Comic book characters are popular in the military – it’s hard to go far without seeing comic book figurines, bobbleheads or some other sort of memorabilia at a service member’s work station – so it doesn’t surprise me that one soldier’s passion for comics turned into a bit of a second career.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Johnson plays trumpet in the Army Field Band in Washington, D.C.
“It’s great to have a job where you not only get to do what you love, but you’re doing it for reasons that really matter,” Johnson said.
He loves the trumpet so much that he also spends his free time teaching the instrument to students. But he also loves writing, and his love for both is what got him into the comic book industry.
“I actually wrote a blog post – kind of an essay – comparing the comics medium to jazz and how they’re similar,” Johnson said. “Writing comics, you are basically making small group jazz, like a jazz combo. You’ve got maybe a horn, piano and bass drums, and if you replace any one person, the product completely changes.”
Johnson was a comic book fan as a kid, which bolstered his vocabulary and gave him a leg up at school.
“By the time I went off to kindergarten, I was already using words like ‘nuclear reactor,’” he said.
He then grew up, got into music and found his way to his Army career, which brought him to the national capital region. Several years ago, he found a flier for a comic store called Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, Maryland, and he decided to check it out.
“I didn’t know anything about comics anymore. I just knew what I knew from the old days when I was a kid,” he said.
The store owners turned out to be incredibly friendly and clearly loved the genre. Johnson said their exuberance was infectious, so he started writing his own comics.
“Writing original stories is extremely exciting and super fun,” he said.
The first graphic novel he wrote was “Last Sons of America,” which is available at the store that reignited his passion.
“It’s basically a world in which Americans can’t have kids anymore,” Johnson said of the book’s storyline. “I try to tell stories that matter to me, and then dress them up in exciting, comic book-y ways.”
Those original stories led him into working on licensed projects, which can be turned into TV shows and movies. His first was the Adventure Time series.
“I’d never seen it, and I just started mainlining the show,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I was going to like it, but I ended up really digging it.”
That led him to the opportunity to help with “The Power of the Dark Crystal,” a 12-part comic book series that’s the sequel to the 1982 classic cult film “The Dark Crystal” by Muppet creator Jim Henson.
“That was a huge thrill because I am the biggest Jim Henson fan ever,” Johnson said. “It’s a guy whose whole life was just about making beautiful things and being creative and making the world a better place. I love his work, so getting to write ‘Dark Crystal’ was ridiculous.”
Johnson’s story is a great reminder that whatever your passion is, even as a child, you can turn it into something later in life!
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