Comic strips like Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes were a huge part of my childhood. I grew up with the Star Tribune and reading the comics on Sundays, and I still love them. More recently, I learned about Best in Show by Minnesota illustrator Phil Juliano, a comic about a man who is able to go back in time. He chooses to relive his childhood, adding to his massive Star Wars collection in the process, together with his sidekick dog to help aid in his geeky adventures.
I had the pleasure of meeting Phil at MSP ComiCon in May when he stopped by the Twin Cities Geek booth to have a conversation with a couple of the staff members. What I learned was that he is both hilarious and knowledgeable when it comes to comics and breaking into the business, and I’m happy to have been able to talk with him after the con about his most recent work, advice on becoming an illustrator, and the comic that inspired him to develop Best in Show.
Mariah Kaercher (TCG): So how do you get your inspiration to write comics? Your booklet reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes, which I love!
Phil Juliano: This is always a very important question, and I think all professionals would answer the same. See, I teach a “how to draw comics” class at several Young Authors, Young Artists Conference events around the state. The first part of the session is to brainstorm ideas for their comic strips—I teach them to draw from their own experiences. Write what you know, right? I tell them my character is a little boy, or me when I was seven years old. When I write I think back to what it was like to be a kid, the things I liked to do, comics I liked to read, movies I liked to watch, toys I liked to play with, family dynamics, school problems, et cetera. And yes, I am a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes!
TCG: Are there any significant experiences that really spiked your interest in becoming a comic book artist?
Phil: I started off loving cartoons such as after-school cartoons and Disney animated features. I went to the mall with a friend and I saw this comic called Savage Sword of Conan, issue #104. It had a brilliant cover of a barbarian hanging on to the rope on the side of a frozen mountain. The interior of this comic was done by Ernie Chan and written by Roy Thomas. This was irresistible to a 12-year-old. I also saw Ernie Chan’s artwork and tried to emulate it. There was no going back.
TCG: Tell me about what you’ve been working on lately.
Phil: Recently I’ve been working on cartoons illustrating issues faced by grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. But above all I pour my heart and soul into Best in Show. My comic has been distributed to colleges across the US and is published by German newspaper syndicate Bulls Press. The comic features a time-traveling adventure with nostalgia that explores my childhood and the people that I know. It’s very therapeutic. This comic expands my horizons creatively and allows me to write my own children’s chapter book featuring my comic-strip characters.TCG: What would you say has been your greatest achievement as an illustrator?
Phil: Leaving my day job and making a living at it year after year!
TCG: What is your all-time favorite comic that you think everyone needs to read before they die?
Phil: The complete Bone series by Jeff Smith. His humor, storytelling, and character development are in a class of their own. On top of that, he’s a really nice guy.
Phil: It’s important to practice, as most artists will tell you. Reading different types of work and knowing the history of your craft can be beneficial. It’s also important to talk to other authors, artists, and other creators to help connect with local comic groups. Finally, never give up. You’ll get rejected and criticized. Accept it and keep going by absorbing the feedback that you receive. If you keep your eye on the prize, you can’t fail.