Last week, in Part One, we revealed the cryptic mystic secrets of a metal band called The Sword and their collaboration with artist J.H. Williams III (Batwoman, Promethea, Chase) to create the artwork for Apocryphon. This week, we continue our talk with J.H. on such varied topics as Batwoman, The Sandman and about the process of writing comics for other artists to draw.
DIGBOSTON: Let’s get into this and talk about Batwoman! Issue #14 is out, with #15 hitting right before Christmas. We’re in the middle of the arc with Wonder Woman. Your run on this book in the New 52 is existing comfortably in the spot where the Morrison comics are, where they are not really affected by the change in the New 52. You’ve taken over writing from your partnership with Greg Rucka. Now you are working with W. Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder. How much can you tell us about being able to stay off in your own little world? J.H. WILLIAMS III: I don’t know how it happened actually. In my conversations with DC, they’ve always been supportive of what I want to do, and they instinctively knew the book had to be not isolated but needed to be doing it’s own thing for a while. The stuff I did with Greg was significant, and at the same time there was still so much more to explore. Those stories were still relatively new when the New 52 shift occurred. We had already been working on Batwoman: The Series before the New 52 happened. Instead of trying to reconfigure everything, they just let us run with it.
Batwoman was so new, that to reboot the character would be nonsense.
The stuff that Greg and I did, as far as her origin, her sister the psychotic Alice, the fallout with her father…It would have been insane to throw that all away. It had to remain as canon. It seemed like a very natural thing for them to accept it. Very cool. How are you enjoying being on the writing side and giving some issues over to other artists? It’s really an interesting process, actually. In enjoy it a lot, seeing how other people interpret the scripts. What I find the most interesting on a creative process level is that when I’m writing for myself, I’m writing the same as if I write for someone else in sense of detail.
Writing for myself, it’s not as though I cut corners on my scripts. “OK, I’m in writer’s mode, I’m wearing my writer’s hat, so I’m going to write”.
Almost like, if something were to happen in the middle of writing and drawing, you’d be able to hand off the script to someone else. (Laughs) Yeah, and it’s just good practice anyway, if I’m going to pursue being a writer, I need to know what the hell I’m doing and write things fully fleshed out. The fun part for me is seeing what someone when Trevor McCarthy comes in with his interpretations of what we’re writing and run with it as well. I’m really happy to be working with him, he is an open minded artist willing to try different things and puts a lot of thought into what he is doing. It is super exciting to be writing for other people, it is not my first experience doing that, a long time ago, I had co-written a book called Chase for DC. It was short-lived, but then we did a lot of short stories based on the concept for DC Secret Files where other artists got to draw those. I also co-wrote a five part Batman story called Snow that another artist drew. I found the whole thing interesting, how another artist would interpret how I see things.
When I write, I’m very descriptive and try to convey visuals with words. Seeing how someone else would interpret how I know I would interpret the script is very fascinating.
You’ve introduced a new vocabulary into page layout, and your panel shapes. I think you’ve got some imitators out there now as well. There may not be much for you to say about your process but I wanted to compliment you on our page layouts because they are really amazing, and sort of changed the game a little bit.
Thank you, I appreciate that you feel that way. When people talk about my work in that regard, I feel like I’m cheating. In all honesty, some of the things I’m doing aren’t all that new! People like Jim Steranko and Jim Starlin to name a couple were doing this in the 60s and 70s, to name a couple who pushed the boundaries of what a page can do. I feel like all I’m really doing is trying to expand on that. I gravitated to that stuff when I saw it.
It seeped into my head and I can’t help but think in those terms now.
You could be introducing that to a whole new generation of artists that never have seen the 70s Steranko. Exactly, and to me on a personal creative level, I can’t settle on doing things the traditional expected way. Certainly there is a place for that and there are times where I do that myself, even in Batwoman when we go highly traditional. But when I’m doing it, it now has a different meaning because of the way it is being used in relation to the more wilder stuff.
If I had to draw just the way that people superficially expect comics to look, I probably would be pretty bored. That sounds like a terrible thing to say in some ways because I love comics and I read lots of comics that are very traditional. For myself, I’m compelled to just push it.
After a year of the New 52, we get a “0” Origin issue of Batwoman. The 0 Issue reveal was spectacular. With the training, it was everything you want out of a new Batman origin, except for here it is, Batwoman.
Thanks, that was a tricky issue for us to write because we knew what was going to remain canon and not canon from Greg and I’s run, that with my partner Haden, it would be a disservice to deviate from that at all. When the whole Zero issue thing came up and DC wanted an origin story it was a challenge because we felt all that ground had been covered already, and relatively recently from one of the best writers there is! It was vey tough for us to figure out how to retell that story but bring something new to it at the same time without deviating from what was there. We had to treat this as more of an expansion. What solidified the issue and what makes it stand out in comparison to what came before with Greg’s story, was for the first time, we are getting to see these events from Kate Kane’s inner point of view. We get to see her looking at that stuff in hindsight.
This brought out new emotional revelations for the character that aren’t necessarily evident from the stuff Greg and I got to work on together. I thought in that regard it was really successful.
It was great and it was Year One in 22 pages. Very cool. We all heard at San Diego Comic Con this year about the 2013 Sandman Comic with Neil Gaiman. Are you excited about the fan feedback that you’ve heard so far?
Oh yeah, people are so excited for it. I had art collectors pinging me about being on a list to get pages, before anything had even been drawn yet. httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GndnR7oSYYk A funny thing about announcing projects, is that sometimes the audience thinks that it must have been worked on already! I think the fans are really excited, and that excitement is really going to ramp up the closer we get to it actually coming out, especially when we are able to show people what we are going to do. I can’t wait to do it.
We have to know, though, what is your preferred format for The Sword Apocryphon? Are you going to get the cassette version as well? Yeah, I have the cassette version, that was part of the deal I made with them — they had to send me a copy of everything they do! For one, I want to have a copy for my own personal archives, and also I want to physically s ee it so I can go, “Ooh, look at this, isn’t that cool”! But I have to say, I’m stoked with all the different vinyl versions that are coming out, that are amazing. I just heard from Napalm Records, the label responsible for some of the overseas stuff are going back to print on some of the vinyl with even more variations.
Something about seeing it in vinyl is so much more powerful to me on a visual level than the CD version. It is just really cool.
It is an amazing record with amazing artwork, it has been a pleasure to talk to you, J.H.! Part One of this interview can be found here: EARTH PRIME TIME: INTERVIEW WITH J.H. WILLIAMS III (PART ONE).
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[Quoted on ROBOT 6]