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?


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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.

Are there things about the new Batwoman series that will be different visually from the Detective run?

I think so. The design stuff all stems from what’s coming out of the story itself, so with the first one being more of a horror story, that’s certainly going to impact more of the visuals. The main villain we’re dealing with for the first arc involves water, so there’s going to be a lot more fluidity to some of the layouts in places. But at the same time, we’re interjecting a lot of additional characters that didn’t appear in the first issues that Greg and I did. So all that’s going to have an impact.

As an example, the first issue Greg and I did, when you read it, has the sense of revving up momentum, whereas this issue has more of a sense of lots of intersecting characters and their stories. Batwoman‘s going to have more of a layered effect, I think, particularly when people get into the second arc–there’s a lot of layers going on, and all these pieces will fit together and dovetail into a singular sort of sensibility. For lack of a better comparison, it’s almost like–did you see the Dark Knight film? That had that same kind of feeling to it, where there’s lots of intercut, intersecting pieces that built up to a greater, more substantial whole.

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Are you still working with [colorist] Dave Stewart on the new series?

Yeah. Pretty much everybody is carrying over–it’s me, Dave and Todd [Klein] carrying over from the first run. Mike Siglain was carrying over as editor, but then he’s leaving DC, so it looks like we’re now going to be in the hands of Mike Marts, at least for a while. It’s a little bit feeling like a rock band that’s slowly losing its original members.

But you’ve got the new bass player too, Haden Blackman…

He’s just a consummate storyteller. He and I have really interesting differences of sensibilty that blend in interesting ways–he’ll come at some stuff from ways I wouldn’t have thought of, and I do the same for him. I’ve known him for a long time. We first collaborated together on a short story for Hellboy: Weird Tales that we co-wrote and I did the art for, and we enjoyed that so much that we’ve actually kept working together ever since, developing creator-owned concepts, which we have quite a few of now–hopefully they’ll see the light of day at some point. I think we’re coming up with some pretty interesting stuff.

I really enjoyed the little Seven Soldiers story you drew in DC Universe Legacies a few weeks ago, too.

I wasn’t sure about that one! When I got to see the printed version, it looked a little busy to me. It’s very dense.

It seemed like a condensed version of your work on the Seven Soldiers project a few years ago, which was pretty densely packed itself.

Yeah! The way the plot was written for the short story was that each character was being highlighted in their own little segment, and I thought it’d be really beneficial to approach each one with its own stylistic approach, to give some personality to each of those characters, but then use a unifying layout structure that ties things together. It was an interesting experiment. I was surprised it came out as well as it did, because I’m usually not too fond of working on team books. I enjoy reading team books, and I’m amazed at other artists who can handle them effectively–I just find I don’t handle those as effectively as I’d like to.

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I also hear you have another Jonah Hex issue in the hopper.

Yeah, I’m trying to! (laughs) The script is here, and I got the first page started, and then had to set it down because all the Batwoman stuff came up, and DC’s on fire for it–it’s coming out much sooner than I would normally like, so all my energy has had to be focused on that. I’ve got to figure out some more disciplined schedule so I can at least, maybe, draw at least a panel or something a day on it so I can get it going, because that’s one of my favorite titles being done right now. Jonah Hex is amazing stuff–I love the character and I love what Jimmy and Justin do with that character, I think it’s a book unlike any other. Too bad the movie’s not so good.

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