Meet LJ Phillips, a creative artist from eThekwini, a growing city off the coast of South Africa. After training under one of Africa’s leading political cartoonists, LJ worked as an art lecturer and now runs a small local studio. He’s had four solo exhibitions, showcasing mostly surrealistic ink-and-pen artwork. His work in comics grew from recent comic anthologies, along with short stories showing in various publications.
LJ is especially excited this week. He released a new world of his creation, written and drawn, with a mix of urban noir, fantasy within the pages of first published comic series, Iron Nail Afternoon. The first issue is now available digitally online via Comixology.
This new series takes place in the Iron Nail – a red-light district in a floating city, maintained by supernatural enforcers known as Sheriffs. The most feared of these is Sed Stonehaven. On just one shattering day, he falls prey to his worst enemy…his own temper.
Iron Nail Afternoon was initially released as a webcomic, published a few pages at a time. The first issue is the accumulation of that work, and more. LJ has big plans for an ongoing story, yet aims for self-contained parts of an interconnected narrative.
Special note: Iron Nail Afternoon is intended for mature audiences only, much in the same vein as Saga, Sandman, The Wicked + The Divine, Hellblazer, Preacher.
We had a short online interview with LJ Phillips on the week of the release of Iron Nail Afternoon, to share in the excitement of opening his new world and the creative process, insight of its foundation.
Hello LJ, tell us a little about your background and what influenced the creation of Iron Nail Afternoon?
LJ Phillips: I formerly worked in the private security sector – doing some bodyguard work, as a bouncer, stuff like that. This allowed me to save up enough to attend art school on a partial scholarship. In my former profession, there was a heavy emphasis on brotherhood but of course, this brotherhood could be conditional. There was also a lot of blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, discrimination against interracial relationships and so on. Which gave me the key concept behind the Iron Nail Afternoon series. What happens to the hard cases who get excluded from the world of tough guys? Where do they end up?
What were the greatest joys in the world-building and creative processes in Iron Nail Afternoon?
LJ Phillips: Developing the main protagonists. The Governor had a deprived childhood. As an adult, she enjoys having power and pleasure on her terms. Jekkel is the most dangerous of the three protagonists but also the most vulnerable. What he really wants is to be loved. And Sed is…Sed. He’s a big personality – he booms. Because of this, it’s easy for others to underestimate his intelligence and his loyalty to his friends. When we finally meet Sed’s brother, he’s the complete opposite – quiet, intense, fastidious. It’s fun to put them in different situations and work out how they would act. Their choices and reactions are what drive the narrative. The world-building is important because it provides them with a setting and limitations on what they can and can’t do to accomplish their goals.
What were the greatest challenges?
LJ Phillips: Working even when you don’t feel inspired. Acquiring and continually developing the required skill set. Creating a comic, like any job, can be a hard bloody slog. It’s also important not to get obsessed with vanity numbers i.e. online views and followers. These don’t necessarily translate into profits/reliable fanbase and they’re not an accurate reflection on an artist’s ability or lack thereof. Tyler James – of ComixTribe – discussed the issue in one of his superb podcasts ; it really helped put things into perspective for me. Another big challenge is being disciplined when writing a fantasy comic. You have to avoid relying on magic as a form of deus ex machina. In Iron Nail Afternoon, most of the magical elements have real-life equivalents or practical applications. For example, instead of cell phones, there are crystal balls.
The use of colors and composition aided in the art for Iron Nail Afternoon are wonderous. What influences come to mind in developing the look and feel of Iron Nail Afternoon?
LJ Phillips: The work of Enki Bilal, notably his Nikopol trilogy. In it, he managed to create an entire sci fi world – one of great beauty and desolation – and do so with a restrained palette and spare art style.
What do you feel Iron Nail Afternoon brings to readers looking for a fresh escape from our problems of the current global pandemic?
LJ Phillips: The series deals with issues we all face – growing older, prejudice, disappointment in love, sibling rivalry – but it deals with them on a larger-than-life scale. Hopefully readers will find a lot that’s relatable but because of the fantasy elements, the Iron Nail Afternoon series will also provide some welcome escapism as well. Plus it has dragons. Who doesn’t like dragons?
Stranger Worlds thanks LJ Phillips for his time and insight on his new world of Iron Nail Afternoon, now available on Comixology. Here are a few more preview pages…