Writing can be a difficult art to master, and writing comic books is its own beast. Buffalo’s own Stephanie Phillips slays that beast with skill. Stephanie writes for some major players in the comic realm like Dark Horse Comics, Ominous Press, Top Cow/Image Comics, Black Mask Studios, AfterShock Comics, and more. She has written titles such as Devil Within, Kicking Ice, Descendent, and The Butcher of Paris. I had the pleasure of meeting with the wordsmith herself to find out more about her work and her experiences with comics.
I have my Master’s Degree in English, and am currently working on my PhD in Rhetoric and Writing. I was mainly doing academic writing at first, but wanted to do something more creative.
How did you get into comic book writing specifically?
I met a comic book writer (Ron Marz, co-creator of Kyle Rayner) who suggested I give it a shot. I already liked comics and wanted to explore a more creative form of writing, so I decided to give it a try.
Why focus on comic writing over other writing forms?
I do do others. I also do TV and film. I just really fell in love with writing comics.
What was it that got you interested in comics in the first place?
I watched Batman: The Animated Series as a kid and loved it. I later found out that there were comics of all the same characters that I liked. Comics helped me read something for fun during my graduate studies, and I’ve always, always loved reading anything and everything I could get my hands on since I first learned to read.
How did you get involved with such big names in comics like Image or Dark Horse?
I continuously climbed the ladder. I started making my own comics and went from there. I made sure I networked as much as possible at conventions to get my work out there. I won the Top Cow Talent Hunt they did last year, which is how I got involved with them.
How does the process work exactly? Do your write the comic scripts at home and send it to these publishers via email?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I send it to the editor, and they send it back if anything needs changing. Then it gets sent to an artist. It comes back to me to make any final adjustments and lettering before the process is finished. I write from home and only need to travel for conventions and pitch meetings. I always get to come back here after, which is nice.
Do you come up with the ideas to pitch to them or do they hire you to work on specific projects?
It’s usually me. I pitch my ideas to them and get to work on my own stories. The publishers have also reached out to me to work on their licensed characters. For instance, Image Comics has contacted me about working on a story for a character named Molly from their Postal series. It’s a little of both, but I mainly write my own stories.
I worked with Dark Horse Comics and Dean Kotz who did the art for it. It’s about a real-life serial killer (Marcel Petiot) who claimed over 60 victims in Nazi-occupied Paris. He was wanted by both the Nazis and the Allied Forces. A French Detective races to bring him to justice before the Nazis beat him to it. It’ll be a 5-issue series with the first releasing this December.
Do have any specific titles you’ve written that you are happier with than others? Do you have any favorites?
Butcher of Paris. It’s been years in the making. It’ll be exciting to have it out in the world.
How do you come up with ideas for your comics?
Most of them are based on history. I like “what-if” scenarios and things that are out of place or different than what you’d expect from certain points in history, like a serial killer in Nazi-occupied France. I have also worked with horror, which strays from the historical themes of my other work.
Do you also do any of the artwork for your comics or do you stick to writing?
I’m just the writer. No artwork for me!
You’re also a professor at the University at Buffalo. Do you use your comic book writing experiences in the classroom?
I have before, but none of my students really know I write comics. I haven’t gone full comic nerd on them yet. I teach technical writing, so it does come up for me personally, like the way I think about writing.
Are there any comic book writers who inspire you?
Garth Ennis. He makes historical comics like I do. There’s not a large market for it, so it’s cool that there’s someone out there interested in making the same things I enjoy making.
Do you have any advice for aspiring comic book writers?
Make a comic book. It’s tough because companies won’t look at someone who has never made a comic. Make your own first, then network. Bring it to conventions and show others your work.
Stephanie has created a wide variety of comics. There is something for every reader on her writing resume, whether you’re a fan of horror, history, or even hockey. I, for one, cannot wait for The Butcher of Paris to drop this December. You can find out more about Stephanie and her comic books, along with what she’ll be working on next, on her website at www.stephaniecomics.com. She will be at Dave and Adam’s for Halloween Comic Fest (like Free Comic Book Day, but spookier) on October 26th from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Feel free to stop by, discuss comics, and support a local writer.