Looking Grim Can Be a Good Thing – An Interview with Stephanie Phillips
Taking time in-between writing Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, and her new comic series Grim with BOOM! Studios, Stephanie Phillips dropped by the Yeti Cave to chat with Chris Rundt.
CBY: Hi Stephanie. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. Let’s start off with a softball question: How are you?
STEPHANIE PHILLIPS: I’m spending a weekend writing comics, so I can’t complain! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview to talk more about Grim!
CBY: You recently announced your new title, Grim, from BOOM! Studios. Where did the seed for this story come from?
SP: I’ve really wanted to write a story about a dead protagonist for a long time. I know that sounds a little creepy, but I think that perspective from a main character is fascinating. Unreliable narrators are always fascinating, so seeing things through the eyes of a non-living character, to me, feels like further playing with that concept in a setting that requires a lot more world-building than the kind of stories I typically write. I consider myself a pretty grounded writer, working on historical fiction and even street-level heroes. GRIM gives me the chance to flex a new muscle and build an entire mythology around death but still keeping the story very character-driven as we follow and learn about Jessica Harrow, our main reaper.
CBY: Since you first came onto my radar, starting with Kicking Ice, you have always had a passion to write about historical events or inside historical fiction. Does Grim have any elements of that in it?
SP: There are touches of that, certainly! The grim reapers are from all different places and time periods, which means that we get pretty creative with the supporting cast. Jessica’s two best friends are an '80s hair metal rocker and a Frenchman from the 19th-century. The story is really not about these time periods, but having a universe where all these different people are forced to interact in death has been a ton of fun to write and to watch Flaviano design.
CBY: What kind of research went into this title? Is there a specific theology you follow?
SP: This story has its own unique mythology, which was also the toughest part of this story (and an ever-growing element of the project!). I don’t want to lean on any one thing, and I really wanted this universe to be mine and Flaviano’s sandbox to work through ideas about death and even to expand those ideas as much as possible. At the same time, we don’t ignore culture traditions or religious beliefs, and at times we try to pay homage to some of the different views on death from around the world. Visualizing “death” and our own take on the afterlife has been an interesting part of the project and something that Flaviano has just really killed (pun intended!).
CBY: During the creation of this title, how did the idea of death and the afterlife come into your day-to-day?
SP: That’s a tough question because while I have dealt with death personally during the pandemic, I feel like we’ve been seeing so much of it in ways that feel really impersonal. I’d like to think that GRIM makes death personal, whether you’re watching different souls react to reaching their final destinations, or learning about Jessica Harrow’s journey in the afterlife. To me, death is scary, fascinating, unknowable, and inevitable. That’s a lot to work with in this story and we really do try to portray all of the emotions while also leaning into dark humor, which is kind of a security blanket for me when exploring and discussing difficult topics.
CBY: This is your first time working with Flaviano, the artist for Grim. How has your collaboration been with him?
SP: Flaviano is so incredibly creative. I hope we’re able to show you all of the initial designs Flaviano did for these characters and the world we’re building, because it’s some of the most impressive design work I have ever seen. It’s absolutely not easy to say “we’re just going to create a new version of the afterlife,” but Flaviano has done just that… he’s brought the afterlife to life!
CBY: Please shout out the rest of the creative team as well for everyone.
SP: Flaviano Armentaro is the incredible interior artist and we have Rico Renzi joining us on colors. The collaboration between Rico and Flaviano has been really amazing to see! We also have Tom Napolitano on letters, which I’m really excited about.
CBY: Another first for you is working with publisher BOOM! Studios. What brought you to them and what made this series a fit for their line?
SP: I love the titles BOOM! has been putting out over the last few years, so I’m really honored to be joining that lineup. I think they have a great stable of creators, titles, and I really love their retailer relations, which is incredibly important to me. I am absolutely invested in supporting retailers and it feels like BOOM! shares that goal. They were also super receptive to and excited about GRIM, so it’s been a great collaboration!
CBY: It’s been a little over a year since you started working over at DC Comics. What would you say has been your biggest takeaway, as a creative, from that experience so far, and how does it affect your creator-owned work?
SP: Specifically, working on Harley Quinn at DC has really helped me to think about the longevity of stories and story arcs. I just wrapped up issue #20 of Harley recently (with more to come!), so it’s been my longest-running series that I’ve been a part of and has really reshaped the way I think about working on a character and developing their universe. I want to give readers arcs that they can dive into, while also allowing those arcs to impact larger elements of Harley’s overall world and supporting cast that we’re developing. In general, it’s just really amazing to get to play in the DC sandbox. I grew up loving these characters, and now I get to work on them.
CBY: This one is for the JSA fans out there: You did a short in the DC Crimes of Passion Anthology with Wildcat, which I personally loved. Would you want to do more classic JSA characters in the future?
SP: More Wildcat! I LOVE the JSA, but Wildcat holds a special place in my heart. It feels very fitting that my first DC work was with Riley Rossmo, my partner on Harley, and we worked on Wildcat, one of my favorite DC characters. I think a singular Wildcat book is a tough sell, but I won’t give up on it!
CBY: Let’s end with a little bit of insight into your life. What does Stephanie do for fun outside of the comics world?
SP: That’s definitely been something to work on! Working from home without any kind of defined hours typically means I will just work until I sleep. I do love reading prose, fiction and nonfiction, and I’m currently reading a book about the history of the CIA. I’m also a gym rat. I just really like lifting heavy things and then putting them down again, haha! I still play hockey and practice Muay Thai when I can!
CBY: Where can people find you online to follow your work?
SP: I’m on Twitter @Steph_Smash!