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.
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.
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.
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.