It is a huge honour to be able to interview Brent Schoonover who worked on The Phantom for Dynamite Entertainment. Brent is very candid in his responses and we are sure you will feel his passion and love for the character and we really hope he will be back drawing more Phantom soon.
Chronicle Chamber: First of all, thank you for your time. Can you start of by telling us a bit about yourself? What country and region are you from?
Brent Schoonover: I am from the Midwestern part of the United States. A small town outside of Chicago called South Beloit. It was a town of about 4,000 people.
CC: Did you Study art and if so where did you study art?
BS: I did. I now live in Minneapolis and have for about 18 years. I came up here to go to art school and never left. There’s a great art school with a comic book art program called The Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I learned a lot from great artists like Peter Gross and Barb Schultz.
CC: Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you and influenced your work?
BS: I would put Jack Kirby, Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke, and Mike Allred as some very large influences on my work. As well as Goran Parlov, David Mazzucchelli, and Sean Phillips.
CC: Oh wow! How special was it then that Darwyn Cooke was the cover artist for King - The Phantom #1, your first Phantom story?
BS: It was really special to me. I wish I had gotten the chance to get a copy autographed from him before he had passed.
CC: What made you want to be an artist?
BS: I just really latched on to drawing at a very young age. I just lost myself in it. I would spend hours doing it even in like first grade. My parents knew early on that it was something I was good at and loved doing. I was lucky that they encouraged me from the start.
CC: How would you explain your art style?
BS: Oh geez, a constant work in progress. I am always trying to do a less is more approach. I strive to get to the Alex Toth level of only putting down the most necessary lines. I don’t succeed but it hasn’t stopped me from trying. I’ve also really gotten in to trying to make more jagged angular shapes as opposed to smooth lines. It may not even be noticeable to many, but I like this feeling of crudeness while also trying to use minimal amounts of lines.
CC: Did you like working on the Phantom? Did you know of the Phantom before you started work on those stories? Did you ever read the character?
BS: I was a huge fan of the Phantom since the movie came out when I was a kid. I always loved the appeal of the cave and the costume is cool. The time of the movie we had Dick Tracy, and The Shadow come out as well. I just loved discovering these old pulp characters was awesome. I would get anything I could that my comic shop had of them.
So getting a chance to work on The Phantom was a huge honor. I will say my time on the book was not exactly fun. But it had nothing to do with the character or the writer. There was sadly some very poor communication from the Editor and some of the people in charge of the license [King Features Syndicate]. I would have to wait weeks for approval on script pages while the deadlines would not change. So the work suffered because of that.
CC: We believe you originally pitched for the Flash Gordon gig and because of your tryout sketches, you got the Phantom gig. Is that right? Could you explain in more detail how you got the role of the Phantom for Dynamite Entertainment?
BS: Yup. I was familiar with the editor who was in charge of the upcoming line of books. Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake, Prince Valiant, and Jungle Jim. He thought I'd be a good fit for Flash Gordon but I think they had someone else in mind already [Lee Ferguson would go on to illustrate the Flash Gordon series - Ed.].
So when I did samples and we got talking I told him Phantom would be my first choice, he just had me do samples for that one as well. It worked out!
CC: For those who came in late, you worked on the first two parts of the 2015 “King Phantom series”. Could you tell us why you only worked on two of the four parts of this series and who did what between yourself and Ryan Cody in part two?
BS: When I was having issues getting approved script pages for me to work on (which was not the fault of the writer by the way) I just needed to find another way to make money and put food on the table.
So Marvel had some work on Ant-Man for me. So I was trying to balance both The Phantom and Ant-Man at the same time. It was hard, and as communication was not going well on the Phantom, Marvel was really happy with my work on Ant-Man, and wanted me for more issues.
I tried to get a schedule from editorial on the Phantom but they couldn’t guarantee when I would be able to work on it. I had to get Ryan Cody in and help me on some of it and then just take over completely. It was disappointing.
Talking to many of the creative on the other books, they had similar issues.
CC: That’s understandable. This series is famous (infamous in some phans opinions) for the Phantom’s role being taken over by Jen Harris and Lothar. This was an interesting take from the Dynamite editors on the Phantom. As someone who knows the Phantom, did it make it special to work on a different take on the character?
BS: While I’d have loved to have gotten to do my take on the Walker legacy, I did find this take to be a fun opportunity. And using a classic character like Lothar was a neat idea. And just the idea to redesign the Phantom with the Jen Harris version was fun (which I think got revised a bit from my own concept drawings). I knew it might not go over well with everyone but the entire line of books was spinning out of the King’s Watch series, which I enjoyed a lot.
CC: Do you have an opinion on the role of the Phantom being taken over by Jen Harris and Lothar?
BS: I knew King’s Watch was done to shake all the characters up a bit and try to bring some new attention to them. So I was fine with it. There were talks that if we can make it work we’d probably end up getting a new Walker into the suit. The hope was to try and get that journey to be a long one with multiple series. Sadly it didn’t work out.
CC: We certainly appreciate your candour when describing your dissatisfaction with schedules, timelines on editorial decisions and approvals from the license holders. Did you have a sense that this was linked to all the direction that was being taken with the character and artistic license that we’ve just discussed? Should they have stuck to the Walker lineage?
BS: I think that played a big part. Almost all the other characters that had a series at the time, those books were more of a basic reintroduction of the character to a new generation of fans who may not have read the comic strips or older comics. Phantom was the only one that felt like they were truly taking a bolder step with, and I just don’t know if everyone was on the same page or on board with that direction.
CC: Who created the look of the Phantoms suits? Was it you or were you working on a style guide from DE?
BS: The writer gave me a brief description of what he was thinking, and I did talk to my editor. I had seen a female Phantom in some older Harvey Hits comics I had, and to me, it felt a little too plain for the book we were doing. So I took a bit of the personality of Jen and wanted to mix it with the traditional look of The Phantom. I had seen that horrible SYFY channel pilot that just brought almost nothing from the original to it and I knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t push it that far.
CC: There is a scene in part two of the King series where Lothar thanks past generations of the Phantoms after they helped him during a fight with the bad guys. In your opinion was it an illusion from Mandrake or the past generations actually helping during a crisis?
BS: I felt it was an illusion. I just don’t know if Lothar would or should be one to see the ghosts. I feel like that should be something reserved for only Walkers.
CC: What about Mandrake? Did you enjoy drawing him as well?
BS: I did. I wish I could of done more with him. Part of the hold up on the book was that they needed to add him in more. That maybe it wasn't supposed to be a straight solo Phantom book. I left though and never got a full answer or explanation as to why.
CC: In the second part, there is a poster of Mandrake and the pose looks very similar as a Fred Fredricks drawing that was published as the front cover for an Australian book in the 1990’s. Was that done by purpose?
BS: Yup. I was a fan of that image and wanted to send a nod to it.
CC: Do you prefer covers or interior story art and is there a difference in the way you work with a cover / interior story?
BS: I love doing both. Covers are fun in that you should aim to sell the interior story in one image the best way you can. But doing interiors is a blast because it allows you to really get comfortable with these characters and experiment. If I had gotten to do the entire series I think i’d have wanted to make Lothar bigger and bulky.
CC: Do you work traditionally using pencils, inks on paper or do you prefer working on the computer?
BS: I work almost all digital now. I work in photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq. I love it and it helps speed my process up and allows me to move things around and switch them up.
CC: You also drew a card for the (Australian) Frew Gallery trading card series. Can you tell us about that?
BS: I did. I have never seen a card from it but I know I did it. I was excited cause they just wanted a traditional Phantom image. Not Lothar, or anything like that. So it was a blast to do an old school Phantom image. [Cards have now been sent to Brent - Ed]
CC: In looking at your social media, you have drawn several Phantom commissions. Do you still accept commissions and how can they contact you?
BS: I do, and I love drawing him, so hit me up! You can contact me via my website, brentschoonover.com.
CC: Do you have a place where phans can see your work?
CC: Make sure you check it out Phantom phans! Thank you for your time Brent.