Creator Spotlight Interview: LJ Phillips on his Iron Nail Afternoon, a new indie urban fantasy comic story

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…

New Comic Series preview: Fairlady #1

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From a recent Image Comics press release…

Writer Brian Schirmer, artist Claudia Balboni (Star Trek), and colorist Marissa Louise team up for Fairlady—an all-new fantasy series from Image Comics this April.

In Fairlady, after posing as a man to join the army, Jenner Faulds returns home to The Feld for a new start as a “Fairman”—a specially licensed private investigator. But sexism didn’t end on the battlefield, and as the only “Fairlady,” Jenner gets stuck with the cases nobody else wants. Hitting the streets to solve The Feld’s overlooked mysteries, Jenner finds that the smallest cases hide the biggest secrets.

(See a three-page preview below)

Fairlady blends the procedural case-solving of Magnum, P.I. and Fables, but is set in a vibrant, Rat Queens-like high fantasy world. This debut issue and each following issue will feature a complete 30-page story.

“I realized that there wasn’t a fantasy series that focused on a female private detective, and then I realized how much I needed that to be a thing,” said Schirmer. “I took a love of ’70s and ’80s shows like Magnum, P.I. and The Rockford Files, poured that into a big bowl of Middle Earth, and added dashes of China Miéville, Michael Moorcock and Mignola, and Barbarians Conan and Thundarr. Then we dropped in a tough outsider in the form of our protagonist, Jenner Faulds, the land’s only female private investigator. Let the limitless stories begin!”

Fairlady #1 will have two covers. Cover A is by Balboni and Louise. Cover B is by Tula Lotay. Both will arrive in comic stores on Wednesday, April 10.

New series MCMLXXV brings monster fighting to the streets of New York

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This September, Image Comics brings writer Joe Casey (Sex, New Lieutenants of Metal) and artist Ian MacEwan together for a modern mythology tale in the upcoming new series, MCMLXXV.

“This series is all about creating brand new iconography,” said Casey. “It’s about creating a new kind of folk hero that speaks to where we all are right now. Oh yeah… it’s also about smashing monsters into the pavement with an enchanted tire iron.”

In MCMLXXV, readers meet Pamela Evans. Much more than a typical Manhattan cab driver, she also happens to be a badass monster-fighter. Welcome to the year of her greatest adventure.

MacEwan added: “This is a book about big action in a mythic, haunted New York. It’s about dim street lights that can’t fight off the shadows, and who has to step in its place to hold back the tide of chaos.

MCMLXXV #1 arrives in stores on Wednesday, September 12th.

Farel Dalrymple delivers new Pop Gun War: Chain Letter, this June

Indie comics cartoonist Farel Dalrymple returns this June to the comic stands with Pop Gun War: Chain Letter.

Pop Gun War: Chain Letter is a graphic novel sequel to his award-winning, critically acclaimed urban fantasy graphic novel Pop Gun War: Gift.

“Stuck in a small town with a broken-down van, Emily goes on a walk. After following some shady characters through subterranean tunnels, she discovers three video monitors showing stories from a magical present, dreamy past, and strange future.”

The original Pop Gun War: Gift released in 2003, and has since received high praise for the story of an inner city boy named Sinclair, who discovers a pair of discarded angel wings. This original urban fantasy work was re-released under from Image Comics in 2016.

Pop Gun War: Chain Letter arrives (at $12.9) in comic book stores Wednesday, June 14th, and bookstores Tuesday, June 20th.