The Beat ran an interview in October with Phillip Sevy about Triage, his series about a nurse who meets two very different versions of herself. But now that we’re just days away from the release of the final issue, there’s a lot more to discuss with him. Sevy put his heart into the comic and it shows on every page. In our interview, Phillip Sevy explains how the book speaks to what’s been going on in his own life, what he’s learned from both writing and drawing a comic book series for the first time, and a whole lot more.
How did you first learn of the term “triage?”
My wife is a Labor and Delivery Nurse, and one of their roles in the unit is “Triage Nurse,” where they evaluate and take care of walk-in patients. So it’s a term I’ve been familiar with for a long time. Fun side note—the opening incident in the first issue really happened to her in real life. Yes, being a nurse can be really gross and they deserve a whole helluva lot more gratitude than they get.
When did you land on it as the name for the series?
Fun story. The original title was “Who Am I?” – which ended up being the surname for the series. I really liked the title, but friends Tini Howard and Steve Foxe both brought up that the title is too generic for search terms. So we started kicking around the themes/plot points/characters to try and find a better title, and it was Tini who suggested Triage. As soon as she said it, I was like: “Yes. 100% That’s it.” It plays on Evie’s position, her purpose, and the three-protagonist nature of the story.
What did you find compelling about focusing the story on three versions of Evie?
Subconsciously, it has the same effect a three-act structure on a story does. Two versions only give you an opposing view without any nuance. Four versions is a bit too symmetrical. Anything beyond would have been too many characters for a new world, new title, and five issues. Having three characters just felt like a perfectly asymmetrical balance. I was able to explore different sides of the same question—how do we define ourselves—without getting too unwieldy.
The protagonists learn that they had very different relationships with their mothers. Why did you decide to make that the deciding factor for their different directions in life?
As we found out in issue four [WARNING: spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet], the identity crisis Evie is going through (which is both exasperated by and solved through the story) was triggered by revelations her mother made to her on her deathbed. So much of who Evie thought she was supposed to be was a result of the relationship she had with her mother. She was very much a “nurture” product. So, it made sense for her to use the mother relationship as a touchstone to try and find common ground with the other versions of herself.
Has Triage made you consider what your life would have been like if you made different choices or grown up in different circumstances?
The emotional narrative of Triage is very closely tied to experiences in my own life, from changing careers from finance to comics or a loss of faith/religion. I drew upon those feelings when crafting Evie and the story. I’ve lived a lot of those “what might have been” scenarios and feel very grateful and lucky to be where I am and surrounded by the people who have decided to be my friends/family. Triage wouldn’t exist if I had made different choices, and if that’s not a meta-message for the book, I don’t know what is—ha!
At the start of the series, Evie ties her identity to her occupation, but she ultimately finds other ways to define herself. Why was it crucial that she break free of that line of thinking?
I think everyone comes to the point in their life (usually in early adulthood, but not always just then) where we look at our life and the choices we’ve made and ask ourselves how much of it was autonomous and how much of it was defined and shaped by the way we were raised.
And that’s a good thing. It’s an important step in our development. Sometimes the answers we find force us, if we’re brave enough, to confront the things that we don’t agree with or don’t find true, and then to seek the truth for ourselves. That journey can be very painful and difficult, but we come out the other side as our true, individual self. That self is the one that is strong enough to get us through the rest of our lives. Evie’s story is a vehicle for that idea and concept and call to bravery.
Do you feel that you similarly define yourself too much as an artist, or feel that you did so in the past?
I’m SO grateful that Triage gave me an opportunity to challenge and redefine my role in comics. I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller, regardless of the role that I played in the creation of that story. Triage just allowed me to showcase a more holistic storytelling approach. I hope to continue to be able to do that.
Was writing and illustrating your short comic Paradox helpful preparation for Triage?
Paradox was very instrumental in helping me step closer to Triage. It was the first time in a long time I had written and drawn something. It was the first time I attempted coloring myself sequentially. And thematically, Triage and Paradox (which is being reprinted by Source Point Press/Comics Experience and will be in shops on Jan 29th) are siblings. I did it on a whim after my first Tomb Raider run ended and it really empowered me to push forward with more creator-owned comics. I really, really love how that little book turned out.
Were there any unexpected challenges or opportunities that came with more space with which to tell your story?
Writing a one-shot vs. a larger story (in this case, five times larger) meant a lot more structure and moving parts. I had great help and feedback from both my editor and from a fantastic circle of creative friends to help whip Triage into the best shape possible. With Paradox, I took ideas I had been thinking about for four years and wrote a script in one evening. With Triage, I took 14 months to work on ideas that I conceived a week before I pitched the book. Triage really went from birth to life in an extremely short time, so it was really challenging and exciting to craft its world (its MANY worlds) in a shorter span. I think it helped add energy and excitement to how I wrote and drew it.
How have you evolved as a storyteller now that you’re completed your first graphic novel as both its writer and artist?
SO much. I was talking with a podcaster the other day and laughed that I had to do everything the hard and wrong way on Triage in order to learn the right way to do it—from writing to drawing to coloring to marketing to selling, etc. I’m so looking forward to my next creator-owned project (whatever that might be) so I can apply the lessons I learned in doing Triage and make an even better book!
Thanks to Phillip Sevy for such an enlightening interview. A collection of his comic book series Triage arrives on April 29, but the FOC is today. The order code is DEC190264.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.