Arts & Entertainment
5 min

In print: Wonder man

Phil Jimenez's truth lasso

ICONOGRAPHY. Donna Troy, Wonder Woman and The New X-Men have all benefited from the peerless pen of Phil Jimenez.

Phil Jimenez has brought style and a unique sensibility to both underground and mainstream comic book superheroes like Wonder Woman, New X-Men and The Invisibles. Though best known for his artwork, Jimenez is currently writing and drawing the fantasy miniseries Otherworld, while writing the return of long-standing DC character Donna Troy with artist José Luis Garcia-Lopez. Jimenez’s recent writing and drawing on Wonder Woman generated a lot of attention for his pushing the character into riskier, more political ground, something that is only starting to catch on several creative teams later. Jimenez also edited the luxurious anthology from 2004, The DC Comics Encyclopedia.

Jimenez’s style – mind-bending layouts drawn with painstaking detail that pulls readers into the work – reflects the influence of George Pérez who, in the 1970s, became the first artist to create massive layouts with such detailed precision and who was responsible for the new incarnations of Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. “George Pérez is obviously my favourite creator,” Jimenez says with reverence. “It just goes without saying that he’s easily the most influential on my career.”

Already a popular and respected talent, Jimenez is on the verge of becoming one of the industry’s legends whose talent, energy and output has not been seen for a generation.

Jimenez outed himself in 1996 on the editorial page of the final issue of Tempest (a miniseries following the young sidekick of Aquaman). He wrote about his lover, former creative director of DC Comics Neil Pozner, who died of AIDS in ’94.

“The amount of support I got via letters was enormous,” says Jimenez. “Because I outed myself talking about my boyfriend who died, who worked at DC for many years and was sort of this beloved employee there, I just think it was so personal there was no way they could have turned it into something darker or something more salacious than what it was.

“If there were any repercussions,” says Jimenez, “if there were any sort of negative feedback, I was protected from it. Which is why I always think of DC as an amazing place to work.”

While particularly proud of his employer, Jimenez is quick to deny any discrimination in the industry. “Part of it’s because I’m white, part of it’s because I’m middle class – so in terms of strikes against me, being gay was never an issue.

“I’ve never experienced any sort of overt homophobia or anti-gay bias at all with work. It’s been an incredibly loving, supporting environment. Mostly when I get in trouble or talked down to, it has nothing to do with being gay, it has to do with my almost overt passion for the material. I’ve found being gay to be a real asset not a detriment, providing me with a certain sensibility that, while not 100 percent straight, is certainly mainstream enough, certainly thoughtful enough that I seem to be an asset.”

Despite the dominating presence of straight culture within comics, there is also a huge gay following, a fact Jimenez has thought about intensely. “In most of these books we have superheroes in disguises who, in their day jobs à la Clark Kent, are these sort of meek, mild-mannered people. But once they strip off the clothes they become these super heroic figures. I think for the gay community there is a lot of that desire to sort of strip away that veneer, that disguise, and come out as who they really are, often much more colourful, flamboyant figures. I think that’s a big appeal.

“I know that gay people who like X-Men truly responded to the obvious parallels between prejudice and the gay community. I have many friends, gay friends, who really connected with the plight of those mutants and the prejudices they faced, being outsiders trying to help people who despise them.

“And finally, [they connect with] the sort of grand epic adventure of it all. It’s soap opera on a grand scale. I think a lot of people, gay people, respond to that – I certainly did.”

Comic book creators have long struggled to bring to life characters outside of the straight white mould and to represent a growing base of diverse readers. But Jimenez questions who is actually reading comics. “I find myself wondering if the comics community is as diverse as we think it is…. It seems to be mostly white guys, of a certain age, and I’m willing to bet they’re straight.

“For better or worse most of our creators fit that type. They’re straight, middle class, most of them are white and they’re creating characters they respond to personally.

“Certainly at DC, I’ve seen numerous attempts to diversify [but] it all comes down to the bottom line – does it sell, does it not sell?

“And I think it’s a larger, broader cultural thing. Minorities of every stripe are trained to accept white images. And so black people, Hispanic people, gay people will go see movies about white straight people, where white straight people are far less likely to go see movies that aren’t reflective of themselves. Until the larger culture encourages white straight people to invest in characters not like themselves, I think we’re going to have a hard time making diversity happen.”

The most diverse work is happening with properties that aren’t part of a company’s main staple: changing the sex or race of a character, not only to try reaching a broader audience but also to reinvigorate conventional stories. “It’s not always successful, either creatively or commercially, but at least we try.”

Jimenez has worked both on underground titles and mainstream icons, tackling a wide range of diverse subjects, from a transsexual Brazilian cyber witch to the pantheon of god-like superheroes offered from DC. “My work is ultimately, incredibly mainstream. It’s very, very traditional. So even when I’m doing books like Invisibles, which is not mainstream, the work itself is. The subject matter might not be. The experimentation comes not from pushing the art or any particular boundaries but how do I approach these outrageous characters with my sensibility. I make them accessible, because I do think that with comics when you begin to experiment you lose readers. Comic book readers, the large majority of them, are fairly traditional creatures and they want a certain degree of consistency. When you start playing with their art or their characters in ways they don’t like, they are quite vocal on how unhappy they are.

With mainstream characters like Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, Jimenez feels, “the challenge is drawing them iconically, making sure they read as icons.”

Jimenez is on board as artist for DC’s cosmic crossover series Infinite Crisis with fan favourite writer Geoff Johns. This “maxi-series,” launching next week, influences events and characters across the DC catalogue, promising to leave Jimenez’s mark on the history of comics for centuries to come.

PHIL FILE

Favourite comics
Birds Of Prey, Teen Titans, Astonishing X-men, The Ultimates and Seven Soldiers Of Victory

Favourite characters
Wonder Woman and Troia (Donna Troy)

Favourite Story arcs
Crisis On Infinite Earths, where George Pérez and Marv Wolfman pulled together the various realities from DC into one, streamlined universe

Wonder Woman number 17 to 19, Pérez’s buildup to Wonder Woman’s first meeting with her eternal adversary, the witch Circe

Favourite issue from Jimenez’s own body of his work
Wonder Woman number 170, where reporter Lois Lane follows around the amazing Amazon on her day’s errands, which include Wonder Woman teaching Indonesian prostitutes self-defence

Wonder Woman number 172, where Wonder Woman’s mother, queen of the Amazons and Wonder Woman of the 1940s, dies in a battle trying to protect her daughter

Favourite costume design
His costume drawn for Donna Troy – definitive and considered impossible to duplicate.