Sean Phillips - the Batman and Superman comic artist from Milnthorpe
PUBLISHED: 19:59 14 July 2013 | UPDATED: 19:59 14 July 2013
Sean Phillips looks like a regular family man but inside his studio lurks a world of superheroes and villains. Paul Gardner reports
As historic plaques go, this one is certainly different. It proudly proclaims the house was the first property in the town to have an inside toilet. At some point in the future, perhaps it will have a sign in the shape of a speech bubble, recognising that it is now the home of one of the country’s leading comic book artists.
A little like Batman, Sean Phillips leads a double life. People in the town of Milnthorpe, close to the north Lancashire border, see him as mild mannered dad and husband of artist Janette. In his other incarnation, he is an internationally-renowned award-winner who has worked on most of the US super-hero comics as well as co-creating two leading crime genre comics, Criminal and Fatale.
Sadly, there is no Batcave in Milnthorpe. Sean works from an upstairs studio lined with comic books and comic art posters. It is a creative atmosphere which he finds inspiring. ‘My previous studio was tiny, so it’s nice to have enough space for all the books I use for research and to surround myself with comic art,’ he says.
Since he started working as a comic artist over 30 years ago Sean has drawn all the top comic book characters but his early career is a stark contrast to the super-heroes and edgy crime comics.
‘When I was 12 a friend and I had a strip published in a local paper, which made me realise you could actually do this as a job,’ adds Sean.
‘When I was 15 I started working on girls’ comics like Bunty, and drew ballerinas and girls with their ponies. It wasn’t exactly what I was used to reading, but I was just really pleased to be working. It was a great learning experience, though to this day, the only thing I struggle to draw is a horse!’
Despite working on girls’ comics, he was a tremendous fan of American comics. ‘But I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to work on them. So when I got to draw Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men for DC and Marvel that was a big thrill.’
For the past seven years he has mainly been drawing crime comics with one of the leading American writers, Ed Brubaker.
‘Once I’d worked on the super-hero comics I didn’t want to do it again. I’ve realised what I do best is the real-world type of story, with loners wearing leather jackets and frowning a lot.
‘It’s also nice to be able to work on comics that are created by me and Ed because I’m a bit of a control freak. Working with DC and Marvel, you’re told what you can and can’t do. We now have total control of everything we do. It’s quite nice to have that kind of freedom.’
Ed lives in Los Angeles so it is a long distance working relationship. Sean gets Ed’s scripts by email and then gets to work turning them into the comic books that devoted fans line up to buy worldwide.
After some initial research on the subject matter, Sean often starts by taking photos of himself posing as the characters to provide a guide for his drawings. He also uses his wife and children as models.
‘My kids have been modelling for me since before they could walk but, of course, they hate doing it!’
Ed Brubaker has described Sean as ‘one of my best friends, and the artist I most trust with the most personal work that I write.
I know that he’s never going to let me down. It is a rare thing to have a great artist who can produce as many pages a year as Sean does.’
The current comic created by Ed and Sean is called Fatale and is a series of crime stories about a femme fatale with supernatural powers.
It has been a critical smash hit. This year it has been short-listed for six comic industry ‘Oscars’, known as the Eisner’s – which is only matched by two other publications.
Sean, who met his artist wife when they studied art in Preston, says: ‘It’s obviously a great honour to be short-listed for the leading awards in the industry that you work in, and for Fatale to be up for so many awards is really amazing.’
There will also be an exhibition of Sean’s work at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal later this year, which will be curated by Janette, who also holds creative workshops.
Sean, a patron of the new festival, says: ‘It’s great to have a major new festival like this right on our doorstep, so I was delighted to have the chance to get involved and exhibit my work.
‘The event is modelled on the European comic art festivals which aim to get the whole town involved.
‘ I think it will be great to see comic art all across Kendal.
‘Ed is also coming over for the festival and this will be his first visit to a UK comic event. Apart from anything else we don’t get that many opportunities to talk face to face.
‘I’m looking forward to showing him a bit of the Lakes. It’ll be quite a contrast to LA.’
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival runs from October 18-20 with Sean’s exhibition starting the weekend before. For more information about the event and to book tickets visit www.comicartfestival.com