interviews

Final Crisis: Revelation Talk with Philip Tan

Final Crisis: Revelation #2 Art by Philip TanPeople are constantly tossing out the title, “Nicest person in comics,” to describe artists, writers, editors, and others, but I think I can say that I’ve found a person who genuinely qualifies for the title: artist Philip Tan, who provides the detailed pencils on the forthcoming Final Crisis: Revelation mini-series.

Philip was nice enough to respond to my questions on his background, his art, and the series, always with an implied emoticon smile on his face. Keep an eye on this guy, folks: he’ll be one of the superstars in the industry before you know it.

Eric Newsom: I noticed that you have an architectural degree, but you instead chose to be part of a really talented group of young Filipino artists working in the comic industry. What is it about comic books that appeal to you?

Philip Tan: Comics and graphic storytelling has always been one thing that I enjoyed from a very young age! Japanese and other Asian comic books were my first intro into this kind of “reading” experience and eventually Western/European comic books came into my life when I got to high school! Growing up with all these kinds of creative products, on top of my huge interest in drawing…it was always at the back of my mind, dreaming about being someone in the industry, from time to time.

Now, my parents had very different plans for me (as most Asian parents would…). They wanted me to be a doctor…I passed school for pre-med but switched on the very first day of school to architecture (almost gave both my parents a heart attack each, but I figured that at least they wouldn’t be as mad as me going into fine arts…). I learned to love architecture afterwards and at certain points in my college life almost gave up the dream of getting into comics to be “realistic,” and be an architect like a lot of my classmates…

But at every stage of my life I kept getting drawn to things about the different comics I read. Visuals, stories, designs… every aspect of this fun medium captured me! I think I just got to a point where I didn’t think I would be happy doing anything else.. and regardless of all kinds of odds… I wanted to do this as a living!

EN: What were some of your favorite titles / artists while growing up? Any that were particularly influential in your path to becoming an artist?

PT: My earliest experiences were all Asian comic books. This is where I probably can go on for five pages but I’ll try to be concise… I usually try to look at many different things: works from Yuzo Takada, Haruhiko Mikimoto, to more popular ones like Otomo, Shirow and Toriyama, all had various levels of influence on me. But Takehiko Inoue’s Slamdunk influenced my childhood/teen years in more ways than any other books out there. Up ’til now, I still pick up everything he does, from Real to Vagabond, and still continue to learn from him. Hong Kong artist Ma-Weng-Sheng’s work also. Until I picked up my first few western comic books…and for a long time I was trying very hard to ape Mark Bagley, Paul Ryan and Jim Valentino… then eventually getting exposed to more influences. I think with the European books, I will say books like Tintin and Asterix/Obelisk came first, way before stuff from Manara, Moebius or Serpieri.

All that being said, I do think I follow many different other artist now that influenced me more.

EN: I noticed the picture of you on your blog with Manapul, Portacio, Anacleto and Yu. Do you share a lot of camaraderie with other Filipino artists of your generation? Do you feel that you have all shared a common experience?

PT: All of us live pretty far away from each other…and we all don’t really hang out a lot aside from conventions…I have a lot of respect for all of them, all very successful and big Filipino artists! Although I would say that we all probably share different experiences when it comes to life and comics…

EN: If I’m not mistaken, Final Crisis: Revelation is the first book you’ve worked on for DC, besides DC Universe #0. When you signed the DC exclusive, were there specific writers or characters or titles that you wanted to work on?

PT: Well, we really should stay away from the details of my exclusivity [laughs]. But to answer what I can, yes Zero is my first DC book (One page of art, and that’s if you don’t count my Wildstorm gig so many years ago, Taleweaver… that was my first ever comic book work). And I do have writers that I dream of working with. I was very lucky to have one dream fulfilled already. I’m a BIG fan of Greg Rucka and can’t believe I get work with him right away on my first DC series.

I’m also a huge fan of Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns… hopefully soon [laughs]. I read alot of Mark Millar and Warren Ellis too, but unless they write for DC, probably not anytime soon…although that would be very cool also.

EN: Have you read any of the previous incarnations of Cris Allen and Montoya? Or the Spectre and the Question when the identities were held by other characters? Any thoughts you’d care to share on those series?

PT: I wasn’t a big fan of the Spectre until I saw Alex Ross’ Kingdom come version…which now I try to study the feel of for my series… And it wasn’t also until recently that I’ve gone though a big dose of Renee and Crispus in the Gotham Central. Great fun stuff!

EN: How does looking back over those series affect your current work with the characters, if at all?

PT: Very much, as it totally helped me to “feel” how those characters behave and act when they were normal human beings…it added another dimension and layer for me to flesh out how my versions of those two look.

EN: I gather that you’ve been working very closely with Greg Rucka on this book. Is this a process that you normally have with writers? Have there been any benefits to this collaboration?

PT: I always try to be in touch with the writers as much as I can. During my last work on Spawn: Godslayer, I would meet up with writer Brian Holguin from time to time just to talk about the next issue. Greg lives in another state so I try to maintain as much email interaction as I can, phone if I have to… but nonetheless, the relationship I am building with Greg certainly gives me more room to play as I get to know more what’s Greg’s goals are. And that can only make the book better in the end.

For example, Greg is very big on research and details, and so am I. So he would sent me stuff on a form of Chinese martial arts called “Ba Gua” and I would do more research on it just to give a couple of scenes the right feel….

EN: Do you do most of your research online? How do you think things like Wikipedia and YouTube have affected the way artists are able to do their research now? For better or worse?

PT: I have tons of reference books at home.. but I will say more than 70% still came from the web! Wiki and the ‘Tube have got to be artist’s best friend nowadays!

EN: I’ve told Greg that one of my hesitations in Montoya becoming the Question is that I worried many artists would struggle to define a character as female without showing her face. Have you developed an approach to this issue?

PT: Question is very tricky to draw.. my goal is to get her to look as sexy and badass as possible and still bring all the necessary emotions across even with the features of her face in costume.

EN: Can you walk us through your process of creating a page? How much pre-drawing, sketching and thumb-nailing do you go through?

PT: Well…like many other comic artists out there, whenever I get a script I spend time absorbing it into my head first. Then I usually try to take notes on all my questions and ask the writer and editors about them, which includes taking notes on what to research or what to design. Then I start doing layouts and get approval before starting. I usually do very little thumbnails unless I keep messing up the goal of the page…and have to keep redoing them until it’s good to go.

Now it might be very hard to go through the stages of how I break down my layouts on panels and pages…since it really is very different from page to page and book to book.

EN: What is the approval process like at DC Comics? How many people see the page before you know it’s good to go?

PT: Hmm…I’m not sure how it’s like for others, but working with Eddie Berganza and Adam Schlagman is awesome! They and Greg will check out the layouts/designs/pencils and let me know if they’re good and that’s it! Eddie and Adam are awesome in getting things to look their best and giving me the most complete reference they can provide, and Greg is just unbelievably cool to work with! Greg explains with very powerful emotions from the characters that he is writing and it immediately gives you an idea where he is coming from and what the goals are.

EN: I notice that you’ve been doing some work with computerized painting lately. Is this a medium you’d have an interest in using with your comics work?

PT: Oh no.. I am very bad at it! [laughs] I was only playing around on those…but I am very interested. I just need time to practice and study them more!

EN: Your penciled pages look very organic and have a wide range of values — they’re spectacular to look at. How do you build enough trust to turn them over to an inker?

PT: Well… I usually go through TONS of discussion and work with the inker on how to best get the right look, since my art is a little different and might be much more difficult to ink. But my inking team of Jonathan Glapion and Jeff Delos Santos are ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL!

Jeff I have worked with for a almost two years and he completely understands what my goals are on the look of my art, and Jonathan, my GAWD…this dude has got MAD skills! Not only did his style gel right away on my art, he brings so much more to it! And back and forth, he and Jeff keep trying to outdo each other on how to handle my art! I LOVE my team! I am very lucky and blessed to have talented peeps like them to work with! And above anything else, both have golden attitudes and ethics towards the collaboration!

EN: Do you approach each project differently than the last? Is there anything about Final Crisis: Revelation that you’re doing differently?

PT: There’s only one thing I am doing different. And I guess it’s just something I finally realized, growing up and learning more as an artist in the industry. Not saying that I didn’t give my best before but…I think now I REALLY feel and believe that I treat whatever book I am working on the last book I will do and give 300% of my effort!

EN: This story features both the Spectre — who is one of the most God-level characters in the DCU — and the Question — who is one of the most street-level. How do you approach these perspectives in the art? Do we see things mostly from the p.o.v. of one character or another?

PT: I really don’t think I give a lot of differences in portraying looks with characters of different background levels. I usually try to understand how the writer approaches the characters and situation and give them my interpretation of the appropriate mood. I’m probably not limiting myself to approach the visuals on any character’s p.o.v. and I try to deliver the story with pacing on how much information is given from the visuals.

And as DC might have already described about the series, the book is really a big part of Spectre’s journey toward accepting his role in the universe and not just about the street level crimes he is acting God’s vengeance upon right now. So we will definitely slowly move towards bigger and grander things for the Spectre while we go through all those, with the Question playing the most important role! Imagine as the Spectre gets more into what he should be dealing with, the bigger the problems become for Renee!

EN: If you can tell us without giving too much away, what’s been your favorite page(s), panel(s), or character(s) to draw so far?

PT: Oh wow…this will be giving things away…lemme see…there’s so much I can barely pick just one…

Villains are fun for me. One of the splashes with Batwoman in it in issue two is my favorite so far…( most painful too in terms of work) But drawing Renee kicking ass with martial arts definitely tops my list…and I thank Greg for that!

EN: At this point, we’ve seen the full cover for the first issue, and what Greg called a “cover element” on his blog. I believe that we’ll be seeing the second issue’s cover this coming week — can you give us any ideas on what we can expect to see on coming covers?

PT: More spoilers? [laughs] Kidding!

I think I try to have a uniting element with each issues’ main and alt covers.. So the first issue will have Spectre against a lightning bolt that’s lighting up A LOT of skulls behind him. Quite a few die… which will also be in the alt cover…and describing any further will really ruin it!

EN: You wrote to me that you feel this is your best work to date. What makes you feel that?

PT: The amount of effort and work I spent on each page…because on every page, Greg would have something challenging for me to do visually…and as I have not drawn anything superhero-related for more than three years, I totally enjoyed every panel of this!

And probably one of the biggest reason why I think this book will KICK ASS…my art team. I CANNOT stress how important and good Jeff, Jonathan and Ian are, to the visuals of the book. They are beyond expectation!

EN: And to close, I’ll ask you the same question I’ve just asked Greg: what would you say to convince folks to pick up this book?

PT: Hmmm. I am not really good with words…but I remember Dan Didio talking at many shows about this being the sleeper hit of the year! I promise to not disappoint! It’s VERY different!

One Response to “Final Crisis: Revelation Talk with Philip Tan”

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