”
The first fan to answer used “Legion of 3 Worlds” as an example of a book whose lateness actually increased his desire for the book. “I was drooling like a dog by the time it came out,” said the fan.
“I read in all trades anyways, because it just reads better,” said another fan. “I’ve given up on pamphlets because of the schedules.”
“Other fields live and die by schedules,” the next fan Jimenez called on said. “I don’t want art to have to be that way.”
Jimenez than ask the crowd to ask him any questions, promising to be as honest as possible.
The first fan called asked what Jimenez had to do with Wonder Woman these days, and what he thought of the new costume. Jimenez showed clear distaste for the costume, but refused to get upset. “Ten years ago I would be in a fit of rage. I would lose sleep every day but knowing comics and knowing the cyclical nature of comics and knowing how things change, essentially, it will go right back," Jimenez said.
Jimenez than asked fans how long they’ve been reading, but first checked to make sure his new style was working.
“Do you hate this? Is this horrible? It’s just an experiment and I don’t want to waste your time, but I really want to hear back from the fans.” Everyone agreed that the new style was working but one fan asked if Jimenez could also answer his own questions.
“Well that’s not the point really!” joked Jimenez. “Well OK, I’ll think about it.”
He then reiterated how he can’t be bothered by Wonder Woman’s new costume since he knows it will change.
“My feeling about any well-built, well-designed character is that if they are well-built and well-designed they are resilient enough to withstand almost anything. Although if this change is permanent I will be a little sad.”
A fan then expressed his anger over the recent changes made to Wonder Woman’s origin, comparing it to changes made in the past. “They did it three times before and it always failed.” Jimenez countered, “Comic books exist essentially to sell advertising space and we are lucky enough to get art out of them, things that shape lives, that certainly shaped mine, and sales matter. They try stuff over and over and over because when they tried it last time, it sold. And invariably it sells again.”
Jimenez then asked the crowd what kept long time readers coming back. One person said that he comes back to find the rare gems in comics, citing “The Walking Dead” and “New Avengers.” “Pure stubbornness!” said another person. “Dedication to the character,” said another. “We want to be those ideals.”
Jimenez related a story he had told earlier in the day at a panel on gays and lesbians in comics, about why he loved superheroes himself.
“I was a latchkey kid, I think everyone knows that, I was by myself a lot and these characters ended up inspiring me in ways I never could have imagined. I have a drawing of Wonder Woman I did when I was seven up near my desk, it was reprinted in a Wonder Woman comic years ago, and I am amazed at how this character has been with me since I was a little kid.
“I know how important these characters are to me and how they’ve shaped my worldview, how they gave me something to aspire to," JImenez said. "I have a career because of them, I am here sitting in front of you because, essentially, super heroes triggered something inside of that I pursued this world actively as both hobby and career.
“For me, the best super hero stories actively make me think about my place in the world, what comics could be about and are about and what they shouldn’t be about.”
Jimenez then asked the crowd who had started reading comics after the age of 18, with only a few hands going up. He asked these fans how they were able to get into comics so late.
One woman said that her husband got her in to comics, and she never knew they existed before hand. One crowd member said he picked up Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” after the second “X-Men” movie and that lead him to pick up “The Invisibles” and got him started on the path to being a comic collector.
One fan’s friend is an inker, and he lent him “The Dark Knight Returns” to read, getting him hooked on the hobby.
Jimenez went on to tell why he feels comic book reading as a hobby is generally easier to pick up as a child, and not an adult. “I have a whole theory that [comic book reading] is actually it’s own language, and language acquisition usually comes easier to us when we are kids," he said. "What I find amazing is the number of comics I give to adults and they can’t figure it out. They’ve never read a comic and you give them a comic and they get confused over whether to read words or pictures first, and they don’t understand whether they should read left to right or top to bottom.
“When I watch a kid read them, it’s almost instinctive. They get it, they figure it out and they get really excited by the challenge of it. The words, the colors, the pictures, it’s enough to carry them through.”
Jimenez than paused to see if anyone had any questions for him. A fan asked if Jimenez liked comics better when they were more dialogue heavy. Jimenez said that he tries to “overwrite” the comics that he draws, fitting as much visual language in to his drawing as possible.
“You guys pay a lot of money for this stuff. Especially if you are going to pay four dollars, I’m going to give you as much art and as much words as humanly possible. I’m going to give you your money’s worth.”
A fan asked what advice Jimenez would give to aspiring artists. He called Jimenez an art-god, to which Jimenez comically posed with his new award, drawing huge laughs from the crowd.
To answer this, he turned to his students in the crowd and asked them what advice they would give to other people trying to break in to the business.
“I usually ask you to introduce me to people!” said one of his students. “You always tell us to be really polite and charming,” the student added more seriously.
Jimenez recalled how he was hired three weeks after showing a DC Comics editor his portfolio in 1991 at CCI. “I can’t imagine that ever happening now because of the size of the convention and the way artwork is reviewed now,” said Jimenez. “Getting in as an artist is much easier than as a writer, because you can see instantly if you have talent,” he added.
He also revealed a secret for how aspiring artists can get into the business, which is to contact the editors of the companies they want to work for. “The people that were going to give me jobs were not George Perez or Marv Wolfman, it was their boss. I never met those people, I told my friends they can go get their stuff signed, I need to go find who gives them their work," Jimenez said. "I focused on that relentlessly for three or four years until I got hired.”
Jimenez then added that if you are interested in making large amounts of money, you should focus on creating your own properties. He added he has his own property, which is in development, but chose not to speak any more about it, although he did meet with a Hollywood producer the previous week about taking his property to the next level.
A fan asked how technology has changed his work, to which Jimenez replied that it hasn’t at all. “I still do it all myself.”
“I’m so ridiculously old-fashioned in my approach.”
He did express his excitement at the possibility of electronic readers, such as the iPad, allowing comics to be read in new and unique ways, which aren’t available in paper comic books, such as motion comics and choose your own adventure comics.
“For characters who are not super popular, i.e. Wonder Woman, to the non-mainstream audience, this core 200,000 people that buy comics, my feeling is that for a lot of characters they could easily find fame and acceptance beyond that core if you got these characters and stories to other people," Jimenez said. "I like the idea of using electronic devices to get more material to people who would normally not get it.”
A fan asked Jimenez how he felt about digital inking, with Jimenez saying that he doesn’t care how comics get inked as long as the final work looks good. He specifically cited Brian Bolland as an artist who only inks digitally and whose work looks amazing.
Jimenez then asked the crowd if they knew, when looking at a comic book, who the inker, colorist and penciller is and if they can tell the difference. “It is in my general experience that people can not discern the difference, which I think is really, really sad.“ Jimenez said he would love to do a digital comic book where readers could look at any layer of the art, inks, colors or pencils, separately from the others.
A member of the audience asked Jimenez how he decides which projects to choose, since he is a very in-demand artist. Jimenez said he always picks his projects based on characters. “I’m a character person at the end of the day. The work that makes me the happiest tends to be the characters that I love the most," he said. “It’s very hard to put me on a book if I’m not in to the character, because I just get bored. I would be terrible on 'The Avengers,' everyone tells me ‘you have to do “The Avengers”’, I can’t think of a project I would hate more.”
Jimenez revealed that he’s been offered “Avengers” on multiple occasions since they became Marvel Comics’ premiere franchise, but he turns down the offer every time. “I have often been told that I am an A-list artist that likes C-level characters, and I think that’s true.”
Jimenez then told the crowd that his dream project would be to draw the original Alpha Flight team. He asked if anyone even wanted the original team to return to which the crowd both cheered and laughed. He then teased that he just took a new project with a big name writer, but refused to reveal to the crowd the name of the book, only saying it would be announced shortly.
A fan asked Jimenez what it felt like to draw the death of an iconic character, citing Superboy’s death in “Infinite Crisis.” “I actually like drawing death scenes because I’m very method artist, like a method actor. I walk around the house, I read out the dialogue. I’m very clean on body language and all the sort of stuff and the only way I know how to get there is in my living room with my shades drawn and acting out the scene,“ the artist said. “My goal with a death scene is to make it meaningful and impactful.”
Jimenez then answered a question as to why he never had a booth at CCI and he said that he doesn’t like having one, because he isn’t good at drawing at conventions. “I am awed by the artists who can draw here, because I can not. I don’t know how anyone does it.”
Someone asked what Jimenez would do if he wasn’t drawing comics, and Jimenez said that he would probably be working in a museum.
He then riffed on the idea of CCI bring together all sorts of people.
“When I am down on the floor, I am fascinated by all of you, aren’t you? One of the things I love about this show is that whatever our backgrounds, wherever we came from, we all collect here because we have this one thing in common: we love this shit. That, to me, is amazing.”
Jimenez then revealed that he hates drawing Captain America and Daredevil, but understands what some people would love about those characters.
A fan asked if Jimenez thought about diversity in comics. “You should have asked these 15 minutes ago, this is a really long, complicated discussion.” He said he wants there to be more racial and gender diversity in comics, citing specifically the Justice League as being “a bunch of white guys and a chick in a bathing suit.” However, he said it’s tough to introduce characters just to fill a role.
“When you introduce the black guy in the Justice League, he becomes the ‘black guy in the Justice League,'” Jimenez said.
For the last question of the panel, a fan asked Jimenez who he would love to draw the death of. “Oh that’s a good one, I’ll have to tweet about that for sure.” He was unable to think of any character he would want to kill right there, so he asked the fan who he’d kill, with the fan replying Aquaman.
Another fan shouted out Storm, to which Jimenez closed the by panel by saying “Oh I like Storm, she’s a goddess!