Drawn into a World of Crime: Phillips Talks "Criminal"

Yesterday, CBR News spoke in-depth with writer Ed Brubaker about his new creator owned series "Criminal" from Icon, which hits stores today. Today, we continue our feature on the series by speaking with the man bringing the illicit and violent world of "Criminal" to life, artist Sean Phillips.

In talking with Brubaker, the writer mentioned how the birthing process of "Criminal" took quite some time, a fact which Phillips reiterated. "It took almost a year after finishing 'Sleeper' to decide what to do together," Phillips told CBR News. "Ideas for other books came together and were discarded until we decided to concentrate on what we do best. Which in Ed's case is crime stories without the distractions of superpowers or secret headquarters. I think I'm best drawing those type of stories, character based stories set in a recognizable real world of grimy, rain-slicked streets."

Phillips changed his usual storytelling technique to bring to life the story in "Criminal." "Hopefully my art is always evolving anyway, but for 'Criminal' the change is more in the storytelling than the drawing style," Phillips explained. "Whereas 'Sleeper' was all cascading panels with no notion of a grid, Criminal is purposefully more structured. Every page is based on a three tier grid split into as many panels as is needed. I wanted to make the comic as easy to follow as possible, accessible to even a new comic reader."

New comic readers might not be too familiar with Phillips and Brubaker's previous collaborations on "Batman" and "Sleeper," but those who have seen that work know that the two collaborators just seemed to "click" from the get go. "We just seemed to understand each other right from the start," Phillips said. "Ed's scripts seem obvious to me, how to approach drawing them. I just dive straight in and draw it. I think what results is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. We actually spoke on the phone last week for the first time ever. Usually everything is discussed via email or face to face. We spent a week together earlier this year discussing every aspect of 'Criminal' from the story to the logo to the back-up features in every issue."

When drawing an issue of "Criminal," Phillips works hard to bring to life every element in Brubaker's script. "I just want to do it justice," Phillips stated. "Ed's written a great script and I try not to mess it up."

Phillips also found Brubaker's scripts to be invaluable tools when designing the cast of characters in "Criminal." "I usually do all my character design work as I'm drawing the pages," Phillips explained. "I find working out the character's acting style and body language much easier with the script in front of me. The faces aren't fully formed until the inks are done. Leo came together quite easily, based on one very loose sketch. I was thinking of Steve Buscemi's character in the film 'Trees Lounge' as an inspiration, although I haven't watched the film since it came out years ago. I was pleased with how the crooked cop Jeff turned out, too."

Those who have seen the cover to issue #2 of "Criminal" may have noticed what they thought was an homage to the bank heist scene in the movie "Heat" and might be wondering what films or comics inspired Phillips work on "Criminal." "I've never actually sat down and watched 'Heat.' I went through it on fast forward looking for ref of cop cars and found some more ref of an armored truck, too," Phillips said. "No idea what the film is like, I might watch it one day. I find nowadays that Google is my biggest influence when I'm searching for reference of things I have to draw. I purposely try not to be influenced by any particular film or comic although of course every film I've ever seen or every comic I've ever read has some influence on how I draw comics."

Finding time to draw "Criminal" while working on other assignments has been the most difficult aspect of working on the series for Phillips. "Just finding time to work on a book that pays on the back end is hard enough," Phillips stated. "Getting pages out of Ed has always been difficult since the days of 'Sleeper!'"

The most enjoyable aspect of "Criminal" for Phillips has been creating a quality and original creator owned work. "It's knowing that we've produced something really good," Phillips explained. "It's knowing that all that effort has paid off. Even if sales end up not being that great, we've done what we wanted on our terms, and have produced a book we can be proud of."

Phillips hopes everyone gives Criminal a chance because he wants to keep working on the book for a long time and he ended his interview with CBR News with a cryptic clue about another one of his assignments - a Marvel Zombies prequel. "I've got me some zombies to draw," said Phillips.

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