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DF Interview: Sean Phillips unveils the story of a murder mystery that ripples through the decades in the ‘Where the Body Was’ OGN
By Byron Brewer
A boarding house full of druggies. A neglected housewife. A young girl who thinks she's a superhero. A cop who wants to be left alone. And a private detective looking for a runaway girl. These stories collide one fateful summer in Where the Body Was, a tale of love and murder in the suburbs, told from a dozen different points of view. All the neighbors on the block have an opinion about the murder and how it happened, but which of them is telling the truth?
Where the Body Was is a tour-de-force from artist Sean Phillips and writer Ed Brubaker. Starting with a map of the crime scene, this murder mystery follows the ripples of this killing as they echo through decades of love and loss and passion and violence. Like a true crime podcast crossed with a long-lost diary, Where the Body Was is unlike anything Phillips & Brubaker have ever done.
I caught up with my old friend, Sean Phillips, to find out what makes this one different.
Byron Brewer: Well, Sean, I was about to say “here we go again” on writing about another great murder tale by Phillips and Brubaker, but this is quite unlike anything I have seen before. To be honest, it reminds me of some great solve-the-crime group games my Bible study has done, full of intrigue… and red herrings. Tell readers what the inspiration was for Ed and you on this one.
Sean Phillips: I’m only ever inspired by the script! Ed was inspired by old mystery books with a map on the back cover. I’ve never seen one so I’m not sure how they work. Does the map give you clues to the mystery? I’ve no idea.
Byron: I have always loved maps and building layouts in stories. In its initial run, I was THE number one fan of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Wow, great reading – and maps and charts and building schematics! So tell readers about the fun – or difficulty – of handling that map of the crime scene for Where the Body Was, and what it meant to the story later in the OGN.
Sean Phillips: Ed’s wife Mel drew a rough version of the map with all the important places marked. I just took that and tightened up the details a little. Most of the work was done by my 3D Modeller who built a virtual neighborhood for me to use for a lot of the backgrounds. That made it all so much easier to draw. Everything was consistent for every shot and meant I drew a lot more backgrounds than I would usually do. The main house was modelled in a lot of detail but the rest were simpler boxes. Because I’m from the UK, it took me a while to adapt to the wide streets and more open space of an American suburb.
Byron: Give us a kind of feel for the canvas Ed and you have for readers this time around. Where are we and what is the atmosphere?
Sean Phillips: Most of the story takes place in an American suburban street, although we do go a little further afield than that. The atmosphere is different because most of the story takes place in sunshine. Jake [Phillips] had to figure all that out with his colors though.
Byron: What can you tell us about the crime that has been committed… in as much detail as you can without spoilers OR saying the default “read the book”?
Sean Phillips: I can’t tell you anything about the crime, but there’s a lot more to the book than that. We see the stories of a lot of the residents on the street and how their lives intertwine.
Byron: Introduce readers please to your main protagonists and what their relationships might be – to each other, to the crime committed, whatever is pertinent.
Sean Phillips: The main characters are a couple of teenage runaways holed up in a Victorian boarding house at the dead end of the street. An incident involving them is the catalyst for what happens to a few of their neighbors in the rest of the book.
Byron: Stock question: How is it Ed and you do so many of these books – a miracle as they came back so strong even before the pandemic ended – and yet remain fresh, herein with Where the Body Was presenting something quite different?
Sean Phillips: We just love making comics! Even though two graphics novels a year from us sounds like a lot it’s only equivalent to ten or eleven monthly issues. That’s never been difficult for us, and this format is easier with only two covers a year rather than ten.
Byron: Talk a little about using your artist’s toolbox to execute this OGN. Is there anything you have done differently in the way of art for this book. And who is that kid doing the colors? (LOL)
Sean Phillips: The biggest difference is having a computer model of the street to work with. Maybe I can be organized enough to do that again one day!
That kid is my son Jake, who I had no idea was a good colorist until he started coloring my stuff. He’s also a great artist too with his own comics, That Texas Blood and The Enfield Gang Massacre with Chris Condon, and Newburn with Chip Zdarsky. In his spare time, he’s also adapting Francis Ford Coppola’s new movie Megalopolis into a graphic novel. That boy is too busy!
Byron: Sean, I know the answer, but tell our readers as you can of any coming projects in which you are involved please.
Sean Phillips: Ed and I are already halfway through our next book out next June or July probably. Apart from that, I’ve a couple of covers for other announced comics to draw.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Sean Phillips for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Where the Body Was OGN from Image Comics is slated to be on sale Dec. 6!
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