Part of the reason this has taken so long is the search for images or, more fairly, my reaction to looking at Phil’s work curated on the internet. Not only is there a lot, but it’s all damn good and i could lose myself in it completely.
Below is a gallery of every image I sourced for these articles, just so you can see them all in one place and realise the breadth of ability at work.
“Under My Power” Slave Labor Stories with Matt DeGennaro
Phil’s sheer craft and drawing ability – his ability to keep going is to be admired. The Suttons is my favourite work by him and I hope he’ll do a complete collection one day soon.
He’s like the British Herge – he’s got a very distinctive style – which will fondly remembered – unlike many of his 80s small press peers he’s still doing new material with new people and still evolving.
I don’t know Phil in real life beyond Facebook but I was very pleased to buy some Suttons pages off him – and I’m always pleased when he likes my work on f/b… 🙂
I feel like I’ve read Phil’s work my entire adult life, since the first time I discovered it on the Fast Fiction stand at the Westminster Comic Marts. An extraordinary and I would say influential talent on the UK independent scene, constantly surprising and innovative, the quintessential “tryer” who deservedly made it to the mainstream and whose work continues to delight. Yet, despite knowing Phil’s work, he isn’t a creator I know socially, so I have no scandal to relate!
I’m just hoping for more of his work and that more people support it.
I feel like I’ve been aware of Phil’s work for as long as I’ve been reading comics… certainly since I started collecting seriously in the 80s. Phil is a legendary creator who deserves serious recognition for his place in comics history, in the U.K. if nowhere else!
I love the inherent simplicity of Phil’s work… it’s a beautiful style, that has remained consistent for a long time. I imagine Phil goes through a lot of plotting and planning to get this timeless feel.I was very honoured to have one of my drawings reinterpreted recently by Phil for issue 1 of The 77.
I feel like I’m just getting to know Phil personally, having connected over our work on The 77. He’s been lovely about my work and very supportive.
Hello Phil, you won’t have a clue who I am but I just wanted to say I have fond memories of your work.
There was a time I had felt I had grown out out comics like X-Men and was looking for something more, something with a bit more depth and something I could relate to. At the time comics were changing, there was a buzz in the air. I was still far away from being a comic artist at that point but I was looking for influences and different styles, I was eating this stuff up.
I discovered independent titles like Escape Magazine which at the time I found at the time a little too adult for me and later Deadline which seemed to speak to me more back then.
Later when I was starting to think about being a comic artist I would l see your name on books when browsing in Forbidden Planet, looking for something more. It was good to see comics which were not done the Marvel way when being told at the time that was the only way to do it. It gave me the confidence to carry on.
I also have fond memories of UKCAC’s, going at first as a fan and later going with the start of a portfolio and seeing your name on the pin up in the booklets for the years I went. I still have some of them now. Your image in UKCAC88 looking back is wonderful. I wish I had bought it! Full of confidence and just a wonderful image.
During my teens in the 1980s, I made a purposeful decision to broaden the comics I read from UK newsagent and American superhero to now include Escape, the comics art magazine. It was here that I read Eddie Campbell and Phil Elliot’s work for the first time. Obviously, this seemed like quite a leap, but Phil’s rounded, energetic, Tin Tin styled drawings helped with my transition. I loved Phil’s work. It enjoyed being a comic. It rolled around in the language that all other comics had foolishly forgotten about and then invented its own. There has always been a sense of contentment in his work even back then, of an artist comfortable in his own skin.
If fourteen year-old me ever thought that Phil’s work is limited to only carrying his unique vision, then I was proved wrong very quickly. Early on, Escape published Doc Chaos, a sci-fi strip written by David Thorp which I loved and still have my copies of. Phil’s priority was never style or mood at the expense of the story.
Another collaboration I enjoyed very much was Second City, a four issue series written by Paul Duncan and published by Harrier Comics. Then there was The Greenhouse Warriors, written by Glenn Dakin and self-published, all copies of which I have also kept to this day. I was so impressed by the latter, that I contacted their printer and used them for my 1990s comic, Memory Man. Recently, Phil has reprinted strips he drew with Eddie Campbell for Sounds during the 1980s. What I like about these works, and others, is that it’s often difficult to see where Phil ends and the collaborator begins.
Greenhouse Warriors Cover with Glenn Dakin
I think that Phil is definitely under appreciated. I often wonder how differently he may be perceived by the comics-hive-mind today if he had had the opportunity to illustrate a years in the making graphic novel written by Alan Moore. At a time when Phil’s peers were chasing gigs at 2000 AD and DC, Phil was working for Sounds and Fantagraphics and pitching Real Ghost Busters strips to Marvel UK. (This approach to work that I always imagined Phil to have, has been an influence on me). I remain delighted by Phil continuing to make comics like Malty Heave with Rob Wells and The Last Man with Michael Powell. The man’s an inspiration.
Elliott is one of the best cartoonists in the biz. In an industry cluttered by the scritchy-scratchy uncanny valley of layered upon layered digitally produced comics, Phil’s work represents the clear directness of deliberate storytelling. No superfluous marks. Everything on the page is in service to the narrative. There’s no ego, just consummate craftsmanship.
Coming from the States, I was completely unaware of Elliott’s body of work until very recently. Ever since, I’ve been trying to make up for that shortcoming. Those of us in the current barnstorming UK indie press scene owe so much to him and others like Paul Grist and Eddie Campbell. He deserves a place on the Mount Rushmore of indie comics and should be required reading in all corners of the industry and beyond.
As I said, I’ve only recently come to his work (after backing ES*EF), but very recently, I purchased a prototype promo piece from him and he included as a surprise, a page of original art, presumably from an upcoming issue of Malty Heave. To top it all off, it was mailed rolled up inside an old box of clingfilm. Diamonds in the rough and all that.
I first came across Phil’s work in the form of a couple of memorable short stories in Steve Bissette’s Taboo anthology, and then probably like many people saw his name crop up as a sympathetic colourist on a number of British comics. His colouring of Paul Grist’s work and British kids’ comics has been great, and it’s a shame that although he’s a talented colourist, there haven’t been more mainstream comics that he’s had the chance to write or draw. The ones he has been involved with have been terrific, in particular his Cold War aliens graphic novel – Illegal Alien – that Dark Horse released some years ago.
I think Phil’s place in comics history is to have been part of the terrific Escape generation, making memorable comics in collaboration with the likes of Grist, Glenn Dakin and Eddie Campbell. I don’t think he’s as well known as he deserves to be, but by the people who do know his work, it’s rightly well appreciated.
I came across Phil’s crowdfunding campaigns for his collaborations with Eddie Campbell that were serialised in Sounds magazine; seeing that all three were going to come out as separate volumes, I emailed him to ask if he might bring out a slipcase for the trilogy, when the third one hit kickstarter. We exchanged a few emails and he said that while doing a number of slipcases wouldn’t be viable, he kindly offered to make me a bespoke case to put my copies in, so I have a one of kind box-set of The Mammy, The Wonders of Science and Rodney – The Premonition! (Which was much appreciated)
Phil is the restless giant of the small press. Since I have known him, off and on, since the early 1980s, Phil has explored every avenue and type of publication. Writing, drawing, lettering, colouring, editing, publishing – he can do it all. Fearlessly.
He is prolific. He is diverse of subject. He is relentless. He cannot be pinned down. He supports so many other creators and publications. He is willing and giving. He delivers!
He is a collaborator. He will write for others, he will draw for others. He will support others.
He is a leader. He was there at the start of Fast Fiction and helped kickstart a movement of diverse talents. He spearheaded many titles for Harrier in the UK, giving many talents a wider audience, and then leapfrogged into America, doing likewise with titles for Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, and Dark Horse.
Undoubtedly, Phil’s greatest artistic achievement is Gimbley, a character who is all too human and fallible, and who may be occasionally melancholic, but ultimately understands the ironic qualities of life.
As for history? Fuck history – his work will live on!
Phil Elliott – Handmade box set for Alex Fitch
By 1986 Phil had built up a diverse portfolio of work (Gimbley, Doc Chaos, Sounds) and I had not, but we both thought it would be a good idea to go to Paris, visit the BD publishers, and try to sell our ideas. We arrived in Paris, and walked along the Seine, admiring the Bouquinistes. Just as we arrived at a stall selling comics, a motorbike pulled up, threw down a pile of new comics bound by string, and whizzed off. The comic at the top of the bundle was Second City, a comic Phil and I had worked on together, published by Harrier. How auspicious was that?! Needless to say, it wasn’t. We visited publisher after publisher and they were not interested in what we had to sell, not helped by our lack of the French language. Still, the publishers arranged the meetings just before lunch, and so Phil and I dined heartily at the publishers’ expense, dissecting whole fish and quaffing wine and coffee.
Phil is a fantastic storyteller. It’s amazing how many different genres he can turn his hand to and yet still be recognisably Phil. We’ve worked on horror and sci-fi together, I’ve seen Phil produce work that’s funny, surreal and philosophical, sometimes all at the same time. He’s also a great writer too.
Elipse fanzine 1977
Phil has been there at every key stage in contemporary comics history. From Fast Fiction to Sounds, Escape, !GAG! and Blite, Phil’s always been there. He’s illustrated comics for mainstream publishers too, bringing that unique Phil Elliott style to Ghostbusters and Judge Dredd.
Phil’s been producing comics professionally since the 1970s but he keeps getting better! The new art Phil’s produced for Circus DeNiro is I think some of the best of his incredible career.
Matt DeGennaro and Phil Elliott’s Tupelo is sadly now out of print (although you can pick up copies on Amazon), Tupelo was originally published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2003 as a four issue mini series, and then published as a trade paperback featuring a cd by cult band Famous Monsters. I was working in the late Comic Showcase at the time and was staggered by how much each issue just… got it. Understood and recreated the atmosphere in my head. The sticky floors, the toilets with broken doors, the kids proudly showing off their home-made ‘X’s, the drone of the men who are too old in the head to be there. The Outside that oppressed with silent hostility. The outrage at the huckster hypnotist who stands in for every soulless advertising exec who preys on the insecurities they created and profits from them with promises of false hope.
They are, indeed, brilliant. Phil is some kind of Art Ninja Genius, distilling the page down to only its essential lines. Like a Toth, a Parobeck or a Kurtzman, this process looks like it’s easy, but it’s really the total opposite. Lesser talents can hide their weakness behind flashy layouts, unnecessary cross-hatching and other short cuts. If you’re working as Phil does, every flaw is going to scream out of the page at you. It never happens in Tupelo. The story pages are a beautiful discordant symphony. The… backmatter (hate that word) is both inspiring and a perfect approximation of prison letters, Zig Zag/Maximum Rock ’N’ Roll era music journalism and Punk Manifesto, with one issue containing an ideology that makes the likes of Fight Club sound like playing RATM too loud in your bedroom after your Mum’s asked you to clean up your room.
Phil is an astounding talented artist who’s just published In His Cups: Collected Tales Of Gimbley. It’s bloody good stuff and you should obviously all go buy it. Ideally, he’d be on a regular book and there are no end of comics being published that if I were given editorial responsibilities on the title, I’d just say “Give it to Phil. He’ll make it work.” Personally, I’d hire him to redraw all those Todd Loren knock-off rock biographies as and when he felt like it while he got on with whatever made him happy.
Phil is a great artist who seems to be able to draw anything and make it look easy (FYI, he is also really good at DIY) and his slightly surreal / not-quite-autobio stories are like poems in comic form.
(Editor’s note – he really is – look below!)
Although he’s worked for all sorts of publishers in the UK and US, Phil has a particularly important place in the history of British indie comics. The letters exchanged between Phil and Eddie Campbell, as well as the various rejection letters and other correspondence that they published at the back of the three collections of their Sounds strips, are as important and interesting as the strips themselves. Those books really should be collected by a big publisher, as should Phil’s Gimbley strips.
I met Phil for the first time in 2014, in the foyer of the Odeon in Maidstone. I was living in Maidstone at the time and we had a mutual friend (a neighbour of mine who’d been to college with him) who kept promising to introduce us. When she moved away, still not having introduced us, I sent Phil a message through Facebook to say hello, and he replied asking if I wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy with him and his nephew. So, we met, we saw the film, and after we’d seen it, we went back to his house, my wife joined us, and Phil and his wife cooked us dinner, having never met us before.
We’ve remained friends since then and I have shared tables with him (or had the table next to his) at several events. I still remember the amazing, Moebius-like, A3-sized drawing he did of a spaceship landing on an alien world that he effortlessly (or seemingly-effortlessly) produced the first time I sat next to him at an event, and then sold way too cheaply. I wish I’d bought it. However, as one of Phil’s Patreon supporters, I’ve received a lot of other art from him over the last couple of years, as well as various other bits he’s sent me, like the paintings he did for Department of the Peculiar Goes POP! issues 1 and 2. It was a pleasure to get to work with him on Malty Heave #1 and I’m looking forward to working with him again on #2.
Phil Elliott has always been an inspiration to me. I first got involved in comics way back in the 1980s and was part of a kind-of second wave of creators who were part of the British Small Press scene back then, who gravitated around Paul Gravett’s Fast Fiction mag. People who were already established on the scene at the time included Ed Pinsent, Woodrow Phoenix, Ryan Hughes and…Phil Elliott. Phil’s work was astonishing to me, because he seems to draw nothing from the traditional British style of cartooning and instead took from the clear line style of European cartooning – something rare in British comics. He was one of those people who appeared fully formed with a mature talent immediately. A big contrast to my own inadequate scribblings (And didn’t I know it).
Years later I had chance to work with Phil on a couple of projects as a writer. At first I wrote him full scripts, but as the work developed i wrote less and less, because he is so talented that I realised that I could just leave it to him to come up with better visuals than I could ever describe. All he needed was the briefest panel description and the dialogue and he could run with it, filling the panels with action and humour. Phil is effortlessly easy to work with. He is incredible talented and modest. I’d work with him again in a second if he ever wanted to.
Phil is one of the real unsung giants of British comics.
His work is always touching and utterly distinctive, and I’ve always thought it an injustice that it hasn’t been more widely appreciated. Perhaps it’s the very nature of what he does best – very quiet and personal stories, often with a logic bordering on realistic dreaming – that has resulted in him being overlooked far too often. His stories seldom shout, and thus may get drowned out by the more flamboyant work of others.
Admirably, he has never compromised to “fit in” – his style remains true and perfect and unique. His work is long overdue the appraisal and proper recognition it deserves. In my opinion, he is a true artist – by which I mean singular creative voice – and his place in British comics over the last decades has been massively underrated… as is so often the case with true artists. Plus, of course, he’s an enormously nice person.
A couple of years ago, Tony Esmond was kind enough to invite me onto the ‘The Awesome Comics Podcast’, to chat about my fanzine archive, and to talk about all things fannish. I’m pretty useless behind a microphone (not helped by having a strong aversion/phobia about talking on the phone at all), but I was pleased to be asked near the end of the interview to recommend a small press comic that I thought people should read… The fact that my choice was ‘In His Cups: Collected Tales from Gimbley’ perhaps gives you an idea of how much I respect Phil, and just how highly I regard his work. Being a gentleman of ‘a certain age’, who often looks back and tries to make sense of his past and poor choices in quiff height, this collection really spoke to me. Of course, the frankly exquisite art may also have something to do with my appreciation of the work.
Right from the very start of comics fandom there had always been Strip zines of course, but the Fast Fiction explosion (and the proliferation of High Street Print Shops, which meant that you could get your zine printed off that day, rather than hanging around and waiting weeks for a ‘proper’ printer to fit you in somewhere) gave an outlet for people to start telling all kinds of stories (slice of life, rather than men in tights). Still living in the depths of South Wales in the early ‘80’s, and only visiting London very rarely, I missed out on both the ‘Crackers’ evenings and the opportunity to visit the Fast Fiction table as much as I would have liked. A shame, as I probably missed out on the great majority of the comics being published by the small press at that time. Without Phil, and the rest of the guys and girls paving the way, we might not have ended up with the thriving small press scene we are enjoying now.
If I remember correctly, I first contacted Phil to ask if he would give his permission for me to add his strip zine ‘ELIPSE’ (1977) to the archive; generous to a fault he of course agreed. Not only that, but about three years ago he contacted me, explained he was soon going to be moving home, and asked if I would like his zine collection? He wanted no money, he just wanted to know that they were going to someone who would look after them. If that doesn’t give you an idea of the man’s character and generosity, I don’t know what would.
I first met Phil Elliott in the late 70s. I was aware of him through the fanzine culture and we were both contributing artwork to The Panelologist fanzine, which also featured some art by David Lloyd among others. I contributed to the fanzine Elipse, co-edited by Phil and soon after that we met for the first time at the UK Comic Art Convention, probably in 1979. I had a fanzine of my own, Joe Public Comics, and was bloody hopeless at selling it. We didn’t have tables, so it was a case of approaching people and persuading them to buy a copy. Phil grabbed a bundle of my ‘zines, went off and sold a couple for me. I was impressed.
This weekend I dug out some of my old fanzines and came across Elipse #3 – the very issue that I had contributed to. I had forgotten that this was the first time anyone published one of my full comic-strips, a lightweight horror story called “A Video-phone brings you so much closer to the one you love.”
In the editorial section, Phil had written up my bio where it states that “His major complaint with comics is the way commercialism perverts artistic talent, and says he won’t be satisfied until we get rid of deadlines and money.”
That seems a bit presumptuous for someone who had never worked to deadline or been paid for anything. Clearly I had set my sights on a high standard of aritistic integrity. Had I made it in indie comics back then I might have been able to pursue my goal of creating personal comics while starving in a garret. Instead I was cursed to spend a lifetime working to deadlines and getting paid for it.
I had also completely forgotten that when Phil gave me my copy of Elipse at that Comic Con he apologised for “erasing the penis.” I have made it my lifelong quest to get as many penises into comics as humanly possible, with a fair amount of success, but this was the first one to get censored – and in my first non-self-published work too! In retrospect it’s quite interesting because the knobless bloke looks like some kind of gender-neutral character – very advanced for 1978. (Editor’s note – an incident that Phil clearly remembers – check out this interview!)
We subsequently met up at various comics gatherings, mostly at the Westminster Comics Mart where I also met Paul Gravett who, with Phil and others like Glenn Dakin and Eddie Campbell, had set up the Fast Fiction collective of small press publishers. Phil went on to work on Paul’s Escape magazine and became something of a superstar of the small press world. I never really fitted in, failed to make it into Escape and ended up on that path to mainstream comics instead.
The years went by and I pursued an up-and-down career in comics while Phil seemed to disappear from the scene. In the comics world if you don’t turn up at conventions, or at least have an active social media presence, you don’t exist. It’s the rule. When we finally met up again at the Malta Comics Convention in 2017, I apparently greeted Phil with “I thought you were dead!” We had a very pleasant time over the weekend, reminiscing about the old days, as we middle-aged grey-hairs are wont to do. On the way home Phil gave me a copy of In His Cups – The Collected Tales from Gimbley. I had seen a lot of these in various publications but it was only when I read them as a collected body of work that I realised just how good they were – surreal, oneiric, often disturbing and always hilarious.
Phil’s work with Fast Fiction and Escape has cemented his place in the history of British comics. He went on to work for Marvel UK, Rebellion, Dark Horse, DC, Fantagraphics, a whole string of publishers, collaborating with all kinds of writers, but for me those Gimbley tales stand out as the purest expression of his art. The conceit of a middle-aged man recounting tales from his youth is remarkably effective. I really should have asked Phil how it feels to look back on those stories from the perspective of the middle-aged creator. And also how much of it was autobiographical.
Phil Elliott and I go way, way back, to our school days (different school but we’re both Essex boys).
Personally, Phil was crucial and instrumental as a friend, artist and designer at two key points in early 1980s UK comics history. First, the creation of Fast Fiction, both the Westminster Central Hall Comic Mart table and the anthology that he and Ian Wieczorek soon evolved out of it, notably designing the cool logo. I remember how Phil, Ian, Eddie Campbell and I used to use the PMT camera at pssst! magazine’s offices in London unofficially on a Saturday morning to reduce and prepare the artworks for FF Magazine’s printing. And secondly came the launch of Escape Magazine in 1983. Peter Stanbury and I picked out a panel by Phil to put inside the subscription prospectus and chose him to draw the first issue’s wraparound cover. Phil even found us our first issue’s printer local to him in Maidstone. We knew his quirky, bittersweet Tales from Gimbley had the spirit, style, suit and quiff that belonged in Escape. Inspired by Hergé, Swarte and more, Phil’s work personified ‘La Ligne Claire Anglaise’.
I’ve continued to admire and enjoy his work since, and it was a delight to have a reunion a few years ago, when we found each other over a lunch in the National Comics Centre in Angoulême during the city’s annual Festival. Neither of us could have imagined back in those old schooldays how far the comics world would change and grow, and how it could bring us back together.
Phil’s work has a beautiful stylised quality, he can draw the most outlandish things and make you accept them.
When I decided to make The Man From Cancer (Marvel UK) all about marine life characters, I knew Phil was the perfect artist for it. If I wanted a character answering the phone, he would draw them as an enormous squid, and it would look weird, but perfectly natural.
Also Phil is a great natural storyteller, I never once had to write him a script for any of our comics, I would just rough out the page, and he would immediately ‘get it.’
To me, Phil is one of the great UK comic artists, a mixture of the aesthetically pleasing ‘clear line’ style, with an almost Ditko-ish nightmare lurking at the edges.
Something that captures that troubling quality to Phil’s work, when I first went to Australia to stay with Eddie Campbell, I wrote a little strip about a dream I had, and my first feelings on arriving in Brisbane. I sent it to Phil to draw up, and he captured something under the surface of my remarks… The strip ended up being printed in Steve Bissette’s horror anthology, Taboo! I was always found it funny that my holiday at Eddie’s ended up in a horror comic…
The clarity of Phil Elliott’s work and his gift for storytelling have made him a master across genres. However, the work of his that has carried me along for the last thirty-odd years is his epic Tales from Gimbley sequence – a wide-ranging series in which a middle-aged man looks back with the benefit of hindsight at the antics of his generously bequiffed younger self.
Back in the day, in the shoes of young Gimbley, I chuckled along in recognition of his misadventures and reflections on drinking, the artistic life, friendships and relationships. Now, looking at them through the other end of the telescope, alongside old Gimbey, I love them just as much for their wistful treatment of memory, emotion and the passage of time.
And, in possibly the biggest thrill of all, I’m now lucky enough to have the original artwork from a few of those iconic pages – pages that I’ve read so often down the years that they are imprinted on my brain. Let’s raise a glass to Phil Elliott – one of the true godfathers of the small press comic scene, as both an artist and an activist.
(In His Cups: Collected Tales of Gimbley is available here, in print or PDF)
Russell Willis – writer and founder of the Sequential comics app for the iPad
Phil Elliott was a massive influence on my me. It was his Gimbley strips in Fast Fiction that helped consolidate my interest in comics outside of superheroes. Had it not been for Phil and his small-press buddies, I would most likely have given up on comics altogether at the age of 13.
Instead, in 1983, I launched a “non-superhero” fanzine called Infinity and in the editorial of its first issue I wrote about how the work of Phil Elliott had inspired me. In the second issue of that mag, we had a lovely little Gimbley tribute from Graham Cousins.… And I loved featuring reviews of Escape and Doc Chaos.
The fanzine attracted letters from the notables and upcoming notables of the day but I was truly delighted when I got a letter from Phil – right at the end of the zine’s run.
Running that fanzine was one of the most exciting and formative periods of my life, and without Phil’s work, it probably wouldn’t have happened.
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 ChrisReynolds 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.
Phil is one of those people that, before I’d even read or seen any of his actual comics, I knew about his work. Doc Chaos adverts literally made up part of my comics experience for so long, without me know that this was the same artist that did Man From Cancer, a strip I loved.
Tales From Gimbley was one of those things I saw mentioned and reviewed and talked about without ever having seen it until the last few years. Second City and Illegal Alien surprised me because they were so different in approach to his other work.
The whole Fast Fiction scene was before my time and outside of my ability to get hold of it, as I was in South Wales, away from all the excitement. Escape never made it to my home town either. Deadline did though, and maybe that wasn’t the child of Fast Fiction, but it sure followed it’s precedent and even borrowed from its crowd. A crowd fostered and encouraged in part by Phil as publisher.
Phil has continued making human stories throughout his career, Phil’s whole oeuvre is humanity and its absurdity. That’s what makes him unique and constantly appealing, even in genre work, you can feel his focus on people shine. His observation of body language, facial expression, even his page layouts all emphasise the human and their experiences. He adapts his art, but his style is always to focus on the person.
Phil is not a chameleon, he doesn’t alter himself. Phil just has an incredible breadth of skill and ability and for each work, he’ll play up one strength or another whilst holding back other skills. He has a very broad set of skills to draw from (pun intended dammit!!) and puts them to good use. He knows what to do and how to make it work, he appears comfortable in many forms and in all parts of his life. Phil really exemplifies the DIY spirit, always making and doing and collaborating and uplifting those around him. Also, if you follow him on facebook, you’ll know he also does a mean line in DIY building as well!
This will be the first in a very occasional series appreciating creators whose work I feel remains vital whilst also casting a long shadow through their creative area. I’m starting this, essentially, to create a record whilst it has a chance to make an impact upon the artists.
Morbidly, the death of another long-term comic artist turned my mind to thinking about how sad it is that they would never get to read the appreciations of their peers, fan and creators inspired by their work. I’ve spent much of this year feeling defeated by 2020, brought low and unable to kick myself into action. But there’s got to be an end to that at some point, and that time is now.
This is me reaching out and trying make a difference in the world again. This is me trying to Kill 2020 with kindness.
There has been one person who has seemed to blossom this year, constantly simmering away, making work. Only, he’s not simmering, he’s boiling over, his work just gets better and grows more amazing yet still wholly singular and recognisably his own.
Today, we’ll talk Phil Elliott. Phil emerged in the 80’s with a whole group of other makers associated with Fast Fiction. All of them experimental and all of them deeply involved with life and the comics medium. Phil became publisher of Fast Fiction, then moved onto an involvement with those early black and white comic boom titles put out by Harrier. He’s been published by Fantagraphics, Slave Labor Graphics, Kitchen Sink, Harrier, Marvel UK, L’Echo de Savanes and A Suivre in France, NME, Sounds and Melody Maker.
The thing about Phil is, he’s done much of everything from fully creating comics, lettering, colouring, publishing, self-publishing, even handmaking hardback books. When you talk to people about him, it’s not just this though, and it’s not just his restless approach to style, what really shines through is his generosity, his desire to support and his happiness to collaborate. There are few people you regularly and consistently hear such kind words about, but you talk to people and all you hear is how he has supported them, helped them grow, kindly gifted them things. The man is not just a forefather of the UK small press scene, he’s a silent sun shining over it and helping it to blossom into the incredible and diverse field it is today.