Interview: J.H. Williams III on Batwoman and More

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J.H. Williams III is one of the most interesting artists working in superhero comics right now–a supremely thoughtful designer who uses variations of style as an expressive tool roughly as often as other cartoonists use panel borders. He made his name with Chase and his collaboration with Alan Moore on Promethea, drew the spectacular bookend sequences of Seven Soldiers of Victory and the first arc of Desolation Jones, and recently collaborated with writer Greg Rucka on a seven-issue run of Batwoman in Detective Comics, collected in Batwoman: Elegy, which comes out tomorrow. When Rucka recently announced that he was leaving DC, the future of the Batwoman feature briefly appeared to be in doubt, but Williams is now co-writing (with W. Haden Blackman) and drawing a new, ongoing Batwoman series. We spoke with him about it, as well as a few other projects he’s got in the works.

What’s going on with the new Batwoman series? Your blog suggests that it’s hit a few snags recently.

There’s a little editorial stuff, you know–[editor] Mike Siglain got this offer from Disney that he’s taking, so there are some editorial shifts over issue lengths and stuff. But things are running and production is moving forward.

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I gather that you and Greg Rucka were originally planning to make your third arc in Detective a resolution to the story of Alice from Elegy; is that story still going to be happening in Batwoman, or is that going off in a different direction?

It’s going off in a different direction, primarily because I just want to respect what Greg wanted to do–that was the story he wanted to tell. Even though I had a great deal of input on some of it, pretty much how we worked throughout the whole thing, I just felt like I didn’t really want to tell that story without Greg. I figured I’d leave that door open for him. And if, ultimately, he decides that he doesn’t want to ever do it, maybe I can address some of the concerns over that character at that time.

So what should we look forward to?

A little bit of everything, in a lot of ways. Which is not surprising, considering how I tend to approach my drawing–I tend to throw a lot of ideas into a single illustration sometimes. The stories are going to be quite varied, even though they all will have interconnecting threads that carry the series through, because we ultimately have a much bigger story to tell. But the bigger story can kind of be broken down into arcs within the greater arc, and each of those individual arcs have their own unique flavor. The first arc is very much a horror story, and then the second is an espionage/intrigue sort of thing, and after that sort of a fantasy epic for the third, and initial plans for the fourth are more along the lines of a family drama. These are the core sensibilities of what’s being presented, but at the same time, like I was saying, they’ll all be connected through plotlines, and natural progressions from each other. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Is the second arc the one that Amy Reeder is drawing?

Yeah!

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How did she get involved with the project?

Purely as a suggestion from Dan DiDio, I think. I think he’s the first one that brought that up, and I think she’s just fantastic. I had been talking with DC about returning to the writing fold for quite a while now, because it’d been a long time since I’d written anything for another artist to draw, and that interests me a great deal–I want to pursue that a lot more. It’s kind of a cake-and-eat-it-all situation with this: not only am I getting to create the stories for the character that I’m drawing, I’m getting to create stories for another artist involving that same character.

You’ve mentioned that you’re also working on a book for Laurenn McCubbin to draw.

Yes! That’s been a long time in process. But it doesn’t have a publisher, so it doesn’t really violate any contracts I have with DC or anything. The writing process on that is taking a very long time. It’s a tricky story, and I want to make sure the flow of it is just write. It’s kind of a crime noir science fiction story, but at the same time it’s got a lot of elements more like a drama film rather than a thriller. So it has lots of slice-of-life aspects, and the characters are written like you’re reading about real people rather than characters that service some sort of plot. It’s pretty interesting so far, but it’s taking way longer than I’d like. I think it’s going to end up being over 150 pages.

One thing I thought was interesting about Batwoman is that, stylistically, it’s so different from the things you did on Promethea and Jonah Hex and that Batman storyline. What are your ground rules for the design of Batwoman as a comic?

I don’t know! I’ve always approached the design stuff on every project based on what the story is dictating to me, and designed on an instinctual level. With Batwoman, there’s a lot of occult elements in there, but at the same time it’s very counterculture, rock and roll, with an edgy attitude… but sophistication, too. Those sensibilities all influenced where I went with some of the visual aspects.

On your covers for Detective, there was usually a sense of one image interrupting or crossing over another. Was that something you decided early on?

Yeah–I thought of doing that for the first image I came up with, and I liked the result so much that I wanted to keep that sense of duality going on in various forms, or if not duality, in some sense, two images connecting to each other in some way. It’s pretty cool, because you don’t see that too much on covers.

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