STUDIO TOURS: Sean Phillips

Sean Phillips has been illustrating in the comics industry for over 25 years, having completed work for all the major American and British comic publishers. The artist is probably best known for bringing to life books like "Marvel Zombies," "Sleeper," "Wildcats," "Hellblazer" and of course his hugely acclaimed, Eisner-winning Icon series "Criminal." The Ed Brubaker-penned title arrived in stores this week with a new #1 issue and expanded format, offering new readers a tailor-made opportunity to discover the crime series that's beloved by fans and professionals alike.

Today is (unofficially) Sean Phillips Day here at CBR. Earlier today, we spoke with Phillips about the Criminal re-launch, and now we go inside the studio where he brings that and all his comic books to life.

By Sean Phillips

Welcome to my studio. I haven't tidied up specially or anything, honest!

We only moved into this house six months ago, but my studio looked like this within a couple of weeks and I was straight back to work. An artist lived here before us and converted this room and the one below into studio spaces. My wife paints in the other room and I draw comics here. Every day. It has almost everything I need, I only have to leave for food….

Ideally, this room was going to double up as a guest room, but it turns out I have too much stuff!


Coming in the door on the left is a filing cabinet containing boring household documents and stuff. On top are the few toys that haven't been borrowed by my kids. They actually made some toys of a comic I drew, "Marvel Zombies," so I've got some of those. Had to go and buy my own, though! Bidding on a couple more Minimates on eBay at the moment...

Above the filing cabinet are two framed "Garth" newspaper strips by the late, great Frank Bellamy. There was an exhibition of his art including non comic stuff at Acme Comics in Brixton about twenty years ago and I picked them up there. The pieces I really wanted, some painted magazine illustrations, had already been bought by Rian Hughes the day before. If only I'd gotten there earlier.

On the easel is a life painting I did a couple of years ago which was featured in volume three of Ash Wood's "Swallow" book. Above that is a board I'm going to paint on in a few weeks for a local exhibition I'm taking part in. Behind is a big cupboard about six feet-deep full to the ceiling with longboxes, mostly containing copies of my own comics, piles of original art and FedEx supplies. Next is one of two photo floodlights I use when shooting photo reference. Then it's the first of five bookcases containing most of my trades and hardcovers. This one mostly contains books about comics and artists as well as some oversized hardcovers and some National Geographics and other reference books I used to have to buy before Google was invented. Along the top of all these bookcases are files of comics too big for longboxes or just stuff I haven't got around to sorting through yet.

More bookcases with more trades and big hardcovers. Also, most of the magazines that Twomorrows puts out. I'm a sucker for their behind the scenes mags, especially Jack Kirby Collector, Comic Book Artist and Rough Stuff. Highly recommended! On the bottom shelf are files containing copies of every comic I've ever drawn from about the age of twelve. I compiled the comics I used to make with a couple of friends from the age of twelve to about fifteen into a hardcover for handy reference (available for any extra keen fans of my stuff from Lulu.com) and another one with the girls' comics I drew for DC Thomson in the early '80s.

Another filing cabinet containing stationary supplies and a file for each recent comic I've worked on. I usually keep files of ref and scripts for a while in case I need them again. On top is my Nintendo DS. I'm not really into computer games, I use this as a sketchbook. There's this great software called Colors which takes advantage of the DS's touch screen to turn it into a full-color pressure sensitive painting application. Once the hectic deadlines of the last few months calm down a bit, I'll find the time to get out as much as I can and do some landscape painting on it.

Next to the DS are a couple of awards. I won as Eisner last year for "Criminal" for Best New Series. The trophy only arrived a couple of weeks ago, so I'm still pretty excited about it. Next to that is my Scream Award from Spike TV for Best Comic Book Artist 2006. Behind them is a broken C-3PO figure I've been promising my son I'd fix for the last few months. On the far right of the bookcase is a broken train set bridge I've been promising to fix for him a couple of years too….

More trades on the bookcase, mostly grouped by artist: Mignola, Kirby, Colan and Buscema. I buy a lot of those Essentials that Marvel puts out!

Below are more files with copies of the comics I've drawn. Below that are some old sketchbooks and some DVDs. I don't watch TV or DVDs while I work, I get too easily distracted. The DVDs are for reference for all that tough stuff writers ask me to draw. Also on the shelf is a picture of Spider-Man my son Jake drew when he was about four. He wants to draw comics when he's older and has already self published a few. He'll be launching his new comic at the Bristol Comic Convention in May.

Going past another big cupboard containing even more file copies of books I've drawn we get to my computer desk. My G4 Mac is about five years old but is still good enough for what I use it for. From the left are some CDs that I never play since I ripped them all to iTunes. There's a Brother laser printer here for black and white and an Epson A3 printer under the table for color. I've also got an A3 scanner, a Microtek Scanmaker 9800XL. On top of that is a Reflecta film scanner I bought myself for my birthday last month. I'm old enough to have a lot of old negatives and slides so I thought it would be nice to get them into my computer before they disintegrate. Also on the table is an A5 Wacom tablet. I hardly ever use it, just for cleaning up scans mostly. I have done comics totally digitally with it before but nothing beats the feel of putting pen or brush to paper....

On the wall behind the computer are a few inspirational pieces I've collected. From top left, a Punisher page by Jorge Zaffino. I love his stuff, he made it look so easy. Then there's a poster of the third "Criminal" cover, one of my favorites. It's available to buy from Cafepress and so thought I'd better order my own copy just to make sure it printed okay. It did! I painted the original the same size as the comic so I like that you can see all the brush marks and stuff in this enlargement.

Next to that on original Kent Williams cover from "Static." I'd love one of his painted pieces some day. I've been lucky enough to have him ink my pencils a couple of times and I find it fascinating to study what he did with them. Across the middle are copies of one of my favorite artist's best stories, "The Crushed Gardenia" by Alex Toth. He definitely makes it look easy! Below are a few postcards and some Steranko trading cards. On the wall to the right is an enlargement of a John Buscema Conan page. Beautiful stuff, I'd love to draw Conan one day, just as soon as I'm good enough. At the bottom right of the photo is a turntable plugged into my Mac. I've still got a few vinyl albums and a box of 45's I play on it occasionally.

In the middle of the room is my drawing table. It's not as old as it looks, although I did manage to snap the parallel motion a couple of weeks ago. I'll get around to replacing that, one day. I use a lot of photo reference, which I look at on my ancient iBook. It's so old it's on OS 8.6, but still runs Photoshop okay and that's all I use it for. It is missing a couple of keys though and covered in paint so I might have to replace it soon. The drawers on the left contain supplies of paper and blank CDs and an old iPod I never use and ink and paper for the printers. Piled on top are script pages and reference and books I'm using at the moment for "Criminal." As I use blue markers to pencil with, the pencil sharpener fixed to the top is mostly gathering dust these days. To the right is a Boby trolley holding my art supples. I mostly use Pentel Color brushes and Faber Castell Pitt pens, although there's pencils and markers and brushes and bottles of ink there too which get used occasionally.

On the wall behind is the cover art for "Heart of the Beast," a hardcover I painted for Vertigo about fifteen years ago, written by Dean Motter. Propped up next to that are two "Criminal" covers painted in oils on board while I decide what to do with them.

Another view of my drawing table. The picture on the wall next to the Conan print is an original Tommy Lee Edwards page he was kind enough to swap with me. On the windowsill some Hellboy vinyl figures and stuck to the window a Rocketeer figure. In front of my drawing table is a trolley with my painting stuff on it. When I'm painting in oils I'll move the easel next to it under the skylight. Underneath, I store boards for painting on and big sheets of paper. When I draw double page spreads I like to work on one large piece of Bristol board rather than taping two sheets together so it all gets stored here.

Right, that's it, Back to work....

Thanks very much, Sean! For more Sean Phillips, check out our interview with the Criminal artist right here.

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