My first con was MegaCon Orlando, and I was new to the comic scene. So new, in fact, that I was there on a date ( I married him, by the way. It doesn’t get better than shared nerd culture!) and had never opened up a comic outside of the funnies in the papers or the traditional shoujo mangas. I was pretty much instantly hooked to the culture; the atmosphere and camaraderie, the art, the creativity and, of course, the creators.
Phil Hester was the very first creator I met that took more than thirty seconds with us to talk, and his insane friendliness and obvious love for his work has stuck with me six years later. I went on a mission to read as many of his works as I could, and while I’m nowhere near done with that, I’ve made a significant dent in my list, and gotten further into comics culture myself. He’s always been my standard of con meet and greets with creators, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to meeting him again as a more knowledgeable fan in my own right.
One of my favorite characters he’s had a hand in is his own creation, THE WRETCH. I’m currently waiting for an omnibus of The Wretch in the mail, which will be put out by OMAHABOUNDS, and decided to take this opportunity to reach out and ask Hester for some of his time to discuss the collection of works, plus some other miscellaneous questions I’ve had bouncing around in my head.
So, without further rambling, I invite you to take a peek into the mastermind that brought you so many hours of endless entertainment.
GM: What originally inspired the creation of THE WRETCH?
Hester: To be honest, I was just looking for a vehicle to do storytelling experiments. The idea of a character who couldn’t speak forced me to use visual clues to get the intent of my stories across. So, it was pretty much a technical challenge that gave rise to the book, but I also had stories I wanted to tell about small-town life – those Ray Bradbury-like stories that are both unsettling and nostalgic. THE WRETCH is basically, “What if the town in Stranger Things had a local superhero?”
GM: At some point, THE WRETCH underwent a bit of a make-over, losing his belted armor and hoses look in exchange for appearing to be covered in rags or bandages. Can you speak a little about that? What may have drove that change?
Hester: Well, I sent a letter to my art hero Alex Toth in the hope he would do me a cool pin-up or cover, and he responded with a kind, but astute critique. One of the notes he gave me was, that while the silhouette of the Wretch’s form was strong, the costume details detracted from it. So, I pared it down to the bandages version, and will actually pare it down even more for the new short story in the omnibus.
GM: The new collection, an all-encompassing omnibus, includes every Wretch story ever published, plus an all-new story. (Excited!) Does this mean we will be seeing the last of the Wretch? Is this the last Wretch story?
Hester: Probably not. I have a bunch of Wretch stories I’ve written, but not yet drawn. And every once in a while I get an idea for a new one. That said, it was never a big seller, so any new Wretch material will have a tough time finding it’s way to the market.
GM: How did your relationship with OmahaBound come about?
Hester: Tim & Dave are fixtures on the Omaha comics scene, and I’m often there for cons and signings. They approached me about the book a long time ago, and they’ve been a joy to work with. Very attentive, patient guys.
GM: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Hester: Just being able to express myself without any interference. Comics is one of the few mass media left where an artist can just do their thing without getting notes from money people. The stakes are so low, compared to film or TV, that you can take chances those other avenues wouldn’t allow. The Wretch TV show would never, ever happen.
GM: What is integral to the work of a comic artist? What is that one thing you feel artists should be sure to have?
Hester: A sense of trust in your own creativity. You’re going to hear a lot of “no” in comics– from editors, collaborators, publishers, retailers, even readers, but if you feel passionate about what you’re doing you have to stick to it. I mean, essentially, every piece of art is an artist saying, “Hang on, I think I have something new to add to the world.” You have to have the fortitude to “interrupt” the world as it stands to insert your voice, even if that world is one as small as comics.
GM: Will we ever see a return of Uncle Slam, by you and Ande Parks?
Hester: Who can say? That’s mostly up to Anj.
GM: What are you current projects we can mention?
Hester: I am drawing Batman Beyond and writing Future Quest Presents: Birdman for DC. Still drawing Shipwreck and writing Blood Blister, both for Aftershock, and just finished a run on Mother Panic back-ups for DC’s Young Animal line.
GM: You are known for not only being a very talented artist and writer yourself, but also a great collector of art. What brought about your love of original art? Is it the pure joy of seeing the pieces in person, the hunt, a combination of the two? What is it that drives you as a connoisseur?
Hester: I try to get pieces from artists that inspired me to become a cartoonist in the first place. I try to learn from the pieces. You’d be surprised how much is lost between the original and the printed version, even today. I also buy current artists who didn’t necessarily inspire me to become a cartoonist back when I was a kid, but are doing work that fires me up today, at my advanced age. I also just love art in general, so surrounding myself with work that inspires me helps me get through my work day.
GM: Your love for radio shows is well-known. Can you recommend one for us?
Hester: Well, Quiet, Please will always be my favorite, but right now I’m in a massive marathon of Lux Radio Theater episodes. That show adapted stage plays and Hollywood films for audiences in the days before TV. It’s pretty amazing the level of talent they get to play the parts, often the same stars as in the films, sometimes even bigger. Some of the adaptations are better than the originals!
If you haven’t read THE WRETCH, the first volume is on Amazon. It comes highly recommended by me, which basically means you should just go get it because I have excellent taste. Hester is a friendly creator who interacts with his fans with a humble attitude that belies his level of talent and achievement, and you can follow him on Twitter at @philhester . His other works include Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Terror, Firebreather and so many more. If you’re not already a fan… give them a try. You will be. GEEKERY MAGAZINE thanks Mr. Hester for taking the time to answer our questions for our reader’s (and my own!) curiosity; as always, it was an enjoyable exchange from one of the sweetest creators in the biz.
Just… don’t go trick or treating to his home in a half-assed costume. He gives out the black and orange taffy to bad costumes!