CRIMES PAST: Phillips talks New "Criminal" #1

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Eisner Award-winning series "Criminal" blazes back into stores today with a new #1 issue and heavily expanded, new-reader-friendly format courtesy of Marvel's ICON imprint. CBR News spoke with artist Phillips about the retooled series as well as his work on the Criterion Collection's re-release of the '60s film "Blast of Silence," a project that came about because of an article in the backup pages of the previous series of "Criminal."

While a good portion of the mainstream comics-buying public is aware of Phillips's "Criminal" work, more readers know the artist from his work on the hugely successful "Marvel Zombies" series. Phillips hopes to add to his audience with Volume Two of "Criminal." "If you bought 'Marvel Zombies' you should buy 'Criminal,' it's much better! The drawing is, anyway," Sean Phillips told CBR News. "The next three issues contain done-in-one self-contained stories. You don't need to have read 'Criminal' before to understand them."

The first three issues of the new volume of "Criminal" also differ from previous tales in that they each take place in the past. "The US is a foreign country to me, so drawing it set in 1972 is not much different than having it set in 2008," said the British artist. "It all needs researching, the clothes, buildings, cars, everything. Luckily, a few good movies were made in the early 70's so that makes research easier and more enjoyable."

"Criminal" Vol. 2 #1 flashes back to the early days of Gnarly, owner of the Undertow bar, which was the setting of numerous scenes and schemes in past issues of the series. "We tell a complete story in 30 pages, so I had a lot to draw," Phillips stated. "Gnarly is a tortured sensitive guy as well as a fighter… so there's fighting and talking. It was fun working on this story but also very tiring. I was finishing up the last issue of 'Marvel Zombies' while drawing this -- never want to have to do that again."

Sebastian Hyde, the series' most wealthy and powerful character, also plays a role in "Criminal" Vol. 2 #1. A deeply flawed individual, the authenticity of Hyde's early experiences was of paramount importance to Phillips. "The challenge was to make the reader care about him," the artist said. "Sebastian wasn't always a bad guy. This story shows the decisions he had to make to end up where he is today."

In "Criminal" #2, on sale March 26, readers finally get to meet a character with a legendary reputation for cruelty, Teeg Lawless, who has never been depicted up to this point. "Teeg is a vicious scumbag. I just had to draw him looking like one!" laughed Phillips. "It's possible to feel a little sympathy for him, things happen to him he doesn't necessarily deserve. I just had to draw him looking mean and dumb. The broken nose definitely helped there."

The third issue of "Criminal" Vol. 2, in stores April 23, stars a femme fatale out for revenge. "She's had a hard, short life. She thinks she's put the bad stuff behind her but it's not to be," Phillips remarked. "She's hard but vulnerable, trying to hurt the people who hurt her."

For the covers of the first three issues of the new "Criminal," Phillips wanted to focus on the protagonist of each story, but he also wanted to try something a little different. "I wanted to have a go at painting them in oils just for the challenge," the artist said. "Little did I know how much of a challenge! [It] made me realize I need to learn a lot more about painting. Each one took about a day, but most of that time was spent worrying about what to do with the painting next. After painting all three I went back and reworked the first one because it just wasn't as good as the others. I must have learnt a bit more about painting after all."

Fans of Phillips's work on "Criminal" will want to pick up the long awaited DVD release of the 1961 cult crime film "Blast of Silence," which is released April 15. "An art director at Criterion, Eric Skillman, had seen the article [comedian and comic book fan] Patton Oswalt had written about 'Blast of Silence' in the back of [a previous issue of] 'Criminal,'" Phillips explained. "He liked the drawing I'd done to accompany it, and just asked if I'd like to draw the cover for the DVD and also a mini-comic to be included in the box. It was great to do; I'm really pleased with how it came out."

For more on Sean Phillips, check back with CBR News later today for a new edition of STUDIO TOURS!

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