An Interview With Phil Jimenez

Running around the convention floor in San Diego, we ran into a lot of comics professionals. How could you not? We handed out a lot of business cards and asked for a lot of interviews. The first (of many) to answer our call was current Wonder Woman writer/artist Phil Jimenez.
A quick look around the internet proves that Phil has earned the unofficial title “nicest guy in comics.” Almost all articles on him include that moniker. Who are we to argue? After a couple of rounds of phone tag, we managed to catch Phil at home, and spoke of many things. So many things, in fact, that this will be Fanboy Planet’s first two-part interview.

Today we look at Phil’s humble beginnings in the business. He talks openly about his current and future run on Wonder Woman, the effects of a giant summer cross-over, and picking up the threads left by John Byrne.

Derek McCaw: How did you get your start in the business?

Phil Jimenez: Briefly, I moved from California to New York to attend school, the School of Visual Arts, to attend college, which was really with the single-minded goal of getting into comics and drawing Wonder Woman. While I was here I started making contacts in the business, most notably with Karen Berger. Two years into my school career I ran out of money and basically was expelled. They wouldn’t let me back in because I couldn’t pay them. In a last ditch effort I turned in my portfolio. And two weeks later I was hired by Neal Pozner, who hired me to do my first job for Showcase. So it was just a matter of really fabulous timing.

DM: Was that New Talent Showcase?

PJ: It was the 1990’s revival.

DM: Showcase ’93, ’94, so on…

PJ: Yeah.

DM: What was that first story?

PJ: The first story that I actually drew was a Cyborg story for Showcase 93. But the actual first art I ever had published was in War of the Gods number 4.

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DM: Are you serious that you had the single-minded goal of getting to be in charge of Wonder Woman?

PJ: I didn’t necessarily want to be in charge of her; I wanted to draw her. At the time George Perez was still writing her, so it was my goal just to be drawing her. That would have made me very happy. It wasn’t until later that I thought perhaps I could write it as well.

DM: Did you see yourself as a writer when you were starting out?

PJ: No, not at all. It was definitely an artist, I mean that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to tell stories in pictures. That’s probably where I’m happiest, drawing, breaking stuff down sequentially. Doing sequential art, I just love that. I ended up writing just because there were a couple of stories I felt I could tell. I just had a voice for them. It’s strange. People call me a writer and I guess I am, but it’s not because I think I could write Batman or some reason think I could write Superman or even Green Lantern full-time. It’s just because I know a couple of characters pretty well and feel that I can tell stories with them that will actually matter in the long run.

DM: When you started this run on Wonder Woman, the “Gods of Gotham” storyline was co-scripted by J.M. deMatteis.

PJ: Yeah. What happened was, this has been recorded a lot, essentially I wanted to use Batman and his family, and at the time there were people in charge there that…a couple of things that I had written were actually quite successful. I did that Tempest mini-series and that Donna Troy one-shot. But they didn’t feel that I could handle those Batman characters on my own so I ended up having to get a co-scripter. Plus the material itself was about faith and religion, and they wanted someone that could handle that material.

DM: That’s his forte.

PJ: Oh, yeah, please. Actually, I think the best stuff that he did, my favorite stuff of his throughout that run, he did the dialogue between Huntress and Artemis about faith in God. That was kind of great. It was a weird working experience only because the first couple of issues were definitely a settling-in period, and I had very, very tight plots and very specific character needs. I don’t think he expected that when he got the job. I think he just thought that he’d come in and I’d do some writing. And unfortunately, I think I really started to get on his nerves. I would be like, “well, I really think she needs to say this here…” (laughs) He’d kind of done the part that he really needed to and just sort of let me finish it off.

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DM: I want to move into some of the things you talked about at the World’s Greatest Heroes panel in San Diego. You announced that you got extended for a year. Were you looking for that, or did you get it and say “crap! What do I do now?”

PJ: It was sort of both. What a lot of people don’t understand is that my contract got renewed on Wonder Woman. It wasn’t that I “extended” my time on Wonder Woman, but that I renewed my contract. With part of that came…it’s very funny. Six months into Wonder Woman, the sales have gone up, everybody’s really into it, despite whatever rough edges it might have. And the DC people suddenly go “Oh! Maybe we should keep him on for a while.” Unfortunately, they’d promised the book to Greg Rucka. So they talked to him.

There were a couple of different ways. First I was going to do Donna Troy back-ups, and he was going to write the Wonder Woman leads. Then they talked to him and he was super-busy, so he said “why don’t you just let Phil finish what he has to say, and then I’ll come on when he’s clean, he’s done.”

So they offered the book to me, and the weird thing was that at the time, I was like “I’d be a fool to pass this up. It’s Wonder Woman. I’ve been working for this forever. For ten years now.” But really, my stories did have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When they first hired me, it was for a very finite number. So I wrote a story; the arc that I was writing had a definite end in my twelfth, which is now my fourteenth, issue. So it was like, “oh, okay, what else do I have to say?”

So it’s a matter of finding stories that I thought would be worthwhile. The thing that I never want to do is stay on a book longer than I have anything to say. Because I think that happens a lot in comics. Obviously, there’s the financial security. People will stay on things until they’re pulled off. I would definitely like to leave my book on a high note. I suspect that I will stay as long as I have something to say about the character.

DM: When you came in, did you intend to kill Hippolyta, or was that editorially mandated?

PJ: This is a bone of contention. Basically, by saying that it was editorially mandated suggests that I had no choice in the matter. I was told when I was hired that this event was going to happen, and that Hippolyta would indeed perish along with other heroes…

DM: So you were told that ahead of time.

PJ: Yeah, yeah. I kind of fought it at the beginning, because I just thought that really sucks, and it’s another female character that we’re killing off, and it’s one of Wonder Woman’s major supporting characters, and it’s Hippolyta. I actually really like Hippolyta. And then I thought about it.

First off, they weren’t going to change their minds, and I thought about the dramatic potential of it. I thought, I could get a story out of this for months and months. And quite frankly, it worked really well with what I wanted to do, because I wanted to have Diana and her mother at odds for most of my run. Then it worked out really well that they were at odds and then her mom dies. I just thought that there’s drama that we get to play with Diana that’s never been played before. So I kind of gave in and worked my stories, knowing that that was going to come, building up to that point.

DM: Do you think it odd that both Hippolyta and Odin (in Marvel’s Thor) died in the same month?

PJ: Didn’t even know about that, until my friend e-mailed me, “Did you know that Odin died in Thor? Not a clue. I thought that was very interesting. But you know, (laughs) it’s like when those two asteroid movies came out at the same time? It sounds really cheeseball to make that analogy, but I’m sure that even though they knew about it, maybe, they had nothing to do with each other. Honestly, I had no idea.

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DM: Let’s talk about John Byrne’s hand in Wonder Woman. You mentioned in San Diego that you’re planning to fix a huge plothole with Darkseid?

PJ: It’s not so much a plot hole as a plot dangler. I don’t think that it was a plot problem, it’s just that Darkseid came in, decimated Paradise Island, and left. I just thought, wait a minute, she hasn’t seen him since, they haven’t sought retribution, there was no past for that. It was just Darkseid being mean to the Amazons and then leaving. And so I was very fortunate that in Our Worlds At War Darkseid ended up being a big player, as did Wonder Woman. I found a way to spin that cross-over, that aspect, into a story where Diana finally gets some pay-off for what he did to the Amazons.

DM: You seem very comfortable with Donna Troy. You mentioned that an early plan with Rucka was for you to do Troy back-ups. So are you comfortable with what Byrne did to explain her character?

PJ: No. I get it, I understand it. I think it’s so much more complicated than it ever was before. But I understand it linearly. I mean, I drew it, that poster that’s coming out of those Titans covers, that’s her history linearly. It’s not like I…ecch….I just get it.

The point about what’s easiest for me with that character is just to ignore the thousand multiple horrible lives and for all intents and purposes ignore the “oh, she’s a cheap carbon copy of Diana,” and just play her as Donna Troy. The Donna Troy that we all know and love, which is not to ignore anything that anyone else has done. It’s just to say that a lot of those elements aren’t helpful for telling good stories with her. And people get wound up about the minor details. I say, what did everyone love about Donna, and play off that stuff.

I probably make her a little more girly than people like, just because it amuses me to do so. And partly because I think she’s a fashion photographer who’s been involved in that world for five years, at least. A very short amount of time, actually; she’s only 24. This is a woman who’s surrounded by models and photographers and fashion and art people, and I suspect she does very well in that world. So, I tend to play her as being a little more cognizant of it. She’s a little more into the latest fashions and stuff. Not because she’s…just for work…not because she’s snotty or anything. I think she would know that stuff, that’s why I dress her up.

DM: Okay. I have a geek question from a friend. If Wonder Woman has the speed of Mercury, does that mean she’s dipping into the Speed Force, too?

PJ: It’s actually the speed of Hermes.

DM: Sorry.

PJ: No, no, no. Just tell your friend they’re two different characters.

DM: That’s true. I read War of the Gods.

PJ: Yes. Actually, I don’t know about that. I don’t know if the gods are connected to the Speed Force. I’m not quite sure I understand everything there is to know about the Speed Force. Someone else asked me that question. Ask Geoff Johns that question, and then e-mail me with the answer. (laughs)

Tomorrow, part two of the interview, in which Phil talks about the next storyline in Wonder Woman, his thoughts on a Wonder Woman movie, his future in the business, and advice for those just starting out.

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About Derek McCaw
In addition to running Fanboy Planet, Derek has written for ActionAce, Daily Radar, Once Upon A Dime, and The Wave. He has contributed stories to Arcana Comics (The Greatest American Hero) and Monsterverse Comics (Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave). He performs with ComedySportz San Jose and ShakesBEERience, in addition to occasional screenwriting and acting jobs. If you ever played Eric's Ultimate Solitaire on the Macintosh, it was Derek's voice as The Weasel that urged you to play longer. Email him at editor@fanboyplanet.com.