Phil Barrett: Art Picks

Creator Art Picks, where we ask comic creators about the comics and artists they like and that influence them. Phil Barrett is a comic book artist and writer, mostly known for his independent comics through Blackshapes and also the anthology Stray Lines. Phil is teaching a comic making night course this Autumn too.

Who was the first artist you took notice of when getting into comics, that made you realize it was someone’s job to draw or just made you aware of creators?

My first taste of comics were the British humour newsprint ones – Beano, Dandy, Buster, Whizzer and Chips et al and the first artist I can remember really sticking out was Ken Reid’s work on Faceache from Buster. The characters were vivid and full of life and bursting with a nervous energy that was equally compelling and scary.
Looking at them again I can see I must have internalised the flat panel staging he uses a lot. I also was a big fan of Tom Paterson who used to do Sweeney Toddler and Calamity James – there were all these mad little details in the background creating a strip within a strip – you could pore over them for ages. Clearly a demented man.
Do you have a biggest influence or favourite artist, one that’s maybe affected your style or storytelling more than others?
In terms of formative influence when I started to get back into comics through indie/underground books in the late 90’s Daniel Clowes stuff blew my mind and served as a gateway onward and backward into many other comic artists. I liked his clean clear artwork but I think his outsider viewpoint really expanded my idea of what could make a story.
Do you have a favourite artistic run on a series, or simply a love of the way one artist draws a certain character or team?
In terms of a team or family I’m really fond of Gilbert Hernandez Palomar characters particularly the later run of Luba in America where she meets up with her long lost sisters. There’s a huge cast of characters and yet each has a distinctive look and life of their own – every time I re-read these ones I get something else out of them.
Do you have a specific favourite page or sequence from an artist?
There’s a sequence in Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp that I re-read recently (out of many brilliant sequences in the same book) where the main character’s foot blister causes him to remember back to his relationship with an ex-lover. You get a sort of a flood of images around a simple interchange between the two characters. It captures the effect of an unexpected rush of a memory in a way that could only be done in comics on a printed page. The layout and design of the panels, the use of space on a page, the relationship of pages on a spread, the use of the page turn reveal – it’s a real masterclass in storytelling. A couple of the pages are here but it’s a disservice not to read the full sequence:
What’s your favourite comic book cover?
I love a complete package when I look at a cover – artwork, title design the whole biz. Any of Robert Crumbs covers on the eighties Weirdo magazine are crackers in this regard – he does something different each time with the combo of title and image. I’m particularly fond of this one.
It’s compelling and horrible at the same time – hard to look away from and hard to un-see.
Who’s your favourite artist right now?
There is a lot of really good work out there at the moment. I could give you a different answer from day to day and minute to minute. Generally they’ll oscillate somewhere between cartoony and more realistic, design orientated styles – Ethan Rilly and R. Kikuo Johnson are ones I’ve been digging lately.
Ethan Rilly
R. Kikuo Johnson
Is there a current underrated artist or up and coming one you’d like to highlight?
There’s this lad called Jon Allen that has been going for a while that I really like that doesn’t seem to get much mentions. He’s put a bunch of stories up online and taken them down again. Currently he’s running this one called Ohio is for Sale. It looks like a funny animal story on the surface but is long, dark, odd and well worth sticking with. The artwork is really clear and readable but you can see the touch of the hand in the brushstrokes which I love.
Questions by Chris O’Halloran