Talking Comics with Tim: Phil Hester

Writer Phil Hester is clearly enthused about his new creator-owned collaboration with artist Brian Churilla on BOOM's The Anchor. Not all creators are game to discuss the mechanics of the craft, and I was pleased when Hester was game. In addition to mechanics, we get to discuss the series ([Pre-Order at Your Local Comic Shop by August 25, 2009 {Today}; Diamond order code: AUG090716] set to launch in October).  As detailed at the BOOM! site: "THE ANCHOR. Holy warrior, unholy war. Freak of nature, beast of burden, hulking outcast, medieval prize fighter, Viking raider... God's leg-breaker. One thousand years ago a hulking outcast sought refuge in the crumbling ruins of an ancient monastery and offered in return the one thing he had to give - his fists. Transformed into an immortal warrior monk standing at the gates of Hell itself to keep our world free from its invading armies, The Anchor is mysteriously tricked into centuries of slumber. But today, this holy warrior rises to battle all the unholy monsters unleashed during his slumber." Be sure to also check out this preview of issue 1.

Tim O'Shea: What attracted you to working with BOOM! on this project, as opposed to pitching it to other companies?

Phil Hester: In all honesty, we pitched it a lot of places at once, and though other publishers made us offers BOOM! was the only place that saw our pitch and said "yes" without reservations. Also, they have a good reputation with retailers and fans, and among pros they're known as a publisher that will hustle their collective ass off to get your book in front of eyes.

O'Shea: How helpful has BOOM! editorial staff been in refining the book, or were they fairly hands off?

Hester: That's one of the other benefits. Many times when you're doing a creator owned book for a smallish publisher the creative team is set adrift editorially and promotionally. At BOOM! Matt Gagnon has been making schedules and holding us to them from day one. As far as the concept and story go, Ross Richie (lord of BOOM!) and Mark Waid seem to be the kind of guys who understand that the most important editorial decisions come in picking a cool project and trusting the creators who brought it to you in the first place. That said, it always pays to have another set of eyes on the book and Matt has been offering pretty spot-on advice as we've rolled along.

O'Shea: In a recent CBR article, you mentioned that series artist Brian Churilla's work was in the same vein of many great artists, including Wally Wood. It seems you don't see many folks mention Wood's name these days. That made me curious, what about Churilla's work reminds you of Wood?

Hester: He understands lighting. I know that sounds simple, but Woody understood how to give characters depth and weight with the way light and shadow played across their forms. Brian has that same impulse.

O'Shea: How do you strike a balance of giving enough of a tease about The Anchor's backstory, to gain reader's interest, without giving too much of the mystery away?

Hester: I wish I knew. Imagine how much a drag season 1 of Lost would be knowing everything you know by season 5. I want people to be surprised in every issue of The Anchor, but understand that in today's comic market it's simply too much to ask a reader to take a chance on a project sight unseen. So, my answer is a non-answer, I guess. We're walking that tightrope and guessing at just how much leg to show, to mix metaphors.

O'Shea: Back to the art, how much is Churilla's work (which you already respected, obviously) boosted by colorists Dave Stewart (who colored the initial series preview) and Matthew Wilson (who is coloring the series)?

Hester: Dave colored only the preview in an attempt to get the book as one of his assignments at a publisher he had an existing relationship with. That didn't pan out, but he was cool enough to let us use that pitch for promotional purposes. He and Brian are buddies. That said, I think Dave's the most important colorist of the last twenty years or so, and asking Matthew to work in that vein isn't an insult. He's done a bang up job in that regard, too.

The bottom line for me is coloring that enhances the art and doesn't overpower it. Brian is making great decisions and sometimes modern comics coloring tries to usurp a lot of those choices. Not so on this book.

O'Shea: When the lead character's job is to be God's own leg-breaker, how hard is it to inject humor into a story where the forces of hell are involved?

Hester: I think any great action story is leavened by humor, in fact the action probably primes the audience for some kind of relief. I think our humor will come from an anachronism like The Anchor strolling around the twenty-first century.

O'Shea: You have already decided to expand Little Saint's role, due to the positive reaction from readers of the preview. Why do you think the character struck such a chord with characters and how surprised were you by the strong response?

Hester: I was pretty shocked. We invented him as an expository device for the pitch, but he seemed to click with nearly every publisher to whom we submitted the book. In my original plot for the book he comes and goes in just a few issues, but I already have plans for working him back in. I don't know, people must be pretty morbid- they like comics with dead kids in them.

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