By Zack Quaintance — Stephanie Phillips new book Devil Within (out Oct. 3 from Black Mask Studios) caught my attention after I hear her discussing it on a panel at San Diego Comic Con. It’s no stretch to say that 2018 has been a banner year for horror comics, and Devil Within seems to fit squarely into that, while also staying ground in something most readers will surely relate to — a shared romantic relationship.
We recently caught up with Stephanie to ask her about her new book Devil Within. Stephanie is also involved with a pretty diverse set of pursuits outside of comics, ranging from academia to Muay Thai and hockey. We also used this as an opportunity to talk to her about all of that, and how (if it all) it connects with her writing.
Without further adieu, here is this week’s edition of Five Questions with Creators!
1. Okay, so first things first…can I start by asking about your background as a writer? Just from taking a quick look at your website, it seems super interesting and also intellectually diverse…
I have an MA in English and I am a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Writing (currently dissertating). I also teach technical communication in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo. I have worked as a technical writer, an editor, a journalist, and a writing teacher. Besides my brief stint making sandwiches at a Firehouse Subs in Florida, most of my jobs have centered on writing.
2. I heard you describe your forthcoming book from Black Mask, Devil Within, at SDCC…and it sounds terrifying. What kind of experience should readers expect when we pick up this comic?
The main focus of the story is actually trust and relationships. I think back to old slasher movies where a couple is in peril and one person has to watch their lover get slaughtered in some horrific manner. Loss of love is terrifying, but I want to explore what it means to lose love while also being terrified of the person you love. What if the monster is sharing a bed with you?
Reveals and jump scares don’t work in comics the same way they might in a movie, so we are definitely going for a more psychologically stimulating scare that calls into question who we trust and let into our lives, while also showing off some creepy creatures. Maan’s storytelling and monsters should definitely make your skin crawl.
3. The book is also set in the Philippines…what role does Filipino mythology play in the book?
I don’t want to give too much away, but a lot of our creatures are based in Filipino mythology, if not directly taken from mythology. The story also focuses on Filipino cultural practices surrounding possession. As I have said before, DEVIL WITHIN is based on a true story. Using the actual events as a jumping off point, I tried to stay authentic to the experiences of the people who witnessed what they believe was a demonic possession. One interesting thing I learned about Cebu is that a friend of mine who lived in the Philippines actually had a school day canceled on account of possessions. Snow days, hurricane days, possession days… makes sense.
4. So, compared to the academic writing, personal essays, and journalism you’ve done…how is writing comics different and do you have to drastically alter your approach?
This is actually a really tough question. There is absolutely crossover with everything I write, and I would like to think that my degrees, at the very least, qualify me to write a grammatically sound sentence. Pinpointing what bleeds into my comic writing from my time as an academic writer is a bit tough, but I think the biggest takeaway from working in technical communication is how best to work with my teams. Comics are extremely collaborative, and that means communication is essential. When I explain to Maan what I envision for a page, I need to be able to write in a way that allows Maan to clearly interpret all the things happening in my brain without taking away his creative license, but still providing enough detail to where he isn’t left in the dark. It’s actually a super interesting process and I could write an entire dissertation on it… oh wait, I am!
5. Aside from Devil Within, what other upcoming comics projects are you currently at work on?
So much! KICKING ICE, drawn by Jamie Jones, is at the printer and will be out in the wild very soon. I am also working on a short story with Top Cow set in the Postal universe, and three secret projects that I can’t talk much about yet, but I promise they are big and I am really, really excited about them.
+1. So, you’re an accomplished beer league hockey player, and some of the proceeds from your all-ages graphic novel Kicking Ice went to help the National Women’s Hockey League grow women’s hockey…if you weren’t writing, what are the odds you’d be spending even more time on the ice?
Actually, if I wasn’t writing and teaching, I think I would be spending more of my time in a boxing ring than an ice rink! I absolutely love to play hockey, but I was never good enough to reach the level needed to play professionally. As a Muay Thai fighter, however, I had a number of bouts and worked as a trainer at a local gym in Florida. The more writing projects I took on, the less time I could spend training and fighting. I still train for fun once in a while, but I don’t think I will be stepping back in the ring for the time being (my mom is thrilled about this).
Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!