That Other Dynamic Duo: Phil Hester & Ande Parks

A few years ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Phil Hester for Comic Art Fans and thought it was high time to revisit this savvy comics pro and bring in his sometimes storytelling cohort Ande Parks. Panel Surfing was lucky to chat with this fan favorite duo about their comics creative process both as artists and as writers.

Jason/Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about each of your backgrounds growing up.

Phil Hester: I grew up in a tiny town in pastoral Iowa, and after school and marriage, returned there. My kids are attending the same high school my wife and I did.

Ande Parks: Suburban kid from Kansas. Almost an only kid.  My sister was eight years younger.

Panel Surfing: Were you both comics fans as kids? What led you to the industry?

Hester: Totally. My dad’s job called for us to move a lot, so I was perpetually the new kid wherever I went. Comics provided a kind of constant for me, and since I had an early talent for drawing, especially comics, doing so for my new classmates became a way to break the ice.

Parks: Liked comics as a little kid.  Became passionate about them in Jr. High.  They were a good, personal means of escape for me during my parent’s divorce.  I got into comics because: I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in college, I wanted to do something I liked, and I wanted to be a little part of something that was important to me… providing the same kind of valuable escapism that was so impotent to me as a kid.

Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about your artistic educations.

Parks: Almost nothing.  A little in High School.  A year plus of college, and then working my ass off on my own and with guys like Mike Manly and John Heebink in a studio outside Philadelphia.

Hester: Of course, it was born in the comics I read; Kirby, Byrne, Eisner, Ditko, Miller, Steranko, Wrightson, Staton… and on and on. I absorbed those artists more than imitated them. I wasn’t good enough to ape them, but they seeped into my bones. I went to art school and on the first day, head unbowed, proclaimed Frank Frazetta to be my favorite painter. Not my favorite current painter, or fantasy painter, but favorite painter of all time. I never lost my love for Frank, but as I worked for my BFA in drawing, my horizons expanded immensely. I went from Frazetta to Rothko. I eventually graduated with a major in drawing and minors in sculpture and painting from The University of Iowa.

Of course, that whole time I was getting a secondary education in cartooning through form letters from editors at Marvel and DC, most notably Mike Carlin, Jim Shooter, Eliot Brown, and any other editor unlucky enough to be on cold submission duty. I sent in a submission every 4 months or so.

Panel Surfing: Your styles mesh so well together in an animated film noir type of way. Talk about some of your favorite projects together.

Parks: I like Green Arrow best, because of what it meant to our careers.  It was the first chance we got to show a wide audience what we could do together.  Also fond of the stuff we’ve written and drawn together: The Wretch and Uncle Slam.

Green Arrow by Hester & Parks

Hester: I should say that I’ve been pleased with everything we’ve done, at least on Ande’s part. I still cringe over most of my work, but Ande always pulled his weight. I think a book we did for Bob Schreck at Dark Horse called Freaks’ Amour was the first time our look was really defined. Up to that point I had been trying to be a poor man’s Alan Davis or Steve Rude, and with that book and its dark subject matter we kind of cut loose and went with our instinct for flat, graphic blacks, glyph-like shapes, and spontaneous line making.

When we came together on Green Arrow we got to marry that heavy, Jose Munoz-like style with our predilection for jaunty Toth/Fradon-like super heroics. I don’t think I’ve ever done that to my satisfaction, but the uneasy marriage of our natural cartoony drawing styles with a noir approach to lighting and composition can lead to interesting results. Of course, under all that is my attempt to live up to Miller, Eisner and Krigstein storytelling.

Honestly, the job I’m usually happiest with is whatever we’ve finished last, and that’s a couple of issues of The Darkness we did in ’09, or maybe the Daredevil/Magdalena book we did before that.

Panel Surfing: You are both artists who also write…or are you really writers who can draw?

Hester: I think the latter. We’re storytellers and we work in comics. Drawing and writing are different steps in the storytelling process, but they remain on that same storytelling continuum. They’re almost inseparable in my mind. When I write, I picture how I would draw each scene. When I draw, I imagine each character’s inner monologue.

Parks: I’m much more a natural writer than artist.

Panel Surfing:  Does it make either of you a better writer being accomplished artists and vice versa?

Hester: I hope both. I definitely gives you a better command of the form as a whole to have a grasp on what it takes to be effective at each stage.

Parks: Having a visual sensibility helps as a writer.  It helps you call for shots that are effective, and actually possible!

Panel Surfing: Phil, how did it feel getting nominated for an Eisner?

Hester: Pretty cool! Actually The Wretch had just been canceled by Caliber the week before, and I was just setting it up at Slave Labor when Dan Vado called me to give me the news. I thought he was calling to tell me he had second thoughts and was passing on the book.

Panel Surfing: What was it like getting to work with writers like Kevin Smith, Judd Winick, and Brad Meltzer?

Hester: A blast.

Parks: Thrilling!

Hester: Each time a script came in it was a master class. I learned a ton from working with those guys, and Mark Millar, Greg Rucka, Brian Bendis, Robert Kirkman, Warren Ellis… really pretty much every writer I worked with. I’d have to be pretty thick to fail to pick up anything from those folks.

Panel Surfing: I loved your work on Green Arrow and especially loved the tongue in cheek Ant-Man series. If either of you could have full creative control on a character or book who would it be?

Parks: I would have said Captain America or Batman a decade ago.  Now, I just want to work on my own projects.  Making my own graphic novels is what really gets me going.

Hester: I’d actually love to return to Swamp Thing, or any of the darker corners of DC; Ragman, Creeper, Doom Patrol. At Marvel I’d love to write the Fantastic Four, or write and draw Dr. Strange or Daredevil.

Hester & Parks Irredeemable Ant-Man

Panel Surfing:  Do you guys collect other artists work? Is there any of your own work you have attachments to?

Parks: We both collect original art.  I still have quite a bit, including some great stuff that hangs in my studio and my house.  The work of brilliant artists inspires you when you feel lost.  I keep some of my own stuff.  I kept one Green Arrow splash, for example.

Hester: I’ve saved maybe twenty of my own pieces in twenty years of drawing comics, so that should tell you how I feel about my own work. I have my first Swamp Thing splash, Batman splash, a few covers, a few pages I’m proud of the storytelling on, but not too much else.

I have a big original art collection. Not one of those blockbuster key cover kinds of collections, but representative pieces from most all of my favorite artists. It’s dominated by Kirby, Miller, and Toth. Then there are my quirky predilections. Ande and I probably own 20% of Tony Salmons’ body of work. I have a ton of Zaffino. Can’t get enough Pat Boyette.

Panel Surfing: Are there any artists who were major influences on your work? Who were some of your favorite creators?

Hester: I’d say my whole career has been a failing attempt to reconcile all my disparate influences. Kirby, Ditko, Toth, all the EC guys, Miller, Eisner, Wrightson, Staton, Steranko, Krigstein… look, I could do this all night.

Parks: Miller is the man for me.  Dick Giordano was my big inking hero.  Klaus Janson, too.  I love Neal Adams, Kirby, Frank Robbins.  I like guys who do it big and bold.  I like storytellers.

Panel Surfing: What are you guys currently working on?

Hester: No drawing gig, currently, but that may change soon. I’m writing The Black Terror and The Green Hornet for Dynamite. I’m a few years into my run on The Darkness at Top Cow. I’m writing the oft delayed Golly and Firebreather at Image, and I’m wrapping up Days Missing for Archaia/Rodenberry.

Parks: Writing a bunch of stuff for Dynamite and working on a few graphic novels of my own.  I have a GN in the can, that is being drawn.  It’s called Ciudad.  It’s about a South American kidnapping.

Panel Surfing: Are there any future projects you can share now either individually or as a collaboration?

Hester: If we draw something it’ll almost certainly be together, but I think we’re committed to establishing ourselves as writers right now. I may have a new work for hire book in the works at Dynamite, and some creator owned projects from Top Cow and Image. Too soon to say, though.

Check out Cartoon Network in the fall for their TV movie adaptation of Firebreather, though!

Parks: Can’t talk about the graphic novels in the pipeline yet.

Panel Surfing: It is the Hester & Parks reunion party and you guys are having pizza and kicking back with a flick. What’s on the pizza and what are you watching?

Hester: We’re probably sitting back to back because he’s ordered sausage on his pizza and wants to watch Citizen Kane again, while I want the spinach, tomato and mushroom deep dish and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Parks: Lots of sausage and other fats.  Phil’s off his latest diet kick, and I’m saying screw it to my cholesterol.  We’re watching something big and stupid.  Maybe Caddyshack?

Hester: Maybe we split the difference and eat some Arthur Bryant’s barbecue and watch Lawrence of Arabia.

Always fun and insightful talking with Hester & Parks. For more from this talented tag team you can follow Phil and Ande on Twitter. You can also keep up with Ande Parks over on his blog and learn more about those upcoming graphic novels.

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The Amazing Josh Medors

I first discovered the work of Josh Medors sometime in 2005. He had been a rising indie horror comics star but was doing some truly beautiful hyper-detailed commissions and I just fell in love with his work. His style – which he told me in an interview with Comic Art Fans several years ago – was influenced by Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo. I see some Dave Finch in him but he has a look all his own. He loves classic horror and it shows in his work. Josh has worked on Frank Frazetta’s Swamp Demon and Sorcerer titles for Image, Runes of Ragnan, Willow Creek and 30 Days of Night.

The Only Publsihed Marvel Work by Josh Medors - cover to Vengeance Of The Moon Knight #8

The sad thing about this amazing talent is that there just isn’t enough of his work out there for fans to enjoy. Josh has battled a very serious and rare form of cancer for the past 3 years and was even the focus of a special HERO Initiative benefit auction to raise money for his fight with cancer. The disease first slowed then stopped his ability to work completely. Recently Josh was at Chicago Con spending time with fans and sketching for them as best as he could. His fighting spirit has not been diminished.

If you would like to see a sample of the work of Josh Medors you can check out this special tribute gallery to his work from his man fans. His gallery was recently mentioned in Scoop as well. You can also follow Josh on twitter and if you would like to score a piece of his work you can contact his art rep Dave Kopecki. I strongly encourage it. You can also just send on your best wishes to Josh or just tell him what a fantastically gifted artist he really is…which if you just check out his work I’m sure you’ll agree.

A Comics Bohemia

Far from my neighborhood comics shop…well, actually my neighborhood doesn’t have a comics shop (remember when they were everywhere?)…I found myself at a super slick and trendy shop today in downtown Brooklyn called Bergen Street Comics. The Brooklyn hipster locale – you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter – boasts a literary setting for comics, trades, and book displays laying their wares out on large chunky tables ala Barnes & Noble. Bookshelves cover just a tasteful amount of the exposed brick walls and the hardwood slats you walk on don’t creak and shine like new. All in all a clean and relaxing environment to soak in some geek chic graphic prose. Even the grunge rock pulsating from the Bose like woofer sitting on top of one of the bookshelves did not distract from the comics literati setting or from comfortably browsing. While Marvel heroes are my bag I felt compelled to snag some Mike Mignola and Stan Sakai guilty pleasures too.

You can even sit and read if you like surrounded by some choice indie original comic art hanging on the walls (although someone has to be a mainstream fan given the Darwyn Cooke Catwoman sketch hanging behind the counter).

Myriad publishers are given equal shelf space from Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse and small Indie press hits like Scott Pilgrim. Critically acclaimed works of graphic literature like freshly minted 2010 Harvey award winner Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli  hang out with mainstream hits like DC’s Blackest Night and Marvel’s Avengers. Plenty of stuff for kids as well with generous section of Archie and Boom Studios Disney Comics.

If you are in the Downtown Brooklyn area – they’re at 450 Bergen Street in Brooklyn, NY – you should really check the place out. An ultra cool destination for all your comic tastes from hero to eclectic indie. Afterwards you can always pig out at one of the many fine dining establishments such as nearby fried food heaven The Chip Shop.  And if you fancy a drop in I suggest you head over this weekend as Bergen Street Comics is hosting a party at their store and a weekend long 15% off sale on all trades. Don’t forget to check out their art!

Where Does Art Come From?

This is a little birds & bees for original art newbies who might just be getting into art or graduating from comics scene to the wonderful word of original comics art. It is rough waters to navigate and can be a little intimidating before you get your feet wet. So here’s a little primer for new fans who want to get in the know and get some art.

1) Where is the best place to learn about original comic art?

Well there is a one-two punch for original art education 101 and they are ComicArtFans.com and the Comic Art Group on Yahoo. ComicArtFans.com is the world’s foremost online gallery – a virtual museum – for original comic art. Fans can join for free and have their own gallery themselves or pay for premium membership and benefits. The site offers great reference and thousands of great art to admire and study. It helps fans find out what they like and what they want to pursue themselves. There are published covers, splash pages, interior panel pages, poster art, promotional images, commissions, con sketches and more. It goes hand in hand with Yahoo’s Comic Art Group. The Group has daily posts and discussions on comic art, convention reviews, artwork posting and serves as a great Q&A for those looking for info on art. This could be a great place for you to track down a piece of art when you don’t know where it resides.

2) Who sells original art?

Anyone really but some people might be surprised how many specialty dealers there are who just sell original comic art. Many advertise on ComicArtFans.com but you can also Google search the topic and you would most likely see some of these top dealers, all of whom have many great pieces of art ranging for the beginning collector to the seasoned veteran. Check out guys like Albert Moy, Romitaman (Mike Burkey), Spencer Beck (The Artist’s Choice), Mark Hay (Splashpageart), Graphic Collectibles, Coollinesartwork, Anthony Snyder, Tri-State, and Will Gabri-El. You can also find thousands of classified results from collectors selling their art on ComicArtFans.com. If you have even more disposable income lying around once you exhaust all of those locations you will also find great art up for auction on some with auction houses like Heritage, ComicLink, and the granddaddy of them all…Ebay! Some artists – like Stephanie Buscema – are even using Etsy to set up their own original art store.

3) What about the artists?

Fans can also contact the artist’s directly and buy the art right from the source. Comic artists are incredibly accessible and usually great to chat with. Fans can find them selling their own work at Comic Conventions (from the big ones like San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con down to local shows). This is also a great way to get your first piece of comic art – the con sketch. Simply get in line for your favorite artist and pay a nominal fee for your very own sketch of your choice usually ready before the con weekend is over. You can also search for the artist online as many have their own web sites and art reps dealing their art for them.

4) Where can I read about art?

Well aside from the numerous blogs and web sites devoted to comic news (such as Newsarama and Comic Book Resources) fans can always find artist related news in Wizard Magazine. A good place is also the publisher’s web sites (Marvel, DC, Top Cow, Image, Dark Horse) where they are pros at promoting their own books and creators. The best place to learn about comic art and artist’s is TwoMorrow’s publishing. Check them out at their site and start buying up some of their many books and magazines on the history of the medium. Great magazines like Alter Ego, Jack Kirby Collector, Rough Stuff, Write Now! and more coupled with their many artist biographies and books will give you a great understanding of the industry’s rich history. There are a surprising number of books devoted to the comic book industry and people’s fascination with its highs and lows. If you want a great scientific look I cannot recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It is one of the best books a comic or comic art fan can read ever. Period.

5) What about Social Media?

The great equalizer. Everyone is one social media in some form or another and the comics industry has embraced this platform full steam ahead. Many writers, creators, and publishers are on Facebook and there are tons of Comic’s pros and industry professionals on Twitter. A great place to just eaves drop on the conversation and soak up knowledge on the hobby and medium. Best thing is if you don’t know something you can simply ask. It is as easy as that.

So what are you waiting for? You have a lot of work to do to catch up. Move it.

The Devil We Knew

Was having a discussion with an art collecting friend about the status of Matt Murdock as Daredevil and thought it merited mentioning here. With current storyline in Daredevil and the Shadowland mini series and specials Marvel is taking Matt Murdock down a villainous path that at least appear to culminate in his demise. Or are they?

Daredevil #511 cover by John Cassaday

I felt bummed when I heard #512 is it for DD. I was also surprised at the direction they took Matt in with Shadowland and even in his book making him leader of The Hand. A pretty big shakeup and kind of turning him into a villain even though I thought it was a red herring. Now there is some precedent here (well a lot of precedent if you examine the comic universe history of resurrection). Let’s look at one parallel. DC  shook up one of their major characters big time with Hal Jordan back at the end of Action Comics Weekly. They even killed him off in The Final Night. He resurfaces as the  Spectre for a little while. Now he’s back being Green Lantern and atop DC food chain where he belongs with a blockbuster movie coming out. DC has been known to cause other media stirs here and there killing off Superman and now taking the same approach Marvel has with Captain America as they reintroduce the formerly whacked Batman Bruce Wayne back into their “continuity.”

Cover to Action Comics (Weekly) #642

Marvel has become the undisputed champ of setting up their IP’s for future media plans. Kill off major character. Big news. Bring back major character. Big news. Said character gets 5 new ongoing and mini’s which all lead up to characters new movie and video game franchise. They did it with Iron Man, Thor (remember he was gone for 2 years!) and we are seeing it with Captain America. Is there any doubt Steve Rogers will be Captain America again? He HAS to be. He had his own “Reborn” mini and they already announced Andy Diggle will be doing Daredevil: Reborn. Will it be someone other than Matt Murdock? Maybe temporarily, but I doubt the one and only DD will be gone for good (or long) and who knows….maybe all this upheaval is being done to set up a Daredevil movie franchise reboot. While I liked the Ben Affleck movie it seems like I’m in the minority. That is Panel Surfing’s prediction kids. Marvel Studios wants to do their DD film and the groundwork is being laid to entrench DD as a major player like he was in the days of Frank Miller.

One other thing that is certain is the creation of all this great theme artwork that fans can get in on and collect as a finite theme.

And for all things Daredevil Panel Surfing recommends you check out the definitive DD site over at ManWithoutFear.com.

The Dean’s A Jolly Good Fellow: Happy Birthday Gene Colan

In honor of Gene Colan’s birthday today, Panel Surfing will look at one of the all time great artists who can paint with a pencil. Much like the spry Stan Lee who still writes at 85, Gene “The Dean” Colan is still drawing, still teaching, and still visiting with fans at Cons at 84 years young. Maybe the old Marvel Bullpen had a water cooler with elixir from the fountain of youth?

Some of Gene Colan's famous friends

Colan began working during the Golden Age of Comics but would become part of history helping to usher in the Marvel Age of Comics in the “Silver Age” of the early to late 1960’s. Drawing the Sub-Mariner feature in Tales To Astonish, Iron Man in his own title and with a hugely influential run on Daredevil, The Dean became a staple with The House Of Ideas. Colan is famous for his dark and moody shadowy pencil work. His masterful work with light and darkness in telling a story in one of the most dramatic and film noir cinema styles ever to grace the pages of the medium.

Gene has been inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame (in 2005) and even won a 2010 Eisner Award himself recently as part of the creative team that was responsible for Captain America #601 – voted best single issue.

For years collectors have wanted a Kirby and Ditko art was near impossible to find so John Romita art was the gold standard and you could go on and on with high quality blue chip artists and artwork from the formative years of the industry to seek out and acquire for your collection. Gene Colan belongs in this list as well and until recently his work was still very reasonable to obtain for such a pioneer in creating the look of a billion dollar global brand in its infancy.

One of the best Gene Colan collections can be found in the online gallery of art lover from down under – Australia’s own Andrew Van Embden. Andrew has loved Gene Colan’s style for years and has spent that time amassing some gorgeous examples of The Dean’s work.

Daredevil #20 splash by Gene Colan in Andrew Van Embden's CAF gallery

Daredevil #31 splash by Gene Colan in Andrew Van Embden's CAF gallery

Two Great Silver Age Large Art (Twice Up) Daredevil Splashes by The Dean of Comics – Gene Colan!

Gene Colan’s dark moody style also lent itself superbly to one of the most popular non-hero titles Marvel Comics has ever produced – Tomb of Dracula!

Tomb Of Dracula #20 splash by Gene Colan in Andrew Van Embden's CAF gallery

Gene Colan will be appearing at the Comic Art Con in Secaucus, NJ on September 12, 2010. This is the first ever convention devoted exclusively to comic art only. If you are in the Northeast try to stop by and wish The Dean a very Happy Birthday.

Right now is a great time to invest in Gene Colan art as there are still some very high quality pieces to be found. You can search on ebay and on CAF in both art dealers for sale pieces and collector classified. There are many great pieces out there.

Panel Surfing would like to say Happy Birthday Gene & Thanks for the great stories!

Jason

McFarlane Mania

Most collectors who grew up reading comics in the late 80’s and early 90’s will no doubt recall the phenomena that was Todd McFarlane with fond memories. Heck, it feels like it was just yesterday that his were the most anticipated covers of the month.

While He had some notable turns with DC on Infinity, Inc. Detective Comics, and then the Invasion event book, McFarlane achieved legendary status revolutionizing not only the art for Incredible Hulk, but the Amazing Spider-Man. He forever changed the way artists drew webs for Spidey ever again and in the process had one of the biggest comic best sellers of all time with his Spider-Man #1 which sold over 2.5 million copies.

His cover art has long been sought after and nearly impossible to obtain, way before he left Marvel to create Spawn and form Image Comics with a passel of other highly talented creators including Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, and Jim Valentino back in 1992.

Now, there is one huge story brewing on ebay with one of Todd’s covers currently being auctioned off. With a little over 4 days remaining the original cover art for Amazing Spider-Man #313 sits at $40,100.00.

Amazing Spider-Man #313 cover by Todd McFarlane on ebay. About as close to my collection as if it were on Pluto.

That really is amazing. I’m sure it is a fact not unnoticed by only the handful of folks who own a McFarlane Spidey cover and is a testament to just how important an artist the artist turned toy maker McFarlane truly is. He may be the father of hyper detail that has influenced some many other talented artists like Greg Capullo, David Finch, and Josh Medors.

All this really means is that now I will be that much further away from ever owning one of the holy grails of the comic art world.

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