Interview: Phil Jimenez (Re)Births SUPERWOMAN

It’s the surprise hit of Rebirth, as Superwoman flies into stores today. Prior to its release (and any of its ultra-secret contents exploding onto the internet), Comicosity had a chance to sit down with writer/artist Phil Jimenez at Motor City Comic Con to talk all things Superwoman, what it is like to be back at DC, and how this book will fit into the world of Metropolis as we know it, post-Rebirth!

DZ: I’m going to preface this with an apology. You were off my radar for a little bit, which makes me feel like I missed some work from you. What have you been up to?

PJ: For the past couple of years, I worked sporadically in comics. I helped launch Angela for Marvel, and then a lot of my focus was at Valiant. I had a really, really good time there.

Tom Brennan, my former editor over at Marvel who works there [Valiant] now started hiring me to do covers and it ended up being a really wonderful gig. I was drawing all these characters that I’ve never drawn before and encouraged to draw in different ways I haven’t drawn before.

I started doing more teaching; I worked for Hasbro. I took several months off to develop a TV show with a production company. I have to say, I wasn’t making any money at the time, but it was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had.

You often hear people say, ‘Live your dream!’ and this project is a long-standing dream of mine. It felt so wonderful to work on it and seriously develop it with actual producers. I hope it gets off the ground.

DZ: Is it going to?

PJ: I hope so. I actually just sold another project, which blew my mind. I hope that will open the doors for this one. And then of course, DC Comics and Superwoman came along, back in October of last year.

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DZ: So how are YOU doing/what are you feeling about Superwoman?

PJ: So my head is in two or three places.

One: I’m actually really excited, partly because the working experience has been so pleasant. While I know DC has a sometimes-rough reputation about the way it handles its freelancers, this job, so far, has been a dream, and I kid you not, I felt good. It’s actually been really extraordinary.

Number Two: It is also one of the more bizarre projects I have ever worked on. I’m loving it. There are some things in it I have no idea how people will react to it. And I’m excited about that. I think. Editors seem to like it. There are some real interesting areas some characters, particularly Superman characters, don’t go to, and I hope that readers can get into it. We’ll see. So I’m a little nervous about that. But it does feel good to be drawing comics again.

Finally, I have a really odd writing background in comics. Some of the stuff I’ve written has been really good. Some of it’s been really bad.

I really tried to avoid writing for a while — until I felt that I had something I could say with any punch – something I could talk about, and this project seems to be that.  Mind you, this could all change tomorrow. 🙂

DZ: Is it a bi-weekly?

PJ: Oh, god, no. It’s a monthly. Just because it’s a monthly doesn’t mean I’m not panicked about schedule. I’m terrible about schedule. Incredibly undisciplined. I am so sorry for my editors and coworkers.  But I’m grateful for them.

And grateful for Emanuela Lupacchino, my rotating artist. She’s divine.

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DZ: What would your solicit text be?

PJ: Read this book. [laughs]

I think there are people who are better than me at that. There are a lot of surprises in the first three issues, some of which have to do with Rebirth, some of which are just things I want to hold for a little bit longer.

Y’know, just because I want readers to be like, “Oh, shit! I didn’t think that was going to happen!”

DZ: As it should be.

PJ: As it should be, but in this day and age it’s hard to hold stuff for too long.

And we were designing covers – the first six covers for the first two arcs – and it was interesting because we’re trying to figure out how, knowing how far in advance art gets released, what to show and what not. You know, to maintain surprise. What can be symbolic while not pissing readers off.

So one cover is a spin on what happens in the book. It’s a little clever, a little playful, and my hope is that people don’t mind that playfulness because part of that is just keeping things for the first few issues under wraps.

As an aside, I’ve been talking to Dan Jurgens a lot because our characters live in the same city, Metropolis, and we were comparing notes and we just came up with some backstory for some characters that I love. I can’t wait to watch that play out.

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DZ: So you’re able to collaborate right away.

PJ: I will say that Super-team is highly collaborative. Everyone is in it to do a good job. I think everyone understands the pressures of the bi-weekly schedule and no one wants to get in anyone’s way.   I’m very, very keen in this collaboration partly because I think fans like continuity, right?

So, if something happens in Metropolis in Dan’s book or Pete’s [Tomasi] book, I want it reflect that happening in my book, or vice versa. I want these reflections so that people feel, when they’re spending all this money and time, that the entirety of that world they’re invested in matters. That’s very important to me.

And it’s why, when certain scenes/elements get changed in my plots it can be little frustrating — but I’d rather change them to make everything work/jibe with each other than not.

DZ: How did Superwoman come about?

PJ:. I had been talking to Dan [Didio] about working at DC again, and a character I’ve never drawn is Superman. I like that guy. You know, he’s a tough character for a lot of people, but it’s like, “I could draw Superman and I think I’d like it.”

But behind the scenes — Rebirth was happening. It was decided they were going to rethink the DC Universe and incorporate more pre-52 elements. There’s that whole spiel that Geoff Johns gave about wanting to court the longbox readers again. And then, I suddenly was named the writer/artist on Superwoman.

I think the feeling was, they knew they were going to make Superman a bi-weekly book. I couldn’t do that. They knew that I’m sort of well known for female characters. They knew I’m well-known for Wonder Woman, but that was already taken care of, so I think it was kind of this weird mélange of meeting “Super” and “Wonder” needs, and “Superwoman” was the result.

But while they had ideas about who the character should be and who it was, they were incredibly giving – and still are – about all the stuff that I wanted to bring to it, which again, I’m hoping – fingers crossed – that people like it.

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I think its stuff that we haven’t seen in a Superman book before.  It’s incredibly character driven. My hope is that people will go with it for a few months and see all these characters in ways they haven’t seen them before, and hop on for the ride.

Some of it is quite crazy. And when I say “crazy,” I’m not talking about Superwoman waking up and the world is suddenly all pink— though I’d love that, really.  I’m just saying, I tossed some crazy ideas to my editors, often asking, “Would that be too outrageous or terrible?” And they’d be like, “No. Actually, we’ve never seen that. Let’s do that.”

I want to tell your readers that I love this stuff too.  I’m not interested in upending it completely. That doesn’t drive me at all. What I am interested in is finding a couple of new “ins” to characters or ways to reinterpret relationships or to think about heroism and villainy and DC’s been kind enough to let me play with that so far.

DZ: Did you design the character?

PJ: I designed the costume for the character. The character was assigned to me.

DZ: Does that first cover also allude to the supporting cast?

PJ: Yes. Very, very much so. The supporting cast of my book is also one of the reasons I’m really excited about it. It almost seemed a little ragtaggy, until you start actually connecting the dots to their relationships.

Lana Lang, Steel, Steel’s niece Natasha, who I love, and Lex Luthor. I would say those are the core supporting characters of the book.

And then, sort of minor level, on the cover you can see a new iteration of Traci 13, I found a role for her, so I’m excited about that. And then there are a bunch of minor supporting characters that will trickle in throughout.

When I got the job, of my assignment was to sort of reinvigorate Metropolis as an environment for our characters.  And so I began scouring old comics to see which characters were around and available to pepper the town with, and there are a couple of neat little surprises that show up along the way.

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DZ: Knowing your knack for detail, did you create a map?

PJ: Yeah. Absolutely.  Jim Lee created a map, for the online video game (I think) that’s very similar to the maps that were created probably about fifteen years ago, and so I just kind of melded both, I adapted them. I did a big overview shot of the city. You can see a little bit of the detail on Instagram.

But I wanted the entire office to have a shot that they could use, so that whenever you say, “Oh, General Zod (I’m just choosing that name) is attacking the Daily Planet! If that’s here, then that means LexCorp’s here and Galaxy’s here, and Suicide Slum is here. Just consistency again. I think readers really like that. I think creators like that. You can see much of it in the first issue.

DZ: Knowing you have an influence from George Pérez, and his knack for not leaving space for streets –

PJ: Is that true? Oh. Interesting. It’s funny you talk about streets. The new Metropolis they use monorails to get around as well. You’ll see monorails and you’ll see the bridges. The views of New York and Chicago that I was using, from that angle, you actually can’t see city streets all that well, depending on the height of the buildings. But you can see Metropolis Centennial Park.

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DZ: Any plans to include Wonder Woman, given your history with the Amazing Amazon?

PJ:  I say this honestly, I have two feelings about that: I did suggest at some point there should be a Superwoman/Batwoman/Wonder Woman team-up. If there is, I suspect it’ll be next year or something.

But I feel the Wonder Woman team is in good hands. I feel like that character will be taken care of, and I feel like as that character goes down a particular path, I’m like, “Let her go. It’s OK. I’ll stick with my weird, quirky Superwoman and journey to some new places.”

DZ: You mentioned 12 historical versions of Superwoman, which is the most prevalent in your thinking?

PJ: The current one because its the one that I’m dealing with.

Doing research, I discovered there have been Superwomans since, like, 1943. And it’s usually Lois Lane or some reimagining of that character, and usually Lois gets powers for a day and calls herself Superwoman.

There are three iterations of Crime Syndicate Superwoman: Right before the New 52 reboot, Lucy Lane was Superwoman, then there’s one from the future (Kristin Wells) — so the name has been around for even a lot longer than I ever imagined.

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DZ: Where are you pulling inspiration for this tale?

PJ: There’s an enormous amount of homage in the work.  It comes from movies, TV, and comics that I have always loved. Particularly in this past fifteen years of television, this third “Golden Age,” we’ve seen a lot of stories told about characters and situations you’d never think you’d ever see on TV. I think the influence is: it lets me be free to do the same.

One of the things I’m interested in in our business is how really promote the idea of flawed characters. But so often I find “flawed” is usually a code word for, like, “murderous sociopath.”  I’m more interested in flaws on a much more human scale. And ones that I actually do believe we could all have.

I’m particularly interested in Super characters whose weaknesses aren’t Kryptonite. Their weaknesses – and this is so trite sounding, but it’s true – are their human nature. Will readers be willing to give over to that? And can they relate to that?  I’m very curious about it.

DZ: What makes now the right time for a Superwoman comic?

PJ: . The cast, which is decidedly female and active with persons of color.  The mix of old-school visual storytelling with newer thematic ideas.

DZ: What makes this the right project for you?

PJ: Again, it sounds so trite. I got the assignment, and once I started playing around with it, I fell in love with it. It started to write itself, like, “You can do this! And you can do this and do this!” I have incredibly supportive editors and a really well-meaning re-launch of the line and a company willing to take chances on me again, after a long time.

It feels like a good fit. I’m actually really enjoying this. So that’s what I think makes this the right time for me. While it’s incredibly laborious,. I’m not horrified at every page I’m drawing. I’m not doing it just to get the paycheck. It’s been a real pleasure and I think the thing about my work is you can tell when I’m having a good time, and you can tell when I’m not.

DZ: You’re splitting time with Emanuela Lupacchino?

PJ: Yup! Two on, two off, seems to be the rhythm so far.

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Variant cover by Terry Dodson

DZ: How are you going to handle that?

PJ: She is there to step in to give me the breathers that I know I ‘m going to need. She is also working on Supergirl: Rebirth. She’s fantastic, and she tells stories very differently than I do. My issues will be hyper-compact and full; hers will be much more open and action-oriented.

DZ: Awhile back, you tweeted, “Drawing gorillas should not be this hard.”

PJ: Yes!

DZ: Are you drawing them for Superwoman or something else?

PJ: I drew a gorilla for Superwoman.

DZ: We can leave it there.

PJ: I’m gonna leave it there.

DZ: Aside from the obvious George Pérez influence, who do you cite as influencing your work?

PJ: People who are influencing me are not necessarily direct influences, but the quality of their work is so high that it’s having a real impact.

So, Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung, Jorge Jimenez – there are people whose skill set is so hot that they elevate the bar dramatically. They’re the ones that I feel like are my influences, and again, not necessarily direct inspiration. I’m not looking to steal their style, so much as I’m looking to elevate the way I work.

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DZ: You mentioned starting a blog to share designs and, maybe, process? It looks like Instagram maybe won?

PJ: I was looking for a dedicated site and most people just said Instagram. I wanted a place where I could just put stuff to get people excited because I’m excited and everyone was like, “Tumblr!” “No!” “Facebook!” “No” “Instagram!” So Instagram seemed to be the final settling place.

DZ: Would you say you do more research for your writing assignments or your artistic assignments?

PJ: Currently, the writing part of it.  I’ve actually hired specialists in a couple different fields to help me with this project because these characters are smarter than I am and they know more about certain things than I do, so I definitely needed the help! Especially when I’m crafting story, because I need to know these things and how these things work. So, yeah, I’ve actually paid consultants to help me out.

Also, I’m constantly consulting women and PoC about certain aspects of these stories to get them as right as possible. As long as I’m working on a book about women, I’d be a jerk not do some heavy consulting.

DZ: If you weren’t working in comics, what would you be doing?

PJ: I’d be working in museum exhibition and design, designing dioramas for museums. I just got that small TV show project optioned, and if that goes the way it will, I’m actually looking forward to doing more of that, because I do love telling stories in many mediums. So telling stories and teaching. That’s what I’d be doing!

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DZ: Let’s end this with a little personal info, Phil, if you don’t mind. What’s your favorite color?

PJ: Oh, it changes. It used to be blue. Then there was a period of time where it was absolutely red. Now, I’m in this green phase where I just think green is the most amazing color ever, but most of my life was blue.

DZ: Who’s your favorite performer?

PJ: I’ve discovered that no matter who or what it is — if it’s a comic book artist, a music performer, a filmmaker — I tend to fall in love with a particular period of their work. A certain time or sliver when their work meant everything to me.

For comic artists, I feel the same way. There was a period of time where there was nothing better and I am here today because of that. That doesn’t mean that everything they do I still collect, but that stuff, I am grateful for, 100%.

But I don’t have a favorite actor.

DZ: Which comic property television show currently has your interest and why?

PJ: I don’t watch all of them.  I really do like Flash and Jessica Jones.  But I’m still intrigued by older stuff on TV, too. There are lessons to be learned from all eras.

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Doug Zawisza: Is this your first time to Motor City Comic Con?

Phil Jimenez: This is my first time to Motor City. It’s actually my first time to Detroit.

DZ: How are you finding it?

PJ: I arrived in a maelstrom. I drove from the airport to the hotel in the dark and the rain and I’ve not left the hotel and convention center. So my sense of Detroit is a fairly limited one.

DZ: And actually, you’re about thirty miles [north] west of Detroit.

PJ: This is what I’m told. I only learned last night about just how far from Detroit city center that we are. I was talking to my fellow freelancers and we were all a little bummed out because I think Detroit’s kind of a legendary city outside of Michigan and we all wanted to see it. And I don’t think we’re going to have that opportunity.

DZ: And that’s a shame. Detroit’s in a bit of a renaissance now. While I wouldn’t say it’s a big city, it’s certainly got a lot going on and it’s edgy and fun and figuring itself out.

PJ: Yes! Many of the artists here are actually very interested in that. We’ve spoken to some [Michigan] residents who are like, “No. You don’t want to go down there,’ but we DO want to go down there.

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DZ: Yeah. Yes, you do want to visit Detroit. Do you have any other cons slated for this year?

PJ:. Boston Comic Con, FlameCon, and Palm Springs Comiccon — all in August!

DZ: And, last question, please complete this sentence, “When people talk about me, I want them to remember. . .”

PJ: I’m obsessed with this. I’m obsessed with legacy, to my detriment.   I would say, when I die, it’s not even important that people remember me, it’s that they remember a story that I told them and that it did something good for their lives.

It really doesn’t matter to me if they remember the guy that wrote it or drew it as long as it impacted them in a positive way; that their lives were a little bit better because of something I wrote and drew, and those folks made the world was a little bit better because of it.  I would dig that.

RUN to your comic shop now because Superwoman #1 is out today and it is FANTASTIC. Once you have it, read our 10/10 review here.

 

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