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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:

Plenty of people in comics have one talent that suits them well. Bill Williams is not one of those people. Instead, he has three: writing, inking, and publishing. Starting this December, he'll begin dabbling in the Whedonverse, taking on writng chores on a back-up series in IDW's ANGEL. He recently took the time to answer some questions from CWR's Marc Mason.

MM: Bill- Let's start with the basics. I knew your name from your work with/as Lonestar Press. How long have you been the man behind that curtain?

BW: Well, I've loved comics from the word GO. I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 1991 and I ended up as an inking assistant to Keith Wilson shortly after that. He was co-writing and inking a series called HAMMERLOCK which was Chris Sprouse's first ongoing job, even before LEGIONNAIRES. I did backgrounds on that and whatever other monkey work came up when it comes to knocking out the pages. That is the earliest that anybody would have seen anything I would have scratched away on. I did that backgrounding stuff for a while and then when Keith went into animation, I started thinking about making my own comics. I still chat with Keith now and again and he is adapting a short story of mine into a comic book thing for a horror anthology next year.

MM: Was Lonestar your first major push in comics?

BW:Before I started self-publishing, I inked a couple of terrible looking comics for Revolutionary. One was a bio of Janis Joplin and the other was a bio of baseball star Dave Winfield. And I was in a studio with Keith Wilson and Bill Willingham at the time and they would come over and just shake their heads at the pages. It was crap. The books were just gut-shot rotten and the weasels I did the work for never paid me. I had mixed feelings when they went under.

After that, I thought that I would work for myself for a while. The money would be the same, but at least I would have an ownership stake in the final product. This was pre-Internet and before the online models that we use to make a few bucks on our work now. I hired Robb Phipps to pencil a story I wrote and I hired a letterer and got Bill Willingham to pencil a cover for me and I was off to the races. This was back when Diamond would just carry a new series if you sent in sample pages. I've been publishing comics off and on since 1997. I've had some critical hits, but no real commercial success. Now, people are rediscovering my earlier work because we can get it onto computer screens without the help of all of the middle men.

MM:At what point in your life did comics make their entrance? Was it love at first sight?

BW: It was love at first sight. The first comic I can remember reading was Amazing Spider-Man #131, the one where Aunt May almost marries Doc Octopus. I still love that classic Gil Kane cover. I had a chance to meet Kane a few times and he was such a charming and bright guy.

Anyway, I was a kid in the 1970s and I got the chance to read the cool lead age stories as they came out. Captain America suffered through the Secret Empire's plot to take over and then he quit to become Nomad for a bit. Jim Aparo was in his heyday on Brave and the Bold which I loved. The rare Punisher appearances still had him looking kind of like David Jansen. Giordano was doing top notch work and Wrightson was doing Swamp Thing. It was a pretty good time to read comics.

I grew up out in West Texas and there was a used book store called Trail's End in Odessa that carried used comics. Every chance I got, I ended up there sorting through the old comics and buying all I could afford. Of course, it involved talking my Mom into making a two-hour trip each way.

I also started reading the Doc Savage books and the Tarzan books and the novels based on the Marvel characters.

MM: Did you have an immediate inclination towards any one particular aspect of comics (writing or pencils or inks)?

BW: I have that need, that compulsion to create. I got a portfolio review by Marshall Rogers at a New York Convention one time and he told me that I had to pick a path and either pencil or ink. Now it’s not such a big deal but at the time, he had a point. I went down the wrong road, the inking road. That doesn't get a lot of respect now and there is no real demand for the skill set. I know a lot of great inkers that can't get work.

Out of necessity, I gravitated to writing comics. I had written a lot in college and it came pretty easily to me, but that was essay work. Comics writing is another kind of beast. Now, I try to bang out a few pages a day, on my best month, I think I wrote 40,000 words. I have a few screenplays in a drawer along with a book of short stories.

I fish around for freelance comics writing work here and there and I have some luck with that. I just wrote a four-issue mini-series for a great publisher that should come out next year. My editor just told me that April-ish was a good bet for a slot on the schedule, so something about that might leak pretty soon.


Live from the Drafting Table- ANGEL & SideChicks from Bill Williams on Vimeo.

MM: You've also been producing webcomics, on both the writing and art end. What gave you the push to move your work in that direction?

BW: I've been friends with Bill Willingham for years and he got me a co-writing gig while he was on Robin for DC. This was early 2006 and I bought him an iPod as a kind of a gift. And I just fell in love with that little screen. I was thinking that it would be a great way to tell stories and that got me to spinning off new ideas and new connections. I started working in the half-page format because that gives the art a better fit to the iPod and the computer screen. Later when Zuda came along, they called it a 4:3 aspect ratio. I ended up getting a strip (with Thom Zahler) in the June 2009 competition. I would have liked to continue the Melvin Blank strip, but Thom and I can't work for free.

The first thing I wrote was a strip about a cat which is one long graphic novella. It is penciled and I'm working away at the inks when I get a chance, but the paying work has to come first. And then I started writing and drawing SideChicks which has been posting more or less weekly updates since August 2006.

I like the webcomics/ OGN model and I am working on a new story for that format. With luck, that will launch in early 2010. First, I have to make sure that the new script works which means getting feedback.

MM: Do you plan to eventually collect the webcomics work into print editions?

BW: Yes. The SideChicks webcomic is curently available for digital download from a variety of sites. We have three issues of that out there and a fourth coming soon.

The plan was to get something into print eventually. It is hard to sell ones and zeroes. I did put some SideChicks logo shirts on Cafepress lately. Right now, I'm pretty busy with freelance work, so I don't have the time I need to do more than just keep up with the webcomic. I would like to get far ahead and finish the First Season of the strip, but the paychecks are calling my name. The print goal is part of the Dave Sim-like desire to earn a few bucks a month from earlier work as I produce new work. The digital options may end up providing a better revenue stream going forward, but you still need the books. While we still sell back issues through the mail, the digital end has effectively replaced that in the revenue stream.

MM: The big news for you recently was the announcement that you'll be working on ANGEL from IDW, helping tell the new adventures of Joss Whedon's vampire with a soul. How did that gig come about?

BW: I'm kind of the little brother in that deal tagging along with Bill Willingham. I had helped him move from Las Vegas to his new home in America's arctic North and we had been stuck in a U-Haul for a couple of days, so I guess I was at the back of his mind. He talked with Mariah Huehner a few days after his DC Exclusive Contract ended and they talked about him writing the ANGEL series. We had brushed up against working together a few times before, including a VETERAN pitch that stalled at DC and a wonderful HOUSE OF SECRETS pitch that was a Clockwork Storybook thing which got round-filed at Vertigo.

Anyway, Willingham wrote me into the pitch and then I was in the loop more or less. I was up at his place for the annual Clockwork retreat and we went over the first year's worth of stories and I started writing. At this point, I'm a few months ahead, waiting for a few more things to happen in Willingham's lead feature so I can charge off again.

MM: Tell us more about your role as a writer on the book.

BW: Willingham is writing the lead feature about ANGEL and Connor and the rest of Team Angel. When I first sat down to work, he was a little bogged down with FABLES deadlines, so I ran ahead. I was pretty proud of that first script and I sent it to him so that we could chat about it. Willingham gave me notes on those first few scripts. And I thought I would just smoke him on this first script. And then I read Willingham's first script.

It’s great. The next few are amazing as well. It carries the tone of the show and incorporates the events of After the Fall with an amazingly deft touch. Anyway, I'm responsible for writing the Eddie Hope back up stories which run four pages per issue. Eddie is running around in ANGEL's Los Angeles exacting revenge for some of the events of After the Fall. Later he slams into Team Angel and I can't wait for that.

MM: Eddie Hope is a new player in the ANGEL universe. Take us through a bit of the development process for the character.

BW: At the end of Season Five, there was a fairly high body count and there is kind of a need for new blood. In Willingham's original pitch, he outlined several new characters, heroes and villains to spice up the series.

His original ANGEL pitch mentioned that I'd be writing the back up feature and there was a one or two paragraph description of Eddie and that put him in context. I have been working from that description and spinning out Eddie stories which are passed along to Willingham and then to our editor Mariah. We spent some time chatting about him before I got started writing. Most of the notes I have gotten have been helpful and insightful.

Up to now, I have the first ten chapters written and with the tenth little installment, Eddie clicked and I have a solid grip on him now.

MM: Do you have a set run on the book, or will you be working on it for an ongoing period?

BW: Well, sales determine the length of some runs on some titles. Barring a sales meltdown, I'll keep writing Eddie's stories as long as we're on the title. When you're doing mainstream comics, at times, you have to have a document on file with your editor that talks about where you're going. After the meetings in San Diego, I sent the editor a rough roadmap where I want to take Eddie that runs long enough to fill a graphic novel. That's a lot of little four pagers.

MM: David Messina will be handling art chores for you. What does he bring to the page as far as how you imagined your script would look played out?

BW: His art is amazing. Getting a chunk of story into four pages is tough. If you assume you have five panels per page, that's twenty panels maximum to get your story from point A to point B. There's not a lot of wiggle room there. His storytelling is solid.

When I was surfing around on the internet, I ran into David's art blog and saw a drawing of Eddie that is so cool that I went back and rewrote a fight scene because that drawing is so amazing. In the Whedonverse, when vampires go full vampire to fight or feed, they undergo a physical change. Eddie is a Devil and he undergoes a stunning transformation. When I originally described him, I was thinking of what was possible with make up and appliances. David Messina took it to the next level. That one image changed the direction of the back-up series.

MM: You've had the good fortune to work with some other tremendous talents like Thom Zahler in creating your comics. I would imagine that sort of thing never gets old! Who else out there would you love to collaborate with on a project?

BW: I don't know. When you do mainstream work, you don't always have a lot of leverage when it comes to choosing the art team. I do get excited when I get back something that I worked on after it has passed through another artist's hands. That's totally different from inking. I've been lucky enough to ink covers for Lone Star by Chris Sprouse and Mike Wieringo and Jeff Moy among others. On Pantheon, I inked Matthew Clark and Mike Leeke. On SideChicks, I wrote for and inked Jose Luis and Walter Geovani. Back in the day, I wrote for Jeff Parker, Robb Phipps and Bobby Diaz. About the only thing I'm inking right now is the next SideChicks story which will kick off next year.

Now, I'm in a writing group, Clockwork Storybook with Matthew Sturges, Chris Roberson, Mark Finn and some new members including Paul Cornell, Marc Andreyko, Marjorie Liu and Daryl Gregory. It has perks like getting to read and comment on great books like Willingham's Peter and Max and Sturges' The Office of Shadow while they are still in the manuscript stage.

I do have an artist in mind for the new graphic novel, but I can't chat about that just yet. First, I'll have to send the script around to the writing group. That's a lot of talent picking apart my work. Wish me luck.

MM: Good luck!

ANGEL #28 is scheduled to be in stores on December 16

Marc Mason  

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