Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Sean Phillips understands noir like few artists before him. His characters exist in the shadows of our world, just about visible in we care to look. They are dangerous, haunted, complex and conflicted, and they cross a terrain as tense and brutal as any minefield. These are people we sometimes fear, but often care about, and Phillips' art brings out their humanity as well as their baser nature."
- Ian Rankin
There you go, I don't have to write anything now. Dave Gibbons' observation that Phillips makes it all look so effortless holds water too - especially when he drew Eddie Campbell's HELLBLAZER straight into inks without pencils. That really loosened him up. It's not effortless, obviously, and I can't recall who noted within that Sean puts the story first rather than grandstanding but that's precisely why he does grab my attention time after time and why I expend more words on his art than almost any other artist in comics.
Almost all Phillips' collaborators supply commentary here: Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis, Eddie Campbell, Jamie Delano et al, and what I would emphasise above all is that this isn't simply a lush, annotated art book, it is the entire history of the artistic development and nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts career of one of comics' most masterful artists and finest designers to boot.
These 300 pages cover contacts, contracts, financial, practical realities, the ups and downs of individual titles and the industry as a whole. As such it doubles as a fascinating insight into comicbook creation and publication over the last thirty years.
Imagine, for example, trying to find work and kickstart your careeer without the aid of the internet a) to showcase your work and b) to explore your options with potential publishers. All Sean had to go on was what he saw on the British newsstands.
Some of these images have never seen print before either because they were for personal pleasure or censored like some scenes in STRAIGHTGATE - which is indeed what the title suggests. Written by John Smith, it ran in the big, bold, innovative statement that was CRISIS, but even they baulked at some of its more lurid images. Other pieces are rare - like Phillips' early work on a great many girls' comics - or you may never even have heard of them. Take his collaboration with Mark Millar on the two-page RIGHT BEHIND YOU for the Sunday Herald in 2005, depicting a dismissive George W. Bush and a wavering Tony Blair under siege at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. Scathing punchline, that.
You're also given access to his pre-teen collaborations with friends, his early professional work (Sean was first published aged 15!) and his college work including a knock-out, close-up, acrylic portrait of Michael Moorcock's Elric whose lighting and textures are tremendous. There's also much I had forgotten Phillips was even involved in like Devin Grayson's USER (reprint, please!) as well as THE HEART OF THE BEAST and, oh, there are so many styles and media on show here, reproduced with exquisite production values.
I also promised you practicalities, like the fact that SLEEPER lost money on every single issue so that we're lucky there was a second season at all (the trades shot out, thankfully) and that although Marvel singularly failed to contact Sean for an entire year after his best-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES, its royalties did basically pay for Phillips to draw CRIMINAL which was creator-owned and so came with no page rate. No wage. Can you imagine comics without CRIMINAL?
Sean's musings on that game-changing year of his career may give many pause for thought: without something creator-owned like that he wouldn't have had a pension. We were so stoked to host Sean for the launch of that title after its very first issue, little suspecting how vital that would prove for us later on.
For more on Ed Brubaker's co-conspirator on KILL OR BE KILLED, PULP, CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT, RECKLESS and so much more please click on their covers for reviews. I do go on, but so should you. They are each of them remarkable.