Interview

Interview

Exclusive: Comic Book Writer Bill Williams on 'Angel'

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IDW's Angel comic has been a godsend for fans still mourning the loss of the brooding-but-soulful vampire detective show. Now those fans may have even more cause to rejoice: beginning with issue 28 of the book, acclaimed comic writer Bill Willingham (a.k.a. the co-creator of Fables) will take over the writing chores from departing scribe Brian Lynch. Joining Willingham will be his longtime friend and collaborator Bill Williams, best know for his work on the webcomic SideChicks. Williams will provide a continuing back-up story in each issue featuring a character new to the Buffyverse, Eddie Hope. In the following exclusive interview, Williams give us the dirt on Hope and on what we can expect when the two Bills begin their joint stint on Angel.

Once writer Bill Willingham takes over the main writing on Angel, you'll begin writing a back-up feature starring Eddie Hope, a new character left over from the book's recent "Hell on Earth" storyline. Can you talk a little bit about Eddie?

In "After the Fall", Los Angeles went to Hell and then after some time everything snapped back to normal with the people of LA sharing the memory like a fever dream.  Well, almost everything went back to normal.  Eddie Hope was fundamentally changed by his time in Hell and by the associations he made there.  Now, Eddie knows the worst people in Los Angeles and he has made it his job to hunt them down and finish them.

The first story "A Devil Walks into a Bar..." hits the ground running as Eddie confronts someone who had committed atrocities when the city went to Hell.  They argue whether that really happened or not, which is one of the debates that runs through the feature.  It also shows that Eddie can transform much like the Buffyverse vampires who get their 'vampire faces' on.  Eddie's transformation into his devil form is much more severe and much scarier than what you can do on television.  I think that at the beginning of the series Eddie thinks of himself as a lost soul who only has his mission to keep himself going.  So, he throws himself into the mission and decides to make the world a better place one body at a time. 

I have an amazing amount of leeway to tell fun stories.  Eddie was in Willingham's original pitch to IDW complete with his devilish origins and secrets.  Willingham's instructions to me were to go have fun for a few issues and then we'll have him crash into the Team Angel characters later.  The whole Eddie story will spin out over the length of the back up stories.

Have you drawn inspiration from film noir, or from other fantasy tales, in telling Eddie's story?

I'm a fan of writers like Chandler and Hammett and the comics on that family tree like Criminal.  I'm a big fan of British mysteries like Prime Suspect and Foyle's War and that dry approach to storytelling.  I recently saw Steven Moffat's Jekyll, which is fantastic.  I'm also reading Matthew Sturges' excellent novel Midwinter.  Kick in a dozen comics a week, a few random webcomics and there's a load of stuff in my stew-pot of a brain.

If anything, I'm taking inspiration from the Angel television series.  When I first talked with Bill about writing the back-up series, I had to watch the last four seasons of Angel in six weeks to get up to speed.  I had seen some of the episodes in syndication and I had watched the first season on DVD, but there was a lot of real estate to cover in a short time.  Before Bill and I sat down to map out my part of the series, I came up with a fifty-page Angel Bible that was full of notes and things that I would like to take a second look at in the Eddie stories.  Since then, I have been going back and watching Buffy and making notes on that as well since it takes place in the same world.  In my research, I came to find that there were two kinds of Angel episodes.  There were the 'brooding' episodes and the 'caper' episodes.  The brooding episodes of Angel were carried by the performances of the actors.  While the artist on the Eddie stories is great, the language of comics is different from the language of television.  I thought the caper approach was the stronger way to go, so the Eddie chapters are loaded with action.  In one scene in Chapter Four, Eddie is standing on the hood of a speeding truck as the driver is shooting at him while Eddie is punching through the windshield.

My goal is to write the short Eddie stories as if it was television writing with no effects budget to hold us back.

How did you and Bill Willingham come to work together on the book?

Bill Willingham and I have been friends for more than fifteen years now.  I met him when he, Keith Wilson and I were sharing a cartooning studio in Pflugerville, Texas.  I was Keith's inking assistant at the time.  Later we rented a house together in Austin and I published the criminally underlooked series of his called Pantheon.  He moved out to Vermont, but we stayed in touch.  I would head out and visit him a few times a year when he lived in Las Vegas.  A few years ago I ended up in a writing group, Clockwork Storybook, with him and Matt Sturges, Chris Roberson and Mark Finn.  Willingham has a great wanderlust and I helped him with his last move.  In fact, I was in the car with him when he talked with our editor Mariah Huehner about working on the Angel series. 

Bill wrote me into the pitch document he made for IDW.  That was pretty cool, especially when they bought it.  So when we got together at our annual Clockwork Retreat in May, we worked out what we were going to do in the first year of the series.  I sat down and wrote the first few scripts and ran them past Willingham.  We made a few changes and they were good to go to Mariah.  I was feeling pretty good about my work.  I had written some pretty solid pages and, man, I was certain that back-up series was going to shine.  Then I read Willingham's first script and it's just great.  He is one of the few people that I can describe as a genius.

Clearly, I never imagined that our new book would end up on the back cover of the PREVIEWS catalog.

Can you talk a bit about how you may be tying Eddie's story into Bill's writing?

Eddie's relationship to Team Angel is top secret for a while.  I don't want to spoil something that will spin out of the lead story in the Angel series.

When I first started working on the project, I was struggling with how to approach the character.  I knew the nuts and bolts, but I was missing something in the tone.  Eddie is a bit of a loner; he has no sidekick to explain things to, so he will be talking to himself in captions for a while.  I was grasping for the right voice to use.  So, I was chatting with Willingham about Eddie and I asked him if Eddie was a good guy or a bad guy.  He said that Eddie is a guy with a mission.  That helped clarify things for me and helped me tap into the ambiguity that is spread all through Joss Whedon's work.

Will any of the regular Angel cast appear in your story?

I have wanted to avoid having Eddie bump into any of the Team Angel characters until some specific cool things happen in the lead story.  I want to stay off of Willingham's toes, so most of them are off of the table for the first few months.  But in talking with Mariah, she had a good idea in that I should makes sure that the Eddie stories are firmly tied into the Angelverse.  So in the fifth chapter, Eddie bumps into electric Gwen Raiden.  As the story goes on, there are loads of references to specific Angel episodes.  The bad guy in the first few chapters is Jacob Crane, the wicked gourmand who tried to serve up a werewolf girl in the fifth season of Angel.

So I'm playing with the background characters for the first few months.  Once Bill pulls the trigger on one story thing in particular, I'll shift gears and change the way I integrate the other members of Team Angel into the Eddie stories.  But remember, the back-up stories are four pages long.  That's not a lot of fictional real estate.  At four panels per page, I only have sixteen panels to tell a story.  Anybody can write a sweeping epic, but writing a good short story is a real challenge.

Can you talk a bit about the artist who will illustrate your writing?The early design sketches that I saw made me go back and do some rewrites on a chapter because of David Messina's art.  I added more action and stretched a fight scene because Eddie's devil form looks so freaking cool.  I've gotten a good look at the first story and the art is dramatic and Eddie looks like some gothic nightmare sprung to life.  I can't wait to see more. 

 

I got a look at some of Brian Denham's pages for the lead feature and they are pretty sweet too.  This will be a very pretty book.

How long have you been a fan of Joss Whedon's Buffyverse?

I came along late in the game, after the Angel television show was cancelled.  I am a comic book inker and sometimes I work late into the night.  Angel was in syndication late night here in Austin and it came on after something else I was watching.  And I got into it after a few episodes.  I started to make time to watch it when it came on.  Eventually, I got all of Whedon's stuff on DVD.  Angel in syndication led me into Firefly and then the Serenity movie and back into Buffy.  And I can sing most of the Doctor Horrible numbers.  Joss Whedon has a real talent for twisting the knife in the hero's side and I admire that.

What appeals to you about Joss's creations?

Joss Whedon's characters are allowed to be bright.  They have smart comebacks and they do smart things.  Most of the horror tropes require the characters to be as dumb as a dining room table.  I grew up in the Golden Age of the slasher films like Friday the 13th and watched the Halloween movies.  I need my horror/ suspense to have more than a bunch of random teens being chased through the woods.

Whedon's characters all want something, even the monsters want more than just a full belly.  The heroes have a plan, the bad guys have a plan and they all grow and learn over time. 

Do you have a favorite character?

I am hoping that some of the new characters in the Angel comics resonate with the readers and become some of their favorites too.

Like most people, I grew to love Spike.  Even when he is miserable, he owns that moment.  He doesn't pout, he doesn't brood.  Spike does things that make him happy and to Hell with the consequences.  That's bold.  I love Captain Mal and I love the wackiness of Anya in Buffy.  And of course, of course, Bad Horse.

Have you followed Brian Lynch's writing on IDW's Angel comic?

I read the "After the Fall" series as it was coming out.  This was before I got the gig to write the back-ups, so I only had a passing knowledge of who some of those background characters were.  I have not had the chance to go back and re-read them since I started swimming in the Angel ocean.  I tend to give away comics after I read them.

We were on a panel together at the show in San Diego this year as they rolled out the announcement that Willingham was the new regular writer on the Angel series.  Brian is a nice guy and he has a real grip on the characters.  I love his take on Spike.  And his tweets are funny too.

Can you say how long you see yourself working on Angel? When you and Bill decide to leave the book, is it likely you'll leave together?

That is entirely up to the nice people at IDW.  If Willingham decides to take off at some point down the road, any new writer will want to get all twenty-two pages of storytelling space.  With luck, I will have bonded with the people there and I will have more opportunities to work for them.  For now, I'm the new guy keeping his head down and doing the best work possible.

Willingham and Mariah go way back.  She worked at DC and worked with Bill on the Fables series out of the Vertigo office.  So they have worked together for a while and they have a good relationship from what I can tell.  When we were in San Diego this year, I told Mariah that I'd be sending her a road map for where I saw the Eddie stuff going.  She seems to be onboard with the overall plan, but sales will dictate what we can do over the long run.

What else are you working on right now? Are there any other comic book titles you're interested in writing, any other characters? Or is there a new project you're developing?

I have a pitch working its way across desks and through the IDW offices.  In that pitch, Eddie bumps up against other Angelverse characters in interesting ways.  I really wish I could say more, but I don't want to jinx myself there.

For the past two years plus, I have been writing and (mostly) inking and (mostly) coloring a webcomic called SideChicks which runs on the Graphic Smash website.  It's about super-powered female bodyguards.  The current story has art by Robb Phipps (Mantra) with some inks by Jon Alderink.  Previous stories had art by Walter Geovani (Red Sonja) and Fransisco Rodriguez de la Fuente (Robin).  I'm inking and coloring the next story which has pencils by Jose Luis who is doing a Red Tornado mini-series for DC right now.

Back in June 2009, Thom Zahler (Love & Capes) and I had a strip in the Zuda competition.  We started in 5th and finished there.  I wanted to write something like the old Herbie strips, but a little darker.

I've got another project in the works which is a sweet story about a cat.  No really.  The girls that have seen the pages want to hug them.  It is that adorable.  Anyway, the project is penciled and I need to make the time to finish the inks and colors on that too. 

Might we see you and Bill work together elsewhere in the future?

Bill has a pretty full dance card right now.  He's co-writing a couple of monthly comics and doing the full writing chores on a few more with another series waiting in the wings.  I like working with Bill because he is so damn clever and he really makes me bring my best work.  We have talked about doing a couple of other things but it is too soon to tell if those will happen.  Willingham really doesn't have a lack of people wanting to work with him, he has a lack of hours in the day to make all of that happen.

In real life, what's your greatest fear?

I don't know if this counts as a "fear" exactly, but I hate going to the dentist.  So I didn't for quite sometime.  When I finally went back years later, I had all kinds of problems.  I had stuff scrubbed and scraped and I struggled with the process.  And I kept thinking, "Man, I am paying people to do this to me."  One of the things that I had to have done was this incredibly grizzly and painful procedure where they pull your gums back and stitch them up so that they heal closer to the teeth and the gap cause by inattention is closed.  The end result is good and I am healthier than ever, but the process is painful.  But when I was in the chair, they hooked up a heart monitor and I had to ask how often they used the heart shocking gear next to it.  They said, "Almost never."  I did manage to get good drugs though. 

Now, I kind of bargain with my guy.  I just went in today and he was going to have to take some measurements, which means that he would stick a metal probe under the gum and stop when he feels resistance and counts the rings on the metal probe.  And he was going to do this a couple of times per tooth.  I was in no mood to be stabbed today, and I had just been checked a few weeks back so, we made a deal.  He checked the problem areas and left the rest alone.  I can rationalize the pain as well as anyone I suppose, but it's something that I feel all of the way to my bones.

So if I had to guess, my personal Hell will have a special room full of needles and dentist chairs.

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