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Between the Panels: Colorist Jacob Phillips on Selling Comics at Eleven Years Old, a Special Twitter Connection, and Working Inside a Shipping Container

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Given his family pedigree — his dad is artist Sean Phillips — it might come as no surprise that Jacob Phillips heard the Muse’s call. But while a family name might attract initial attention, it’s talent that ultimately makes the sale; Jacob has established himself as one of comics’ preeminent colorists on Image’s Criminal series and will soon be branching out into new horizons of his own.

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Artist/Colorist

Your home base: Manchester, UK


Social Media
Facebook: Jacobphillipsillustration
Instagram: Jacobphillipsillustration
Twitter: @jacobr_phillips

Current project title(s):
Criminal (Image)
That Texas Blood

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I always lead off with the big question: Why comics? What attracts you as an artist to this field in particular?

Jacob Phillips: I wish I could say I’ve always strived to work in comics, but, honestly, I seem to have just fallen into them. I never planned on being a comic artist; I guess it was always there in the back of my mind. I have been a freelance illustrator for around five years working with various clients like BBC and Arrow Video before I started working in comics. But I was always interested in the narrative aspect of this work, particularly working on film artwork.

KS: When did reading comics first become a part of your life? Given your dad’s trade, I imagine they were readily available…

JP: I’ve been reading comics as long as I remember. Back when my dad was drawing for Marvel and DC when I was growing up, he would get sent boxes full of everything the publishers put out that month, and I remember going through those picking out the stuff that interested me.

KS: Did you gravitate toward particular favorite titles or characters back then?

JP: When I first started reading I was into the superhero stuff, but, as I got older, I discovered this whole world of other types of comics and started getting really into people like Adrian Tomine and Dan Clowes and that side of comics.

KS: Do you remember when the “I want to try doing that” thought originated in regards to an artistic career path?

JP: When I was 11, I wrote and drew the first comic I ever sold, “Roboy.” I think it was around 20 pages, and I wrote, drew, colored, and lettered the whole thing. We printed out around 25 copies on the home printer and took it to the Brighton Comic Con where I sold it from my dad’s table. This was my first time making money off my artwork, and I was hooked! I did a couple more issues of “Roboy,” but it turns out comics are really hard. So, as I got older I got more into illustration and went to [university] in Manchester to study it.

KS: To spring forward from “Roboy,” how did your first professional comic art job come about?

JP: So, at the time of my first professional comic job, I had already been working as an illustrator for a few years after I graduated university and I got set up with Sara Kenney, who wrote Surgeon X and works on loads of interesting projects, through Twitter. Sara was looking for an artist and a writer to pair up on an interesting comics project she was working on with Oldham Library and Wellcome Trust, which was about showing how comics could be used to engage with community and discuss the issues of mental health in teenagers. I teamed up with writer Rachael Smith and editor Tim Pilcher, and we created a comic called Jack & Lucy which was launched at the Oldham Comic Con in summer 2018, the story of which was based on conversations Rachael and I had with teenagers in workshops held in Oldham.

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KS: These days, you’re currently part of one of the most acclaimed creative teams in comics making Criminal. Can you talk about how the team dynamic works since, in many ways, the series isn’t reflective of a “typical” mainstream title?

JP: I think each of us is trusted to get on with our respective roles. Ed [Brubaker] doesn’t tell us anything about the stories in advance, we only know what is happening in the next issue when we get the script — or in my case as I read the script page by page as I color. The scripts aren’t overly descriptive and don’t contain a whole lot of direction for the artwork or the color; Ed trusts Sean to tell the story and then I am left to color it.

KS: Can you give us an image of your current workspace or studio setup?

JP: About six months ago, I moved into a new studio space on the outskirts of Manchester city center. It is one of around 35 up-cycled shipping containers which have been done up with insulation and big glass doors, and I love it. I have my drawing table up front against the glass and a 6’ computer desk running down the side which houses my computer and my Cintiq; this is where I spend most of my time. I use an iMac and a 27” Wacom Cintiq for most of my work; almost everything I’m working on at the moment is digital by I try and mix it up and do some traditional stuff when I can. Above this a 6’ shelf containing some of my comics and art books along the back wall are more books and my drawing/ painting materials.

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KS: Do you have a generally set daily (or nightly) work routine, or does it vary depending on projects?

JP: I try to keep to a routine, usually I get to work between 9:30 and 10 and work until at least 6 but can often end up staying later to get the work done but I try to avoid that.

KS: And where do you stand on listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work?

JP: It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m thumbnailing, I usually need silence, pencils I can have music on, and then with inking or coloring I can listen to music or podcasts or audio books. Occasionally, I can put a film on, if it’s something I’ve seen before and don’t have to pay too much attention to.

KS: Though I’ve spoken to a few colorists for this series, that process remains a mysterious one for many fans. How much freedom do you have when it comes to laying down color on an individual comic? In other words, what’s the balance between specific color notes you receive and you being left to your own devices?

JP: Usually, I am pretty much left to my own devices. Occasionally, Ed will put color notes in the script, but only if it’s something like “There’s a red light on the phone” or “We can see police lights on the street below” — the kind of thing that’s integral to the storytelling. Other than that, it’s only really the time of day in the scene that dictates my approach. So far, I’ve not been told to go back and change anything, so I guess I’m making the right decisions.

KS: As a comics reader, what do you appreciate about the coloring in books you look at?  

JP: I think it can really add [to] or detract from the artwork. I am one of those people that won’t usually read a comic at all if I pick it up and don’t like the artwork, and the coloring plays a big part in that. I don’t like overly complex, shiny, modeled coloring. I much prefer a more simplistic, raw style both in my work and the comics that I read.

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KS: Are you able to look at comics purely for pleasure, or is there always some part of your artistic brain at work, analyzing/critiquing as you flip pages?

JP: Usually, it’s a lot of “I wish I had drawn that” or “That’s it, I’m never drawing again” or occasionally “I reckon I could’ve done a better job than that.” It’s hard to turn off that part of the brain when reading comics, but it means that you’re constantly learning and looking for ways to improve your own work.

KS: Is there something you better understand about comics now since you’ve been working in the medium professionally that you didn’t back when you were an aspiring artist?

JP: I think I’m in a unique position where I already knew a lot about the background world of comics from growing up around it, but I think even that didn’t prepare me for just how much work goes in to crating these books.

KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest?

JP: I love Jaime Hernandez’s work on Love and Rockets and the way that has evolved with the characters over the years. I think it really shows how comics can be used to tell stories across time in a really unique way. Plus, the artwork is beautiful.

KS: Finally, talk about what you’ve got going on project-wise these days.

JP: I am currently working on That Texas Blood with writer Chris Condon, which I am both drawing and coloring. This is a crime story based in the fictional county of Ambrose, Texas. A corpse is discovered outside of town. County Sheriff Joe Bob arrives on the scene and recognizes him. When the victim’s only living relative, a brother fighting his past demons, is called and returns to town, he falls down a spiral of recurring alcoholism and inevitable, vengeful violence in the local saloon.

I have a couple of other projects bubbling away that will be out later in the year, but I can’t say too much on those at the moment. Exciting things to come.

BTP JP Texas d38

Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor



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