Comic creator Graham Johnstone talks about Phil’s work and influence
I first became aware of the work of Phil Elliott in the mid 1980’s, probably first in Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury’s Escape, and thereafter in a number of his lovingly assembled self-published comics.
I’d grown up with comics: Marvel had taken me to the point that I considered comics a unique and important art form and wondered what more they might do. I’d seen the American Undergrounds and the more experimental RAW, but Elliott seemed to be part of a distinctly British evolution of comics. In America there seemed to me, on the one hand, the melodrama of Marvel/DC, (and their offshoots into the nascent independents), and the other hand the brilliant, but almost painfully ironic re-appropriation of pop culture RAW. In Britain, I was aware of the gently fictionalised autobiography of (Elliott’s Fast Fiction magazine colleague) Eddie Campbell, but Elliott seemed to have struck on something different: an exploration of personal life and inner dilemmas (like Campbell) yet in a more poetic form. That’s also true of different talents emerging from the Fast Fiction diaspora like Chris Reynolds and Ed Pinsent, but I think Elliott arrived first and the others were most likely influenced, or at the very least, inspired by him. I know he certainly inspired and influenced my own work of the subsequent years, and what we published in Dead Trees.
He has a fine artist’s sensibility, that’s evident not only in his highly personal content and poetic approach, but also in his visual range and experimentation. To explain this, I’m reminded of a famous conflict in painting ‘the battle between line and colour’ with the former favouring detailed draughtsmanship and the latter building up images with tone and colour. To relate this to comics, think of one extreme as the Ligne Claire penmanship made famous by Hergé, and the other as the impressionist brushwork of say Milton Caniff. The early Tales from Gimbley show Europhile Phil absorbing Herge and progressing to the more expressive line work of the Belgian master’s successors. Like Serge Clerc or Yves Chaland,
Elliot mastered the art of varying line weights, to create a camera focus depth-of-field effect, while foregrounding the truth-to-materials (another critical hobby-horse) of ink lines on paper. Elliott’s able to balance: black, white and tones; space and detail; cartooning and realism – often in a single page. We can find all of this in a single Tale from Gimbley story involving a salvaged cigarette machine (In his Cups: Collected Tales from Gimbley page 130). If that all sounds the preserve of connoisseurs, let’s not forget that the versatile Elliott could also satisfy the more mainstream demands of Ghostbusters, without losing himself in the process. I could go on and on, the point is though, it’s hard to find examples of comparable stylistic range and mastery in comics or, I’d go further, any other visual art. He radiates a sheer love of drawing, and at his best, artistry with every element of it.
Phil and I met only met once. At around the turn into the 1990’s, I was invited to participate in an exhibition of upcoming local talent at (I think) the first Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GlasCAC), organised by Frank Plowright and colleagues. I bumped into Frank, who told me that someone had liked my work, and would like to meet. I was delighted that it was Phil. He proved as urbane and charming in person as on the page, and his interest in my work probably spurred me to take it into the world and publish Dead Trees. We’d hoped to meet again at UKCAC, sometime in the 90’s. However, by that time I was already juggling comics with a full-time job, homemaking, and a lengthy commute, with the result I didn’t make it to the Con. In those days before instant communication, I wasn’t able to let him know in advance, sadly leaving the impression I’d sauntered round the con and not bothered to find him.
I’ve hung onto my Gimbley pamphlets and picked up Elliott’s published collaborations with other creators. I was delighted to pick up In His Cups, with all his Gimbley work (so far) in a single volume. I’ve always felt Phil never got the full recognition he deserved – compared to say his similarly talented contemporary Eddie Campbell – and it’s a joy to see his increasing profile over recent years. I look forward to seeing ever more of his work and am delighted you’re recognising his achievements in this way.
See Phil’s work here
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020