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Interview with Roger Phillips

By Thomm Quackenbush

I had seem Roger Phillips's The Gray Zone dozens of times in conjunction with my exploration of Pine Bush and my eventual stints as guest for the Pine Bush UFO Fair, once Artificial Gods was released.

  1. Who do you consider your comic influences and how do you think they have influenced you?
    My biggest comic influence by far would be Gary Larson of "The Far Side" series. I found him to be the most original and clever comic artists of all time. His single-panel drawings seems to fit the way I think and work the best. I find it to be the method that allows the most freedom creatively. Rather than having a recurring character, every strip is a chance to tell a wholly unique story. The Gray Zone has that freedom with the only pretense being the grays are a part of every comic.
    In addition to Mr. Larson, I grew up reading MAD Magazine which shaped my drawing style. Growing up, the walls in my bedroom were covered with drawings I copied from the magazine. I admired the work of Don Martin, Al Jaffee, and Sergio Aragones.
    The influences for the captions and layout of the strip has been influenced by all the amazing artists at "The New Yorker Magazine" where the subtle wit was very appealing to me as a cartoonist.
  2. What, if any, other webcomics do you regularly read?
    Ironically, I don't read any other web comics currently! I am firmly rooted in the traditional comic strips found in the newspapers. I use social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote the strip. I still draw the old-fashioned way with marker on paper.
  3. Why did you choose to use Gray aliens as the main characters of your strip?
    I always dreamed of being a professional cartoonist and when I told my father of my intention to draw a daily strip, he suggested using the gray aliens as the theme. He was always a fan of science, astronomy and space exploration. I figured they would be a good theme and there were already hundreds of strips with dogs, cats and mice!
  4. Do you think aliens are visiting Earth?
    I think so. My father and I saw the famous boomerang-shaped object in the night sky over our home in the mid-1980's. The crash at Roswell also fascinated me and has become a recurring theme in the strip.
  5. What are your favorite alien movies and/or books?
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been a big influence on the look of my aliens and is a favorite of mine. In addition, Hangar 18 left a big impression on me. I must confess, the little aliens kind of scare me and I have trouble watching movies like Signs and have never seen it!
  6. What is the strangest thing that has ever personally happened to you?
    Seeing the large object silently gliding overhead has been the strings experience I have had regarding any sort of encounter with extraterrestrials.
  7. What has been the best reaction you got to your comic?
    A reader wrote a letter to me stating that my comics have turned some of her worst days into some of her best! The most touching reaction was from a young soldier who was injured in Iraq. He told me that reading the comics helped him during his long recovery in the hospital. He even gave me a commemorative coin from his unit that is only given to people who support the soldiers.
  8. What is "success" to you?
    I will do the comic for as long as the ideas keep coming. As long as people still like the strip and share them online or on their refrigerator doors, I will consider it a success. As far as professional success, getting the strip in a newspaper on a regular basis would be a milestone. Ultimately, I hope to be a syndicated artist where the comic is published nationwide.
  9. How did it feel to get your comic in the NY Pennysaver?
    It was the first time I was published in a widely circulated paper so it was amazing! The current printing run is over 250,000 copies a week. Although it is not a paying position, they give me half of a page each which is fantastic and really gives room for the drawings.
  10. Since your dad helped encourage you to start this strip, what does he think of it now?
    He is a big supporter of The Gray Zone comics. Every day, he tells me to be patient and that my big breakthrough will come. Every time I sell book online, he is the one to package and mail them out.
  11. If you could only send three books to an alien civilization, what would they be?
    I would send the three books from Asimov's Foundation trilogy. In his books, there are never any aliens. There are only humans colonizing other worlds. They may find it interesting to see if his vision for how humans would evolve would be similar to ways alien beings currently live.
  12. What advice do you wish you could give to yourself when you started The Gray Zone?
    I would advise myself to be more daring with the subject matter without being offensive to any particular group. Some of the more edgier strips have been the most popular. I now know that the best approach is to walk right up to edge, look over and wiggle one foot over the chasm!

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