CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Phil Hester travels pretty light, a few pencils and Sharpie markers and a stack of stiff white paper.
His friends, a unique and gifted bunch collected over a 20-year career, are never too far away, though. With a few strokes, Hester can conjure up the famous --- Godzilla, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Wolverine --- or the more obscure --- The Wretch, Ant-Man, Swamp Thing and The Coffin.
"You can pretty much draw whatever a fan wants," he said.
Hester shared his time and talent Wednesday during an appearance at Limited Edition Comics and Collectibles. Several dozen customers showed up for autographs and an opportunity to show their fanboy sides, rubbing elbows with a bona fide industry insider.
"I would like an awesome Batman," one patron requested.
Another asked for Godzilla paired with The Punisher. The next in line wanted Scooby Doo done up as Ghost Rider. Hester obliged each with an original sketch.
Hester graduated from the University of Iowa in 1988 with a degree in fine arts. His interest, though, was always comic books. While still in kindergarten, he produced an image his mother saved for decades.
"It was Godzilla fighting a bunch of little dudes with spears," Hester said.
As an independent artist who can also write, he has been able to work on a variety of projects, including the Green Hornet, Green Arrow and last year a relaunch of his early inspiration, Godzilla.
Hester also has been attached to the biggest names in the business over the years, including Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse and IDW Publishing. He currently is involved with a reboot of the Bionic Man.
"When you are a freelancer, you always kind of have to keep moving," he said.
Hester lives in North English, a long way from the epicenter of the publishing universe. In the early days, that was not always very convenient. In the digital age, distance is less of a factor of success.
Recently, the wider popular culture has embraced heroes and villains from the graphic novel universe. Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, the X-men and Thor have all starred in major motion pictures within the last decade.
"I don't think there has ever been a time when the average citizen knows more about comic book characters," Hester said.
"It's kind of a neat thing that Hollywood is looking more and more to comic books," he added. "I benefitted from that myself."
One of his own creations, FireBreather, became an animated movie for Cartoon Network. The original film aired in November.
Rob Rodgers, owner of Limited Edition, has hosted Hester before, but was pleased for the return appearance.
"I do these events as a thank you to the clients," he said. "They buy the books. They follow the stories."
On Wednesday, they got to see Hester, watch him work and ask questions.
"He's got quite a resume," Rodgers said. " ... Phil has been around and has done a great many books."
Matt Nelson of Cherokee is a student at the University of Northern Iowa. But he didn't have any classes yesterday.
Nelson saw "FireBreather" and is backtracking to pick up Hester's original stories. Now, he's got a signed copy.
"The book is always better than the movie," Nelson said.
Appearances like the one at Limited Edition serve two purposes, according to Hester, personal and professional.
"It's fun for one thing," he said.
"If there's a marginal fan, if you meet them and have a good interaction, they become a lifelong fan."