It Takes A Genius To Draw One: An Interview with Phil Foglio

Phil Foglio,  along with Kaja Foglio, creates the wonderful steampunk-flavored science fantastical webcomic, Girl Genius.  Given all of the characters dressed up in alternate-Victorian clothes and wonderful steam-age gadgetry in the comic, it seemed extra appropriate to post this interview with Phil to the site today.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?  What’s a typical day for you like recently? Where are you located these days?

I’m located in the liberal paradise of Seattle, Washington.  I grew up in New York and went to college in Chicago and realized that I was a grown up and actually didn’t have to put up with snow or excessive heat if I didn’t want to.

A typical day starts around 8 in the morning. Kaja & I get up, get my son ready and off to school. Then I have some coffee and read around 50 some-odd webcomics, check the news and read my e-mail.

Then I work on Girl Genius. Either writing with Kaja or drawing pages. Pick the boy up at 3, check the snail mail, then it’s listen to NPR while I keep working. (That’s if I’m drawing. I can’t have any noise while I’m writing) Then we make dinner. If it’s a excursion night, then we take the kids to piano lessons, martial arts, swimming or scouts. Then they go to bed. We finish up work, and try to watch some anime and then get to bed by midnight.


I believe you work on Girl Genius full-time (how long has that been the case?) – these days do you take on other creative projects as well?

Yes, we work on Girl Genius full time. We started writing it back in 1994. Published it in 2001, went online in 1995.  We occasionally take free-lance work, but it has to pay well, and/or be something monsterously cool.


So how many years have you been working on Girl Genius now?

14 years in one form or another.


And how long have you been making comics?

I started What’s New With Phil and Dixie for Dragon Magazine in 1980, so 28 years.


Do you see yourself making Girl Genius for a long time?  (Is there a definite end to the story already plotted out?)

Oh yeah. We figure we’re somewhere between one third to halfway through the story.


Do you have a 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic that really grabs people walking by?

"It takes place in a world where mad science really exists. It tends to run in families. Our hero, Agatha, discovers that she is the long lost heir of a very famous family of mad scientists, who everyone else thought had been safely wiped out. When they discover that this is not in fact the case, every wants to kill her or control her-and hilarity ensues."


Are there any of your characters you’re really fond of?

The Jägermonsters. But I like them all, really.


Any that are particularly difficult to write for?

Yes, all of the really smart ones. They’re supposed to be way smarter than we are.


What are the current plans for bringing out print collections of Girl Genius?  How often and who are you working with to do it – a publisher or are you working directly with a printer?

At the moment, we do it all ourselves, working directly with a printer. A new collection comes out around every 11 months. Number 8 should be out early next year.


How do you go about promoting your work?  What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?

Really the only promotion we do is put it up online for free. That pulls people in just fine.


What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at?

San Diego Comicon and the World Science Fiction Convention.


What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?

Treat it like a job. Dress professionally. Get a business card and have at least $200 in change.


Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?

Indeed they do. We’ve gotten costumes, props, dingbots, ray guns, homemade wine, food, candy and jewelry.


When you create a comic, how do you appproach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?

The writing always comes first. We figure out what the scene is. What is the purpose of it? How does it advance the story? Then we figure out how to make it funny. Then I figure out how to make it visually interesting.


What tools do you use to make comics?  Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?

I still do it the old fashioned way. Pencil on paper. then it gets scanned. I clean it up in Photoshop, then it goes to Cheyenne Wright, our excellent colorist. At the same time Kaja lays the page out in Quark for publication, puts in the lettering while tinkering with the prose. When the colors come back, she puts it all together and posts it. 


Do you read other comics?  What are you reading online or in print?

In print I read Usagi Yojimbo, PS 238 and a few manga series. Online I read a slew of stuff.


Did you read comics as a kid?  Which ones?  What are your influences from comics today?

Yes. I was never really interested in super hero stuff, and taste that persists to this day. I liked the humor comics. Show me the funny.


Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?

I read an awful lot of science fiction, and greatly admire a lot of science fiction illustrators, like the late, great Frank Kelly Freas.


What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?

I like to draw, and I didn’t go to film director’s school.


Any other creative endeavors you’re working on?

I’m trying to mentally sculpt my kids so they wind up as nerds.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

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